October 5, 2007
Not only was I able to stay up later last night, I finally slept in until 7AM. Wahoo! Finally I am getting into the proper time zone. Today we trading Tokyo for Thailand. Alex & I picked up breakfast to eat in the park. Alex wanted to use one of the vending machines for the last time to buy a can of iced coffee. We got the last round of sushi pods aka onigiri. As we walked the neighborhood one last time and over breakfast, we shared our thoughts about the past few days.
My biggest surprise: Tokyo was not as big as what I had made it to be in my mind much like when I saw the Mona Lisa in person. I was expecting to be overwhelmed with the craziness of one of the largest cities in the world but Tokyo felt rather tame. Yes, there were loads of people, but it did not feel much different from NYC. One difference compared to cities in the US was it felt calm & extremely safe. There was not a constant barrage of blaring horns and sirens. People quietly moved almost like robots: efficient without emotion. The buildings were shorter than I expected. Perhaps due to the threat of earthquakes?
What I enjoyed most during my time in Tokyo was really happily wandering without agenda and taking in everything. Ironically, my watch stopped my first morning here. Rather than find a battery, I chucked it into my pack for it to find the bottom. I felt free. It was liberating to live and experience each moment without the pressures of life to distract. Of course I cannot attribute this entirely to being in Tokyo. Most likely I would have experienced this if we landed somewhere else first but was glad to have shared it with Tokyo.
Alex shared with me what he found interesting. For the world’s 2nd largest economy, he was surprised to see very little visible signs of wealth except for fashionable clothing and hi tech electronics. He liked the modesty & minimalism. To him, everyone seems to be happy except the “salarymen” & no one seems to get angry.
It was no surprise Alex was excited to have the omnipresent vending machines that provided easy access to his favorite iced coffee in a can. Since childhood, he has had a special relationship with 7-11. For him the 7-11s here provided a signal of safety. Here there were more options than those in the States. This explanation made me cut him a just little slack for buying our last night’s dinner from there (but only a little).
Lastly, he was amazed traveling in Tokyo can be cheap and there was an existance of 100 Yen stores. Alex left his job but not his enthusiasm for being an Economist. He carries around a notepad in is pocket to record costs throughout the day. He was proud to show his entries from the past few days:
- Train to-from airport: 110 yen = $9.50
- Hostel: $25 per night
- “Georgia” iced coffee in a can: 120 yen = $1.04
- Sushi breakfast: 220 yen = $1.90
- Complete shrimp tempura dinner: 580 yen = $5.01
Last night Alex calculated our total costs. Total expenditure was $131.10 per person which translated to $43.70 per person per day. He was happy we spent less than our allotted $50/day budget. I was glad to see he was pleased but thought it would have been better to have hit the target since it would have been a bit more of a pleasurable experience without some of the drama. However, in the grand scheme of things it didn’t matter. We both had an overall good time during our layover in Tokyo. Our journey was only beginning. Based on Alex’s analysis, if we stay within or below budget we can extend our travels.
Now, our travels took us on a return trip to the airport which was as smooth as our arrival. I have been getting accustomed to removing my shoes when entering a residence. It felt odd to not have to remove my shoes as we went through security.
As the plane took off, Alex took my hand as always. I thought about everything I loved about Tokyo. Looking down watching the massive city become smaller, I bid farewell. “So long and thanks for all the fish!”
On our descent into Seoul, Korea the flight attendants insisted everyone keep the shades open. Duh, of course! They would have to insist on me to close them since I always keep them open to keep me and my giddy inner 5 year old happy. I never tire watching the scene unfold below. My first view of the airport, it looked like something from a sci-fi movie with a glass shell. As we landed at Incheon (IIA) I got a closer look at the elegant architecture which makes our crumbling airports in the States look like pathetic old artifacts. This airport is only 6 years old and making a name for itself for speedy arrival and departure times. With our short connection, I only had enough time to take a pee and a quick swig of water from the fountain for the last time before boarding for Bangkok.
The flight into Bangkok was very turbulent. A serious storm delayed our landing. The TV monitor showing our course looked like the result of a child playing with an etch-a-sketch periodically shaking it clear and starting again. This gives you an idea how many times we circled the Bangkok. Alex & I were relieved and exchanged excited grins once we finally landed. Like IIA, the Bangkok airport also looked brand new, it was another extremely modern airport which made us wonder if we were really entering a “developing country”.
Due to the rain & darkness, it was hard to really get a good first impression of Bangkok on our taxi ride. Our guesthouse looked take it could have been used as a set for “The Beach” with the flimsy wooded walls with only a screen at the top separating rooms. Please let there be no crazy guy trying to crawl over and talk to us tonight! Alex & I sat in the guesthouse restaurant & drank 2 overpriced beers. Cheers to our arrival!