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Posts Tagged ‘Japan 2018’

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Tokyo, from the observation deck of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building – a free alternative to seeing the city from above. It’s 45 floors up on a floor that has an almost 360 degree view, a gift shop and cafe.

As we were walking around taking in the views, I could sense a much older gentleman in a volunteer vest watching us. For several minutes, he didn’t take his eyes off us while we talked and took photos. At last he ventured forward and asked if we had any questions. No, not really. Even so, did we have a few minutes for him to point out some features? Ten – twenty – thirty? Well, if you insist – ten. Sure, we have ten minutes. I don’t know if the volunteers are observed in their work and have an interaction quota – but he did seem (politely) insistent.

And it turns out – as these things always do – to be fruitful. I learned that a great deal of the land I was looking at had held nothing but a water filtration system until 1971, when the area began being developed. He showed us photos from his notebook, and it certainly was different. He pointed out the construction for the 2020 Olympics stadium and other sites. (In case you are wondering, it wasn’t rainy on Monday, but it was still far too hazy to see Mount Fuji)

And then he had a question for us.

He pointed to a building constructed of three towers in a row, staggered in height. He said that one housed the Tokyo Hyatt, and then flipped to a page in his book with photos of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson – it was the locus of a lot of the filming of Lost in Translation of course. Then he said, “I have a question. Some people say that each of the towers represent either the past, present, or future. Which do you think is the future?” My oldest son answered, “The tallest.” I honestly didn’t care or have an opinion, but just said, “Sure. The tallest.” As did my younger son.

“Ah, just like Americans – always thinking the future is great in size. The right answer is – no one knows which tower represents the future, because no one knows the future!”

Well, that’s very Zen of you, Old Volunteer Guide Fellow. And also…true.

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Monday:

Another kind of weird, unfocused day, because Tokyo is doing that to me. I do think that if we were, indeed going to be in Tokyo for the whole trip (as originally planned), I’d have more focus. But as it is, with Monday being our last full day in a vast city of 30 million people…it’s hard to figure out what to do except, “Experience more Tokyo in general and without a plan and hope for the best.”

When we travel and are not in a place with free breakfast and are within walking distance of shops, my usual practice is to wake up earlier than everyone else (which happens anyway) and then walk out, see morning city life and grab milk and pastries somewhere.

View from our hotel – the Richmond Premiere right next to the Oshiage Station. It was a fantastic location. A little far from popular areas like Shinjuku, but honestly – that’s fine. It wasn’t crazy, and there was plenty to do, see and eat nearby. 

Well…life here in Tokyo doesn’t get rolling until later in the morning, I discovered. Oh, things are open, but not many. We are right across from the Tokyo SkyTree which has a great mall with a fantastic food court – including a bakery. I headed over there first, a bit before nine, and found the shops all blocked off, not to open until ten. Okay – there’s a large grocery store next to the hotel  with two levels – the top being a Whole Foods-type place with lots of prepared foods, organic goods and a bakery, and then a large regular grocery store in the basement. Head to the bakery! Well, it didn’t open until nine – so I waited for a few minutes, went in  – and saw all the bakers working hard, yes…but not a thing put out in the cases yet. Nothing. I stood around for a few minutes, and they didn’t seem to be at an “almost there” point – so I gave up, went downstairs, got a bunch of prepackaged donuts and such, found some milk and went back up to the room.

After everyone was “nourished” we went to the train and traveled way across town (at least a 30 minute ride) to the Shinjuku area, the first destination being the Tokyo Municipal Government Building observatory – described in this post.

That done, it was time to wander – I had a couple of destinations, one of which we found, the other of which eluded us. Shinjuku is certainly busy and crowded, but it was nothing like Shibuyu, and so not as much of a hassle to walk around in – although the difference being today is that it was very, very hot. The hottest it been – which doesn’t bother me, but does some others in our party.

