Sunday, January 13, 2008

Asia Journal - Pt 1

DAY 1 and 2 - Wednesday into Thursday – Minneapolis to Portland to Narita to Hong Kong

Theme Song – “Myriad Harbour,” New Pornographers
"I took a plane, I took a train - oh, who cares, you always wind up in the city..."

Today is all about planes and airports. We leave at 9:30 in the morning and fly to Portland, where it is raining, as it always does. We transfer to the plane to Narita airport, which serves Tokyo. This is the longest leg of the flight, and we are sitting in business class, which is a great comfort on a trip like this because I can’t sleep on planes. This makes no sense, given that I can sleep pretty much everywhere else (including sitting upright in a folding chair at Paycheck’s Lounge with somebody’s punk band was blasting away). Business class at least plies me with distractions: food, drink, on-demand movies, a plug for the laptop (which didn’t work), crappy inflight magazines with crappier crossword puzzles, and a weird seat that resembles an airborne LaZBoy with a canopy and a lot of button controls. I have a good ten hours to kill. All told, this trip takes about 18 hours, and we arrive tomorrow… thank you, International Date Line.

(10 hours later, sleepless entire time)

Landing in Narita, you fly over small farm plots, fallow rice paddies, and a lot of small greenhouses. It is quaint and bucolic, a dull winter green. Houses with tiled roofs cluster around winding roads, punctuating the fields. It is lovely now, but lovelier in June when the fields are greener. There is a distinct Japonesque tidiness to everything. Even the car plant we fly over looks clean and pleasant, with hundreds of identical sedans rowed up outside. When you land, all the runway personnel wear uniforms that make them look like extras from an episode of Ultraman; somewhere between lab techs and road workers, they have hardhats, collared shirts, pressed pants, and reflective coats. The Japanese love uniforms; the girls screening bags wear maroon blazers, skirts, white gloves and little pillbox hats.

We only have a couple hours’ layover in Narita, and usually spend most of it in the club lounge, where we can plug in the computers and discuss the perplexing smoked cheese wrapped like a piece of candy. All the guys love it, although they agree it doesn’t really seem like food. All the girls find it frightening. There is an automated beer dispenser, too, that pours you a glass of Asahi Super Dry: it tips the glass at the proper angle to minimize the head. My former buyer found this irresistible, and would get a couple beers from it every time we stopped, regardless of the time. When we leave Narita, the sun is almost set. We have a little over four and half hours to fly to Hong Kong, much of it over the China Sea. I snooze a little; maybe an hour tops.

When I wake, Taiwan is shrouded in cloud, an amorphous light off to the left of the plane. It looks like a spangled ghost lost at sea, its translucent edges formed by shoreline, where the light stops. A little closer to Hong Kong, flotillas of fishing boats light patches of water, spread out in alien arrays in the black sea.

We get to the Intercontinental close to 11:30. As many times as I’ve been here, the panoramic view of the harbor from the lobby always stuns me. It is the most beautiful waterfront I’ve ever seen: titanic illuminated buildings, backed by dark mountains and framed by palms. The wall of the lobby facing the water is entirely glass, and about three storeys high; for immediate impact it is unrivaled in HK. Regardless of how exhausted and jetlagged you are, it makes you feel as if you finally arrived somewhere special.

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