Monday, January 23, 2006

The Plane Ride

Nikki (Diary): Friday, January 6, 2006:

"So here I am, on United Airlines' Flight 831 on my 10 hour nonstop to Nagoya, and my mind still isn't on Japan. When I really begin to think what it will be like, the thought overwhelms me. I just can't imagine what it will be like to be alone in a foriegn country, immersed in a foriegn language. And I don't want to imagine it--I don't want to think about it. For now, theplane is my world. For now...."

Friday, January 6, 2006, 2:30 AM (California time) to Saturday, January 7, 2006 4:00 PM (Nagoya time)

I woke up in the hotel feeling pale and groggy, but somehow also alert. My first inclination was not to roll over and sleep at least another ten minutes, as it might have been on any other normal day. Instead, I thought about packing up my things and internally wrote a list of everything I needed to bring from my hotel to the airport. A few minutes after I had dressed, Grandma knocked on the door. I packed my laptop computer in a black bag along with all its plugs and about three books and a diary; I stuffed my ipod and my digital camera in my purse, along with my money and my passport. I got my toiletries together and was ready to go.

But not quite. First I had to say goodbye to my cousin Kevin and my brother and my grandpa.

Only at Vegas can you expect a snack bar to be open at 2:30 AM. It was too early for breakfast, but I did drink coffee. At the airport, I stood in line for my ticket. Checked my bags. Took the escalator up to the boarding area. Gambled with my grandma at the slots. (Because, after all, I was still in Vegas) .

But when it came time to go through security and leave my mother and grandmother behind, suddenly the fear flushed through me. I didn't want them to go. I didn't want to be alone, and for a moment, I panicked. But I hugged them tightly goodbye, and went through security.

Maybe it was the way security worked, scanning the bags, making us take off coats and shoes and running us through the metal detectors. Maybe it was images I had from news and movies of planes crashing horribly. Maybe it was the fact that it was only my third time flying and the first time alone. Whatever the reason, I was not at ease. I was numb with fright and my mind kept thinking about death.

The flight to Japan had two legs. First, I would board an airbus to San Francisco. Then, after waiting a few hours in the capital of the Bay Area, I would board a standard Boeing 777 to Nagoya airport.

The airbus was small and that made me nervous. I had a window seat. Next to me, in the aisle, was a manm from Hawaii. We spoke a bit before the take off. After take off, I stared out the window, watching the sun rise, pink, over the Las Vegas strip. The sunrise comforted me, made me think of God. The plane dipped over brown mountains, shadows deep in the morning light; I could see a house on top and it awed me to think how small we really were. After a while, I relaxed a bit. Before long, we were in San Francisco. There was water everywhere. I noticed one long bridge, crossing the water; it was not the golden gate but a thinner one (maybe Jenny knows its name), thin as a pencil and fragile from my height.

Jenny had said she would meet me in San Francisco, and she did, though it took us a few minutes to find where each other was. In the end, I called her cell phone, and she found me in the food court, just outside the international terminal. By now it was nine or ten and I was starving. I wolfed down a decent eggs benedict and orange juice ($14.00!), and Jenny kept telling me, "Wow, I can't believe you're going to Japan! I'm so excited!" I was terrified and tried to cram that terror under my eggs benedict. The plane ride along was frightening; I didn't want to think about Japan.

We wandered around the airport, went into a Sephora, and took a picture together, my last picture in America. Then it was time for me to go. That familiar pang of seperation anxiety hit me all over again. It felt sadder being alone, this time. I went through the gate.

Flight 831 was crowded. My seat, 36D Economy, was wedged almost entirely in the middle, the second in a row of five. I had requested a window seat. It was a fairly crowded flight, but fortunately, 36 E was unoccupied, and I deposited my two jackets, my bulky black computer bag, and my purse onto it. The occupant of 36F also used the seat as storage. But even with this small relief, my chair was cramped and uncomfortable. I couldn't even cross my legs. I certainly couldn't sleep, at least not for very long. I dozed once or twice and dreamed faintly about my mom and my grandma.

They served the first meal pretty quickly. The service was good. The food was not. The main course was some sort of chicken with rice and mushrooms in a strange sauce. It reminded me of a cheap microwave dinner. There was also an inedible turkey salad, melons and grapes, a seeded roll with butter, and a decent carrot cake desert. They served snacks later and a second meal of penne and sauce and cheese (again of the cheap, small, microwave variety)--that, at least was better than the chiken.

In the meantime, I amused myself by reading. First I read a book called Tsubaki (thank you Ashley), then I wrote in my diary (thank you Jaime), then I read about half of a history book about the Shinsengumi (thank you Tyler). I caught glimpses of the inflight movies, via other passengers' screens, and found myself watching Corpse Bride and Cinderella Man. I couldn't hear anything, so I had to guess what was happening (there were subtitles but they were in Chinese). As it turned out, this was good practice for watching movies/TV in Japan, where I could hear the words, but they were similiarily unintelligible.

Though I did enjoy catching up on my reading, the plane flight was miserable. It was cramped and uncomfortable and occausionally cold. I still jumped at turbulence and the beep preluding the captain's speeches. It was constantly dim after take-off and time didn't seem to exsist. After a while, the other passanger's screens began to show how near we were to Japan--only a little closer now. For about an hour, only a little closer now. Anxiety began to rubb against me, but I had no one to tell this to. In fact, for ten hours straight I hadn't spoken to anyone except the stewdardess and that was only to tell her what I wanted to drink.

Soon windows began openning again, sending in shafts of light. I could see the ocean and, later mountains, my first impression of Japan, as we began to wheel inwards for landing.

It was nearly 4:00 PM and I was going to step into a foriegn country for the first time in my life.


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