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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Landed: Posted, November 16, 2015 Japan/Philippines Trip:

[NOTE: I have limited internet access in Japan, so these reports will be very far behind the reality. This was published in Tokyo, after: Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Odawara, Nagano and Kusatsu. The best way to contact me remains facebook.]

If you have a screaming baby in a restaurant, the polite thing is to take it outside. The same should go for a screaming baby on an airplane.” --Mykel Board

ENTRY NUMBER 2: The plane to Korea... and Japan... and THE FIRST DAY.

Code Share is airline speak for MONOPOLY LIE TICKETING. You get a ticket through HoityToidy Air... and you wind up on the Flintsone Local.

My “Delta” frequent flyer miles put me on Korean Airlines. Delta, though, is the Flinstone line. While not as scummy as Spirit or Ryan, Delta is a typical US monopoly airline.

“Economy Class” means torture, with Vietnam era tiger-cage size seat space... pay for everything except the actual seat you sit in... (and-- if you want a bulkhead seat-- you pay extra for that)...

Koran Air has free movies, and-- get this-- two meals included in the trip price. The only minus I see here (2 hours early at the gate) is that the stewardesses wear the dumbest uniforms I've seen this side of a Bermudan Police officer. Check out the neckwear with one side sticking straight up in the air... like an aroused orangutan... the other side stiffly pointing at her shoes.

If you read my last blog, you know the plane leaves at the ungodly hour of 12:50... on Halloween. The flight will go from NY to Inchon in Korea. Then, a 4 hour layover in Inchon, where I can do my gift shopping. I still have about $12 in Korean Won left over from my 1998 trip.

I plan to get some ginseng products... they have a big cheap shop at the airport... and maybe a bottle of some whiskey or other. Then a short hour and a half hop to Kansai airport, where I'll be met by SCREAMING MAD GEORGE... who I haven't seen in 30 years.

I don't even know what you look like now,” I text him. “How will I recognize you?”

I've got white hair and black eye make-up,” he texts back. “I think you'll find me.”

At Kennedy airport I look around to check out my fellow passengers. Mostly Korean... I hear a smattering of Japanese... a few whitefolks... no Halloween costumes unless you count businessman drag, bag shlepper, or embarrassing American tourist in shorts and flip-flops as costumes.

There are few kids and NO BABIES! Yowsah!

I check for internet access. Only PAY service, sorry. I don't pay.

It's almost boarding time. The waiting seats at the gate have filled up. There have been several announcements... all in Korean... or English so bad it might as well be Korean. Here's another one, but this is accompanied by some shuffling. A uniformed airline man in creating an special aisle... from velvet waiting ropes.

Like a Broadway show where people appear from backstage, a crew of Africans... I guess they're African... colored people in bright clothes... about 20... in pairs... each pair, with one person of each of the standard genders. And each of the females in the group... you guessed it... carries an infant. They board the plane first.

On the plane, I have a seat by the window. I like to put my head against the window and sleep... and-- with window seats-- there's no one to climb over you. I'm sitting right over the wings on this 777. It looks like every seat is taken.

The Africans are mostly on the other side of the plane... in a reserved section. The babies are all quiet... for now. My row mates are an Oriental guy on the aisle and a youngish, softig Hispanic woman sitting next to me... not sitting exactly, but sleeping from the second she occupies her seat Before the plane takes off... she's out! Her knees pressed against the seatback in front of her. She remains sleeping the entire flight... leaning back when the plane takes off and leaves, otherwise slumped across the table in front of her... sometimes pushing aside her meal... sleeping next to it.

When I have to get to the bathroom. I doubt there's a way I can NOT wake her up. Do I climb over her? Stepping from armrest to armrest, balancing myself against the ceiling?


One lucky thing! The engine noise coming to the seats over the wings is as loud as a jet engine. Yep... it covers any screaming brats. I don't even know if there WERE any. Once, I heard the faint squawk of a diaper-deprived baby... but it was so background, I hardly noticed.

In Korea, there is no customs or immigration for us transferees. We're all shuffled to the transfer section where we go to our respective gates. We've arrived at 4AM local time. When I sit down with my bag I see that there is a big tear... halfway through the outer pocket.

