Bahamas

Vietnam 2007

December, 2006

Impressions

I can not say that there was much I did not expect of my trip. I have always known that Vietnam was an industrial country that had actually gone backwards to a 3rd world class. I could actually see when time stopped for this country. For me that is very sad. In life you always hope for progress, to see that an entire country was stunted was unthinkable and I am sad for its people.

The people there seemed very motivated to get ahead but yet they were resigned to their disposition. Sort of different, I had a hard time understanding it. One thing I did notice was the industrious nature of the society. Not much is left for waste and everyone seemed to be entrepreneurs. People appeared to work mostly for themselves; even the shops were mostly run and operated by the proprietors. I have always been told of the “Asians” and how they seem to be motivated; something I wrote off as a crude generalization. But it became very apparent to me how much truth there was to this. It was part of the society.

It is hard for me to put my finger on my impressions. The way I was treated was probably unlike most people who visit a foreign country. I was not a native person or a tourist. My ties to this country made me the odd ball, with that I was treated quite differently. It was okay to cozy up to me but yet at the same time I could be taken advantage of for tourist dollars.

In the end much of what I experienced, the same could be said of other travels in other parts of the world, just different scenery and language. If you are willing to step off the beaten path you will find that everyone is just like yourself. It could also be that the place I am in my life brings greater joy to all of my experiences and open to being with people I do not know. I am sooooo looking forward to going back.

These are not quite the pictures I had hope for. So much for having a photographer for a sister. She was not as snap happy as I had hoped.

First day, and we are already enjoying our second lunch inside of Bien Thanh, an indoor market place. Their idea of a food court.

Christmas in Saigon.

 

Chu Son, our driver in Saigon.

 

A sales girl in her Store. A typical size for this market.

Ceramics.

Coming back from the market with my "aunt", who turns out to be 3rd cousin.

Grandfather's home. I think the pool is new. We are in the far in of the courtyard shooting back at the house.

Completely overgrown. There not as many trees when I was there last.

 

Pictures were taken from right to left, the house is built in a right angle.

The built in gazebo. My 4th cousin, co Luu.

In front of the my birth home with my sister. The gate has been change (if I remember correctly). The house is a "U" shape, so there is the same to the left of the picture. The bottom floor is the carport/garage with 4 floors above.

Pedicure?? This is a street vendor...um, no.

Giang, our driver in Hanoi. I get the feeling he does not know his pix is now on the web, hee. hee.

Stuck in Hanoi airport on a 4 hour delay. The airline served us breakfast. My sister's comments.

My last dinner in Vietnam, joined by all the cousins, a meal of egg rolls.

 

Below are my journal entries. It was written for my own edification, a little indulgent and sometimes corny. I hope you enjoy it for what it is worth.

Dec. 6, 1 day before departure.

In anticipation of a snow storm I have decided to drive to Detroit the night before to meet up with Diem. We are staying with her friend Pat who lives in Ann Arbor. She will drive us to the airport in the morning and keep my car until I return.

Dec. 7, Day 1 Glad stocks just went up.

We got off early to the airport (unusual for me) in hopes of scamming an upgrade. But somehow I get the feeling that upgrades really did not happen for international flights as easily as they do for domestic flights. Well, I was right and we were on a pretty full flight. ugh.

Security is always an adventure. On this trip the culprit was a one gallon size Ziploc bag. TSA regulations states” All liquids, gels and aerosols must be placed in a single, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag. Gallon size bags or bags that are not zip-top such as fold-over sandwich bags are not allowed. Each traveler can use only one, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag.” I only had TWO bottles of liquid that both fit in the palm of my hand! so I threw it into my carry on. Harmless right? I even took the time to put it into the security basket for them. Thinking that disclosure should give me some brownie points, maybe not? On the other side of the belt they pulled it out and proceeded to ask if I had a gallon size Ziploc bag? (Of course not! you Nimrod!) I politely said, “No, I am only carrying two bottles.” (therefore, did not need a bag to carry my stuff.) But then that was a rhetorical question right? Did they not just x-ray my things to see that not only did I not have the zip loc bag but I did not have any other liquid items?? She refused to return my lotion and spritzer.

