Come Fly with Me

I was pleased to hear that Air Canada will have direct flights  to and from Kansai Airport in Osaka and Vancouver commencing next summer. It’s funny think of how the perception of air travel has changed since Frank Sinatra sang “Come Fly With Me” in the distant 1950’s. Once the epitome of sophisticated jet-set travel, flying is now an unrelenting ordeal of interminable line-ups, lengthy waits, bad food and mobs of justifiably irritated people. Even when we finally get to board the plane we endure the ritual humiliation of taking the “walk of shame” through business class to get to the gulag at the rear.

I booked the least expensive return flight I could find via China Eastern Airlines from Osaka to Vancouver that entailed an ostensible one hour layover and connecting flight from Shanghai. The two flights to Vancouver were bearable (barely), but the trip back was almost enough to convince me that people given to “air rage” may be the only sane people on the plane.

Yes, ultimately I did make it back to Japan but it was a nightmarish trip deep into the heart of darkness. Shanghai airport is a massive Stalinist cinderblock seemingly designed to dissuade anyone visiting China. My flight from there to Osaka was delayed by three hours and, just to make things a tad more interesting, they changed the departure gate three times in the interim. Using a cane, and in dire pain from a torn cartilage in my left knee, I spent most of the three hours hobbling back and forth from one end of the airport to the other. By the time I finally landed in Osaka I’d been in transit and without sleep for more than 24 hours and  probably looked like Nick Nolte after a two week bender. Small wonder that, in my almost delirious condition, I was targeted for the full treatment at customs, 1:00am Osaka time. They painstakingly showed me photos of pot, cocaine and various pills and asked me if I happened to be carrying any of them. I suppose they assumed I’d point to a photo and say “Oh yes, I have great lashings of this one with me. It’s my favorite!” Throughout the ordeal though, I must admit they were unremittingly friendly and polite; I almost didn’t mind the delay and was very pleased to be back in the country. As airports go, Kansai is bright, modern and well designed with many comfortably appointed seating areas. At Shanghai Airport by comparison, the facilities are spartan and any inquiries are met with a gamut of responses ranging from utter indifference to thinly-veiled hostility.

After a body search and systematic disassembling of my carry-on, I crawled to the airport hotel where, fortunately I’d had the foresight to make a reservation. I took a very long hot shower, slept like the dead for six hours and then, rejuvenated, had a very pleasant bus and train ride back to Niimi.



My Apologies!

Yes, it has been quite a while since I last posted on the blog. Since my last posting I have been back to B.C., where I had to attend to some personal matters, not the least of which was determining why my left knee has been giving me so much pain. It seems the cartilage is damaged but, with the help of a few prescription drugs, and despite the fact that I am still hobbling around a bit, the problem is now well in hand.

Since getting back to Niimi on August 22nd, school has started and, so far September has been an eventful month. Sports Day (Undokai), fell on the 6th and, apart from graduation, it is the biggest event of the school year.  It is quite militaristic and, in preparing for the event,  the students spend hours on a hot playing field while the school band plays martial music, marching with legs raised high and arms swinging in perfect unison. It is far more disciplined than anything I have seen in a Canadian school.

In keeping with the Japanese tradition of emphasizing collective effort on behalf of the common good (as opposed to individual accomplishment), all of the Undokai events are team relay races that stress teamwork and cooperation. As they commonly say in Japan, “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down”.

On the morning of Undokai the painstaking preparations for the event are clearly evident. The stage, band area, tents, and food concession stand have given the playing field a carnival-like ambiance. Japanese tend to be quite formal so it is no surprise the opening ceremony speeches tend to go on a bit. The band plays rousing Sousa marches: Let the games begin.

The students give it their best and, with compulsory sports club attendance and a pretty healthy Japanese diet, they are very fit.

Everyone wins!

I’ll be more diligent about writing in the future!