My takeaway from that hour or so in Shinjuku was this:

There are, it seems to me, two cities in Tokyo – one above ground and other below. What’s above ground is what you’d expect – crowded, jostling, with rather mysterious doorways leading off into the unknown. Just a little gritty, but not American-city gritty, because this is Japan. Underground there’s another country, extending for (it seems) kilometers around every major train station are dozens and dozens of shops and eateries – you find similar things in many major cities, but it’s more striking here in Tokyo because of the contrast. Underground, the shops are well-lit, spacious and it’s very clear what’s what and how to get in and out and get around. You might have this idea, going to Tokyo, that you’re going to eat in some little satori or ramen place in a cute neighborhood, but what I’m finding here is that to find a place where I feel comfortable, since I don’t speak but three words of Japanese and don’t really understand the cuisine very well at all – is a challenge above ground, and okay – this place in the underground mall looks good, so we’ll go here. It’s the same stuff, the same style (most Japanese restaurants specialize in one kind of dish – ramen, satori, udon, etc) and perhaps more expensive, but darn it – guess what – all the customers are Japanese down here, too – so why not?

Selling out? Probably. But People Get Hungry, so here we are!

In our wanderings we did see the exterior of the famed Robot Restaurant/Cafe, which is insane – I didn’t take photos, but it’s a gaudy, ridiculous-looking place on a side street, where it costs 80 bucks just to get in and see the “show” with food being extra. Oh – and Godzilla!

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Our food was tonkatsu, a traditional way of preparing pork cutlets. It was very good, although I have now discovered something…

I don’t like matcha tea. The first tea we had here, I took a sip and was put off by what I would describe as a smokey taste. Weird, I thought. Then I had it again at this restaurant (it’s just served automatically) and figured out that’s what it was – matcha – and well, I don’t think I like it!

The meals are provoking interesting conversations about the differences in cuisine and what that reveals about culture: for example, a cuisine that emphasizes presenting the diner with elements of the meal – either cooked or uncooked – and leaving up to her how to season and finish it.

After that, we ended up at Sunshine City, yet one more large shopping and entertainment area which features an anime-themed amusement park, some other amusement park (didn’t go), a Pokemon store (waited outside) and then an aquarium on the rooftop, which turned out to be a very pleasant surprise.

It’s not huge, but it’s substantial, with two sections – a larger one indoors and a few outdoor exhibits. Most of the exhibits focus on creatures you’d find around Japan. At 4:00 on a Monday afternoon, the place was crowded – with hardly any children. A few toddlers, perhaps, but everyone else was an adult…although….

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We judge an aquarium (or zoo) in part on the question, “Did I see something I’d never seen before?” The answer here was yes. 

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It’s called a sunfish, it’s huge and weird looking, and my zoologist son is pretty sure it’s illegal to keep them in captivity in the US. Also – mudskippers. That got him psyched.

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We were there for the sea lion (seal?) show and while of course it was in Japanese, it was pretty evident to me that the content was more substantial than it’s been in similar shows I’ve seen in the US. With the added bonus of these little pads that were distributed to the audience to prevent direct contact with the ground, and perhaps a quarter-centimeter of padding. So thanks!

There were also some gorgeous pink pelicans – but the photos didn’t turn out for some reason and I don’t have time to try to fix them, so just know – there were giant pink pelicans.

We trekked back to our part of town – as we approached the station, we were a little afraid because it was rush hour, the crowds were heavy, and have you seen the videos of subway attendants pushing, shoving and packing people in the train cars? Sure, it would be interesting to experience, but still a little weird. No worries, though – maybe not many people actually live in the direction of our hotel, because the ride back was relaxed and uncrowded.

After a break, we headed over to the Skytree, where Someone had noticed conveyer-belt sushi – a definite goal of this trip. We had to wait for a while – but waiting for restaurants in Japan is so orderly, it’s almost entertaining. You don’t mill about with buzzers, glaring at parties who seem to be unfairly favored – no, there are seats. You sit on the seats outside the restaurant, and as parties are called up – you move your own seat up.

There was an English menu, but no one spoke English, which was fine. What you miss out on in these situations, though, is understanding what people are saying in random moments – so in this sushi restaurant (perhaps in all? I don’t know) new diners are greeted with shouts from the staff (it reminded me of “Welcome to Moe’s!”) and then when customers leave, there’s more shouting. At one point, a chef brought out a tray of freshly prepared plates from the same fish, at which point, a staff member made a speech of some sort and everyone applauded.

