Saturday, November 29, 2008

Magic, magic everywhere I look (Day 65)

On the plane to Japan, just having crossed the Equator for the second time on this trip, I am writing about the beauty & magic on this planet in small and big things alike.

(Where I am now: Japan Airlines 747, flight JO762 from Brisbane, seat 42G) Date: Fri28Nov- What time is it: now that depends, in Japan it’s: 13:21pm. What am I listening to: Japanese pop love songs which I have no clue what they mean on one of the plane’s channels)
Don’t plan, just do it, even if it involves a Phantom

Probably one of the last long-distance bus rides I will have to take; I woke up for a bus at 07:30 on Thursday to go south from Paihia to Auckland – my jump base for the next big adventure, Japan. I knew I wouldn’t be able to see much in Auckland, I got there around noon, completely exhausted from the tallying up of all these bus excursions to the North. It’s funny how you can get tired like this, even without any serious going out. Auckland is just another big city or so it seemed although as always, having a waterfront makes everything a bit more special. I checked in the surf&snow hostel, completely unimpressed by its large size and lack of common areas. I already started missing the coziness and familiarity of the Mousetrap but that’s what you usually get in big cities. In any case, I didn’t care at all, I just needed a shower and a bed for a few hours, I had to wake up at 04:30 the next day to get the airport bus and head to Brisbane, my connect airport for Tokyo Narita.

All I can tell you about Auckland is that I had a very decent chicken Masala curry in one of the food courts and headed for Albert Park near the University, to lie under a lovely blue sunny sky. I took a nap for about 2 hours, after being stuffed with food and in dire need for some sleep. The park was full of people doing the same, reading books, talking, (even “ze Germans” where there) but I was too tired to care or even notice, I was already fast asleep… I can also tell you that in Auckland you can bungy jump off the big bridge in the harbor, it’s not a terribly high drop (40m) but definitely fun, all this for the price of about 60Euros, really cheap. They had a slot for 14:30 but I decided against it. Too tired to be bothered, I just wanted to hang out and do nothing. Well that was the plan in any case.

I woke up with a slight buzz from the nap and the sun that was quite warm and decided to take a walk downtown – it was about 17:00 when I passed in front of The Civic, one of Auckland’s big theaters. Big sign, very recognizable font and picture, it was just something you expect to see in London, there it was The Phantom of The Opera on tour. Until Sunday 30th of November. Don’t ask me why or how, I just went in the box office and bought a ticket – for a ticket that cost slightly less than a bungy jump I was attending The Phantom of the Opera, one of the nicest musicals and in a great seat (even though alone). “Doors close at 19:15 so you got to be here” said the cool guy at the ticket house. “Is it ok if I come like this?” I said, pointing at my walking shoes and trousers. “Dude, this is New Zealand, you can wear anything you want…” How nice, I’d hate to be the first underdressed backpacker attending such a great play…

Quickly to the hostel, a shower and off I went, nicely on time. The guy was right, you can wear anything you want. You had the standard looking (blonde, slightly overweight) Kiwi girls wearing their “dinner dresses” but also people in jeans and T-shirts. Very relaxed. I got to my seat, full of anticipation, still mesmerized from the idea that of all things, I had one night in Auckland and decided to see a play, one I’ve always wanted to. I am not big with plays. The last time I was in one was in London with mom & George, more than 10 years ago, when we visited my cousin Andrea and she had arranged for us to see Les Miserables, one of the coolest nights of my life, I thoroughly enjoyed the music, the scenery, everything.

I got to my seat. Perfect, about 30 rows from the huge stage, dead center with no one in front of me, this was a perfect spot. No one on my right either, a reminder that some things are just meant to be done alone on this trip and even though you want to share the greatest moments, this one was to be enjoyed on my own.

Have you seen the play? Do you know the story? You must be able to recognize at least part of the music. I won’t bore you with it and in any case I can’t describe it properly but if you ever have the chance to be in London or NY go and see it. It is worth every penny. Thursday night in Auckland was one of the most amazing nights of my trip so far, an unexpected turn of fortune, doing something that I couldn’t even plan before and turning out to be simply wonderful. With almost tears in my eyes, such a romantic story, such a great performance, I clapped and clapped up to the 3rd encore, thanking again my luck for having the chance to pull off this journey and being able to see so many wonderful things. “I am happy”, I thought to myself, no need to say more.

