I’ve done just a little bit of traveling in my short to middle sized life, and, thankfully, I’ve never faced a travel catastrophe so bad I didn’t feel confident I’d overcome it. Even the time in Rwanda when the airport worker took our entire plane of passenger’s passports away before letting us depart. Or the time in Chicago when I missed a flight even after running through the terminal. Or the time I went to Mt. Fuji and found out that the hostel I had paid for online didn’t actually exist and had to find a new place to stay in a jiffy.
No, all these things were just little hang ups that become semi interesting stories to tell your friends about if they ask. With these “adventures” I never ended up with a bad taste of traveling in my mouth.
That is until Hong Kong Vacation 2012.
I’m going to tell you a tale about the misadventures of three girls, and then two, trying to survive and enjoy their Hong Kong exploration without too many incidences. As you read you may laugh and you may cry. I did a bit of both on this trip.
The story goes like this:
Once upon a time, in early September 2012, to be less vague, I bought plane tickets between Hong Kong and Sendai. I paid a little more for the convenience of leaving out of my own city. Along with two friends from work, we were crazy excited to spend our winter vacation time there.
Between September and departure date, we did our research about the things we wanted to see and do there. I bought my favorite kind of book, a travel guide!, and did one of my favorite things, planned a trip. Really, I wish travel agents were more popular these days so I could be one.
Fast forward to December 26: the day before departure. Though I’ve been routinely checking my email, I have not received the ticket confirmation that comes around 24 hours before departure. So I get a little worried, but I’m not going to let it stress me out. But just in case, I should email the booking agency and make sure it’s coming. Also just in case, I should call the booking agency. -_- Not stressed out, huh?
I had to buy Skype credit to call them. That’s a little annoying. What’s more annoying is when Skype charges you for something that you didn’t click on to purchase. Mental note: fix this skype thing after you fix the other thing, Beth. OK.
Booking agency isn’t answering anything. I’m on hold for eternity. Skype credit going down down down. Fine.
Booking agency hours may be American hours…gr. Fine. Why isn’t it 24 hour customer service like everything else? Don’t they know some people live in Japan???
Let’s call the airline and hope someone speaks English. Hooray! A very nice lady from the airline is going to work on it, figure out what’s going on, and email me soon. Thank you God!
Meanwhile, I’ve been talking with my friends and Alycia’s flight was changed online already to leave out of Tokyo in the morning. Hmmm. Ariel and I both have Sendai listed online, but not confirming emails about our flight supposedly leaving in about 20 hours. So Ariel calls the airline, too, so they know we are together and having the same problem. I’m getting nervous, and I’m starting to pack just in case I have to go to Tokyo tonight.
Ariel soon learns that our flight was cancelled. In fact, it had been cancelled two weeks after we bought it, and no one thought we should know. Great! The airline is still being very helpful and kind, though they are the ones who have pretty much screwed us over in the first place. They need time to sort us out, but this we know: we are leaving from Tokyo tomorrow. That means taking an overnight bus in a few hours. Ayayaye.
Overnight bus tickets purchased. New itinerary sent to us. Assurance that the airport “knows we’re coming.” Almost packed.
We will need to get to the bus in Sendai though. We can’t walk all the way there, and it’s really difficult to even walk to the subway with our luggage. So our very kind boss calls us a taxi to pick us up an hour before bus departure. As we are waiting in the freezing cold with our luggage in hand, we watch a taxi drive up the hill to our work where we are NOT waiting for him. Ruh roh. I walk over to where he should drive by again to wave him down. I think I’ve got his attention and surely he will stop once he sees the other two gaijin waving him down. And then he’s gone. We don’t really have a lot of taxis driving by our homes at 11:00 at night so we can’t wait for another one. Bus leaves in 45ish minutes. Big ruh roh.
And who do we call? Our boss again. You can always count on him. Conversation:
Us “our taxi drove past us and we don’t know what to do.”
Bossman: “ok” shuffle shuffle shuffle noises.
