On Being In Transit

There’s nothing quite so disorienting as arriving in a foreign country after a sleepless international flight. Everything becomes imbued with a Lost In Translation-type tinge: you move through the security line as if in a dream, blithely and half-blindly following the crowds towards Connecting Flights, not even bothering to be bothered when the guard barks at you to show your boarding pass as you walk through the metal detector. You’re just glad to be moving your legs again after ten hours and forty-seven minutes cramped like a contortionist, knees perhaps not quite around your ears but definitely somewhere close.


I have been to Tokyo before, but only two or three times, and only ever to the airport, which is where I am now. Frankly, I prefer connecting in Hong Kong, which is what I normally do when I fly to Singapore, but this is only because I lived in Hong Kong for seven years, because it feels easier to me. Tokyo, on the other hand, is at once familiar and entirely unfamiliar. It seems peculiar that I’m finally in Asia---that I've come all this way already!---and that I've  still got another eight hours on a plane before I reach Singapore.

Everything in Tokyo is very efficient. Having located the gate for my next flight, I make the decidedly brave decision to veer away from it---I’ve got an hour and a half to kill, after all---and find myself in a drugstore, where I recognize precisely three items: Tropicana orange juice, Pocky, and Coke Zero. I grab a Coke Zero, hand over my credit card---to think that the last time I was here, I wandered around hungry and thirsty because I didn’t have any yen!---and have barely blinked before the smiling girl behind the counter hands me the receipt to sign. In the bathroom, the toilet flushes speedily and with much force, the soap—if such a thing is possible---squirts out neatly, and the hand-dryer attacks my hands with such a voracity that I only need to stand there for two-point-six seconds before they're dry. Everything works incredibly well in Japan, which I suppose makes sense.


The last time I'd flown ANA---one of Japan's two most prominent carriers---a couple of years ago, I'd been the only Westerner on the Chicago-Tokyo route, and approximately three quarters of the announcements on the plane had been in Japanese. Comically, this had often left me scrambling to fasten my seat belt two steps behind my fellow passengers, no doubt with a slightly panicked look on my face. This time, however, a little more English is spoken on both of my flights, and on the occasions where the flight attendants and I can't get by with language, we simply trade on the universal currency of the traveler: apologetic smiles.

Halfway through the flight from Tokyo to Singapore, I plug my earphones in and tune my seatback TV to Mamma Mia, because hell, why not, it's not like I've got anything better to do.  And while I do register that it's strange, in the opening scenes, that Pierce Brosnan's character is speaking Japanese while running around an office building, my exhausted and addled brain constructs an explanation: Pierce Brosnan's character is working in Japan, obviously, and has been very conscientious about learning the local language. How impressive!, I think. How admirable! What a shining example Pierce Brosnan's character is to foreign expats everywhere!

When Colin Firth, however---who is clearly in London---starts speaking Japanese too, I start to think that something might be up. And what do you know, a quick investigation reveals that the default language on the seatback TVs is (well, of course it is!) Japanese. Equal parts embarrassed and amused, I switch it over to English, finally figuring out how the rest of the world must feel. 

Dec 13, 2008

This is lovely, Holly. You've hit just that right note of haze that is the international travelling experience.

Dec 13, 2008

did you see that episode of mad men when don starts hanging out with the jet set?

as I stand amid a pile of steaming baby shit, that's about what you seem like to me.

xoxo, Jim: the guy whose job it is to remind you and your fiancee to enjoy it while you can.

Dec 13, 2008

I <3 Asia - most especially Japan! SOOO JEALOUS of your holiday plans. Urayamashiii! Pierce would say, if he too was envious of a friend.

Have the best time EVER!


Dec 14, 2008

I am so jealous. I wanna go to Japan so badly! For me, the worst part about international flights is the time period from when the plane lands in America until you're actually out of the airport. You get the sense of "finally, I'm done traveling! Now let me go lie down!" but then they force you to stand in line for anywhere from 20 mins to over an hour and a half, so the Department of Homeland Security can make sure nobody's there to do terrorist stuff. I understand the need for security, but man. It's such a drag when you're SO close to being done traveling.

