return flight

23Sep05

I’m finally back in Osaka after having been away for almost a month. It’s nice to be home, although when I stepped off the plane I immediately began to sweat because, amazingly, it seems to be precisely as hot and humid now as it was when I first set off for the States. The traumatic return to humidity, however, was immediately counterbalanced by the fact that I was able to put a 10,000 yen bill (equivalent to around $100 U.S.) into the Airport Limousine ticket machine, get a ticket, and get change in bills. The technology does indeed exist, and why no ticket or change machine that I’ve ever encountered in the U.S. can do this is a mystery to me.

My trip back to Osaka had a couple of notable moments. The first was when I was waiting in the Air Canada check-in line with about ten guys dressed in camo hunting gear who were carrying — in addition to their camo backpacks — guns, ammo, and dogs. You’ll have to remember that it was about six in the morning when I encountered this. The sun had not yet risen, and I hadn’t yet even been able to down a cup of coffee, and there was all this camo and tail wagging going on around me. The hunting crew clearly knew what it was doing, however, and despite their large amounts of gear, and their guns and dogs, they took up barely any more time than the average check-in.

The second notable event on my flight, other than the fact that I finally bought myself a neck pillow so I could get some decent rest (which I didn’t actually end up getting) was my encounter with a young woman who was going to visit her fiancé who is stationed in Japan. This encounter bordered on the surreal for me. I ran into the young woman while I was waiting in line at Canadian passport control. At the Vancouver airport you need to go through passport control, even if you’re making a connecting flight. The woman, who I took for a backpacker because of her enormous green Camelbak, was a bit confused about this, so, since I’d been through Canadian passport control before, I told her how it would all work out. We ended up in the elevator together and, since she was still a bit confused about how things were working, I walked with her to the flight information screen so we could figure out when our flights were leaving. She told me that she was flying into Tokyo and then taking a train to meet her friends somewhere (I can’t recall the name of the city) where they would all go down to the base where her fiancé was stationed. She asked me if I knew how to get to the city she wanted to go to, because no one would be there to meet her at the airport, and I told her that I had no idea but that the Information booth at Narita would probably be great because even local Japanese tourist information booths usually have someone who speaks decent English and they always have great maps and advice to give. That’s when she looked at me and said, “I prayed to God that I would run into someone who knew a lot about Japan and who could help me out.” That’s fine by me, but of course all I had done was direct her to the Information booth — in fact I had absolutely zero information of my own to impart. Soon she was asking me if I knew anything about the ferry to Russia, because after meeting her fiancé in Japan she was going to be going to Khazakstan. I never got a chance to ask her why she was going to Khazakstan, because the next thing she asked was about changing American currency in Japan. “Do they take all your money,” she asked, “or can you only give them some and keep the rest in American dollars? For example, if you have $200, can you change $100 and then keep $100?” I told her that she could keep or change as much as she wanted and she said, “Good, because I don’t have very much money. In fact, I’m only planning on spending about $25 a week on food.” At that point my head began to get slightly dizzy and all I could think of to say was, “Um. Have you read a Japan guidebook?” She told me she hadn’t and that she was just going to trust in the Lord. I told her that I hoped that her fiancé at the base could help her out, because $25 a week really wasn’t enough to get by on in Japan.

Two things really disturbed me in all of this: 1) An incredibly naive sense of American, or perhaps “chosen” entitlement — the sense that being a Christian means that God looks after you to the point where you don’t have to do any work at all, but simply get to amble through the world while God constantly (perhaps via a host of guardian angels) watches your back. This sense — that God is a kind of winning lottery ticket — seems to be a particular kind of American Christian thinking that’s especially endemic right now, though I’m sure any of the major religions contain aspects of this sense as well. 2) I never quite knew that it was possible for a person to be so completely uninformed about a foreign country that that person was going to be visiting for at least several weeks. If this isn’t just completely narcissistic — or perhaps even scarily solipsistic — I don’t know what is. But it seems to be part of the American political character right now — a bizarrely insular sense of a self (both on the individual and national levels) that doesn’t need to know anything outside of itself because all truth resides within. Never mind that the American political model comes initially from European traditions of thought — now the Constitution has become some indigenous, inviolable, metaphysical, and transcendent icon, as if God Himself had given it to the American people in the form of a giant tablet. Never mind that the American economy, the American “way of life” as it were, is completely dependent on the exploited labor of other countries, and the tight economic ties the U.S. has with other major world economies. Never mind anything — Americans don’t need to know because American citizens are cushioned by military and economic power to the point where too many Americans think that being American means that you’ve already won the lottery.

In any case, I wish the young woman that I met well, though I suspect that she’s in for a rude awakening and perhaps even a crisis of faith. Unless, of course, Japanese immigration control immediately puts her back on the plane for not having enough money to last for five days in Japan.

More posts to come: My California Adventures! Ghost Posts From the Past! And a Historical Account of Nara! Expect me to post daily for the next couple of weeks. Also, I’ll be posting a ton of California trip photos on Flickr soon, so stay tuned.

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