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Saturday, March 19, 2011

What I Saw in Japan

My stint in Alaska was short. And it wasn't too long that our infamous flight, those onboard flight 881, were called back to the original goal of our destination. We were headed to Japan only 2 days after the earthquake and tsunmai struck. We assembled early in the morning, packed in the Anchorage airport where we did a whole lot of waiting. -5 hours worth. I sat with the 2 Japanese girls and this Japanese guy. They didn't seem worried at all. It was as though, they had missed the anouncements about all the recent catastrophes. One of the girls, the one into elementary education was busy showing the other Japanese girl, pictures of a small child that was her relative. And then she showed me. I knew that I had some pictures somewhere in my carry-on, and I happened to find some that I have forgotten about. They were pictures taken in Africa, all of my niece, Baylor, whom I have yet to meet. She was with her dad, my brother, in one of them. And one with my sister, who had recently visited her. And with every picture that they flipped through, both Japanese girls would almost ring out across the terminal, "Kawaii!". Which means "cute" in Japanese.

The flight was about 6 hours or so. While in Alaska, I suspected they would try to avoid any flights to Japan, so I figured that they would redirect me straight to South Korea somehow. So I was a little surprised when they were sending everyone to Japan, anyways. That morning waiting in line, the airport television was showing the news and all the craziness that was going on. It felt stange to know you were heading to that place, and about to be greeted by smiling stewardesses who pass out quaint, complimentary beverages and snacks as you go there.

As we were about to land, it was announced that certain helicopters were in the area to blow away any potential radiation that may be in the air. But that the area that we were flying through was clean. We landed and amazingly people were not running around with their heads cut off. They were orderly and knew what they were doing. Because we were a massive flight that was rerouted to Alaska, it was going to take some time to accommodate everyone's travel plans. I stood in line with this American going to Bangkok for vacation. Apparently alot of people were headed to Bangkok. As well as Taipai and Hong Kong. Rumors began to circulate that they would have to stay the night in Japan and catch a flight to Singapore in order to get to where they were going. Eventually, we came to the line that was going to individually accommodate everyone on our huge flight. I was impressed with the way they...the people of Japan...were diligently working at our plight. And I realized that this was going to take a long time waiting in this line. But suddenly, a worker began calling for those going to Incheon/Seoul to step forward. We were lucky. They had already redirected our flights. But it would take a trip to 2 more airports in Japan to get there. We also had to hurry, we had little time to catch our next flight and it was an hours drive away.

This last part was a little unclear to me, at first. I had to go through Japanese customs and exit the airport, and then find somewhere the transportation that was offered to this other airport. Fortuately this young Korean guy saw me headed in the same direction and asked me if I was headed to Korea as well. I said "Yes." He introduced himself as Alex, and the two of us were busy trying to find this place to catch the bus. Eventually, two other Koreans, this young guy and girl were also looking for this bus. So the 4 of us were wandering all over this airport parking lot in Japan. It was a beautiful spring day. Not too hot and not too cold. The sky was clear. I had all my luggage on me. All that I was giong to call my possessions for a year. Nearby you'd see teams of individuals in bright orange or yellow suits. They were teams of relief workers from other parts of the world. I saw this one from Hungary. And this other large group of Germans getting on a bus. They had a dog with them to help them find bodies. Other than seeing these teams, you'd never think that anything out of the ordinary had happened. Mind you, I was a good ways off from where everything went down.

Our bus was incredibly difficult to find, but we found it. Apparently, us 4 were the only ones headed to Seoul on that flight, except for that large Taekwondo team that I mentioned at the very beginning. They obviously like to take their time, and we had very, very little time to catch our next flight. Besides they probably took a taxi. So, the bus pulled out and we began rolling through the highways of the greater Tokyo area.

You would think that I would've seen all kinds of mad, crazed dashes everywhere. People escaping, people fleeing. But instead, there were no buildings on fire, no massive ruptures in the ground where you could fall into the boiling heart of the earth. This was not a zombie apocalypse. The only thing odd I could see was the fact that the roads had very scarce amount of traffic on them. Everywhere you looked you saw buildings and signs that people lived everywhere, but you saw very little people. I mean, this is the largest city on earth and I felt like I was riding on an interstate road in Birmingham, AL on a Sunday morning.

I began to chat with the Korean girl next to me. She was from Incheon and was studying Human Physiology at a university in Boston. Her name was You Na and it was her Spring Break and she had come back home to visit her family.
And we talked for awhile. She was a Christian and was giving me contact information regarding a church in Korea. As we were talking, all of sudden as we got closer to the main part of Tokyo, we passed Disney World Tokyo. But it was shut down. Like some sort of ghost town that used to be a world of delight. The Korean I first met, Alex, allowed me to use his phone to call the lady who was supposed to pick me up in Incheon. That's the way I found the first Koreans I talked to, very very nice and easy to talk to. Alex ended up calling this lady in South Korea and having this conversation with her and letting her know that we were on our way and he gave her the time that we'd be landing.

When we finally arrived at this other airport that was closer to the main part of Tokyo, me and these 3 Koreans ended up hurrying through the airport to find these Japanese airline workers ready to assist. They knew we had a few minutes til our next flight, so two of these stewardesses ran beside us as we made our way down the terminal. It was a domestic airport. So there were tons of Japanese. Hardly any foreigners. I think I was the only Westerner, the only white guy, I spotted. Again, on the television at the gate, there was footage of what was going on only a few hours north. But the way everything was in this airport and the way everyone was acting normal and calm, it seemed like that footage was taken around the world from where we were all at.

One thing, I noticed in these airports was all the stewardesses. Its as though these companies only take application from beautiful Japanese girls to work for them. They all very pretty and have nice, official looking uniforms on. They all have flowers wrapped around their necks forming a type of exotic tie. They all smiled and tried accommodating you as best as possible and they ran beside you in order for you to make it to your next flight. I was highly impressed. Somewhere in paradise they have a corner of it laden with gorgeous Japanese flight attendants all with flowers wrapped around their necks while smiling their beaming smiles.. So beautiful, even when their nation is trembling, truly beautiful.

We got on that flight, only after finding out that one of the Koreans left his luggage behind at the airport in Nerita. Why he did that, I'll never know, but we had to continue on. We took a domestic flight to this other Japanese city in the south. Again, life was running normally. And it was there that we caught our flight to South Korea. The Japanese were so very efficient with us. I admire their ability to keep things going under such dire circumstances. I arrived in South Korea that evening. It was a Sunday night and I had started my journey on an early Thursday morning. In between those days, I had only 7 hours of sleep. So I couldn't wait to get to...not only my life...but my new bed.


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