Big Pete's POV
Travel days are always a challenge. There is so much to do and the stress of making sure you don’t forget something combined with making sure you are in the right place at the right time, figuring out transportation, finding money in a new country and on and on, makes us all a little crazy. We have a rule on the trip that everyone has to be EXTRA considerate of others on travel days. We all have to relax and make sure we keep it all in perspective. This usually helps (unless we are flying from Chamonix to Auckland).
The morning went really well and we were packed up and out the door right on time at 8:45. But before we get into the story, here are some pictures of our house in Kyoto.
We had a 12:25 flight from Osaka to Seoul, South Korea. When I had researched how to get from our house to the Osaka airport Google had laid out a pretty easy path: a 15 minute walk followed by two 30 minute trains. As we were walking to the train station, I was suddenly gripped with fear. The memory of showing up at the Sydney Airport on the wrong day hit me like a ton of bricks and I was compelled to double check our reservation details again, even though I had just done this a couple hours prior. As I was walking I pulled up the reservation on my phone and was relieved to see all the right things April 16th, 12:25PM instead of AM and so on. However, one little thing caught my attention. The reservation was from an airport with the code KIX. It did not say Osaka International Airport, just KIX. When I had planned our route I had entered Osaka International Airport and Google pulled it right up, so I never even thought to check to see if Osaka had TWO international airports! I quickly entered KIX into Google and found that KIX was the Kansai International Airport in Osaka. My heart fell back into my stomach. However, we had left early and they could not be that far apart right? I went back to Google maps and entered in our new destination and was further terrified when it came up as a two hour journey instead of the 1:15 I had planned for. Full on panic was now upon me. We were going to miss our flight, which would result in us missing the cruise we had booked for tomorrow in Vietnam and it was all because I made a stupid mistake.
I sheepishly said “hey guys - hold up” and filled in the rest of the family on my error. Now if this would have happened early in the trip I am afraid to say the reaction would have been ugly. However, the three of them just rolled with it as if this happens every day and started to work on solutions. It was awesome. I did not feel guilty anymore, I felt like part of a team with a problem to solve. I got back on the Google and started playing with different options. We quickly figured out that if we could get a taxi to Kyoto Train station there was a direct train to Kansai that only took 1:15. We would be there a little later than I had hoped, but we would still have plenty of time. We hailed a cab and within 5 minutes we were in the station trying to buy the right ticket - it was 9:08 at the time. I found the right train and when the schedule came on the screen I saw there was a 9:15 and then a 9:45, we needed to get tickets, find the train and be on it in 7 minutes - in Japan trains are not late. I went through the process and bought 3 tickets (the max you can buy at one time), but when I went to buy the 4th the 9:15 was not an option anymore. We ran to the turnstiles and pleaded with the guard to just let us through. He saw we were in a panic, handed me a special ticket and pointed us in the right direction. We sprinted down the hall and found our track with 2 minutes to spare. We jumped on board and settled into our seats proud to have avoided disaster.
We were the only people in our car when the train left the station so we were really at ease. A few minutes later the conductor came in to check tickets. He walked to the front of the car, turned around took off his hat, put it under his arm and gave us the most dignified bow we had seen to date. This bow was not special for us, it was what he did in every car after every stop, every day of his career, but he did it with pride and with dignity that was inspiring. Now, remember we were the only people on the car at this time, and we could not tell a good bow from a bad one and also had no expectation of a bow, he did it because it was his job and he wanted to do it the best he possibly could - it may sound weird, but it was inspiring. Funny that inspiration can come in the most ordinary circumstances.
The conductor helped me to buy my ticket and finally we were free to relax for the next hour. We made it to the station quickly and easily and right on time at 10:30, just 5 minutes after we had originally planned on being at the OTHER Osaka airport. However, once we went to leave the station we found out I had underpaid our fare and needed to make up the difference. Unfortunately I did not have enough cash on me to pay the entire fare and like everywhere else in Japan - they did not take credit. So I ran to an ATM to refill, but alas the ATM did not like my card and said “no soup for you”! I ran back to the counter and said - “I can’t get any more cash”. The nice woman who was helping us, came out of her booth, and walked me over to the ticket machine and after pressing about 83 buttons had me feed my credit card into the machine. A moment later 4 tickets for the balance of our fare spit out of the machine and my family was released from purgatory to carry on with our butter smooth journey to Vietnam.
