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Konichiwa! That means “good day” in Japanese, so I guess you know where I am. But before I give you the exact location, let me tell you how I got here – right from the start. Last week we left off at the BodyHoliday Resort in St. Lucia. At the airport we made friends with the gate agents. They upgraded us on our flight to Jamaica, which made the 2 hours and 50 minutes go by real fast. We had a two-hour layover there, so we went to the best place in the airport to hang out and eat: Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. The jerk chicken was really good! Then we headed back to L.A. on a six-hour flight (in coach). But we had bulkhead seats, so it was comfortable -- and the food was good once again.
I was only in L.A. for a couple days. I spent most of my time running around like a wild man, trying to get ready for my big Asia trip. I was going there for one reason-- to return to the U.S. by making history. You’ve probably heard about it: the inaugural trip of the longest nonstop commercial flight in history (Singapore to Newark). I’ll give you a full report on that flight in an upcoming newsletter.
I had been asked by my travel agents who were booking my ticket if I wanted to spend more time in Asia, visiting multiple countries. I said, “Of course!” I figured Japan would be a perfect first stop. I had never been there, and it made sense geographically (it’s on the way). So this week I am coming to you from Osaka, Japan! (BTW: No one guessed Osaka from last week’s hint. However, a bunch of people said Tokyo, which was pretty close.) FYI: The travel agents that I use are John Dekker and Sam Hakim from CheapDutchGuy.com. They specialize in deep discounted International Business and First Class tickets.
Amber Airplane was kind enough to take me to LAX (I drove). We didn’t get along very well in St. Lucia, or back in California. We both realize it’s not going to work out between us -- at least at this time. It’s quite sad, and on the way to the airport I did something I normally don’t do: I showed my emotions. The car was eerily quiet, and I could sense we both knew it might be the last time we ever saw each other, since we had just spent the last night under the same roof. (We put in our 30-day notice to vacate our apartment). I normally hold my emotions in, but my body couldn’t take it any longer. My mind replayed all the places and good times we had together. Once one tear slowly rolled down my cheek it was like the Colorado River --they all rushed down. I should have pulled over, but I was late so I couldn’t. I hadn’t cried like in four years -- since my mom passed away.
My flight was leaving in less than 90 minutes, so we didn’t have any time to talk in the car. I wiped away the tears, ran into the airport and checked in at the Thai Airways counter. I was surprised how quickly I made it through check-in and security (there were no lines). It must have been because I was so late, because the gate area was packed. All the seats were taken, so I stood in the middle of the terminal and called Amber to finish our conversation. As soon as I heard her voice my emotions came back. I felt like I was in a movie, with the camera circling over my head. It felt like everyone was watching me (they probably were, because I was bawling).
Everyone boarded the plane but me. I came so close not getting on. I was thinking I should go back home and spend more time talking to Amber. Then my subconscious said: “Johnny, why the heck are you going to Asia by yourself? What are you going to do for all that time by yourself?” I started thinking about all the Americans getting beheaded in foreign lands, and wondered if it could happen to me. Fear, the worst four-letter word in the English language, descended over my body.
Fortunately, Amber talked sense into me. She said, “Are you kidding? You’re JohnnyJet. You’ve been talking about this trip for two months. Not only that, you’re flying first class and staying in the best hotels. So put your famous smile on, and act like you usually do.” She was right, of course, and I snapped out of it immediately. I took a deep breath, made my Tony Robbins self- confidence move that I just learned, and yelled “Hold that door!” I was the last to board the 747.
How lucky was I to not only fly on Thai Airways, but to be in first class. I’ve always wanted to fly Thai -- in fact, I want to fly every foreign carrier just to see what each one like. (Well, almost every one.) When I reached my seat I was a little disappointed, because I expected one of those grand first class sleeper seats you see in magazines. Instead I got a seat that had to be 15 years old -- and without a personalized TV monitor. (They did offer personal video players that sat on top of your tray table.) Don’t get me wrong -- I’m not complaining. It was comfortable, and I had a lot of leg room.
My seatmate was an older Japanese man who either didn’t speak English or wasn’t very friendly (I think a little of both). The whole flight he said one word to me. (I’ll tell you what it was in a few paragraphs).
