Dude, where’s our bullet train?

As I looked up from the bottom of the stairs to the platforms, I died a little inside. How are we going to cover more than 20 steps in 5 minutes? Five minutes was all we had before our bullet train to Hamamatsu, Shizuoka left. I was with five other people, my mom, my brother, my sister, my uncle, and my mom’s friend, each of us carrying a luggage that weighed about 10 to 15 kilos each.

Our day started well, we heard mass, ate a hefty lunch, and finally left Keio Plaza Hotel at 1:00 p.m. in no hurry. We were to go from the Shinjuku train station to the Tokyo station and from there, ride the bullet train to Hamamatsu. Like a leisurely stroll in a park, the supposed 10 minute walk from our hotel to the station turned into 15. We had no time to keep up with – until we bought our bullet train tickets.

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After another 15 minutes of figuring out the maze that is Japan’s underground metro, we finally reached the gates to the JR Line. I asked an information officer how I could buy tickets for the Shinkansen (bullet train). She said that I could either buy it in the ticketing office next door, or buy it once we were in the Tokyo station. I chose the first option.

In the ticketing office, my mom and I were informed that the next train leaving Tokyo for Hamamatsu was at 2:26 p.m.

Time check: it was 1:45 p.m.

I asked if we had enough time to get to it, and he shrugged it off like 40 minutes was a life time. In retrospect, as a tourist, I never should have listened to a local who’s probably been living fast paced his entire adult life. But I did, and so we bought 6 bullet train tickets for 8,290 JPY each. That was including the fare from Shinjuku to Tokyo. We said our thank you’s and went back to the rest of the group waiting by the platform gates. I distributed the tickets one by one and, in a fuss, prodded everyone to move quickly into the electronic gates.

In my worry and hurry, I forgot to ask which platform the Rapid Line for Tokyo was on. This was the second lesson learned: never forget to ask. So we all stand there like a bunch of lost kids on a field trip, looking at the signs and directions for the rapid line. Alas, I find platforms 11 and 12 and, with hesitation, went down the steps hoping that I would read the word Tokyo on the walls somewhere below. You know the names of places that they usually put underneath the platform numbers to tell you which big stations the train will be stopping at? I knew Tokyo should have been on the list for 11 and 12. It’s a main stop, for crying out loud! But in my desperation at catching the bullet train, I still went down, hoping that Tokyo will be in the more detailed list of stops. What a joke. Third lesson: keep your common sense.

What’s even funnier is that we actually waited there for a minute or two until we asked two locals for other platforms of the rapid line. The first person was a young lady who spoke no English and wasn’t really sure which platform we needed to be in, although she was kind enough and made an effort of googling it. I would have so done that if I only had data or wifi, or if I even had the time to pull out my phone. The second person was an old man who spoke impeccable English and was very sure that we had to transfer to platform 8. I swear to goodness, those were the longest three minutes of my life. When we finally set foot on number 8, it was 2:00 p.m. only 26 minutes left till our train in Tokyo Station choo-chooed (zoomed? –modernization and all) away without us.

I was going crazy, thinking that we were about to waste a total of 49,740 JPY – or add another certain amount to it, like a fee for catching the next train. Then again, due to my lack of research, I don’t know how the system works in Japan. But I digress.

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As I sat in the train going to Tokyo station, I counted the minutes that passed between every station. Four minutes, then five, sometimes three. I believe there were about 4 stations until we finally reached our stop. But the craziness didn’t end there. We still had to navigate the underground chaos and we had to do that in under 10 minutes!

I remember going down some stairs, going out one gate and into another, and then asking two different station staff which platform our bullet train was in, you know, just to be sure. We could have saved 2 minutes If I hadn’t. But if I hadn’t asked the second staff, the train would have left us because there I was standing at the bottom of the stairs, thinking how we were all going to carry our bags up there in less than 5 minutes – until the staff pointed behind me. There was an escalator that I previously had not seen. No joke, it seemed like spotlights were shining on the thing, telling me what a blessing it was.