Hey! I paid $4 for that bag and it falls apart after not even one use!

In the Inchon airport, it soon becomes obvious that this is NOT New York.

At the gate... right now it's only me... at least I'm the only one awake. Everyone else is sprawled on the benches... sleeping. The seats closest to THE CHARGING station are both occupied by sleeping young ladies. Everything is closed... the “internet cafe” doesn't open until 6. I'll go there as soon as it opens. Right now, I can use the free AIRPORT WIFI. A service provided in most airports of civilized countries.

The service isn't fast, but it is free... and it works. I'll move to the internet cafe when it opens at 6.

FLASH TO 6: The internet cafe opens. I buy a cup of coffee and some tasteless expensive “toast.” I take a table, plug in my laptop and look for the inet cafe router. I don't see it. KFAUN? HP-WIRELESS? AP-SECURITY? I don't think so.

I speak to the lady behind the counter. “What's the network name?” I ask.

AIRPORT WIFI,” she says.

You built something called an internet cafe that uses the same connection everyone else in the airport can use for free?” I don't ask.

Sucker!” she doesn't answer.

Slowly the shops are opening up. It's time to go shopping and get back in the plane for the last leg of the trip. First the cheap GINSENG as gifts for my Japanese hosts. Last time I was in this airport (1998?) they had miles and miles of ginseng... at prices cheaper than Chinatown.

Ah, here's a store with a giant DUTY FREE sign. Maybe I can go the the ginseng corner and stock up. Tea, candy, special formula to turn a soft day into a hard night... yeah! Let's see now.... huh? $85. $93... $145... the cheapest thing ginseng costs sixty bucks... and it looks like a bunch of gummy bears. NOTHING!! Okay, I'll buy a $20 carton of Marlboro like everybody else... shit.

Back at the gate, I've still got a few hours to go to boarding... but you don't have to suffer with me.

BANG: I'm on the plane... in my window seat... ready for the short hop to Osaka....


Out of the plane... I follow the line toward customs and immigration. Every few yards there are signs with pictures of camels on them. Around the camels are red circles with diagonal lines through them. NO CAMELS! Okay, I'm not bringing one in. I'm safe on that front... but what if they think I'm smuggling one?

Finally: on line with my customs and immigration forms... the long line for non-Japanese people...folds at least 10 times... It moves quickly, but it's still... On one of my forms is a cross out... mistook the line above for the box below. I wonder if they'll accept it or I'll have to go through some awful process a second... third time... they won't let me in the country. I'll be shipped off to North Korea... tortured...

Okay, I don't want to take the chance. I'm turning Japanese... risk adverse... I better fill out another form... make it perfect... I duck under the stretchy rope, go back to the entrance, fill out another form, and get back on the end of the line. I AM the end of the line, there is no one behind me.

Walk... walk... walk... a uniformed form checker stops me and asks to see my forms. (Actually, he stops EVERYONE to check the forms.) He frowns... uh oh. This is going to be bad... I just know it.

He shakes his head and turns the form over. In English it asks: Are you bring in any fruits or vegetables? Do you have more than $10,000 worth of gifts?

I shake my head.

You have to check NO,” he says pointing to the questions.

I do.

I carry all my bags with me, so I march through immigration and go to customs. My 50 years of traveling have taught me: ALWAYS GO THROUGH THE RED DOOR.

For those who don't know. Most customs stations have two doors. The Green one, that means NOTHING TO DECLARE. And the Red one, that means SOMETHING TO DECLARE. If you're a smuggler, naturally you head for the green door. You're not going to declare your heroine or AK-47. But if you're an honest person and have something to declare, you go to the red door. I always hit the red door and declare something stupid.

I have a computer I brought from the US... and a carton of duty free cigarettes,” I always tell the guy behind the inspection desk.

The immigration officer smiles and says, “That's okay, just go ahead.” and waves me out.

Except this time.

Of course, the officer is a young woman... they've always got something to prove.

I have a computer I brought from the US... and a carton of duty free cigarettes,” I say.

Open the large bag,” says the young lady.

It's locked,” I say stupidly.

You need to unlock it,” she replies.

