Don’t ask me why but I wasn’t allowed to leave Narita. I pleaded with 3 desk agents, “can’t I use my 8 hours to explore the city outside?”… “And why not?” They smiled and shook their heads, gave short explanations I could not understand. I resigned myself to a miniature Terminal experience and decided to relax and reflect on the journey that led me.
After a bus from Chiang Mai to the tiny town where my crush was teaching English, a night drinking, dancing, and ignoring everyone around us, we hopped hungover onto a bus. We passed the long ride chatting over life and nothing, and the minutes began to drag painfully on as I realized there was no bathroom. After one fortunate stop, we arrived in Bangkok on April 19th, 2013.
I was still 20 years old. To celebrate I got a cheap bottle of wine and a boutique hotel near Sukhumvit, the area surrounding Bangkok’s longest street. I picked a place away from the red light districts and busier shopping streets, but close enough to hit a mall for last minute travel supplies. I enjoyed a private shower after months of communal and wander the neighborhood while she was off doing something for her visa. We spent the night together and she tells me why she left England. I admire her, knowing I’ll miss her red hair and reservations. She leaves early in the morning and I stand her up at MBK later that night. Perhaps I’m a flake, maybe just terrified of feeling and goodbyes. I never saw her again.
I took the Sky Train to Suvarnabhumi, fully packed and wearing brand new orange pants. Realizing I miscalculated a time difference, I went to sleep on a balcony among a throng of backpackers for the 4 hours until I was allowed to enter the terminal.
After a hazy eternity on the floor, I climbed out of my sleeping cocoon to admire the circular soaring ceilings and prepared to leap forward. I was heading to Paris with a stop in Tokyo Narita. Originally the plan was to visit old friends in Seoul but a missile threat frightened my mother to pieces so I agreed to let her change my ticket. My mother’s quiet charm somehow resulted in an upgraded ticket, and as I boarded I found myself directed left into the front of the plane. After enjoying the six hours reclined instead of squeezed in my middle seat, I arrived in Tokyo Narita feeling refreshed.
I had hoped to go out and see any bit of Tokyo I could, with only No Reservations informing my Tokyo travel itinerary. As these hopes were dashed, I set off to fill my belly and pass my last few hours of being 20 in all time zones with a buzz. I tried to remember what time it was at home, if I were old enough yet to drink there.
I had been away from home nearly 5 months. With a cold Sapporo in hand, I sat for a moment of reflection. I thought about how far I had come in a year, all the ways I’d grown. I still struggled to leave my room some days and nights but the fears of what I’d find in the world subsided. I had learned to find all the different directions getting lost could take us and I mastered walking into a hostel and making a friend. I still got occasionally distracted from my goals yet my steps forward were my longest strides. I was headed somewhere
The airport sushi tasted no better than what I got at the Siam Paragon Mall but the people watching was excellent. Small well-dressed families running frantically about, grimy starry-eyed backpackers, business people and salarymen stuck in cell phones narrowly avoiding the throng of obstacles. Eventually, I met a guy named Ugo and we exchanged stories. I told him about the notebooks I lost and their contents, my plans to someday finish a story, and he told me of his travels and his work, a start-up in Atlanta. I was full of optimism and we eventually decided to go explore on our own. I wandered to a cigarette vending machine, bought some and looked interestedly at the change as I puffed half of one in the enclosed smoking section. I decided to finally meander my way toward my gate. As I approached I saw signs for the Delta Sky Lounge. I went to investigate the power of my new ticket. A lady smiled at me and waved me in.
I found ample, plush seating, huge windows overlooking the gates, a small buffet, and a machine that pours perfect glasses of beer for you (for free)! I sign up for a time slot to shower and go befriend the beer machine. Hours pass smoothly and quickly as I sip and message all the friends I’d made. 21 years old, next stop: Paris.