Wake up, lose your luggage and get the best cabin service you’ve ever seen in your life.
I didn’t sleep much. Too hyped from the play and unable to tell anyone about it (…) I simple stayed up until 2am, surfing a bit the internet and walking around town till midnight and then trying to fall asleep in the hostel. Impossible, I was thinking of my next stop… Japan!

I took the 04:30 am bus to the airport and was well in advance to check in for my connect flight to Brisbane (I told you I would be back in Australia…) and from there to Tokyo.
“Can you please put a HOT or RUSH sticker on my back please, I only have 50 minutes of stopover before my next flight to Tokyo?” I asked at the counter.
“Ah, I wouldn’t worry about that Luv, it will go through” she said with her Kiwi accent. Yeah right…. Memories of missed Dubai connections in Germany came to my mind… If it happens, it happens I thought to myself and wrote Kaori’s Tokyo address (obviously with Latin characters) on my bag expecting the worst.

Of course if something can go wrong it will, so after as shitty 3-hour Qantas flight with a cramped 737-400 (ok they had good breakfast) the pilot informed us that there’s “congestion” over Brisbane so we have to wait for a while before landing. I got through the landing gate in Brisbane 10 minutes AFTER the boarding had started for my Tokyo flight. Next to us was a huge JAL Jumbo jet. “My plane!” I thought. Undaunted I made my way to the Gate, people still going through. I made it, but NO WAY in hell my luggage did. 10 minutes into the huge Jumbo they told us to fasten the seatbelts. My bag is chilling in laid-back Brisbane for sure. Maybe it’s even doing a river tour for all I know. Obviously I don’t know this for a fact since I am still on the plane but I have my baggage tracking number in my pocket in any case. I also have a couple of T-shirts and underwear stuffed in my hand-luggage, since I was completely convinced that this wouldn’t work. Let’s see…

747 Jumbo jets are always impressive. From the moment you get in and glance at the staircase leading up to First class to the fact that you have a 3-4-3 seat configuration in two aisles and row numbers going back to number 60, this plane is big! This one is even more fun! First of all the cabin crew is Japanese (obviously) so immediately you get this strange feeling that you are going somewhere very different. The best part is the safety video which of course is primarily in Japanese and is a… cartoon!

Actually I lied. The best thing is the overall service. Cabin crew extremely efficient and polite, fast and responsive, sure, the fact that the plane is only half full helps but it’s the attitude that counts.

Example 1: Food. Am I in heaven? I am getting served noodles, beef and egg-fried rice, even ginger and desert. Did I mention the 2 bloody Mary’s and the Asahi beer I drank prior to lunch? I looked at the time and it was only 08:30. Well in NZ where I came from it was lunch time so bring it on! They even had Miso soup (that’s seaweed soup for those that wonder if I’ve completely lost my mind) Can’t wait to hit the food stalls in Tokyo! Banzaiiii

Example 2: Ok, this I have never ever ever seen in my life. Near my seat there are two gaijin (white…) little kids that are unaccompanied (or so it seems). You know, the typical challenge, how do you keep them busy and shut them up in an 8hour flight when they have already seen Kung-Fu Panda and whatever other cartoon they are playing on the entertainment system. Well forget the drawing pad and crayons that you get in European flights, this is JAPAN. The airhostess comes up to the little girl with a big plastic envelope of beautiful colored paper and some charts… It’s origami time!!! (you know, paper folded to make anything you can imagine) Astonished, I look at the 5-year old take out the charts and slowly start folding the papers into little birds, dinosaurs, boats whatever you can imagine.

Big deal you might think, it’s just like in Europe. No it’s not. Not when the airhostess actually kneels on her knees, on the aisle next to the kid and for the next 30 minutes she’s trying to teach the little girl on how to do beautiful origami swans, without any instructions. I am just sitting there, all smiles staring at them wondering how much magic exists in simple little things… I am completely finished off when she stands up and returns with the sewing kit from business class, passing a thread through the swans so the little girl can hang them up…

I think I am going to ask her out to dinner before I get off this plane even if her EngRish is not very good.

That’s it for now… magic everywhere as long as you have the eyes to see it.


(my bag is still in Brisbane)

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