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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Live blog from 10,000 feet

Broadcasting live from 30,000 feet, somewhere over Western Russia

Hello hello.

And it all started so well!

Got up in plenty of time, final bit of packing and weighing of luggage on the bathroom scales (2kg under our combined limit of 60kg), into the car with ma and pa, straight through all the green lights in town to our train that departed shortly after our boarding it. Nice ticket inspector that didn't ask to see *Twinkle's* Young Person's Railcard that had been accidentally stowed at the bottom of her huge heavily-fortified suitcase that is equipped with a time delay preventing it from being opened until our arrival in Tokyo.

Birmingham International was so smooooth. Being a one-runway regional airport it wasn't at all busy. The staff were helpful and friendly, making what could have been a very irritating check-in experience not at all unpleasant. The recently imposed "anti-terror"security measures (including rules such as no liquids, only one item no bigger than 16cm x 35cm x 45cm) meant that we basically had to strip off before proceeding through the scanner thing - *Twinkle* was permitted to keep her underwear on, and I was given one of the 4 rubber fig-leaves that are circulated around the men,

From there it was a case of walking straight onto the plane, which took off almost as soon as we had sat down. No 3-hour taxi down an endless strip of tarmac, or waiting in line behind what turns out to be ten other aeroplanes despite looking like only 2 when you try and look out the window at the runway ahead. From the air, Birmingham actually looked quite pretty - all in all, a miraculous flight experience.

45 minutes mater and we were on the tarmac once again, this time in the Netherlands. I suppose it was at about this time that things started to go pear-shaped. Walking over to the cheese section of the duty-fre shop, I noticed that I wasn't wearing my camera - odd, I distinctly remember slinging it over my shoulder in Birmingham ...didn't i have it on the plane?

So began the long task of trying to find my Sony DSC, an excellet compact digital I've had for a couple of years now. On approaching airport staff, I was advised to wait for the cabin-crw to disembark. Thus, I waited by the now-locked door of the skywalk. 10 minutes later I was told that in fact they'd already disembarked, and that I should go to Lost Property - located on the other side of immigration in the Netherlands proper! What a palaver... That airport is huge... through the baggage hall, through immigration (at least it was Europe gving me no visa worries!), out to lost and found, who informed me that no, no camera had been found, but really I should have checked with the transfer desk the other side of baggage / passport control, where I'd just come from!

This being a PROPER international airport there was a damn impresive queue to join the back of, and no fastrack for some idiot like me who was desperately seraching for his camera and had a flight to Tokyo departing shortly! All this time *Twinkle* was waiting patiently with a coffee, unaware that I'd effectively had to leave the airport in my quest.

Finally I mae it back into the transfer area, where I was greeted by another huge queue. As I didn't actually need to check in - all I needed to do was ask anyone beihind the long desk if they had had a camera handed to them - I thought it would be ok to join the very short Business Class queue. Boy was I wrong there. On approaching the man behind the counter, I was told, "This is Business Class only. Are you Business Class?"
"No... but I just want to ask..."
"Did you hear what I just said?!" he growled. Somewhat shocked, I tried to explain that I just wanted to know if he or his colleagues had had a camera handed to them, but he was having none of it, and ordered me to leave his counter and join the end of the very long queue leading up to the 1-person enquiry desk.

By this time I was really starting to sweat. Check-in for the flight to Tokyo had begun, and it was a long way to gate E24. I ran back to the information desk where I'd been told to try the transfer desk, explaining that I had to go. I was given a card with the Lost and Found number on, told to wait 24 hours and then give them a call. So that's what I'll do.

It was ironic then that boarding was delayed by 50 minutes, due to "extra security checks involving the engines". Having checked in, we sat surrounded by 400 japanese people, us both quietly freaking out (more on that to come). Suddenly, over the intercom came an announcement, of the type broadcast right across the airport.

"Would Mr. Tame bound for Tokyo please make his way to gate E24 immidiately. You are delaying the flight and your luggage will be unloaded."

WHAT! I'd checked in a good 30 minutes beforehand! Back out through the metal detector thingy to iinform the staff that I wasn't delaying the flight, and I'd really appreciate it if they didn't unload my luggage! Once on the plane, we squeezed into these seats which seem to be made for people with no legs / japanese people, and waited. And waited. And waited. After 30 minutes, and a journey of about 20 metres backwards, we were told by the captain that due to engine trouble we'd be returning to the dock. back we go, on come the engineersm who replace a part of the engine. "Don't worry though, weve taken some extra fuel on board so we can fly extra-fast to Tokyo".