Thanks to the quick thinking of my sister, she quickly dumped out her bag of snacks and handed it to me. When I put my two bottles in, I was allowed to proceed. This new little regulation must have been devised by SC Johnson! My advice is to invest quickly, first quarter should be a good one.

Almost there
The pit stop in Tokyo was interested. Despite the brief layover (2 hours) I immediately got the sense of the Japanese’ anal retentive attitude towards order. A quick bowl of ramen in the airport was enough to hold us over.

The flight
It has been a long time since I have flown internationally. I have to report not much has changed. It is just long and tedious. To my sister’s chagrin I brought along a neck pillow (a real one, not a blow up) and a blanket. She thought I was nuts, but it became these little things that made the trip a lot more comfortable. Then there were the snacks. The other passengers must have been so jealous.
Diem’s theory of sitting in the middle section with an aisle was brilliant. We were not disturbed by anyone the entire flight.
The flight was not as bad as I thought it would be, even though I only slept for 2 hours. I was surprised at my lack of tiredness.
The flight was the first realization that I was no longer a minority. It was an interesting feeling. There have been many times in my life that I felt Americans need to go to a foreign country to understand the struggles of minorities. Now I feel that all American minorities should go back to feel a sense unity.

My sister and I have always felt like outsiders, if not for our skin color but our twin status affords us many looks also. Twins Days has allowed me to feel like I have a support group but even there we were an oddity. Asian twins make up less than 5% of the twin population around the world. Still the odd man out.

On the leg from Tokyo to Saigon it all changed, the majority of the people were Vietnamese (unlike the first leg which was predominately Japanese and Chinese). We could understand almost everyone on the plane. As cool as that was it because very clear we no longer had a “secret” language to communicate with. So I looked at my sister and said, “Hablamos Espanol?” That was so much fun! We had a new “secret” language again.

12 am
We finally arrived. A surprise greeting from our cousins at the airport made me feel at ease. I have never met them but they made me feel as family always does, welcome. They brought a midnight snack for us, fast food (funny, we were soooo hoping for something more local.)
It is Friday night, the city is still bussling. The mopeds were still out in full force. In the center of town was still a tribute to the sickle and hammer and lots of tributes to Uncle Ho.
It is soo hot and humid out, I just want to melt. My turtleneck and pants were killing me. Thank goodness for break always.

We pulled up to the hotel and was surprisingly greeted by a lit Christmas tree! It was so funny to me. The front desk guy remembered my sister from 2 years ago. The hotel is small and quaint. What I was equate to a bed and breakfast. Our room is on the 3rd floor, no elevator. Ugh.

3 am
I thought for sure I was going to sleep forever, but the porcelain god called. My feet were greeted with vertigo. The lack of water and exhaustion had come to a head. I thought I was going to die! I could not find my bearings and just wanted to hurl.

Day 2

Our relatives live about a block from the hotel so it was a convenient place to stay. My first walk to their house this morning was a bit of a culture shock. A wave of motor bikes came towards me on what I thought would be a quiet side street. Wow.

Their home was interesting. It is actually a building in the middle to downtown Saigon next to a very large supermarket/department store. Sort of like a Super Walmart of sorts. Their first floor is occupied by 5 business and they live in the 3 floors above, sort of like apartments. This is my mother’s side of the family, my great Aunt and her children. It became apparent to me after wondering the streets of Saigon that they are a little more privileged than most. Hard to imagine given the standards that we are so used to living with.

For the duration of our stay in Saigon we had a driver, chu Son. He has his own cab and has been driving our family for years. Whenever they need him he makes himself available to us. So we hired him by the day at the rate of $24/day. The nice thing about him is that he is a safe driver and beyond that, he was trust worthy. As a precaution we decided to leave our purses and all of our belongings with him in the car, I can not imagine that this would be possible anywhere else. He got us on our schedule and even asked if we wanted to take an afternoon nap! He must not drive Americans very often. hee, hee.

