On Sunday, March 01, I stood next to my husband as we waited for the bus. It was early and his eyes were still squinting at everything as he wasn’t fully awake yet. I squeezed his hand in the cold, feeling the warmth. My stomach felt like it was in my throat with nervous energy. The bus for the airport pulled up and I shoved my way through the crowd of people squeezing through the doors. I grabbed a support pole and turned in time to see him standing alone outside as the bus pulled away. I stared out the window on the way to the airport and took deep breaths as I forced myself to hold back the tears.
The Prague airport is one of the easiest and relaxed airports I have ever been through; it’s also one of the smallest. With my carry-on bag and purse I was through security in less than 5 minutes. No taking off my shoes. No pat-downs. No mean glances or rude comments. I made my through the airport, grabbing a pastry on my way to the gate on the other side of the small airport.
About 2 hours later, I was in Amsterdam. With only a 3-hour layover, I focused completely on getting to my gate. My stomach was churning with the thought of missing my flight or being delayed in any way. I followed sign after sign, walking quickly pulling my bright pink bag behind me. After 20 minutes of walking, I got to a series of windows/booths. I took out my passport and waited in line for my turn.
When I got to the front of the line, the passport agent squinted at my passport and I handed him my biometric card which shows that I have gone through the mess that is getting a visa to work in live in the Czech Republic. He stared at both for a long while before saying, “You know this is about to expire, right?” Before I could respond and explain that I know and that I’m a good citizen of the world with plans to follow all the rules and renew it when I got back from my trip, he had stamped my passport and handed it back to me, calling the next person in line and ushering me on my way.
Still doing my best to follow the signs to my gate, I turned left and followed the crowd down a flight of stairs and through a hallway to a very huge crowd waiting in a series of lines. After 30 minutes, I finally made my way to the front of the line, only to be told that I had been waiting in line with people trying to exit the airport. I had apparently followed the wrong signs. Shoving my way through the crowd, down the hallway, and up the flight of stairs, I saw my error. With all of the construction in that one area the hallway I was supposed to walk down was partially obstructed. Sighing in relief, I continued my way down and through the airport.
I eventually made my way to the gate which had it’s own set of security and metal detectors. I waited in line with a large number of Asian people. It’s safe to say I was the tallest person in line. 30 minutes later, we were allowed to go through the security for this gate which felt like a miniature version of the one I went through earlier that day. The security for this gate was significantly more strict than the security in the Prague airport. I had to take off my belt and shoes. In addition, I had to take every single electronic device and cord out of my bags and into it’s own bin.
After another 30 minutes of waiting, they were finally boarding. Knowing that this was a 10 hour flight, I had chosen an aisle seat ahead of time so that I could get out and stretch my legs with ease. I didn’t want to constantly ask my seat-mates to move simply because I develop spontaneous restless leg syndrome on planes. Unfortunately, this notion did not deter the two women sitting next to me in the middle and window seats. Clearly a mother and daughter duo, I had no success at falling asleep or even making it through a full movie as they were asking to get out every 1-2 hours.
I don’t remember all that I watched or did on the plane for those 10 hours but I do remember watching You’re Not You with Hillary Swank and Emmy Rossum. I remember this primarily because of how much I was crying. If you don’t know, the movie is about a successful pianist that develops ALS and the dysfunctional college student that ends up taking care of her. Super emotional. I mean, me. Well, the movie did have its moments but my reactions were merely exacerbated by how I was feeling being separated from my husband. In a nutshell, it was a salt-waterfall down my face for a solid 2 hours.
At one point, I was fed. The airline gave each person two options: A Western option and an Eastern option. Before I tell you which option I chose, I actually re-read a lot of my blog posts recently and I noticed one thing in particular: I force myself to try new foods quite often. More often than not, the meal is only okay and I don’t eat half of it because I don’t like a particular spice or sauce but despite this, I try it and then I continue to try new things. I asked the flight attendant to describe the dishes to me and I foolishly chose the Eastern dish. In the moment, I was proud of myself as the Asian flight attendant raised his eyebrows and nodded in surprise. I thought that he thought, “Wow, the white girl is trying the Eastern dish. Impressive.” Smiling, he handed me the Eastern dish, which I only ate 1/2 of. Now, I say I foolishly chose the Eastern option not because it was bad or unpleasant but because I am a notoriously picky eater and I was on a 10 hour flight without many other food options, if any at all.
At 12:35pm on Monday, March 01, I landed in Fukuoka, Japan. Before exiting the plane, everyone was handed a small document and I was clueless. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with that document or where I was supposed to go. I had done research before traveling but I didn’t see anything about having to fill out any special document or have any information prepared. Plus, as I only had a 3.5 hour layover before going to Osaka, my stomach was in my throat again.
I followed the massive amount of people and waited in line and then did my best to fill out the document which was confusing and unclear. In fact, I ended up grabbing extra copies and filling it out three different times. When it was my turn to talk with the customs/documents people, I clearly screwed something up. The agent did not speak English well or at all and she was very adamant about having the address where I was staying. I kept on saying that I was staying with my sister in Osaka and I didn’t know her address or what hotel we were staying in. I wrote down half of her address in Hiroshima from what I remembered but it was probably wrong and not all there and not in Japanese. She asked for my sister’s phone number and I nearly threw up my hands in despair. How was I supposed to know any of this information! Two agents ended up coming over and saying very softly that it was okay this time but I needed to be prepared next time. After a firm finger wagging, Japan became the second country after the Czech Republic to get my fingerprints. That’s right the good ol’ US of A doesn’t even have my fingerprints. With that and a photograph, I was given a 90 day tourist visa.
I walked down a hallway, and then down an escalator to another section where I had to wait in line for something that I didn’t know anything about or understand. I grabbed a form and started to fill it out as I slowly made my way to the front. The customs agent looked at my form and my bag and my face before he spoke words that were so soft and low it was as if he was whispering in a movie theater located inside of a testing center inside of a library. After asking him to repeat himself three times with no success I decided to nod my head which satisfied him and then he gave me my passport and bag and let me go.
After this, I had to take a bus completely around the entirety of the airport. I had entered in the international terminal and I needed to go to the domestic terminal so that I could fly to Osaka and that required a 20 minute bus ride around the entirety of the airport. I hoped and I prayed that I was on the right bus going to the right place and I guess I was because I got there. I entered the domestic terminal, found my check-in area and waited in a long line so that I could send my bag through an x-ray machine again. Apparently, the airplane was SO small, that they had to check my bag. It was just way too big to fit in the overhead section of plane.
After this, I made my way upstairs so I could go through security. This security looked like it was from the 1970s. It was both bulky and really small. All of the baskets were way too small. I had to put every single item into it’s own bin and even then, they were all too small., I had to scan my ticket at an electronic point and I apparently scanned the wrong bar code because it flashed red and someone had to come to help me. After going through security, I made my way to what I thought was my gate which looked like saloon doors in front of a large hallway next to a bunch of shops. I bought a sandwich from one of those shops and sat down to wait. After 30 minutes or so, I made friends with a German and we went to the saloon doors to ask if we were supposed to do something. Apparently, we were just supposed to know that we had to walk up and scan our ticket to go through the saloon doors and through a hallway and down some stairs to enter a shuttle to take us to our plane.
One hour and 20 minutes later I was in Osaka, Japan.