We don’t know what sort of ok that was, but we were sure we woke him up. -_-zzz
But we really needed to know what to do next, so we called someone else for help, and they promised to figure out what the ok the bossman gave meant. Apparently it meant he was coming to save the day because he shortly arrived and took us to the bus. He even did some double checking in Japanese that we were safely at the right bus. What a guy!
We were finally on our way to Tokyo, praise God! Sleeping on an overnight bus is as difficult as it sounds. Sleep deprivation was not how we wanted to start our trip but at least we were getting somewhere.
Finally we arrived in Tokyo, and soon we figured out how to get to the airport after only a little figuring out.
Airport time: Alycia was suppose to be on an earlier flight than Ariel and I, so he got in line for her flight and asked if her friends could get on that flight, too. Somehow, after some magic was done, they told us we could be on the same flight. Simply amazing after the start of the trip. We were so thankful, and we even got seats next to each other.
We arrive in shanghai with little difficulty, though we had some ‘splaining to do about our funky itineraries and being on a new flight. But we made it through fine and departed a little later.
After arriving in Hong Kong, the first thing we really needed to do was get money. We had a hostel to pay for and who knows how many places will even take cards (we live in Japan, the land of cash only). We found an ATM and I was allowed to take money, but I had a limit per day, and I did not get enough to last all week. Alycia and Ariel on the other hand had more trouble than me this time. Their banks didn’t know they were traveling and their cards weren’t allowed to work. And maybe a PIN number was forgotten, too. They were able to exchange money, though, so we had enough to get to the hostel and pay for it, but not much else on our first night in Hong Kong. Thankfully, we soon figured out that cards were accepted a lot of places so I was safe for a while.
The next morning I tried to get more money but I guess it hasn’t turned into the next day in America, so it was a no go. We went to Disneyland after that, and as I opened my wallet to get my debit card to pay I discovered that it was gone. Not misplaced somewhere in my purse, but GONE. And I knew exactly where I left it. The ATM. So I prayed for its safety, to not fall in the wrong hands and further that the machine just ate it and I could retrieve it the next day. I was at Disneyland, and I didn’t want to spoil the spirit no matter the situation, so I continued praying and made sure I had an amazing day at the happiest place on earth. And we had a great day.
The next chance I had I went to the bank and asked about retrieving my card. I was told that I’d have to wait until Tuesday when the ATM guys came and opened up the machines. Tuesday was two days before I left Hong Kong and five days after I arrived. I’d have to get through the entire trip with no cash of my own. Why me? I selfishly thought. Really, it was completely my own stupid mistake. This particular mistake just had some icky consequences.
That week I borrowed more money than I care to think about, though I’m happy to say I paid my super caring and stellar friends back as soon as I could. I couldn’t have gotten through that week without those two ladies and ill never forget how helpful they were to me.
The Hong Kong vacation had its incidences like chasing buses to catch a ride but we got through it. On Tuesday I went to the bank to discover that it was closed because…duhn duhn duhn…it was New Years Day.
So another day of living off of borrowed cash and a credit card. The next morning I went to the bank, but they said come in the afternoon. So we spent the day having fun and I went back later. And I nearly jumped and screamed for joy when I saw it in the bank woman’s hands.
The next morning at around 4 am we started our adventurous trek back home. Alycia had another plane ticket bought that was direct to Tokyo allowing her to land mid day. Ariel and I were still counting on our good ol’ airline to get us home. After what seemed like was going to be an argument about getting on the flight we were told we would be on, we were safely heading back to Japan. We stopped in Shanghai for several hours, and we think the customs officer was trying to trick us into getting thrown in jail but maybe that’s just us being over imaginative. Eventually we were back in Tokyo at around 9 p.m. and through customs and with our luggage at about 9:30.
One of the terribly unfortunate things about Japan is the cash only deal. Another one is that Japan actually does seem to shut down. Trains stop running at certain times. Barely anything is 24/7 here, even ATMs. Ariel and I needed to get back to Sendai, and we were willing to take a bus or train. But the first thing we had to do was get to either of those modes of transportation. We thought there was a bus leaving from the airport that we could catch, so we went to go buy our tickets with barely any money in hand. We found out that the LAST BUS OF THE NIGHT left in 5 minutes, so there was no time to run to the ATM. We asked how much and someone showed us, and with our money combined, we had enough! phew. Oh, wait a second, the lady got our attention because she said no, it wasn’t enough. whaaaaa? The number she gave us was for one ticket. I hated my life so much right then. What a tease.