I didn’t expect the train to still be there once we arrived, but it was. The funny part is that I went in the number 7 cart and came back out because my brother told me that our seats were in cart 16. Outside, I was turning around on the spot because I couldn’t find the 16th cart until that same brother suggested that we just get back in and transfer carts inside. We could have already done that a minute before, but all my common sense just goes out the window whenever I’m in a fuss. So we went inside cart 7 once more and covered two carts until the doors of the train finally closed. How horrible would it have been if we were still outside running towards cart 16? I was finally able to sigh in relief and laughed at how crazy everything was. Trying to catch the Shinkansen, in under 16 minutes, was a great big adventure all on its own!

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My mom’s passport was mistakenly reported as lost/stolen (Japan Edition)

So my family and I flew to Japan on May 7. At 11:30 a.m., I went through immigration without a hitch. Each one of us was checked by a different officer. My brother, my sister, and my uncle all went through smoothly as well. My mom didn’t.

She was brought in by another officer to that secluded room everybody knows about. So we waited in that area where passengers can loiter, behind the immigration booths. 10 minutes passed, no update. 20 minutes, nothing. I thought,  “Okay, so my mom didn’t tell them that she had people waiting for her? We couldn’t be talked to by these officers?”

When 12:00 came by, I decided to approach one of the guards walking around. He was nice enough to talk to the immigration officers for me. A pretty Japanese lady came out and informed me, in broken english, that my mother’s passport had been reported as lost (maybe stolen? I got distracted). Mama made no such report.

We were assured that, in terms of her rights and security, she was fine but they were still calling the Philippine Embassy in Roponggi District to clarify the report. So she had to be kept there until a staff from the embassy picked up. Apparently, after 30 minutes of trying, no one had. At 12:50 p.m. we were told to transfer to the waiting area that’s past customs and wait for my mom there. One airport staff was holding my mom’s luggage. Uh oh, this doesn’t look good, I thought. We couldn’t take it because “it wasn’t ours.” At this point, my mind was getting ahead of me. My mother is going to get deported!

So I asked if there was even the slightest chance this could happen, but they couldn’t give me an answer. Fine. We’ll transfer.

At 1:45 p.m. – a realization.

Today’s a Sunday. Is the embassy even open? So I kept calling anyone who needed to know about our situation -our travel agent, my aunt in Shizuoka -in case we had to wait there until the next day. Finally, my mother came out at 3 p.m. with news that she was cleared but that she had to go to the embassy the next day to straighten things out.

So here’s what happened the next day,

From the Shinjuku Station to Azabu-juban Station

Our hotel was in Shinjuku. We rode the train to Roppongi, where the embassy is located. We went down at the Azabu-juban Station, the nearest station from the embassy. We followed the arrows that directed commuters to the exit for the other Asian embassies. Once we exited, we asked for directions and were told to turn right up the hill by the stop light.

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By that stop light is the road going up hill on the right

Up on the hill

It’s about a 7-10 minute hike to the corner for the Philippine Embassy. There are alleys where the other embassies are. Like the Embassy of Singapore is in the very first alley that we reached since the start of the hike. We kept walking straight, thinking that the embassy will be in the other official-looking buildings right by the main road. By the time we saw a Snoopy Museum, that’s when we decided to ask around. Apparently, the Philippine Embassy is in the alley right after the museum.

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After this door/building is the road to the Philippine Embassy

In the embassy

Where is the Philippine Embassy in Japan Located

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Inside the embassy, we were asked to write down, in detail, our dilemma, the events that led to it, and the actions we took to solve the problem. And so we did. We gave it to the young man managing the door, as instructed, and waited for a little over 10 minutes.

Next thing I knew, my mom’s name was being called. She was given another piece of paper – a format for an affidavit, in which she had to state that she is the rightful owner of the passport that was flagged as lost/stolen and that it was mistakenly reported. She also put her purpose for being in Japan and how long she’s staying. Talk about stressful.

So what happens after your passport gets flagged as lost/stolen?

Apparently, the Philippine Embassy in Japan submitted a certificate to immigration, clearing my mom of any passport-related problem. So on the day that we left Japan, she went through immigration again without delay. But it was also suggested to my mom that she renew her passport once we were back in our country (even though she still has another year on her passport), because the flag is irreversible.