We made many offers to feed him lunch, but he refused. It was almost weird how he would just appear at the curb when we were ready to leave any location. He just knew.
The business aspect of the trip was a lot easier than I thought it would be. My Vietnamese was working well on the streets but I struggled during real negotiations. I did give myself a break, it has been more than 30 years since I have been around native tongue speakers from the South, the dialect is a little different (my family is from the North).

We got so much done today that I have decided to go to Hanoi (the north) early. We weill depart on Monday and enjoy Sunday with the family.

It was no surprise that the family was impress with our healthy appetite. Our first breakfast of rice crepes and meat was wonderful. One plate was ordered for each of us, a small one for my cousin and a large one for each my sister and I. In the end Diem and I ordered 2 more. Our five plates of food, one coffee, one wet wipe…$3.00. And tipping is not practiced. Wow.

Lunch was my favorite, Bun Oc, conch soup, can never get enough of this stuff. Two bowls, two can of Coke, one wet wipe…$2.00! It was so good we went again later this afternoon. ?

Day 3, Sunday

2 am came so quickly, jet lag is unforgiving. Thank goodness Diem was also sleep challenged. We had a nice opportunity to chat and laugh until 5 am.

Day 3 was another day of running to get in the business of souvenirs for the staff and family. It rained most of the day. We lucked out. It rained mostly while we were inside.

Went to the famous Pho Hoa restaurant for Pho, the traditional Vietnamese soup for breakfast. Can not say that I was so impressed.

We took this slow day to visit my parents’ home before they left for the US. It did not surprise me that the house is much smaller than I remembered, still impressive even by today’s standards. We also visited my Grandfather’s home, just around the corner, funny how we remembered the trip to be his house to be such a Journey. Today we would just walk that distance, back then they would have a cyclo pick us up!

My grandfather’s house was even more impressive. A traditional Asian estate with a courtyard, a gazebo and a Coi pond. All of which are now over grown. The estate is occupied by a French diplomat with live-in help. Despite the help, the property is in disarray. Sort of sad.

Went to cho Lon.

Day 4, Monday

5:30 am, a little more sleep tonight, but still early. Diem is not doing much better. We gave up trying to sleep and started preparing for our departure to Hanoi. Our lunch in Saigon was burnt rice. I had never heard of this dish until I saw it on No Reservations, with Tony Bordain. We did not go to the exact place that he did, but it was good!

Flying to Hanoi was a trip! Vietnam Airlines was different. The flight was on a brand new Boeing 777, wow what a great ride. Despite the sophisticated airplane they are still printing paper tickets! This caused me to believe that I might be in for a shock. To my surprise there were no live stock on board! ha, ha. And the food like Japan Airlines was phenomenal! I can not believe how good airline food is in a foreign country. No nasty Subway sandwiches.
Hanoi was an immediate surprise, the contrast between Hanoi and Saigon were so stark. The new sophisticated airport was the first indication that we had left Kansas. And I could see a highway! from the air. Riding from the airport I could see that there was more order, the homes were more modern and there was new construction. Something that I did not see in Saigon.

Diem arranged to have a driver meet us at the airport. Someone she thought was trustworthy. Well, she got the wrong guy. On the ride to the hotel it became apparent that she had arranged the wrong driver. This was the guy that screwed her on her previous trip and she failed to throw away his card. And true to form, he was getting ready to do the same thing. So we cut him loose and looked for a different driver.

With much luck the first driver we met was an independent (much more motivated), had character, gave an honest price and stuck to the price. The second driver we met seemed stated a price and started changing the price the closer we got to our hotel. We were staying in the high rent district of Hanoi. The decision was easy and Giang (the driver) was committed. Still leery of people in general we decided that we would not commit for the entire week until the end of the first day. The decision was not hard.

Giang turned out to be a delightful person with great work ethics and he genuinely seemed to care about my welfare. He is a very funny person who enjoys great laughs. I found myself looking forward to seeing him every morning because we laughed all day. He had the same sense of humor.

Day 5, Tuesday

I slept through most of the night. What a relief.
Breakfast was interesting. I came to discover the use of MSG was still abundant. They would literally add spoonfuls of MSG to your bowl of soup! argh. It took a few days but I finally figured out the source of my continual headaches compounded by exhaust fumes from the numerous motor bikes. In addition, I have also been suffering from smoker’s cough in the mornings which I believe is also from the pollution.