So – the sushi? Here’s the thing – I’ve never eaten sushi before in my life – no desire to – but I was determined I would do it here. That means I have no basis on which to judge it – I will say that it tasted absolutely fresh and clean. I suppose that is the goal? My take on sushi (I think I had tuna, salmon and a couple of kinds of white fish): eh. I suppose I sort of understand why people like it, and it does have a certain appeal – I am guessing the appeal lies precisely in that simplicity of flavor – but to me, the experience was basically of a big chunk of flesh. Sorry I can be more sophisticated than that! We all like what we like – I appreciate simplicity and straightforward taste when it comes to fruits and vegetables, but otherwise, I tend to go for layers of flavor that are the result of the cooking process – why I’m such a soup fan, for example.

But – been there, done that! We will probably do it again here. I want to go to one of those places – there are ramen restaurants like this too – where you punch in what you want on a machine in the front and then hand over the printout.

So then…back to the room, to prepare for…Kyoto!

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After a couple of full days here in Tokyo, I’m going to say that I’m very, very glad this AirBnB thing blew up, forcing me to change plans. It certainly wouldn’t have been terrible to have been here the entire time – what with day trips outside the city and so on –  but at this point, I’m going to be glad to get to a location that’s a little more – focused, I guess.

Not that Kyoto is small. No way. But Tokyo is not only massive, both geographically and in terms of population, but it’s…widely dispersed, composed of discrete areas, without a clear center of distinct history and geography (think Chicago’s Michigan Avenue area, for example, for contrast).

(Why? Because – well, frequent earthquakes and fires and, most recently, what the US did to the city during World War II: destroyed most of it in firebombing raids. So there’s not a lot of historical architecture here and the place reflects a history of continual rebuilding.)

It’s amazing, but it’s also a challenge to figure out what to do and where to go for a day – unless you yourself have a clear focus as in, “I’m going to explore anime related things” or “I’m going to find coo fashion.”

But that’s okay for us, because for me, travel is not so much about seeing landmarks anymore as it is in even in a limited way experiencing a different culture and immersing myself and my kids in the very different ways people outside of our bubble live their lives. I am very much content with wandering. It’s a metaphor for my life, so it makes sense that I’m comfortable with it as a travel style. As I keep saying over and over – it’s all new to me – there’s nothing here I’ve seen before – so what does it matter if I see X and not Y today? I’ll experience and learn something new, no matter what, and from that tediously spiritual perspective I tend to have – whatever I experience is what I’m supposed to experience. Don’t plan – prepare. Prepare to encounter life, people, God – whatever – in every moment, where ever you end up.

That said, I think I’m going to be relieved to get to Kyoto, which has a more distinct tourist travel pattern.

Oh, I’m also glad the AirBnB thing fell apart for Tokyo because having been here for all of two days, I can see now that the location of that apartment would not have been optimal. The hotel we’re in is right next to a train station, which is so valuable, I hope I never forget this lesson – how wonderful it is at the end of a long day of walking to emerge from the depths of your last subway journey and look straight at your hotel, knowing that there’s a freshly-made room just waiting for you up seven floors…

So okay—thanks Japanese government. Good deal.

If I’m going to take anything away from this trip, it’s going to be about this Japanese culture of politeness. It’s given me a lot to think about – but I need to experience more of it. I’ll just say that it’s refreshing but also creepy. It clearly sets firm parameters for social interactions, which makes things very clear and easy to navigate. It’s also nice to not live in fear of the seething rage of store cashiers, as one does in Italy – you can give a Japanese cashier any denomination of cash and they won’t blink at whatever amount of change they have to give back to you – unlike in some parts of Europe where they might outright refuse your transaction if it requires them to give up too much change.

But you still walk away thinking…what is this extreme politeness and external cheer blanketing?  And considering the dark and even perverted shadows of Japanese culture, it’s not an unreasonable train of thought.

So to recap:

Our first full day was Saturday. We wandered around the Akasuka district, briefly described here. I was feeling rough by the end of the day – just really tired (and I’m never tired) with a bit of vertigo. I ended up just giving up and going to sleep around nine.

