Clay stood up from his seat on the upper deck of the double-decker bus. With bike box in hand and a San Jose Sharks bag wrapped around his shoulder, he headed downstairs as the bus approached Terminal 1. Before he could reach for his check-in baggage near the bus exit, he was mesmerized by an astonishing sight. A flight attendant with a tight torso and caramel legs had some difficulty taking her baggage out of the top compartment. Clay would normally help out, being trained for BMX and all, but the astonishing sight kept him frozen. It was only when she turned over and looked at him, did he flush and take it down for her.
“Thank you,” she said after they stepped out of the bus. “You’re departing for Japan?”
“How’d you know?”
“Isn’t that your itinerary for Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka?” she pointed at piece of paper sticking out of his bag.
“Oh yes,” Clay quickly pushed the four-day old itinerary deeper into his bag and zipped it shut. “I’m going sightseeing with my friends.”
She gave the typical professional smile and went through the automatic door into the departure hall.
He stood there for more than a second. “Sightseeing?” he whispered to himself. “Is that all you can say, Clay?” He continued thinking as he walked down the five-degree ramp, that he needed to improve his communication skills. He’ll be the only male student traveling with eight female students for nine days after all.
Turned out that Gemma, Annie, Kaprice, Ginette, and Jasmine were already at the check-in counter. “Hey Clay,” Gemma said. “Come and weigh your baggage too.”
Since he had a Swiss army knife inside, he had no choice but to check it in. Never knew when a knife might come in handy, especially with all the dangerous tricks they had to do soon.
“Is that all you’re wearing?” Ginette asked him with her head turned up and lips smirking. “It’s only 61 degrees in Tokyo.”
“Yeah, t-shirt’s fine for 16 degrees C.” All though he had a San Jose sports bag, he was actually from Toronto. “It’s much better than in my hometown where it’s already snowing.”
Because of the number of passengers onboard, the BMX members with bike boxes had to check them in too. That meant all six of them.
They were later joined at the airside gate by the three remaining BMX club members; Amica, Mica, and Fione. Amica could take her bike onboard because she only had a bike bag, not enough protection when squished against the other baggage. “One of my front pegs is broken,” she said to Clay.
Clay bent down and opened up the bag. “Your other pegs have red stripes on them. Not sure if any one of us has something similar.” He stood back up from her bike. “If we can’t buy anything before your demo on Day 3, you can borrow one of mine. Looks sort of the same.”
It was time for boarding. After presenting the boarding passes and passports, Mica ran along the jet bridge and headed over to her seat near the tail of the cabin. “She seems excited,” Kaprice said to Clay. “Probably her first time to Japan. Well, it’s my first too. How about you?”
“This will be my fourth,” Clay grinned.
After being greeted by the flight attendants, Clay confirmed that they were on a B767, with a seating configuration of 2-3-2. Having always chosen aisle seats in the past, he could foresee how uncomfortable he would be sitting between two fat and sweaty people. He sadly sat in the middle seat, took out his Lonely Planet Japan guide with sweaty palms, and prayed himself to sleep.
When he woke up in the middle of the flight, he realized Ginette and Jasmine were his neighbors, sleeping with their heads close to his. The Lonely Planet was even being gently caressed by Ginette’s soft fingers and lap.
“Seems like you’re in high demand,” a rather high-pitched voice said. It was Maxine, the flight attendant Clay bumped into on the bus. Covering her tight torso this time was a navy blue JAL blazer and a puffy metallic blue scarf.
Clay could only laugh as she walked past him down the aisle. From her looks, it seemed she was of Japanese-Costa Rican descent.
Outside the arrival gate of the Narita International Airport was a SoftBank phone rental counter. Scout and Iverson, the club instructors, were already there.
“You guys traveled light,” Scout said with a big grin. “Good job.”
“Here’s an iPhone.” Iverson handed it to Annie. “And here’s a 3G SIM card.”
Clay took it and replaced his own SIM in his Galaxy S3.
Iverson held up his Xperia TX. “Remember to keep them on at all times. It’s easy to get lost, especially in Japan where you don’t know the language.” He visited Japan from time-to-time, but never learned to speak it.
Kaprice, on the other hand, could listen and speak basic Japanese. She was therefore the official translator of the group. Despite this, she had a constant debate with Clay about whether to use Sumimasen or Suimasen when asking the locals for help.
They stepped out the passenger terminal to the outdoor taxi stands and headed towards the JR train entrance. That was when Clay realized how chilly Tokyo could be.
Ginette walked next to him. “I told you to wear more clothes.” She had a pinkish wind-breaker over her black tank-top.
“Guess I got too used to Hong Kong’s weather.”
They arrived underground at the JR Line Departure Time Panel. The next train to their Shinjuku station was by Narita Express No. 38 at 16:48, which meant a 22-minute wait. Clay put on a Yankees t-shirt over his Giants t-shirt.
Time went by fast. It was already 19:30 when Clay arrived in his ultra-small hotel room at Shinjuku Washington, approximately the size of a white rhino. The smallness continued when they had a small dinner on the second floor of a bar at Omoide-yokocho (also known as Piss Alley). The 11 of them were cramped around a two square-meter table, eating grilled chicken and drinking rice wine and cold beer.
“Clay,” Annie said. “Your face is all–”
“Oh..!” Scout announced. “Looks like someone hasn’t drank for quite a while.”
“Oh yeah,” Clay replied. “I haven’t drank for a long time, so don’t be surprised if I eventually turn to this color.” He grabbed from his bag, a red pen.
No demonstrations were to take place on the first two days. Plenty of time for the BMX riders to recover from the one-hour jet lag. And plenty of time for Clay, Gemma, and Amica to recover from their alcohol intolerance.