I continued my search today for a manufacturer. My few appoints yielded some opportunities. My driver confirmed that doing business in Hanoi is a little peculiar. I can not seem to get people to finalize things for me. They tell me they can work on the project but they make no effort to me when it will start, when I can have a delivery or the cost. I have to almost be rude to get an answer. I had money wired to a Western Union location. Simple. It was the monies were confirmed, but yet I could not get them to continuously work to give me the money. After 30 minutes, the clerk said it will be a little longer, she was waiting for a fax confirmation. I then reminded her that I had already been waiting for 30 minutes which provoked her to call to tell them to go ahead and send the fax. Wouldn’t you know 1 minute later.

We went to the silk village today. When I got there I realized that it was quite different from what I expected. This so called village was in the middle to of an urban city just 20 minutes from down town Hanoi. I had imagined going way outside of the city to some rural dirt roads. Not at all. The village was quite small with many store fronts all selling silk. You can walk through the village in about 10 minutes with just window shopping.

It was pretty quiet today. I guess the tourists and the people did not come out until the weekend. I was able to browse at my own leisure. While walking you could hear the sound of the looms working behind the store fronts. It was very interesting. I was able to locate a vendor who was willing to custom make the fabric I was looking for. Yippie.

To my delight this person invited me to their home in the village for lunch. They were having a feast today to commemorate the death of some relative. I agreed to go if she would invite my driver. Although she did, he declined. The meal was as I remembered from my family. All of the same fixings. The men and the women ate separately, men downstairs and women upstairs. All on straw mats on the floor.

Today I also got an opportunity to ride on my first “xe om”. A ride on the back of someone’s motorbike, something that my sister had instructed me not to do on any terms. Oh well. The vendor who is manufacturing my silk wanted to take me around to find an embroiderer. She felt that the fastest way to get around was on her motorbike, even though I offered my driver. It was a blast!

Tonight we went to get my first ball of Oc, conch/snails. I was so excited. Some of my sister’s colleagues made the invitation. That was all this restaurant served it was sooo good and so busy. Needless to say that was just not enough food, we followed up by going to another restaurant, again transported by motorbikes. This time we were in the heart of downtown. What a kick. My sister later qualified that you should never ride with a stranger.

Day 6, Wednesday

Went to Bat Trang, the china village today. I thought I would try to find the one item that I knew for sure I would have success. This village was as expected. A remote village well outside of city limits with a dirt road. I was feeling much more satisfaction. A real village. True to expectation, every store front had some sort of china offering. It was so much fun.

Being that we were in a remote location I insisted that Giang joined me for lunch. He found a little restaurant in the village and ordered, the house specialty, Fried Rice. He did however, qualify that had we gone back to Hanoi for lunch it would have been much better. Our meal was fun, but with Giang everything was fun.

Earlier in the day we had a discussion about Viet Kieu, the name used to refer to Vietnamese people who were born in Vietnam, left to live in another country and have returned. I am a “Viet Kieu”. However, on this day we would use the term in a derogatory way. For us, it described people American Viet Kieu’s who were back and acted as if they ruled the world because they had money. But the reality is, they just had more money than the typical Vietnamese citizen (just about all tourists visiting a 3rd world country do). In the US, they were simply the middle class. These are the type of people I would describe as ugly Americans. Obnoxious and pushy. The irony was that my name is also Kieu. Thus the reason why people laughed every time I introduced myself, it only took me 6 days to figure this out.

While we were at lunch there was another table full of Viet Kieu’s. We had a good laugh. True to form they were being obnoxious. Then came the check, they started fighting over it. We agreed it was a bit gauche. We agreed that things should just be agreed upon ahead of time and everyone should just be responsible for themselves unless it was a special occasion. So I decided to take the opportunity to just head everything at the pass. I told Giang directly that there would not be negotiations and that I would pay for lunch. He wanted to refuse but threw up his hands and give in. hee, hee.
The food here has been incredible. We have taken advantage of the low prices to eat everything we have been missing for the past 30 years. Being my first visit back, everything was an adventure. My stomach held up very well. We had two opportunities to go to restaurants and both were not only expensive ($2/person) but also jut not really good. Tonight we went to Cuoc Ngon restaurant, (directly translates to the Good Area). First notation, lots of tourists. But we were smart, we only ordered 2 items to test and we were right, it was terrible. So we left to seek better food. We decided to walk around downtown and head towards our hotel instead of taking the driver.

