Saturday, November 29, 2014

Myanmar Land of Temples: Part I: The Journey There

I had a lucky start to my trip.  About a week before, i had been watching the departures and arrivals of my planned flight (UA6487) from Santa Barbara to San Francisco.  It appeared to be arriving late about 50% of the time, largely to to air traffic control at SFO.  I only had an hour to connect as scheduled, and often the arrivals we more than an hour late.  i considered going up to SFO the night before if I didn't have any change penalties to pay.  I called up United and broached the question to a customer service agent.  She immediately switched me to  a flight leaving Santa Barbara two-and-a-half hours earlier (6:00 vs 8:30).  

This necessitated my getting up at 3:30 and getting Pat up at 4:00 to get me to the airport by 5:00 to check in.  Everything went smoothly and he plane left on time, arriving at SFO by 7:30.  I was comfortably sitting in the lounge at SFO, when I determined from my FlightAware app that the original flight was delayed and wouldn't arrive at SFO until 15 minutes after my 11:05 flight left for Tokyo.  

I'm not sure what would have happened if I'd taken the original flight.  There are no more flights to Tokyo from SFO after mine. This one option was wait a day either in SBA or SFO and hope for better luck the next day (Thanksgiving), or take a later United flight to Shanghai, and take a different flight from there to Yangon.  I didn't want to wonder about that.

My flight landed in Tokyo ahead of schedule and I took a shuttle to the Narita Hilton, where I was spending the night.  After putting my things in the room and a quick freshen up, I was back in the lobby to take the shuttle back to the airport to catch the Skyliner train to Tokyo, where I would meet Hiro and Natsu Matsumoto for dinner.  Natsu was in the Channel City Camera Club while Hiro was studying at UCSB 12 years ago.  Pat and I had visited with them during a tour of Japan in 2004. I had reconnected with them on Facebook, and Hiro and I had set up the dinner meeting via email as my trip plans finalized.
Hiro and Natsu with SBYC visors

Hiro and Natsu were waiting at the Skyliner ticket gate in Ueno station, and Hiro  hailed a taxi outside to take us to the restaurant he had chosen.  This was a very Japanese experience. We all took off our shoes and sat at a low table with our feet in a hole in the center over a lamp to keep them warm.  This is called a Kotatsu.  

A gas ring is in the center of the table, upon which is placed a bowl with cooking oil in it.The staff brings in dishes of raw ingredients, mostly vegetables in our case, are are placed in the oil to cook. The cooking pot is called a nabe. Natsu did the honors, adding and stirring the food and passing out individual dishes to Hiro and me.

We had some beer and sake and talked.  Hiro and Natsu asked about camera club members they remembered from their visit and I brought them up to date on those and also a few others who were in  the club at that time and that they remembered.  We talked about Hiro's job and Natsu's pictures and my family.  It was a very pleasant time.
Dinner Ingredients

But all good things must come to an end.  Hiro and I had discussed getting me back to the hotel while they still ran shuttles to one of the train stations in Narita. A short walk from the restaurant is the Asakusa station of the Keisei line, the more conventional train operated by the Skyliner company.  This train would end up at the Narita city railroad station where there would be a 10:35 shuttle to the hotel.  Hiro and Natsu got on that train with me to go to a station where I had to transfer to different line.  They took me to the transfer point and put me on the correct train.  I was then on my own, and just a little concerned that I wouldn't make the hotel.  Luckily, I  had brought the hotel's instructions for that shuttle with me on my cell phone, and with a  little help, I was able to find the place to board the shuttle after I arrived at Narita Station.  The shuttle arrived on time and I climbed in.  I returned to my room about 11:00 PM, 26 hours after I'd arisen in Santa Barbara.  I had had some sleep on the plane ride to Tokyo, but was glad to hit the pillows after a fine evening with  friends.

I was up at 6:00 in the morning and watch the sun rise outside my window.
Sunrise in Tokyo
I showered and went down to the restaurant for the breakfast included with my room.  There were Japanese and American buffets.  I opted for the American, and had fruit, an omelet, toast, and coffee.  A trip to the room and back to the lobby for the 8:20 shuttle to the airport to catch my flight to Yangon.  

Once at the airport, I checked in with ANA, went through security and Immigration, and settled myself down in the lounge to await boarding. As I had an ample breakfast at the hotel, I just read my book until the plane was called.

After boarding, I settled into my seat for the eight hour trip. There was not much to do. I didn't want to sleep, as I was trying to acclimate myself to the new time zone. I had a fairly good rest the night before, and wanted to go to sleep at a normal time in Yangon. I had an interesting spy novel about an Israeli Intelligence agent and art restorer who planned to detect and take down a terrorist network, Portrait of a Spy, by Dan Silva. I read that and had lunch and generally enjoyed the flight until the plane touched down at Yangon International.  

There was then the normal drill of Immigration, pick up suitcase (mine made it all the way), go through Customs, and another X-Ray bag inspection before leaving the Customs area. As soon as I was out the door, I spotted the driver from the tour company with his sign with my name. He took me to the curb to wait while he retreived his car.

This began a one hour drive through very heavy traffic. Google Maps says it's 14.6 km and should take about 20 minutes in normal traffic; the trip lasted one hour with the traffic. However, I reached the hotel, checked in, had dinner and went to bed.

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