So here we are.

The in-flight movie might be quite good, but as the in-seat screens I thought this plane had are missing, I'm not quite sure. My glasss are in the hold so I can't see a thing on the screen at the end of the cabin.

As you can tell, everything's perfect!

Despite the fact that I have lost my camera and am unlikely to see it again, and despite the fact that my knees are superglued to the back of the seat in front of me, I don't actually feel too hard-done by. The fact is I have my *Twinkle* beside me, and she's looking really cute :-)

Mixed feelings about returning to japan.

Well, I've only got aother 4 hours of battery life left on my MacBook :-p so I'd better sign off here.

xxx joseph


6 hours into the flight

The excitement continues as an elderly Japanese gentleman falls unconcious out of his chair and onto the floor four rows in front of us. The hostesses struggle to pick him up, and no sooner is he on his feet than he falls to the floor again, witha thud. An anouncement is made, asking if there are any doctor's amongst the 400 passengers. One japanese lady comes forward - she's a nurse. Oxygen is administered, and after a while it is decided to move him to the upper deck where he can lie down.

Only a cynic would think this a cheap ploy to get an upgrade. Still, it is worth bearing in mind that it was actually very effective, with the dramatic fall having a much greater impact than my own "my knees are stuck against the seat in front" routine. Next time i should make sure `I am carrying a while pack of Epilim in my hand luggage, rather than just three tablets, and then have a seizure triggered by altitude, or perhaps flickering sunlight as we pass through clouds.

The sun has actually risen, bringing our 3-hour night to an end. I love these sun rises over Russia. Where there's cloud, the beautiful light turns the landscape into a sea of orange. Where it's clear, the sun picks out the vast stretches of siberian wilerness. Rivers and hills are all one can see for miles - no sign of humankind.

The Baton of Dominance was passed from myself to *Twinkle* about an hour ago, exactly half-way through our flight. As previously agreed, from here on it's Japanese only, no matter how frustrating it gets. As noted by *Twinkle*in her dissertatio on intercultrual marriage, being the owner of the dominant language can bring one great power within a relationship (although it would seem that not all intercultural couples conscously acknowledge this). This is the price that I will pay for improving my japanese. I am willing to let her be the dominant party (wicked grin). Seriously though, it's going to be interesting to see how this changes the nature of our relationship. In fact, the whole coming-to-japan thing could actually be considered to be a new beginning for us, where we learn the basics about one another all over again.

So, yes, mixed feelings about returning to japan. We both found it pretty unnerving sitting in that departures lounge, surrounded by JTB OAP tour groups and stereotypically dressed teenagers; the place was awash with conformity and We Japaneseness.

Needles to say, I wll probably have equally strong reservations about returning to the UK in a year's time - it's all a case of familiarity I guess.

Anyway, I think I'll have a little snooze for a while, before our gourmet breakfast (consisting of a stale piece of reconstituted 'bread' and a slice of polycarbonate 'cheese") is served.

++++++++ 90 minutes from Tokyo, just crossing the Russian coast line.+++++++++

As planned, whilst the majority of the 400+ passengers on board ere sleeping, *Twinkle* and I have taken advntage of our maiden flight together, and made it into the Mile High Club! Having returned to our seats, I keep on thinking that the air stewerds Know Something - or are their glances exactly the same as when we boarded? Incidentally, we won't be posting the details on the official club website!

Feelings towards Japan mellow as we near the islands. Perhaps it's the influence of the woman who's been serving me orange juice for the past 9 hours. Whatever, it bodes well. I'm looking forward to seeing my friends at immigration and customs. The trauma of my trip back from Korea remains burned into my memory, and so now, whenever I manage to enter the country, I feel that it is a victory for me. Upon my arrival last summer, I actually had a really positive welcome, thank to the blue-uniformed white-gloved man at customs. He was delighted that I could speak a little japanese, and a really friendly conversation ensued (whilst he emptied my big rucksack in its entirity). I like the baggage carasol too. `i think it's the conveyor belt action - they really do it for me (think of my joy last June when I was given the job of pressing the start/stop buttons on the log conveyor on that charcoal farm),

I'm a bit nervous about meeting *Twinkle's* father at Narita airport. Being shattered, My language ability will be reduced even further from its normal appallingnes. Oh well. There's a big bottle of finest Single malt Scotch Whiskey in the locker above my head.

Ho hum tiddly pom. See you on the ground.

xxx

++++++++++++++++

Update:

arrived on ground ok. Bloody hell it's hot. Knackered, but all's good.


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