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New Zealand Christmas

January 5, 2008

It started off in a pretty standard way for me – after getting up at 4am, grabbing my things, getting on the first subway of the day to the train station, and then catching the bullet train to Osaka Airport…. about 20 minutes from arriving at the airport, I realised I’d forgotten my passport.

I always keep my passport in my bag. That way, whenever I travel, I am sure never to forget it. It’s a foolproof plan. You don’t even need to think about it. The problem with plans you don’t need to think about, is that you don’t think about them. The previous weekend, I had gone on a school camp overnight. I used that bag. So as not to risk losing my passport, I had taken it out. And in the busy time between returning from camp and leaving on my next free day for NZ, I had forgotten to put it back in. I’d just grabbed my bag and left with the ease of someone who is assured in the fact that his passport plan is one that doesn’t even need thinking about.

I sat there and swore for a while – travelling at the fastest speed I’ve ever sworn at – and then tried to work out what to do. When I booked the ticket home, the agent said that there was only one flight a day, and they were heavily booked. I had booked the flight that would get me in the day before Xmas. If I missed this flight, the next flight would get me there during Xmas day – not ideal, assuming there were even any tickets left at all. I was probably going to miss Xmas.

The train from Kyoto to the Osaka airport takes about one and a half hours. I was arriving at the airport at 8am. My flight was at 10. There was no way to return and get the passport before catching the flight. A high-speed expressway also runs between Osaka and Kyoto. I tried to think if I knew anyone in Osaka with a car who would be willing to get up early to break the speed limit to Kyoto and back. No one came to mind. I wondered if it was possible to travel internationally with nothing but an apology and a passport-shaped absence of matter. I didn’t think so. I wondered if my friend who worked at the airport could pull some strings. She wasn’t answering her phone. I wondered if calling in a bomb threat to delay things would work as well as it always seems to do in the movies.

In the end, I decided my best option was to try and get someone else to grab the passport from my house in Kyoto, and get that person to follow me to Osaka in another bullet train. My apartment was locked. Could the landlord let them in? I don’t know the landlord. Never met them. A Japanese lady helped me go to a real estate agent to sign papers completely unpersonally. A Japanese lady who lived in Kyoto. And who knew my landlord, and my apartment.

“Moshimoshi? Hello. Good morning. Did I wake you? Sorry. I’m sorry. But, I have an emergency. I’m on my way to the airport right now. Yeah, I’m going home for Xmas. To New Zealand. But I have a problem. I forgot my passport. … Yeah, I know. Yep, yes. Yeah, I need it. I’m nearly at the airport. I’m going to see if there’s any way I can change my flights or do anything at all. But I probably can’t. In the meantime, I really need to ask you a favour. Can you ring the real estate agency, and go to my house, and get my passport, and then bring it to me at the airport? … Sorry.”

She doubted that even if she started moving now, she’d be able to get to the airport in time for me to make that flight. I thought so too. I’d try and do something at my end, but for now, I needed for her to not lose any more time at that end. So, with her in motion, I hung up and sent a message to my mother back home that I had a problem, so not to make the 2.5 hour drive to pick me up at the other end just yet. I ignored for now her prompt reply promising to kill me, as my train pulled into Osaka airport. I rushed up to the service desk and told my story. The lovely Cathay Pacific lady rattled her fingers across her keyboard and told me that there was another flight at 11, which would connect to a flight to New Zealand in Hong Kong. It would get me there later than expected, but still before Xmas. Great, I’ll take it. Thank you.

The real estate agent rang. A Japanese lady was trying to get into my apartment. That’s OK. Let her in. Please, let her in. She rang me. “I have your passport. Do you need anything else? Are you sure? Are you really sure? OK. I’ll get to the train station and take the next train to the airport”. The next train was due to arrive at the airport at 10:42. My plane would leave at 11:00. I just had to sit and wait and hope that it would all work out.

At about 10:30, a Cathay Pacific girl accompanied me to the train station gates to wait. We heard the train pull in downstairs, and then my heart rose to see a Japanese woman running up the stairs in a manic rush. She got to the top and raced to the gates. She handed over the passport and I threw her a bag of money for train fares and overpriced airport lollies, and then the Cathay Pacific girl was running at all the speed her tiny high-heeled legs would take her back towards the airport, with me in tow. We rushed to the front of the check-in, and got tickets. Luckily I had no check-in luggage, or that might have been fatal. We rushed to security, and went to the front of the priority line, displacing pilots and crew to get through as fast as possible. We raced on to the entrance to the shuttle train thing which would take me through to Departures. I parted ways here with the Cathay Pacific girl, who gave me brief directions. I got off at the other end and raced to my Gate, where a couple of staff members were looking pretty anxious. They pointed me down the gangway, so I ran down it and turned the corner – and faced a giant white shut side of a plane. A meek, apologetic looking girl beside it told me to go back and down another path to enter through First Class, which was still open. I got there, and jumped on board to the sound of raucous cheering in my own head.

After about 20 hours, I touched down in NZ, my mother didn’t kill me after all, and I got to spend quite a nice week in New Zealand with my family. The Summer Xmas after coming from a Winter build-up was quite nice. Although I was struck by how much more bearable the heat was to Japan’s summer. I used to think NZ summers were quite hot and humid, but Japan’s are 100 times worse. I found this summer just hot in a pleasant way.

NZ Xmas beachNZ Xmas beach 2NZ Xmas dinnerNZ Xmas dinnerNZ Xmas cakes

There was a huge roast chicken, and a roast ham to enjoy, along with wine and beer and champagne, meals out (including one at an all-you-can-eat buffet, where I realised just how unpleasantly fat alot of Kiwis are getting – watch out, guys), walks along the beach and relaxing in the sun. As well as giving and receiving presents, and just spending time with my family, who I haven’t really spent any decent amount of time with for the last 7 years. And once again, this trip was too short. On Dec 30, I boarded the plane once again – with my passport – to get back in time for a Japanese New Years.

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As a class activity a couple of weeks before Xmas, I got my first year classes to make Xmas cards for the previous ALT in my position, as a bit of fun, and a chance to celebrate Xmas (a foreign holiday in Japan). Alot of the kids missed the point and made New Years cards instead (a very national holiday in Japan), but it was all very nice. And then a bunch of them decided to make some for me, totally unsolicited. So here are a couple of my favourites to bestow some, albeit late, Xmas cheer.

Santa Girl xmas cardSanta Bear xmas cardCake Mouse bday cardSnowy xmas cardHappy New Year xmas cardStrawberry Cake xmas card

Merry Xmas, and a Happy New Year!

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