Sunday was better, although I still had some of the vertigo (from the flight, I’m assuming. I’m typing this Monday morning (my time) and seem to be feeling fine now.) The plan for the day, such as it was, was Mass, followed by a request trip way down to some sort of Toyota showcase/attraction that’s located on Tokyo Bay. And go from there. Highlights, interspersed with photos.

  • Mass was at this church, less than a mile from our hotel. I had first planned to walk there, but it was drizzly and by the time we’d discussed what to do, it was really too late to start walking, so we caught a cab – a cab with back doors that opened and shut automatically! I showed the cab driver our destination on the phone, and as he pulled over he said, “Catolica – Catolica?” This is the place!
  • It’s a small church, with mostly older women in the congregation, with a few families. A very, very friendly and welcoming congregation. Of course we are easy to spot as visitors, and right as we walked in the door, a woman asked us if we needed English language materials. They are set up for visitors! The Mass booklet had the Mass parts in four columns: in Japanese pictograph, Japanese in Roman letters, English and Tagalog (they have a substantial Filipino demographic, I guess?). It made it very easy to follow along the Japanese, which was interesting. Everyone sang – there was a young man with a great voice who served as a cantor on the Responsorial Psalm – and there was even one familiar tune – Eat this Bread – not my favorite, but interesting to hear it.
  • I normally can’t stand “let’s welcome our visitors” – but you know what? At the end of Mass in a small congregation, it’s just fine. There were us, some folks from Argentina and some from Costa Rica. They had coffee after Mass, to which we were welcomed, and there had a good conversation with an American, language educator and Tokyo resident for twenty-five years, who had some very helpful tips for us.
  • Go to Mass all the time, go to Mass when you’re traveling – you are always home, in a way.

From that point, we had to take a bus down to this Toyota MegaWeb place. Which took a while, but again, was interesting – we’d been doing trains, so it was time to learn the bus. What I hadn’t realized was that the Toyota facility was part of a large shopping and entertainment district called Odaiba, built on man made islands originally constructed centuries ago for defensive purposes. It was pretty crazy, and we didn’t see half what we could have – the intensity of Japanese shopping and entertainment culture is overwhelming – but:

  • My son enjoyed the Toyota place, which included concept cars and a history garage, but was disappointed because the area where you can ride various vehicles was closed. On a Sunday. Go figure.
  • I know Michael Jackson is popular in various parts of the world, but I guess “Michael Jackson dancing” is a hobby of sorts in Japan? There was some sort of event featuring groups with participants of all ages – from 5-year olds to those probably in their 60’s – doing routines. (v video on Instagram)
  • Okay – one whole area of this Venus Fort shopping mall was devoted to pet goods. Which means that it was overrun with customers with their pets – scads of little dogs, each dressed up, most in carriages, shopping for…more pet clothes? We did peak in one shop selling $4k dogs, too.
  • Now, I would go on a rant about the collapsing Japanese demographic and what irony for these couples to be pushing their carriage with their three stupid expensive fluffy dogs with bows on their heads and jackets on their little bodies while they should have had kids but – I will say that Tokyo is not at all like New York City, where you can walk for blocks without seeing an actual child. There are lots of children, it’s a very child-friendly culture, and I’ve seen many, many family groups with more than one child – some even with three. So perhaps the tide is turning, slowly?
  • We did lunch a Lotteria – a Japanese fast food chain. When eating in a foreign country, I’m not all about the “eat only locally sourced traditional recipes created in secret kitchens in hidden alleyways.” I mean – these are Japanese chains, filled with Japanese families – if I’m going to see how this works, why not? The food was fine – the interesting point being that a meal (or “set” as they call it here) includes not only your sandwich, drink and fries, but a fried chicken piece as well.
  • Gundam – these robots are incredibly popular. There’s a “Gundam Base” store in the Diverse City Mall – the biggest theme store of any I’ve ever seen. I’m still not sure what this is – a show? A building system? Both? Shrugs. But the store was packed and out in front of the mall was a huge Gundam – world renowned – that, we read, “transforms” several times a day. We would not have headed there specifically to see that, but it was happening right around the time we arrived, so why not? Let’s jut say…it was underwhelming. Basically, the two horns on top of the head move to form one. Or vice versa – I can’t remember. It was funny, because there were a lot of people gathered around to watch, and the Is that all there is to it? was palpable – in any language.
  • As is the case everywhere, it seems, there is an arcade – a huge arcade, thunderingly loud, pulsing, bright, crowded. And what’s super-popular here are claw machines. Dozens of them in every arcade, from smaller ones where you grab trinkets to those featuring big plush toys, to….everything else.