On our walk tonight was stopped everywhere there was a crowd. Everyday, depending on the time, vendors would magically appear on the sidewalk and create makeshift restaurants. Their offerings would typically be just a few items, obviously a specialty. The inexpensive cost of meals allowed us to eat to our hearts content. We stopped at 8 different locations tonight. Even though we were pegged as tourists and were way overcharged at certain junctions, we still made out under $5.


Day 7, Thursday

Tonight my sister and I decided that we would make the 45 min trip to who I thought was my great uncle. After much discussion with my mother, it would turn out that this person is a 4 cousin. He is a cousin to my maternal Grandfather. My sister had met and stayed with his family on the last trip so there was a little history. She was a little surprised to learn that he was still alive given his kidney problems. So we felt that it was a priority to visit. In addition I could not pass up the opportunity to visit with family that I have never met.

His home was pretty much as I expected. A traditional Asian home with inlaid furniture and some cheesy family portrait that was printed to an enormous size. My cousin in his day was a well known opera singer in Vietnam which explained the upscale home and the live in servant.

My favorite thing to do while visiting another country is to go where the locals go. I have always hated the touristy places. When there is an opportunity to go where the locals live that is the best.

Day 8, Friday

My last day in Hanoi. I spent the day tying up loose ends. Giang and I have become much more comfortable with each other. He has invited my sister and I to his home for dinner. That was such an honor.

Before leaving for Vietnam we decided that we would pack old clothes to be left behind for the poor. This would also give us more luggage room and relieve our burden as we went. In addition, we also brought all the hotel toiletries and give away. My sister insisted that we carried these in our pockets to give the pan handlers when they approached. Uncomfortable with this concept I decided that Giang should help me.

Giang told me that there was an area in which there were many homeless people and that it would be an appropriate place to give away. We had our mission. It was harder than it was suppose to be. I guess today they found homes? Because no one was around. We had to find a new place, he went to the highway where there is an overpass. Sure enough there were a few people there sorting through recyclables. They were so confused. We waved the over to the car, they refused, then finally after yelling to them what our intentions were they hesitantly came over. I offered the toiletries and old clothes, they agreed take all of it, but they did not say thank you. Giang explained that they were in shock. That he was sure they had never had anyone make such an offer and that they were indeed grateful. I trust that he was right.

For lunch today, I had made a bet with Giang. I had bet him lunch that our 11am appointment would be late. She never showed. Giang took me to join his other driving buddies for lunch. We had “com buoi”, translated, dusty rice. These are meals that were common for everyday, the American version of meatloaf and mash potatoes. They were given this term for the reason that you are served along the streets therefore would become dusty. The tables and chairs are equivalent to the size of a playschool set. It was great to meet his friends and enjoy a local meal.

Our day ended early so Giang dropped me off to take an afternoon nap until our last appointment, ha, ha. Instead I decided to seek more food after dropping off my stuff at the hotel. On my walk I encountered Giang with his friend having a leisurely cup of tea on the sidewalk. They were so surprised to see me they invited me to join them. I could not pass it up. The tea was so bitter I thought I was going to choke, but I had to finish. It was a good time.

In the end, my appointment cancelled so Giang invited me to his home early to help cook. I was more than happy. On our ride he started to prepare me for what to expect. We had made several jokes about the fact the he was so poor that he had a straw roof. Then he said that he had a wood burning stove. Then I mention that he might have a dirt floor in his kitchen, that was when he did not laugh. oops. I guess I hit that one right. Though he did not say anything, he was not offended, thank goodness. Right before we got there he said that where he lived was considered “nha que”, the country.