We knew Japan was shutting down now and we had to find something fast or we were sleeping in the airport until about 10 a.m. the next day when things started moving again there. We got help at the information desk and they even looked at bus companies’ websites to try to find us something. But, to no avail, there seemed to be nothing. However, it made more sense to at least get to Tokyo station to catch the 6 a.m. bullet train or pray that we could find an overnight bus. We just didn’t want to be stuck in the airport until 10 the next morning. So we caught the very last bus going to the station while our friends safe at home in Sendai tried to find us a way to get home that night. Alycia found a bus leaving from a different station, though, and she offered to get our online while we rushed over before the bus peaced out. We hurry hurry hurried over, and while in the station we find out that Alycia’s card won’t go through online. While this is happening, subway lines are slowly closing down and we aren’t sure we can get back to Tokyo station where the bullet train leaves from and certainly our current location is going to close down because it’s Japan. Frustrated and crazy confused about how to fix this, we randomly ask someone about getting back to Tokyo Station. And what do you know, there’s one more line still open that can take us there. Woohoo! Safe again by hair!
We make it back to Tokyo Station knowing that we will be spending the night there. We meander along at 11:30 at night and find the “waiting area” of the station where some homeless people and random dudes were waiting around. Only a little bit scary, but enough to not be comfortable and stay alert. We had about 5 or 6 hours to kill assuming we find an ATM open before the first bullet train left. We found an ATM, but no English buttons or signs. Booooo. We wait around a while and we talk and I cry and we pray and we journal about how ridiculous this has all been. At about 1:00 a.m., people start leaving the waiting area and it’s just Ariel and I. At about 1:30, someone who works at the station comes and makes a big X with his arms and is telling us the station is closed down. This was my huge breaking point where I just lost all control of my emotions and bawled right in front of this Japanese stranger. He couldn’t have known our situation, but I’m sure we young lady gaijin didn’t look like we were in a good position to be kicked out of a train station on a cold night. We literally had no place we knew to go, and Ariel, God bless her, used the Japanese she knew to get across that point. We were given a paper with hotels’ numbers before we were escorted outside next to the cold sleeping homeless. I really felt an extra sense of compassion for them after this experience.
We found a police box, were laughed at, and then pointed in part English and part Japanese to an ATM machine that was open and a 24 hour restaurant. We went with the ATM first. It was inside a 24 hour Lawson konbini. We discovered that though this ATM was technically working, it still had open/closed hours. Seriously Japan? That’s preposterous. But there was nothing we could do about it. Here is where I saw God’s beautiful intervention at 1:35 a.m. The young lady working at the Lawson was trying to help us with the ATM situation, and then Ariel gave her the fuller explanation of our problem in Japanese. Somehow it was understood and the sweet girl said she would call the hotel before we even tried to get there to see if they would take credit cards. It was the sweetest and most helpful thing she could do for us. Through the help of a translation app and Ariel’s Japanese skills, all the right information was relayed and we had two rooms waiting for us around the corner. Ariel gave this girl the hug of a lifetime, and she gave Ariel her phone number to call if another problem came up. Seriously, what a blessing!
The hotel was funny…a smokey business man’s hotel meant for sleeping and probably watching funky stuff on tv. Not our kind of place, but we weren’t freezing or homeless at least. We didn’t really want to sleep alone after everything that happened so I crashed Ariel’s room and stayed with her most of the night. Personally, I wasn’t really ready to be alone in a weird hotel quite yet. The next morning we had no problems getting back to Sendai. We overcame the climax of our problems and eventually wound up home completely exhausted, but safe and thankful to not be en route to anywhere.
It took a really long time to write that. Forgive all typos and grammatical mistakes because I don’t have it in me to read that again…it’s exhausting to even think about again, and this was my last time to relive it.
This was a not exaggerated true story of me and some cool gals just trying to do something fun.