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  • After a bit of exploring of the mall and a detour over to a massive auto supply store called Autobacs, we got back on the train and headed to Shibuyu – one of the more well-known neighborhoods of Tokyo. You might have heard of the famed “Shibuyu crossing” – a very busy crossing where, at light changes, thousands of people cross the road at once. Just look up photos and videos for a bird’s eye view. We crossed a couple of times, and it was something to be part of a crowd that big moving energetically in one direction. We didn’t get a bird’s eye view, though, which we’d hoped to – they say to do so from the Starbucks on one corner, but it was clear that Starbucks has worked it so you have to purchase something on the first floor in order to access the stairs to the second, where you can see – and there was a line, so it wasn’t worth it to us.
  • Took a photo at the famed Hachiko statue:

This Akita dog came to Shibuya Station everyday to meet his master, a professor, returning from work. After the professor died in 1925, Hachikō continued to come to the station daily until his own death nearly 10 years later. The story became legend and a small statue was erected in the dog’s memory in front of Shibuya Station. 

We walked around a bit, went to a few stores – I had wanted to check out Tokyu Hands, but was under – or perhaps over- whelmed, and ended up just wanting to move on – and then the massive food court in the basement of the Tokyu department store right next to the station. These Tokyo department store food areas are turning out to be one of my favorite aspects of the city. The variety and quality of goods is just so fascinating. And yes, we saw some of the famed stupidly expensive Japanese produce. Do people actually buy $100 melons? Do they?

 

(Currency conversion tip – to convert yen to USD, basically cut off two zeros. That will get you close enough. See what I mean?”

Shibuyu is grittier and more chaotic than what we’ve been experiencing in Tokyo – and more tourist-oriented – so it ended up not holding much interest for me. Back on the train, and back to our own Tokyo Skytree area, which is busy, too, but not as chaotic.

Spent some time in the mall across the way – Pokemon, nanoblocks, and various interesting Japanese goods, expensive and cheap – and then dinner.

Excellent!

 

It was a different sort of travel day, but one dedicated to satisfying one traveler’s interest (in car-related things), figuring out more of the city and see local families doing their local Sunday thing…

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— 1 —

Not from Tokyo…as of this writing…no. Ahem.

Check Instagram for more current updates….

— 2 —

 

 

Random links first:

I’m in Living Faith today. Go here for that. It’s unplanned, but very fitting for what’s I’m doing at the moment. For more like it, check out the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days. 

Related: Scripture Passages that Changed My Life –  a collection of essays by Living Faith authors – is now available. I’m in there. And yes, they are essays – not the 150-word Living Faith entries in the quarterly devotional. Full-length reflective essays. For you!

Also – last week I noted that the robins were trying again. Well…it seems as if someone else was watching. Report here. Sigh. 

 

— 3 —

Here’s some fantastic news: Perhaps you know about Horrible Histories – the great British kids’ show based on some off-kilter British kids’ history books. I’ve written about them a lot, and we love the series around here. The same crew produced another show called Yonderland  – of which we’ve only seen the first season, and enjoyed – and a fun take on young Shakespeare called Bill. 

This is a great post with a list – and video links – to some of the best musical numbers from Horrible Histories. Including, of course…

(Did I ever tell you about the time my daughter ran into Mat Baynton on the very last day of the Edinborough Festival Fringe, where she’d been working for a month? Well – that happened – this young American woman breathlessly saying, “My little brother can sing the whole Pachacuti song!”)

They’re back! With, it seems a fun-sounding variation on The Canterville Ghost. 

