It’s been 10 days since I got back from Japan, and I haven’t had much of a chance to post on my flight back and on readjusting to the U.S. again.
On the flight back, I met a nice guy, Dave, who shared similar gaming interests as me, so we chatted away in geek mode for a few hours. Then I had to rest my throat, because the desert-like atmosphere of the airplane just kills it.
So I went into cocoon mode, where I put on my noise-canceling headphones, listen to podcasts, and try to doze off in between meals. The food wasn’t bad, but for some reason I just can’t bring myself to order the fish on an airplane.
I spent a lot of time adding up all the various things I bought to fill out my customs forms, too. The last thing I wanted to do was submit anything that looked weird or out of place. I hadn’t really done the U.S. Customs arrival thing in a while, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I figured I’d prepare for anything.
When I arrived in Chicago at 3:00 p.m. the same day, my slightly scrambled brain had to deal with being back in the U.S. all of a sudden. It was a weird feeling. I’ve spent the last month or so trying to adapt to Japan, and suddenly having to be an American again was a bit jarring.
Immigration was amusing in a way. When I arrived in Japan, the huge line was for foreigners coming into Japan. When I arrived in Chicago, the huge line was for Americans coming home. I guess it makes sense. After I got processed, I had to go pick up my luggage for customs. One thing to keep in mind– the signs say no cell phone use or camera use. They aren’t messing around. Turn off your phones and put them away.
Now, the whole time I’m going around here, I’m lugging my two backpacks, and my back is hating me the whole time. We’re talking, “I’m gonna get you when you sleep,” hate. This underlines my resolve to change the way I travel from here on out. Keep chanting, “One bag, one bag…” until I remember to carry just one bag.
At customs, I declared my Pocky, and then breezed on through without having to pay. I think the agent said that my books weren’t subject to duty, so I was under the limit. (Woot.) Then they took my bags and moved them on to the connecting flight right there, so I didn’t have to recheck them.
Now the fun part. Back through airport security. One thing I noticed that kind of irritated me was that first-class passengers had a different line for TSA screening. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the TSA was a government agency. Why is the government playing favorites for first-class passengers? Meanwhile, the rest of us in coach are standing in a 40-minute line. Some poor guy with diabetes passed out twice in line. It doesn’t seem fair. We have to suffer in cramped seats, we pay these guys’ salaries in taxes, yet we suffer in line? I don’t get it.
After doing the TSA shuffle, it was off to find the Admirals’ Club. It’s totally worth the $50, because it’s nice to have a comfortable place to recover from your flight while you wait for the next one.
The club in Chicago wasn’t as nice as the one in Tokyo, though. The one in Tokyo had free food. The one in Chicago had one of those nut mix things you get in bars, and some broccoli. I think there were apples, too. But everything else was a cash bar. Tokyo’s Admiral’s Club had free sushi and free drinks. That’s tough to beat.
My flight to Raleigh was only 40 minutes late departing. I wish I had spent those 40 minutes in the Admirals’ Club, but like a dummy, I went to the gate early. No, I don’t know why. Since I was in group 5, I was the last person on the plane. I don’t know how I got put in group 5, but that’s where I had been put, and I wasn’t going to get on the plane any sooner.
My goal for my next trip is to get the hell out of group 5, and move up a bit.
On the flight, I met another nice person, and we chatted about the news and current events before arriving rather quickly at Raleigh-Durham. After that, it was standard stuff. Met my girlfriend at baggage claim, sprained by back getting one of my heavy suitcases, and limped on home.
Home Again Home Again, Jiggity Jig
I would have posted sooner, but I was busy recovering. When I got back, I felt like hell. They say that it’s harder to travel east than it is to travel west, and based on my experience, I agree. Coming back to North Carolina after being away for five weeks also had another effect. As soon as I got back on the ground at RDU, every single allergen that I had escaped for the last five weeks attacked me. I noticed it when my eyes started itching like mad on the ride home, and then the next day when my Eustachian tubes started acting up, too.
The other main problem I had was sleeping. I couldn’t. It took me about a week to get back on an almost-normal sleeping pattern where I could sleep for more than 5 hours a night.Â I still get very sleepy at weird hours.
Of course, coming back right before Thanksgiving added a certain amount of stress as well. Hey, it’s Thanksgiving. Everything has to be perfect, right? So trying to recover while also getting ready for Thanksgiving had its own impacts.
Finally, the hardest thing to get used to was the change in lifestyle. I was so used to walking a lot and riding trains, and suddenly I’m back in my car, muttering at the other drivers just like every other American. That was a jarring experience. To be honest, it’s the one part of coming back that I liked the least. I’ve gone from feeling like going out and rubbing elbows with millions of people to being in my house-pod, jumping into my car-pod, then doing my shopping in Controlled Shopping Zones, and scuttling back to my house-pod, with precious little unnecessary interaction.
Having a car is handy for carrying groceries, but I’m wondering at what cost.
I’m also not walking nearly as much as I used to, and I’m not even looking forward to going out to walk. It’s weird.
I do know one thing, and that is that I really want to go back to Japan, and spend some more time there. Despite the pain, frustration, and stress, I haven’t had so much fun in a long time. It was probably one of the best experiences of my life, and I’d highly recommend going, even if it is a difficult thing to do.
I think the difficult things are probably the best ones for us to do, anyway. You have to break out of your habits and get over yourself every now and then, you know?
Later, I’ll post some info on what I learned, travel-wise, for a trip to Japan, and for traveling in general. It’s not like I reinvented the wheel or anything, but I figure that if you’re willing to read this, you’re looking for any kind of information you can get.