Shit! Where's that fuckin' key? Shirt pocket. No. Left front pants pocket? No. Watch pocket? No. I continue to fiddle. The agent is patient.

Right pocket. Yep... as always, the last place I look.

I open the lock and unzip the bag. She looks at the books and ARTLESS CDs I've brought. She takes out my sleeping bag and shuffles through the underwear beneath it. Then she repacks it. (I've been in immigration for almost 2 hours now.)

Have a nice stay in Japan,” she says.

Fuck you,” I don't say.

Outside immigration, sitting patiently, is George!!

White hair, black leather jacket, hard to miss.

Mykel!” he shouts.

George!” I say.

Mykel!” shouts someone else... girl's voice.

It's Lola! Her wedding is one of the reasons I'm here in Kansai. She lives in Kyoto, not Osaka. Why is she at the airport waiting for me? How did she even know I'd be here?

“My brother is coming in now,” she says. “I'm waiting for him... had no idea you were on this flight too.” She motions to an attractive young man standing silently by her side.

This is my husband, Takashi,” she says.

Your husband?” I answer. “I thought I was going to your wedding.”

Oh, that's the reception. We've been married for months,”

I motion to George. “This is my friend George,” I tell her. “We've known each other for 30 years, but we're not married... at least not to each other.”

My brother is due now,” says Lola.

That's okay,” I tell her. “I've got to take a piss... and buy a phone.”

Use Softbank,” suggest Lola. “There's one over there.”

I figure I'll like Softbank... they're the owners of my second favorite Japanese baseball team, the Hawks. (Winners of this year's Japan series.)

First the bathroom. YES!!! I'm not only NOT in New York anymore, but I'm really in Japan!:

From there it's pick up a phone. (I had to buy one... it was cheaper than renting. It's a smart phone... and I hate it.) and into town.

Hey Mykel,” says George. “You want to stay in my office space? It's like an apartment... shower, bed, for free. Better than a hotel.”

Sure!” I tell him. “That would be great, but I need to see if there's a cancellation fee.”

No problem,” he answers. “I'll go with you to the hotel to make sure everything's okay.”

The hotel is not close. I only know it's in Shin Osaka... near the station. East Exit, I think it was. I printed out a map. I'm unable to find the map. The name of the place is STEP IN.

There is no East Exit. We leave through the South Exit. We ask. Shrugs. We ask again, at a FAMILY MART convenience store. More shrugs. But, they have heard of an EAST EXIT. It's at the same station, but a different train line. We get directions and try it.

Leaving the through the East Exit we find ANOTHER Family Mart.

Step Inn? Hai... chotto toi, demo.”

He gives George directions that are more complicated than my fuckin' smart fuckin' phone. I don't have a clue... but George does. And we're off. Turning this way and that, into the station and out someplace else. Wow! I'm getting the feeling that the wild goose has gotten away when George says,

Hey Mykel, look there.”

I see some street construction.

No,” he says sensing my confusion. “That sign up there.”

And yes! It's the STEP IN... and we do.

And, there's no charge for cancellation. So we're safe. Now all we have to do is contact the other hotel. Cancel that... and we're home free.

I've got the information in my computer, I say, taking it out of my bag. Here it is... the screen is blank.

Mykel,” he says, “I think you have to connect to the internet first.”

He talks to the hostess, we move to the free wifi area, get the information, and step out of STEP INN.

Then, it's off to drop my stuff at George's, go out for my first Takoyaki. You can see that in the blog header above. I donno, it looks like I'm not enjoying my food, but lemme tell ya. It's great! You can't get this stuff (at least not this quality) in New York. And, I can start taking pictures of bad English... always a source of enjoyment.

Here's George and I scaring our fellow patrons over takoyaki.

Osaka is a city of 9 million people. Bigger than New York, second in Japan to Tokyo. It's a beautiful maze of neon and water... with food food food galore.

It's an exciting walk to George's place where I'll rest for the night and take care of the second hotel-- actually a hostel-- cancellation.

George,” I say, “could you call the hostel and see how much I have to pay to cancel my reservation.

Sure,” he says, “just give me the information.”

It's right here,” I say, reaching into my bag. “It's in my computer.”

There is no computer.

--To be continued.

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