Ghosts is a multi-character sitcom created by the lead cast of writer-performers from the award winning Horrible Histories and Yonderland, and the feature film Bill.

The crumbling country pile of Button Hall is home to numerous restless spirits who have died there over the centuries – each ghost very much a product of their time, resigned to squabbling with each other for eternity over the most inane of daily gripes. But their lives – or, rather, afterlives – are thrown into turmoil when a young urban couple – Alison and Mike – surprisingly inherit the peaceful derelict house and make plans to turn it into a bustling family hotel. As the ghosts attempt to oust the newcomers from their home, and Mike and Alison discover the true scale of the project they’ve taken on, fate conspires to trap both sides in an impossible house share, where every day is, literally, a matter of life and death.

— 4 —

More serious random links:

Why is Rome sidelining Ukrainian Catholics?

First, there was the consistory for new cardinals announced on Pentecost Sunday. Leading the list of 11 new cardinal electors was Louis Raphaël I Sako, Patriarch of Babylon and head of the Chaldean Church, Iraq’s principal eastern Catholic Church. Creating the patriarch a cardinal was widely seen as sign of solidarity with the suffering Iraqi Catholics.

In 2016, Pope Francis did a similar thing for Syria, though that time he did not choose an actual Syrian bishop for cardinal, but rather the Italian serving as nuncio in Damascus.

Yet in five consistories for the creation of new cardinals, Pope Francis has passed over Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the UGCC and major archbishop of Kiev. Shevchuk’s predecessors have all been cardinals dating back to time when the UGCC – liquidated by Stalin – was the largest underground Church in the world.

Pope Francis is charting a new course in the selection of cardinals, but even given the idiosyncratic nature of his choices, it is evident that suffering Churches and suffering peoples are favoured with cardinals. That Ukraine has been overlooked now five times in five years suggests that Ukrainian suffering resonates less in Rome than the objections of the Russian Orthodox, who regard the very existence of the UGCC as an affront.

Secondly, a good look at Matthew Kelly’s Dynamic Catholic Catholic school teacher formation program. Popular, but evidently lightweight – no surprise there. 

The advice is banal, the language clunky: “The people you surround yourself with, and how you let their positivity or negativity influence you, impacts the kind of teacher you are.”

At times it is saccharine: “There is no national monument for teachers. I have never seen a statue of a teacher. But we all build monuments for teachers in our hearts.”

It can be pedantic: “Education is a wildfire. And a single educator is but a flickering of this timeless flare, hoping to shed some light where there is darkness.”

Or condescending: “Let me throw a little theology at you.”

Some of it reads like motivational business-speak: “We respect forever the leaders in our lives who were tough but fair.”

And every so often it calls on a weird source to make a point: “As Friedrich Nietzsche observed, ‘He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.’”

You get the idea. Matthew Kelly manages to evade the hard questions mostly by ignoring them. How should I include “Jesus in [my] lesson plans?” Keep “an empty chair” for him, to “remind students that Jesus is always at their side.” What is evil and how should I respond to it? Make “holy moments”! How do I deal with the exhaustion, fatigue, frustration, and pain of teaching? “There is no limit to the number of holy moments you can create.” The prose is as limp as the cloying optimism it promotes. It often circles back to his usual refrain: Be the “best-version-of-yourself.” That was more or less what Eve was told in the garden.

 

— 5 —

 

 

All right! So our great Japan 2018 Voyage got off to a rocky start. An aggravating, puzzling and somewhat infuriating start.

The plan was: fly out of BHM to DFW – land in DFW around 10:30, flight to NRT (Narita airport in Tokyo) departs at 1:30. Perfect, right?

Well, you would be wrong. You would not have taken into account the long wait on the Birmingham tarmac brought on by: weight issues, which led to a delay as people were asked to volunteer to disembark, people thought about it for a while, and a couple of people finally decided to accept the $700 offer. (These offers are never made when I’m able to accept them). Secondly, weather between BHM and Dallas, which required a changed flight plan which took about 30 minutes to work out and which would be a longer flight.

So we didn’t land in Dallas until about…1:30. We taxied right by gate D33. I saw our plane pulling away. Waves. 

