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Saturday, March 12, 2011

MY PEAK OF LIFE: THE CALM BEFORE THE CALAMITY

Getting from Bangkok to Narita was in high question as Japan was in turmoil after their 8.9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami.  In a way, this reminds me of my Lufthansa flight from Delhi to Munich last year.  A stressful beginning, fabulous meal/drinks and landing in a white out.  Narita should be the equivalent, but in a totally different way. Let's see how the day went.

I got confirmation at 4:30AM of my Thai Air flight to Narita at 8AM.  So I packed and made it to the airport by 6AM, paying the taxi driver 500 Baht (about $17…a bit high, I thought, but the hotel limousine would have cost $70).  Checking in at Thai Royal First Class is extraordinary.  First, you don’t stand in line but sit in a lounge area.  Then, a staff member accompanies you through immigration and arranges for a Segway type device with driver to take you to their first class room.  The ride was quite lengthy.  There might have been five passengers for a room that could easily hold a hundred or two, and a staff of a dozen and more.  Here is a photo of their offerings at 7AM: 


Various dim sums, soups, rice dishes, etc.  I asked for a chicken fried rice with an egg, which they prepared in a kitchen, and ordered a Bloody Mary and Singha Beer.  Yes, 7AM, but it was already afternoon in Honolulu.  The flight was delayed an hour, so I had a chance to spruce up my Huffington Post Hawaii Tsunami, Again article, and field a few concerned e-mails.



I was accompanied to the plane at 9AM, was served a glass of 2002 Dom Perignon and no more then ten minutes later, it took flight, the plane, not me, yet.  Bet you did not know that Dom Perignon was a Benedictine Monk, born in 1639, who invented champagne?

Early morning departures provide a breakfast, so it was not the usually extravagant meal.  I decided I was eating too much on this trip anyway, so only ordered a boiled rice soup with salmon accompanied by a rice noodle soup.  How’s this for deprivation:



I should mention that those other breakfast were not merely yogurt, juice and rolls:

a.     Pancake filled with champignon and ham with tomato cream sauce, pan-fried Nuremberg sausage and sautéed potato with shallot, grilled capsicum.

b.     Deep-fired tofu with  sticky minced prawn sauce, steam Japanese rice roll with stewed clam kouya tofu and mixed vegetables.

To begin, though, I had a croissant and butter, and taste tested their 2008 Meursault (13.5%) white burgundy, a Chablis and/ or Chardonnay, and 2007 M. de Malle (13.5%) white Bordeaux, or was this more specifically a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, with a definite hint of mango.  I had a second glass of DP, which surprisingly enough, had a huger body than both other whites. 

With my “meal” I tried a 2006 Chateau Canermerle (Haut-Medoc, 13%) bourdeaux, soft and full bodied, and a 2008 Nuits-Saint-Georges burgundy (13%), a bit gripping.  The California wines are now pushing 16%, ethanol, certainly for the Cabernets, but also for some Chardonnays, though not the French varieties, which are maintaining an alcoholic volume below 14%.  Interestingly, the French whites had more alcohol than the reds. 

I should underscore that I added some Johnny Blue Label Scotch (40%) to both soups, as seen above.  In case you never had it, Blue Label is still biting, like the Red, but has a sweeter taste than the Gold, and doesn’t have the overwhelming peatiness of the Black.

There was a second course, where my choice was fried udon noodles with pork, plus a splash of 1795 Extra Cognac Otard. 


This cognace supposedly had a cigar-box aftertone, but I guess I missed it, with all the noodles and stuff.

My seat, which should be called a cabin, as I see no one, had so many options I finally gave up trying.  I can close the door to the outside world.  The entertainment system is a wonderment, compared to United Airlines.  I did not actually go and measure it, but it was at least a two foot flat screen with a range of movie and sound options.  I spent half an hour creating my juke box from thousands of performances and picked one movie.  I’ve never heard a better sound system on a plane.  The noise cancellation headphone blots out even the PA announcements.  Something almost never works on United.

They have almost X-rated films in this system, including an almost disturbing one from Germany, The Camera Murderer, which I watched with a Drambuie in coffee and finished with my second meal. This is the first movie from Germany I’ve seen in a long time, and the craftsmanship was superb.   A most interesting thriller.

I cannot thank enough the staff of Thai Air, supervised by inflight manager Somsak V in the middle, with Pimwarin S to the left and Sucharn S on the right:



It frankly occurred to me at this point, notwithstanding the immediate above, of my real life fantasy that, while drumming my feet on the floor to the beat of Ravel’s Bolero, I was at the peak of my life.  One wonders when this will be, sort of like Peak Oil, but, no doubt, this was it. Things can only go downhill from here, and certainly will when I land in the chaos of Narita.  But it was an incredible ride and I still think I was (am, yet?) the luckiest person in the history of Humankind.  Finally, I felt a kind of euphoria traveling at the speed of a bullet at 33,000 feet, maybe akin to a prisoner on death row having his last breakfast.  I was mentally prepared for the next stage of my life, the calmness before the catastrophe.

My plane landed at around 4PM after a flight of five hours from Bangkok.  I had four bags with me, one very large, for I'm on a six week trip in hot and cold countries.  After the customs check I looked around for the usual sign with my name.  Saw none, so walked around with my bags and asked questions.  Half an hour later after determining that there were no taxis, no airport limousines, no NEX, and no Tokyo Westin pickup, I tried to call the Westin, but failed.  There was only one option, the slowest JR trains from Narita to Tokyo: 


a.  I wasn't allowed to take the cart down the escalator, so that became a problem. After somehow getting my bags down one floor,  I stood in line for perhaps an hour to buy the ticket, but not being able to read nor speak Japanese, I wasn't sure what I was doing.  

b.  I finally figured out that I needed to find an elevator to take one floor down.  

c.  Half an hour later, I boarded the train.  But try getting four bags on.  

d.  After an hour or so, everyone got off the train at some obscure stop, so I lugged everything off, only to stand in line for another train.  

e.  Finally this second train got me to the Nippori Station for the Yamanote Line to Ebesu.  

f.  However, both the elevators and escalators were not functioning.  Amazingly, a nice man and a college student helped me carry my bags down.  She had just flown in from Brazil, and in conversation I found out that I should have used a delivery service to send my bags to the Westin.  I wish someone had told me that earlier.  I struggled on to the Yamanote train.  

g.  I've now been standing or in line for more than four hours.  Ah, there was an escalator to take me up to the walkway through Ebesu Garden Place, a path I have been  using for more than ten years.  

h.  Oh no, they now have this blocked off.  I asked, and they said take the escalator back down to the street level and walk to the Tokyo Westin.  

i.  The sidewalk was dark and bumpy, but, luckily, I was able to find a taxi for the final few hundred yards.  

I finally arrived at the Westin at almost 9PM.  It took me as long to fly from Thailand to Japan as to travel from Narita to the Tokyo Westin.  What an ordeal!

When I balance the good and the bad of the day, and consider that I am actually in Tokyo only a day after their largest earthquake in history, I feel blessed.  Supposedly there have been two 6.0+ aftershocks the past hour (there have been 83 of these in a little more than 24 hours), but I didn't feel anything, and things are quickly coming together in this city.  So catastrophe?  Not really.  Life remains great.

You might ask, where are the photos to recored this chaos and hopelessness.  Well, just shows I'm not a professional news photographer, as my focus on just getting from point A to point B, then adjusting to point C....

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