We checked in and made our way quickly through security and immigration. We got a quick bite to eat and headed to our gate with plenty of time to spare. The flight from Kansai to Seoul was easy until we started our decent. We had to fly right through a thunderstorm and at one point lightning lit up the cabin and freaked Lea out pretty good. Despite the lightning and a few bumps we landed safely and started our 4:30 layover. Time went by quickly and about an hour before takeoff we decided to grab a bite to eat. We went up to the food court and Peter, Lea and I got some curry and Stacie got some ramen. Peter and I opted for the spicy curry and we got what we asked for. I love spicy food and can handle most levels of heat and this was pretty hot for me. Peter has been getting into spicy on this trip, but this was a level above what he had tried before and it showed pretty quickly. You know those shows someone eats something spicy and starts sweating profusely and drinking water as if they have been wandering in the desert for days - that was Peter. However, he did not want to stop - he kept saying “it’s really hot, but its so good!”. He finished the dish, and all of our water, and then quickly got some ice cream to cool off.
After dinner, we boarded the plane and had an easy 5 hour flight to Hanoi. By the time we landed Peter was not feeling all that great. His stomach was working through the curry / ice cream mix and he was not enjoying the process. We made it through immigration quickly and then waited for our bags. As soon as we had our bags we strolled through customs and were free. The process was much easier than I had anticipated. I just needed to get some money and we would be off. In fact I needed a lot of money because I had to pay for the cruise the next day in cash. I quickly found out that you can only take out roughly $93 a time at the ATM’s in Vietnam, which is 2,000,000 Dong. In order to pay for the cruise I needed 27 million Dong, so it was going to take a while. After 5 withdraws my card got shut down. I was too tired to try to do something about it that night and decided to just get to the hotel and deal with it in the morning.
We jumped into a cab and met our weird and wonderful cab driver.
Him - “Where to?”
My brain - “Oh thank god - you speak english!"
My mouth - "Intercontinental Hotel - Westlake"
Him, one eyebrow up and one down with a questioning tone - “Incom?"
My brain - “Slow down Pete, you need to speak more clearly so he understands"
My mouth - “IN - TER - CON - TI - NEN - TAL - Hotel"
Him, one eyebrow up and one down with a questioning tone - “Incom?"
My brain - “Were F*&^#d"
My Mouth - “IN - TER - CON - TI - NEN - TAL - Hotel"
This went on for about 5 minutes before I grabbed his phone and pulled it up on Google Maps. Then we were all good, until he then told us what we would be paying for the trip. He told us we would pay 500,000 dong for the trip there (even though the meter was running and did not correspond). I said - “What?”. He just smiled and said “ok 400”. I said “What?” He said “400”. Had not been able to get comfortable with the conversion rate in the 20minutes we had been in to country, so I figured we were being ripped off. I said “no” - he just smiled and kept driving. I said “no way”. He just smiled and kept driving. I said “take us back to the airport” He just smiled and kept driving. I said “TAKE US BACK TO THE AIRPORT”, he just smiled and kept driving. Peter told us later he figured we were being kidnapped on our first hour in Vietnam. I finally grabbed his phone again and did the conversion of 400,000 dong to USD and found out it was $18. I said “ok 400”, he just smiled and kept driving. A couple minutes later he said “Where are you from my friend" with a big smile on his face. We chatted for a little bit, but I wanted him to focus on the road and talking was clearly not helping. It was clear to me he was protesting the fact that the government has painted lines on HIS streets by making sure he had the lines right under the middle of his car at all times, rather than being in an actual lane. And he had a strange habit of both talking on a cell phone AND texting on another cell phone at the same time. Fortunately he only drove about 20 miles an hour so we were not in any real danger, until of course we arrived in the parking lot of the hotel at which time he accelerated as if the spirit of Jason Bourne had entered his body. He nearly took out the group of tourists in the circle next to reception before slamming to a halt with a big smile on his face and the words - “incom - we here!”.
We were there, safe and sound after a long perfect day of travel. Well fell into our wonderful beds and were fast asleep within seconds.