Saturday, January 28, 2012

Traveling, part two

90 days in Japan--the length of my tourist visa. When I'd first landed at Narita, even the week ahead of me seemed like it would last an eternity: a new home, new surroundings, new job and meeting lots of new people, all against the backdrop of an unfamiliar city, culture and language. I had not thought of what I would do at the end of 90 days.

By the time March rolled around, and my tourist visa was nearly due to expire, a lot had happened. I had found myself entrenched in the community. I had signed a contract to teach Bible, History and English at the Christian Academy in Japan for the next school year. I had applied for my instructor's visa, but as that had not yet finished processing, I would need to leave the country to reset my 90-day tourist visa. Fortunately, the end of my 90-day stay would coincide with CAJ's spring break--the perfect time to travel. My first instinct was to fly back to the States for a week. Certainly, my parents liked the sound of that option, but the more I thought about it, the less I wanted to pay over $1000 to spend my Spring break flying nearly 20 hours total, enduring two separate cases of jet-lag all for a couple days at home when my parents would likely be working and my sister would be in school. The option made little practical sense. So, I consulted with the school's business manager, Mr. Seely.

I asked him where he thought I should go, and he responded by asking me where I wanted to go. The image of the city lights sprang to mind.

"Hong Kong," I said, with so little hesitation that I actually did a double-take after I said it.

"Ohh, Hong Kong is great," Mr. Seely replied. "I went when I was about your age; really easy to find your way around, a lot of English. Great fun. Let's see what we can find."

Minutes later, we'd found a list of fairly inexpensive options for a round trip ticket and 3-day hotel stay. After visiting a travel agency in Ikebukuro several days later to finalize the plans, I realized that this was happening: I was actually going to Hong Kong for 3 days. At this point, it was Saturday. I would be flying out in several days and I had done no planning at all.

Wikipedia (despite whatever qualms I may have with it as a teacher who bans use of the site as a reliable source in research papers) saved the day. In reading the article on Hong Kong, I learned that, from my hotel in Kowloon, it was a short walk to the ferry, a short ride across the bay, a slightly longer walk to the base of the hill and then a short tram ride to the top of Victoria's Peak. There, I would see the city as I'd seen it in TIME so many years before, except that this time I would actually be there myself. I also learned that on the opposite side of the city, I could take a 40-minute cable-car ride into the Buddhist mountain village of Ngong Ping, home to one of the world's largest Buddha statues. The cable car ride looked terrifying and awesome, so I added that to my itinerary.

So, in the course of a mere week before departing, I went from having no plans for Spring Break to planning my stay in Hong Kong by using Wikipedia the day before I left. Even at the time, it was a strange and wonderful feeling to look at the picture of the city lights and think "By this time tomorrow, I'll be there."

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