He had a small home in the middle of what I would consider the poor suburbs. The first floor was his wife’s tailoring business, with a kitchen behind and several floors above. Not sure how many. We were entertained in a bedroom/dining room/living room. It became very apparent to me that these were not well to do people and that they made just enough to pay the mortgage and eat.

Giang had mentioned 3 times since the morning that he had gone to the market to buy a chicken before picking me up. I did not understand the significance until the meal was served. It was very clear to me that they did not often have chicken, let alone meat. And the chicken was butchered at home. I was so honored. Giang wanted us to have a true home cooked local meal. He impressed upon me that there would be nothing fancy or special to eat. In the end the meal was much like what mother cooked on any given day, I knew that his family only had such a meal on special occasions.

We ate on a straw mat on the ground. As promised he served a boiled chicken and we all ate it with our fingers and spit out the bones into our paper napkins (a roll of toilet paper dispensed from a cute holder). There was soup and stir fry in addition. They could not afford a dining table. Another reality, dining tables are for the well to do.

As a hostess gift I brought Giang’s family tea and banh com (a rice and bean dessert). Earlier that day I had asked the maid at the hotel what she enjoyed giving if she was going over for dinner to which she answered banh com. It was also convenient that we were staying in an area that specialized in this dessert. There at least a dozen purveyors on the street and Giang had told me where the best place was, the place where he and his wife had ordered from for their wedding. They were so surprised but delighted! Giang actually asked me why. I answered because you are suppose to bring something for the hostess, he thought it was sort of strange.

Giangs family were very kind and warm, it was a wonderful experience, one that I will not soon forget.

Our visit was cut short by a phone call from one of my vendors. They had finished the sample for my review and wanted to bring it to my hotel before I left the next morning.

After my meeting at the hotel Diem and I went out with the 19 year old doorman. He had mentioned earlier in the morning that there was a night market (street fair) on the weekends and that we should go. He seemed to beam when he was telling me so I insisted the he took us out. What a blast.

The market stretched several blocks through Hanoi and was only a few blocks from the Hotel. It was like any other street festival that I had been to the US just different wares and food. We got there a little late at 10pm. We did not know there would be a curfew at 11pm. We had finished most of the market when I noticed that people were breaking down. I thought it was a little early so I asked Bon (the doorman) and he said the police where coming through and shutting them down. So we headed home, on the walk home we came across a dessert place selling “cem caramen” (flan/custard). We had had it a few nights prior and knew that this was our last opportunity. So we sat down on the sidewalk and ordered some. I did not notice that there were very few people left of the street and the street lights were mostly dimmed until the police drove by with their loudspeakers. I asked Bon what it was about when he said that the police were enforcing the curfew. This was a little freaky to someone who came from a free society.

Day 9, Saturday

We said our goodbyes to Giang last night because the National Library of Vietnam where my sister had been working all week arranged a driver for us to the airport. We arrived at the airport about 6am to find that the flight had been delayed until 11am. ugh. Our flight with Vietnam Airlines earlier in the week was also delayed. I suspect that the flight was delayed for lack of passengers.

On the flight was a couple from Oklahoma, I could tell from his Sooners baseball cap. I could not help myself and commented on his cap which sparked a conversation about football, which Diem was more than happy to engage in given that the Michigan fan was still feeling a little slighted about the title game. I am sure they were a little surprised by two English speaking Vietnamese girls talking football. ha, ha.

We finally got back to Saigon at about 1pm and went to our first appointment to review samples that were promised. It amazes me how much easier it has been to work with women on this project. They understood completely what I as trying to do, it was amazing. But it also made a lot of sense women should understand purses better than men. I thought it was unusual that I would be dealing with women at all, but I welcomed the opportunity.

From this appointment we were given a referral to a gentleman who manufactured purses. She agreed to make an introductory call. What a blessing! Here we were on our last day of business in Vietnam and it was all coming together. The referral was brilliant. There were few questions, this guy got it from the beginning! I was finally seeing success from this trip. For the last few days I was wondering if the trip would be fruitful, but I see now that there were many strides made.