Oh well – surely there’s another flight to Tokyo today? Surely they can at least maybe get us to Los Angeles or somewhere further west and we can go from there and still get there almost on time? Surely? 

Again – You’re wrong!

But there’s another aspect to this story that takes it to another level, to the level beyond, eh, things happen – it’s air travel. You expect it. 

It was hard not to miss the dozen or so Japanese young adults on our small plane from Birmingham. We wondered if they were also headed to Tokyo on the same flight.

As we disembarked and lined up in front of the rebooking agent in Dallas, they gathered behind me. I turned and asked if they were on flight 61 – they didn’t speak much English, didn’t understand me at first, so I showed my ticket, pointed to the number, they got theirs out – and yes, that was their flight too. They were…surprised that they missed it.

So here’s my question. There were, at my count, between 12-15 of us on a single flight ticketed for another specific flight.

Why did they not hold the plane? 

We’re not talking hours here. The planes passed each other in the gate area. There was no mystery about where a large percentage of the missing passengers were – Hmm….15 people haven’t showed up for this flight? Where could they be? Such a mystery! Shrug. No – they know exactly where everyone is and exactly when they’ll be coming in.

I’ve been on planes that have been held for one or two passengers before. This was crazy, and although I got scolded a bit on Twitter for this, told that I just “didn’t undertand” how these things work – I stand firm. As I said, I’ve witnessed planes being held. The AA supervisor who eventually helped us was aghast, as was her co-worker.

So – a bit about customer service. For some reason, I’m fascinated by stories of good and bad customer service – I slavishly read the Elliot site all the time. So it’s also instructive to be in the middle of something like this, observe the dynamic and see what works – and what doesn’t.

The first guy I went to for help was doing his job, but doing it without any energy or compassion. I wasn’t panicked or angry – I was amazed that the plane hadn’t been held, but was ready to move on. Fine. But the options he was giving me were terrible and he was using the same tone with me as if he were asking paper or plastic – and who cares.

So, you could fly out of Chicago tomorrow morning, I guess. 

When would we go to Chicago?

Tonight. 

Where would we stay – in the airport?

I guess. Yeah. 

I wasn’t biting on any of these options, convinced that there had to be a better way, so he offered to call a supervisor – obviously eyeing the 12 Japanese students behind me, as well. So he radioed for a supervisor, I stepped aside and waited.

And waited. And waited. Minutes went by, no one showed up. I stepped closer to the original guy and caught his eye. He waved to an open door across the hall and mouthed – go there. 

Okay.

So I went to this open door, where a man in a tie stood – he listened to me very politely,if clearly a little puzzled about why I was telling him about this. He poked his head back in the door, said something to a woman inside. She came out, they had a puzzled conversation, she agreed that she’d help me, but first, we had business with Guy #1.

Well, she had business. She was pretty ticked at him. Why didn’t you call a supervisor? I did. They didn’t come. They’re right over there – why couldn’t you just wave someone down? I’m busy – I tried. 

I sensed that her anger at this other guy just might work to my advantage, so I was just super nice. Not pathetic – because you know, this is a First World Problem in the extreme, and no pathos allowed, in my view.

As it turned out – there were no great options. Nothing was leaving from DFW later, and anything else she was able to work out would involve many stops and wouldn’t get us into Tokyo much earlier.

So – we got booked on the same flight, 24 hours later.

But she did give us a hotel voucher. I don’t think she was supposed to, since the reason for the mess was “weather”  – one of the many, many reasons airlines use to excuse them leaving you on your own (and I get it – they’d go broke if they compensated everyone for everything we feel we should be compensated for).

But she did anyway, saying, “It’s going to be a long day for you all.”

Quick version of the rest of the saga: I had hoped to get our luggage (just two suitcases – we travel light)  which I had CHECKED EVEN THOUGH I NEVER CHECK LUGGAGE…..GRRR – but was told by two different people that while it might take 30 minutes to retrieve the bags, it might also take three hours and there was no way to predict. We had most of our toiletries with us (aka the most important for me – my contacct lens stuff) and J had a pair of gym shorts in his backpack, so we just decided to grin and bear it.

