All Mixed Up

There were alot of times where I was completely confused in Japan. The first time I experienced this was at the metro turnstile. The airport was the only place where they had a double set turnstiles for boarding one metro line. After approaching the second set, it was apparent that I needed the same ticket as the first turnstile. It was so small, you wouldn’t notice the option of retrieving your ticket. Even if there wasn’t two sets of turnstiles, I would’ve had issues leaving any station. If I’m traveling on the subway outside of New York City, its pretty common to encounter transit systems where some proof of payment is required (typically on a card) to exit the station.

At least two people told me that I needed to switch trains. The second women informed me after I flagged her down for help. While stuck between the turnstiles, paying 1,100 yen twice for the same journey was not an option for me. After the distress at the turnstiles I boarded the train. There was an express train that would’ve taken me directly to Asakusa station, however the price tag was at least 3,000 yen. From an hindsight point of view you have to look at the cost of convenience.

The train I boarded was similar to most of the trains I’d take during my stay in Japan. Despite what the two people said I decided to follow my Google Maps directions. According to the app there was no need for me to change trains. Once the blue dot indicating my location began to stray away from the highlighted route, I immediately regret not playing it safe by referencing the subway system map.

A worker provided me with a better alternative than just backtracking my stops or taking a bus (an option Google Maps gave me). However setting a new journey route meant paying another fare. The biggest learning curve to navigating the Tokyo metro is the numerous transit system. When you transfer to different train outside your current system line, you have to go through a separate set of turnstiles. They have more than one card to make this easier (e.g. Suica) but I never got around to using one. One justification was the amount of accumulated coins I’d gather. It would be painstaking to count up coins while making purchases where no machine was involved. Using coins for the metro was a way of avoiding coins coming home with me. My bank doesn’t even accept coins when buying back currency.

My memory is pretty vague with what happened at the next turnstile. I just remember an officer that was supervising the turnstile area cutting me a break by letting me though without needing to buy a ticket to exit. There was no way around purchasing another ticket on a different line to get to Asakusa station. It was only a fraction of what I originally paid. After making my first transaction at the machine and walking away, I was convinced that some uncollected bills were left. The following night a woman pointed out the obvious for me. There are no bills smaller than the 1,000 yen I put into the ticket machine. Another revelation is that Google Maps is shit when it comes to navigating the metro. Fortunately there were alternatives. I used the official app licensed by Tokyo Metro.

I wrote all that as a set up to a mistake that shouldn’t be repeated on my next trip (or anyone to follow). My first fuck up was getting to the airport with not much time to spare. There was plenty of time for me to browse this Don Quixote store. My mission was to make good on a promise of a souvenir. It turned out to be a perfect store but my time was limited. My ultimate goal was to get from Asakusa Station to the airport without fucking up like before. Aoto station was where I needed to change so that was a good pat on the back experience.

After successfully arriving at Narita Airport I searched for Air China in Terminal 1. There was a customer service representative in front of the empty line queue. She asked me where I was going. After telling her my layover was Beijing, she said “We have no flights to Beijing at that time”. Before she asked to see my flight information, she hinted that my flight might be leaving from Haneda. The printout I gave to her confirmed this. The conversation ended with her handing me a small piece of paper with the number to Air China’s customer service.

It was like one of those out of body experiences where you imagine someone else was fucked. I heard of a story in Miami Beach where a group went skinny dipping. They came back to the sand and discovered someone jacked their shit (passports included). After my internal freak out it was time to pull myself together and dig out of this hole. The customer service number they gave me was a local number. Not even the people around me was able to correctly tell me what digits go before local number.

Before sharing my experience with Air China’s customer service in the U.S., I want to talk about my conversation with In summery, they just confirmed how fucked I was. For example “You’re supposed to arrive at the airport three hours in advance for international fights”. They made it clear that the fuck up was on me and what got written in stone is completely 100% non-refundable.

With all that said I still think is ideal if you’re looking for the cheapest flights to Asia. What fucked me up was not paying attention to one critical detail. When booking the flight I was probably aware of the change of airports. The trip was booked in February while I was still in Rome. Over the duration of 10 months, details were forgotten. Human beings are creatures of habit. If you arrive at one airport, you’d be inclined to assume that’ll be the airport you’re returning to. One tip off should’ve been my arrival at JFK being different from my departure at EWR (Newark Airport).

In summary my communication with Air China customer service in the U.S. was tricky. On my own I was able to talk with them once. They asked for a callback number and I ended up responding on my laptop. Unfortunately the connection on my end was shit. My mom has successfully bailed me out on numerous occasions. Fortunately she was able to come to my rescue again. On several occasions I attempted to call back customer service. After 10 to 15 minutes on hold the line would cut off. Rather than continue this cycle of insanity I called up my mom up and filled her in on my situation. She was able to call me back within minutes with a customer service representative on the line. From my prior conversation with Air China I knew I looking at a $200 fee to crawl out of this hole. My mom was pleading for them to wave it. They said it would ultimately be left up to the ticket counter.

Christmas ended up coming early for me. With that said I left my passport with some employee but someone else alerted me of it and told me where to retrieve it. There were no departing flight so the Air China counter was empty for awhile. When they returned I told them that I jumped through the hurdle of customer service. It seemed like the only way around that was coughing up the full price walk up fare. If that was my last resort, a one-way would’ve been slightly my round-trip fare ($677). They were hard at work behind the counter to green light this. I was waiting for them to inform me of the fee, but it never came.

My return trip didn’t include another overnight in Beijing. It would’ve went more smoothly if I choose to book the same hostel. Google Maps managed to work decently during my previous night in Beijing. This time all bets were off. From a map the hostel seemed like it was easily accessible from the metro station. Ironically I ran into someone in Tokyo that I first encountered in Beijing. While walking in Shinjuku he was telling me how Google Maps in China is shit. This was my current reality. Typically can you ask people around you for help. Unfortunately there was the language barrier.Also for some reason it was nearly fucking impossible to get online on my devices. For my next trip I’ll be prepared with apps for offline translation.

Situations like this is when you have to flag down a cab, or in this case a tuk tuk. The guy knew where I needed to go. He wanted 50 RMB ($7.28). In the end I gave him his asking price. In hindsight I should’ve gave him more. While counting cash my money belt fell to the ground. He picked it up and handed to me. Of course that put more money in his favor. The hostel wasn’t too far away, but left to my resources I wasn’t going to be able to find it.

There was a lot more glitz and glamour than my previous hostel. My internet woes continued but I refused to pay to use their computer. Given my early flight, it didn’t make sense to settle into my room. After the bar closed I settled in a room with a pool table. After getting comfortable in the couch someone woke me up from my slumber. After showing him my room key he allowed me to resume my nap. My last hurdle resulted from using Google Maps yet again. It was actually leading me away from the airport express train. Thank God someone was able to point me back in the right direction. Making my way through the side streets of Beijing my headset played a song I recently added but never cued up. It was song from the soundtrack of West Side Story. America.

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