Day 10, Sunday

We got up early and started preparing for my departure at 12 am. We decided to spend the day shopping and squeezing in any food that I had been craving but had not gotten yet. At about 3pm we gave up. Exhaustion was catching up with me a wicked way. We headed back to their house and spent the rest of our time visiting with our cousins.

Our cousins had planned a farewell dinner for me and had called all the family members to join us. We were treated to egg rolls. It did not occur to me until I was sitting down that I was having one of the most traditional meals that Vietnamese people make. It was funny to me that most people thought egg rolls were Chinese.

It was nice that so many people came over to join us at dinner. They were great people. We talked about the US and how different things were, as most of them had not had the opportunity to visit. When I am with foreigners I am shocked by all of the misconceptions they have about our lifestyle. Through the conversation I was then asked my impression of Vietnam. I had not yet put any thought into that. One cousin jokingly said it must me that of taxi’s because my entire trip was spent in a taxi. Everyone laughed.

On the way to airport, Diem and I discovered that we had the wrong day. I was suppose to fly home the night before! ugh. It was 10pm and we were feeling that I was screwed. We proceeded to the airport anyway and hoped that there would still be space on the plane.

I made a decision upon arrival to the airport that I would only speak English to reduce confusion for myself, it was not received very well. I explained my problem to the supervisor and she informed me that they could not re-issue tickets at the airport and that I needed to go to the Northwest downtown office. Of course I reminded her that it was no 10:30pm on a Sunday. She then took my ticket and started making some calls and worked on the computer. At 10:45pm she came back to me and informed me that she could not help and that she was closing the flight in 20 minutes. I gave her the evil eye and told her that I would call Amex to take care of it.

10 minutes later, Amex had Northwest on the line and they made all the arrangements. However, the supervisor was still not satisfied so I put her on the phone with Northwest. After much rumbling everyone was satisfied and I was issued a boarding pass. Amex was able to arrange with Northwest to issue my boarding pass without re-issuing my ticket until I got to Tokyo.

Day 11 Monday

I arrived at Tokyo Airport at about 7am. I am amazed at the order. Security was brilliant, the attendees were very polite. They helped you with your belongings. They Asked your permission to do a detailed search, they gave you slippers if they wanted to inspect your shoes, there was even a suggestion box asking for ways to improve their process. Somehow I get the feeling that someone would actually take comments into consideration!
My flight was not until 2pm, so I took the opportunity to go to Narita. A city that was 15 minutes via train from the airport, I could not pass it up. In Narita is a Buddhist temple and a sanctuary. The town from what I gathered was built around it. Today I lucked out, being a Monday and early morning there were very few tourists and the locals were also limited. It was nice to have such solitude. The weather was a little a brisk, such a nice change.

My quick trip into Japan was everything I had imagined. The streets were cobblestone, little shops along the way and incredibly clean. Everything was so orderly. Even though Narita was not considered a tourist destination there were plenty of souvenir shops to be had.

The sanctuary was much more than I had ever imagined. To say that there is a famous temple there was a far cry from the truth. There were many temples and shrines. The property was several centuries old and was built to honor many dignitaries. Each of which had its own character, the oldest monument I saw was from the 1700’s. Around the grounds was a bamboo forest, it was exactly like I had seen in the movies. Being an off day I felt as if I had the entire place to myself. The peace was exactly what I needed. It has been a long time since I took the time to take a walk to gather my thoughts.

I had lunch in Narita and did a little souvenir shopping. In those few hours I quickly realized how expensive Japan is. To think I was not in a tourist destination and it was that expensive, I can not imagine going to Tokyo!

My last purchase in Japan was a cup of Starbucks! I had not had a cup of coffee since the night I drove to Michigan. I can not believe how good that was!

Day 11.5, Monday again.

Another full flight, and I had a middle seat without the company of my sister. I got lucky with a very nice guy from Detriot. On this leg I was able to get about 6 hours sleep. I was so relieved, but I think the break in Narita was the key. It allowed me to stretch my legs.

Back in Detroit, Diem’s friend Pat agreed to pick me up just in case I came off the plane with vertigo. Luckily it all worked out and I was on my way home. I was shocked to see that all of the snow had melted and I barely needed a jacket outside. Home was a welcome sight.