After I sat down I immediately noticed Thai’s great service. A flight attendant offered me a drink, a newspaper or magazine, then handed me pajamas and an amenity kit (socks, ear plugs, a mask, toothbrush, lip balm). I didn’t even unwrap the pajamas or open the kit, because I’m a freak about those things. I enjoy saving all this stuff (especially hotel toiletries), and giving them to seniors at a convalescent home. I know how much the older folks love getting these gifts. Besides, I don’t need them. I’ve got all that stuff in my carry-on (well, not the PJ’s).
The plane was packed. Right after takeoff the flight attendants started their nonstop food service, which took about two hours. First they came by with a hot towel; then the drink cart, serving beverages and potato chips on a fancy dish. (I thought potato chips were kind of weird, but I was happy). Then they handed us a big ol’ menu with enough choices for even a picky eater like me. I skipped a few rounds of meals because it was either too fou-fou for me (like caviar), or it was seafood. My appetizers were delicious chicken consomme soup, and tasty spare ribs. For dinner I had really good teriyaki chicken, with rice and vegetables. Dessert was fruit, cheese, ice cream (with hot fudge), pie and miniature chocolates. Yummm! I was rubbing my tummy (which started feeling like Buddha’s) -- and I wasn’t even in Asia yet.
Even the bathroom was nice. The only thing I didn’t like about the flight was that I smelled cigarette smoke a couple of brief times. I told the flight attendant, who said he would look into it. I’d bet a lot of money it was another flight attendant smoking downstairs in the galley. They can’t fool me!
Before we landed we were served another meal (lunch). This time it was fried rice in a crispy crepe. I asked the flight attendant a couple times what was in it (just to make sure it wasn’t seafood), but she couldn’t understand me. Finally my seatmate exclaimed “PORK!” with a bit of attitude. I shut up and ate -- it was damn good.
The flight was supposed to take 12 hours and 5 minutes, but we got in an hour early. We landed at 5 p.m. local time (the following day, because we crossed the International Date Line). It’s always nice to see land after being over the ocean for so long. It was cloudy, but with its concrete jungle, tall mountains and busy port the city looked like Los Angeles coming in.
The Kansai International Airport was a lot bigger and nicer than I expected. Because I am such a plane fanatic, I loved seeing all the foreign carriers I don’t normally see. It was also comforting to see the usual U.S. carriers (United, American, Northwest). It made me feel like home was a just a plane ride away.
Most of the passengers on my flight were just stopping over before flying on to Bangkok. I saw only one other Westerner go through passport control. (In fact, I saw only a handful of Westerners my entire time in Japan.) Speaking of passport control, the woman who stamped my passport didn’t speak a lick of English. I thought that was bizarre. Then I thought, if she doesn’t speak English then the rest of the population definitely won’t. I was right. I thought for sure English would be widely spoken in Japan. But I was wrong. Now I know why the Japanese baseball players who come to America bring interpreters. It felt kind of nice. It made me realize I was in a foreign country – and it was more of a challenge getting around.
The first thing I did after passing through customs was get some yen from an ATM. I wasn’t sure about the exchange rate (I had forgotten to check), so I held my breath and pressed the middle option. I thought, please let my checking account have at least 10,000 yen. It did because 10,000 yen is only $92 USD.
Everyone says that Japan is very expensive, but I didn’t find it that crazy -- except for taxis. That’s why I didn’t take one. A cab from the airport to downtown Osaka would have taken 45 minutes -- and cost $180. OUCH! FYI: If you do happen to take a taxi, make sure to stand away from the door. They open automatically.
There were cheaper modes of transportation to my hotel: the JR (Japan Railway) for $10, or the Airport Limousine Bus for $11. I went to the TIC (Tourist Information Center) counter, and spoke to the women. I figured they had to speak English (they did). They said the bus was the easiest, since it would drop me off right at my hotel.
With over an hour to wait, I spent 100Y (92 cents) for 15 minutes of internet access. Trying to get used to this keyboard took most of that time. I then bought a phone card (Japan is on a different cellular system than the rest of the world) and called my voicemail. Because the phone card was not too expensive I wanted to call my friends and family, but it was too late. That darn time change put me 16 hours ahead of California.