All that took less than an hour, even though the embassy was full with other Filipinos bearing their concerns. Now that we are actually back in the Philippines, and thankfully in one piece, what’s left to be done now is to renew my mom’s passport for our future travels!

 

 

Of Cruises and Enjoyment: Why cruises should be a travel priority!

There are plenty of great and not-so-great comments about cruises. Hard-core “travelers” say that cruises are for tourists and not real travelers, being the luxury of comfort and getting pampered as one of the issues. There are, of course, the more important ones like health, crime, and safety. But when you’re curious about what really happens inside a cruise ship, sometimes you forget about all that debate and just go for it. I’m glad that I did.

After the first time my family and I joined a cruise, I told myself that doing so should henceforth be one of my travel priorities. Here’s why:

It’s well worth the money

Okay, so going on a cruise isn’t cheap, especially when you’re making money in Philippine pesos. When my my mother, my brother, my sister, and I went on a 5-day cruise going to the Bahamas, it costed us a total of $1,402.04 or $350.51 per person. At that time, 1 USD was about 47 PHP, so a total of 65,896 PHP. Mind you, this was considered as one of the cheapest cruise packages from one of the cheapest cruise lines!

So yeah, cruises cost a lot plus there’s the expense for airtickets going to the country/city of departure, and for some, for lodging the night before the departure. But I’d say that for what was included in our $350, or what was then P16,450/person, it was well worth the money.

For one, all of our food was free.

In those 5 days our breakfasts were always buffets, and our lunches and dinners were never short of fancy. We had Tea Time on some days too, so the desserts were endless.

Great food on Carnival Cruise
I had Escargot as an appetizer. How’s that for fancy?

Our meals always came in threes: appetizer, main dish, dessert.

For another, there were plenty of activities to choose from on each day.

Tea Time was one of my favorites (saying this only because it’s the only activity I have pictures of). It was a time when we’d just sit by the view of the sea, while nibbling at all the sweets and drinking all the Bigelow Tea we could. The real definition of chill.

fun activities in the Carnival Cruise

But there were also activities like Bingo, or game shows and talent shows, or silly pool games like who can mix the best alcoholic drink – whatever you can think of. At night there were trivia games, comedy shows, dance parties, and musicals. The cruise personnel made sure that all their passengers got a copy of the day’s activities with their schedules and venues, so we didn’t have to scramble around, not sure what to do.

fun activities on the Carnival Cruise

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And my last reason for why it’s worth the money: the ammenities. Our ship had pools, water slides, a gym, a mini golf course, a library, a casino, plenty of bars, what have you! We were able to use all these without additional fees. So we realized that $350 for 5 nights with accommodation, free food, (some) free activities, and free access to ammenities was a bang for our buck.

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There were always midday activities here!

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The Library/Game Room
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sometimes, cycling while looking at the vast blue see can be nauseating

It’s the easiest way to get around

This is where the argument, “traveling by cruise isn’t really traveling,” come in.

“Where’s the culture? Where’s the experience? How do you see the country?”

I get it. Cruises aren’t for everyone. Cruises are for people who’d like to be able to say that they’ve been somewhere without having to experience all that planning, booking, and figuring out transpo times and routes. It’s for people who’d like to go at their own liesurely pace. For me, if it gets you from one country or island to another, that’s traveling.

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I didn’t worry about missing out on culture and experience, there was enough of that to go around inside the ship. We were basically immersed in a melting pot with ample chances to get to know people of different nationalities. We befriended interesting people during night parties, dinners, and just hanging around the casinos.

Even outside the ship and out on the islands, we were still able to enjoy ourselves through the number of excursions that the cruise offered (although with a cost). In which I encountered a donkey, which will probably be the only time I would do so. In which I was able to touch the incredibly fine, white sands of the Bahamas – probably also the only time I would do so. So no, cruises aren’t short on culture and experience.

Feeding Donkey Excursion of Carnival Cruise

My first and probably last encounter with a donkey!

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See me experiencing an encounter with this donkey? lol

Like I said, cruises aren’t for everyone but it was for me. Maybe it could be for you too?