Dec 14, 2008

I don't know what I'd do with myself in Japan, with all the cleanliness and efficiency. Here in France when I hand over my American credit card they act as if I'd handed them a live tuna instead of an actual credit card with a magnetic stripe rather than a computer chip (like they're used to). And quite often here you still find public toilets that are holes in the ground. I think if I went to Japan I might never leave! (Except for the whole being 6 inches taller than everyone and not speaking the language thing. But hey, if Pierce Brosnan can learn, why can't I!) :)

Dec 14, 2008

This post makes me both really miss travelling and really glad that the longest flight I have to take this holiday season is one hour from L.A. to Sacramento. Still, I'd love to see Japan!

Dec 14, 2008

oh that fuzzy jetlag feeling i know so well.
in tokyo airport i always have noodles at a noodle shop. i'm sure it's not very traditional noodles (they must have toned things down for international travelers) but yummy and better than most airline food.

Dec 14, 2008

Hey! I'm currently in Tokyo and up at some ungodly hour checking my email. Too bad we didn't run into each other here.. sounds like I am a day or two behind you! I too am amazed at how incredibly clean and efficient everything is. Japan is very Type A. And it doesn't cease to amaze me that the magazines are all bound on the right side instead of the left. Off to Bangkok tomorrow. Have fun in Singapore!

Dec 14, 2008

Japan is the other love of my life. Cleanliness and efficiency to the point of creepy? Yes, please. : ) Can't wait to visit again.

Malin Nyberg
Dec 14, 2008

Haha awesome. But hey, what did you think of Mamma Mia once the language issue was sorted? I think it's rather maaaaaaagic (I mean, did you EVER think you were going to see Mr Bond singing Dancing Queen, wearing shiny disco trousers?????).

Dec 14, 2008

Good lord, you write better punch-drunk than I do when I'm sitting at the computer with 8 hours of relaxed sleep and a cup of coffee under my belt.

Dec 14, 2008

Hi Holly,

I've been reading your blog for a while now but will keep an extra keen eye on it from now to pick up tips on what to see in Singapore. I've not been in 10 years and am there visiting family for Christmas and New Years Eve. I assume you're doing the same? Have a loveliest of times there. All the best from a first-time commenter.

Teresa Wu
Dec 14, 2008

That was lovely. My favorite thing, hands down, about Japan, is all the crazy bidet toilets...

Dec 15, 2008

This is my favourite post ever!

Dec 15, 2008

That last sentence struck a chord with me. The only place I've ever been where I was unable to read is Taiwan. It was the strangest feeling to have a map in my hand, but not a clue how to figure out what street I was even on, let alone how to navigate. Never again will I snicker at the groups of Asian visitors we often see flocking along after a tourguide who is holding a flag aloft for easy "follow me!" visibility.

Dec 15, 2008

I've only ever flown to Japan once and it was with a whole charter plane of Americans, so thankfully I didn't freak out too much. If you're going to go that far from home for the first time, it's nice to do it on a plane full of football players.

Have a wonderful trip!

Dec 15, 2008

I had the same experience with Mamma Mia on a flight only someone had set the language on my entertainment system to German. It also took me until Colin Firth's scene to figure it out!

Dec 16, 2008

ha. i laughed at this because just this week i downloaded a copy of Mamma Mia for miss emily because she's going to be in the play this spring and i wanted her to see it. what i didn't realize was that i downloaded it in CHINESE. i swear. too funny. also? FAIL.

also? your word verification HATES me

Gail at Large
Dec 16, 2008

I saw "Mamma Mia!" on the plane yesterday from Vancouver and it was disconcerting in ENGLISH... (especially on the heels of watching "Dark Knight")