I couldn’t find the ticket machine for the bus, and there were no Westerners around, so I went up to a Japanese guy wearing a Yankees t-shirt. I thought for sure we would be able to communicate. Wrong again! When I asked him where I could get a bus ticket, he looked at me like I was crazy. To prove I was sane I said “I love Hideki Matsui” (the Yankees’ star player, equivalent to Michael Jordan in Japan). The man smiled, nodded, then waved his finger no. He said in very broken English, “I like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi”. I said “atta boy” and gave him a high five. Then I returned to the information desk for more help. (The machines were located near the bus stop. An agent there helps passengers buy tickets).
The bus ride took exactly an hour and 15 minutes to my hotel. The New Otani was awesome and huge: 18 floors, 540 rooms, 14 restaurants/bars, and great service. The restaurants were not all Japanese either. Every major hotel in Japan has Italian, French and Chinese restaurants on their premises. The New Otani also had a Trader Vic’s (a popular Tahitian restaurant in L.A.)
The folks at the hotel (and country) treated me like a rock star. When I arrived the concierge was waiting for me in the lobby. A pretty bellgirl in a funny green uniform accompanied us with my bags. They were both so polite, and kept bowing. In fact, everyone in Japan bows. They bow every time you walk by. The Japanese are the most polite people around. When the maid left my room she bowed about five times while walking backwards out the door. It's addicting. I started bowing to everyone too. What’s even crazier is when I watched TV, the anchorman bowed after his segment. I caught myself bowing back.
My room was plush. They upgraded me to a suite, with a view of one of Osaka’s most popular attraction: Osaka Castle. Everything was modern, including high speed internet for $15 a day. They also provided all kinds of toiletries (including a hairbrush, which the seniors will really like). This is what a mini-bar looks like in Japan. The room wasn’t particularly expensive, either: the cost for one person was $124. However, in Japan they charge extra for additional guests, so the same room for two would have been $194 a night. Still, that’s not bad -- especially for a five-star hotel with breakfast included. The breakfast buffet was excellent. They had all kinds of fresh fruit and other food I love, so every morning I grubbed. Hotel New Otani Osaka 1-4-1 Shiromi, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan; tel.: (06)6949-3227; fax: (06)6949-3258.
My first night I slept very little. I went to bed at 11 p.m., and woke up wide awake at 2 a.m. I got out of bed and IM-ed with friends until 4, when I forced myself back to bed. But I made a big mistake, because I turned on the TV, and guess what I saw? The beginning of the Yankees game! Can you believe they show every Yankee game on TV? You gotta love this country just for that! They also show teams with other Japanese stars, like the Mets and Mariners. I certainly did not go back to sleep. Around 7 a.m., though, when I was getting ready for the day I was so jet- lagged I grabbed my hairbrush instead of deodorant stick, and started combing my underarms. (Sorry, no picture.)
This is getting long, so next week I will tell you all about my time in Osaka, and begin to tell you about the next country on my itinerary. Sayonara!
P.S. Do me a favor and browse our sponsors and book all your online travel through JohnnyJet.com. It will help keep this newsletter free of charge. Thanks
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Folk Remedy for hot-weather health challenges. They work wonders, even if we don't always know why. |
To ward off mosquitoes...
Avoid consuming sugar or alcohol.
Rub fresh aloe vera or parsley on exposed skin.
If you get bitten: Apply wet soap or a mixture of equal parts vinegar and lemon.
Bottom Line/Personal interviewed Joan Wilen and Lydia Wilen of New York City. The sisters are authors of Chicken Soup & Other Folk Remedies (Ballantine) and Folk Remedies That Work (Harper). They grew up in Brooklyn, where their mother and grandmother had folk remedies for almost everything.
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Build your own Aussie adventure on a budget |
When it comes to adrenaline-pumping adventure, no one does it quite like the Aussies. And there’s no better time than now to get your fill of skydiving, bungee jumping, reef diving, and more. Summer in the U.S. means winter in Australia and that equates to big savings for budget travelers. Low season Down Under brings cheaper airfare, fewer crowds, and none of the toxic box jellyfish that make swimming in the waters off the north eastern coast downright dangerous during wet season. Read on to find out how to create your own Australian adventure on a budget. Click Here To Read Article
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