Arriving here in Kofu and getting settled wasn’t a mere matter of carrying my bag off a plane, opening it in my room and unpacking my belongings. First there was the hectic dash around Sydney the day of the flight, trying desperately to collect my converted currency from the bank, get a haircut, pick up a large order from the camera shop that was a week late, get home in time to shower, repack all my luggage, eat dinner and make it to the airport.

Then there was the flight. My luggage was probably about 10 to 15 kg over the allowance (including hand luggage), and I’d already left some items behind (including some clothes) to be shipped later. The whole way there, my parents and I were discussing strategies to get my luggage past check-in, or repack things (again) so they could bring a bag back home and ship it with the box. Luckily the chap who served me seemed content for my suitcase to be within the safe weight limit, and didn’t ask any questions about my cabin luggage. I walked away wearing a greatcoat and carrying a backpack, a cabin bag, a suit bag, and a tripod bag.

While this was going on my mother found dinner (Oporto, a Portuguese chicken chain). I didn’t know how long it’d take to get through security and the tax refund booth, so I farewelled them soon after and went through. Of course I completely forgot about the absurd prohibition against transparent fluids, so I had to throw out half my sprite. Then I had to take off all my bags and put them on the conveyor, as well as my coat, my belt, my shoes, and the countless little things in my pockets (iPod, rosary etc). It took me three times as long to get it all back together, before I could hoist them to Mr Tax Refund Scheme.

I was expecting this to be the most irritating part. In Australia our federal government effectively killed off the vampiric “duty free” industry back in 2000 with the introduction of our Goods and Services Taxation system. Instead of shopping at specialised stores for items in sealed security bags that you couldn’t actually use until leaving the country, people who want tax free goods can just buy them and get the tax refunded when they leave. Of course there are rules (you need at least $300 on the one invoice, for instance, so no packets of gum) but it’s vastly more convenient than overseas. I had bought an iPod, some camera accessories (polarising filter, battery grip, tripod, etc) and augmentations to my laptop, so I had to carry all of these with me as well as their receipts – they also won’t process any claims within half an hour of your flight, so I was terrified of the lines.

It turns out there was no line at all, and I didn’t even have to remove each individual item from my bags. The customs officer seemed a little bored, though he said that it had been exceedingly busy earlier in the afternoon. After about ten minutes going through all the invoices and showing him some indicative items, he asked about my account details and it was set. One hour left to take-off, I went to the lounge to wait.

Wait I did. Everyone else had clung to their families to the bitter end, which was nice and all but I felt all tough and things for not being consumed by tears. Boarding time rolled around, but we weren’t summoned for about another half hour. When we did finally board, it was only to get our luggage packed and settled – an engineering fault had us grounded for an additional hour, and the captain kept updating us with the news that effectively, nothing had changed but he would let us know if it did. He also mentioned calling Canberra and asking for a “dispensation” (I think I’ve mentioned that before) from the Sydney Airport curfew, which we received. An hour and a half late, we lifted off.

I was allocated a seat beside a French lady of apparent African descent, who later seemed like she would have made interesting company. Unfortunately for her, I was allocated the dreaded window seat (I’m too large for it and like to be able to walk around) so I swapped for aisle with an inebriated Dutchman. He didn’t believe I was from Sydney because I looked too asian, nor did he believe that his new companion was French because she looked too black (she wasn’t very dark at all really, but it was no use telling him). After a while he fell asleep and I expressed my sorrow for her.

Sunrise

We landed in Narita at about 0730, only forty minutes late. Immigration was a breeze – the lines for foreigners were long of course, but an Australian passport is always highly regarded. I didn’t like being fingerprinted at all, but at least it was electronic and didn’t make me feel like a criminal. I’m also told that when they say they will “photograph your face” they are actually taking a retinal photograph – I don’t think it’s true, since the cameras they were using looked too cheap. Customs glanced at my passport and waved me through, then I ended up having to call the university representative to tell her we had safely arrived (I can’t remember if I was asked by the others or just did it because nobody else volunteered). Hannah went to find somewhere she could smoke. It turned out to be a box.

Hannah in a box

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