I did rent a car instead of doing a shuttle to the hotel. I managed to get one through Hotwire at about half the cost they were quoting me at the rental counter. I wanted a car because it was still fairly early, and this would enable to us run and get a couple of t-shirts and anything else we needed and – if we had time – to see a bit of Dallas.

Which we did…

(And please know –  In my communications to AA about this – both via Twitter DM and through their system – I praised the helpful AA employee by name, several times. Do try to do that – when someone gives you good service, note their name and communicate their good work to the powers that be. It helps them. I did the same with the woman at the rental car counter – we had no problems, but she was just very nice and engaged, striking the perfect balance – helpful but not annoying – I noted her name and commended her to her company, too. It matters.)

(I do have travel insurance – both through the credit card I used to book the tickets, and a separate policy which I always get for these trips. I’ve never, ever filed a claim – and even though it’s not much, I think I’ll give it a shot, just to see what happens.)’

And may I reiterate? First World Problems. I’m annoyed that we lost a day of our time in Tokyo, but for heaven’s sake – we’re going to be in Japan.  I have nothing to complain about.

 

— 6 —

So…Dallas. 

When we started out, I thought we’ll get barbecue – but then they noted that In n’ Out is in Texas now, and they opted for that. It’s okay – I wasn’t hungry. We then made our way downtown – I’d probably been in the Dallas environs (outside the airport) once as a child, and probably only to a mall (that’s my vague recollection, anyway).

So we just shot downtown, parked, and walked around for about thirty minutes. It was hot, there weren’t a ton of people in the area – done and done.

 

 

 

— 7 —

 Coming in July:amy_welborn9

amy-welborn3

Signs and symbols…Bible stories…saints, heroes and history. 

More book reminders (for those who only come here on Fridays) – I’ve made How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist available as a free pdf here. 

(One of several free ebooks I have available)

And don’t forget Son #2’s Amazon author page and personal author page.  

He’s released his second set of stories, which are science fiction-y in nature. 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Well, that didn’t last long.

I saw the mama Robin sitting on the nest Saturday morning…went out Sunday morning, saw no robins about, so I took advantage of the moment and stuck my phone up there to get a shot.

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Oh.

Well, whatever got up there did a clean job of it – there were no shells about, nothing amiss.

And, it seems, they might have nabbed at least one of the parents, too. For over the past weeks, every time we’ve ventured out there, one or both of the parents have perched nearby, letting us know we were in their territory and, if we refused to obey their warnings, swooping down in our direction.

This morning? Silence and not a robin in sight. Plenty of mockingbirds, as per usual, but this robin couple either was so demoralized that they gave up and move on, or…well.

I have absolutely no right to be sad about this considering a) I am not a vegetarian and b) one of the day’s tasks was going to purchase a rat for Rocky. And Rocky don’t play with warmed-up dead rats.

But I’m still sad.

****

So, here’s an article about my Loyola books! The inspiration is the new one – The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols – but the interview covered my thinking behind all of the volumes in the series, as well.

I’m not sure if you can actually read it without subscribing…but you can sure try!

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All right then: Japan. There, hope revives.

Brief recap: For some reason, we are going to Japan for our big summer trip. Leaving soon. Rented an AirBnB for Tokyo, legal issues mandated a change. (More here and here.)  So we’re splitting the trip between Tokyo and Kyoto. I have no idea what we’re doing except wandering around and eating.

Of all of the zillions of videos out there about 10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN SOME NEIGHBORHOOD OF TOKYO THAT ENDS IN A VOWEL AS THEY ALL DO! I’ve settled, for some reason, on those produced by one Paolo de Guzman, aka Tokyo Zebra. His personality is quirky, but not annoying, he’s kind of fun and – most helpful of all – his videos feature maps, which he also has on his website.

I’ve been reading guidebooks and discussion forums for weeks, but the city hardly made sense at all until I started watching these videos. So thanks to Paolo, I finally sort of have a plan – for Day 1.

And beyond that?

Are you kidding? Me? Plan??! 

Check out Instagram for updates…soonish….

 

 

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