Truth be told, though, I'm a bit nervous right now. You know, the fear of the unknown. I think it's partly because of the last international trip I took for soccer. In 2002, I went from LAX to Tokyo. I left right around this time, on May 27, 2002. My flight left LA at 1 pm local time and I arrived in Japan at 4:30 pm Tuesday, Japan local time.
I got into Narita Airport and had reservations in Yokohama. I had no idea what I was in for and thought things would go great, but it was a mixture of good and bad throughout the entire month I was there.
Anyway, I got into the airport, went through customs and then out into the masses. I had no idea how to get from the airport to Yokohama but I finally figured out the train and how there was a Yokohoma Local that took you straight from the airport to Yokohama station. I got on there and talked briefly to a lady who sat next to me. She spoke perfect English so I figured many people would speak English, but that was not the case at all. Communication problems were rampant in my month-long stay there.
We were cruising along and passing lots of open space, rice patties, mountainous terrain when all of the sudden we saw buildings. And more buildings. Skyscrapers. A never-ending skyline. Welcome to Japan.
I got out of the train and onto the platform. Mass amount of people there. Insane amount of people. There were people everywhere, walking to and from different platforms, going up one level, down to another, purchasing tickets, walking in and out of stores. It was a flood of people.
And here I was, dragging my suitcase behind me, laptop case draped around one arm, backpack on my back, sweating, starting to feel overwhelmed. I got to an information booth and asked if they could help me to my hotel, the New Otani Inn. In most train stations in Japan, there are information booths where they help direct travelers. It's one of the few places you can count on someone speaking English, however broken and sometimes indecipherable it is. At least whoever is there will understand you even if they can't really speak it.
The girl who helped me spoke decent enough English, gave me a map, circled the hotel and told me to take one of the local trains. I walked out towards the place she told me to buy tickets and had no idea where to begin. So I lugged everything back and told her to repeat her instructions. She walked back with me, helped me buy the ticket and walked me over to where I needed to go. She was nice about it, but I still felt a bit sheepish.
Once on the train, I was surrounded by more people. The train was jam-packed with people, and I believe I was the only foreigner on there. It was strange, though, because nobody said a word. It was eerily quiet on there, and when doors would open and close at the different stops, the masses got off and the masses stepped on. At the stop where the girl had circled for me to get off, I got off, walked out to the street, across a bridge and right to my hotel. I checked in and got to my tiny room, watched some Japanese movies and a Japanese baseball game before falling asleep.
The harrowing travel day was over but my strange, lonely, not-what-I-expected month-long stay in Japan was just beginning.
Something like that isn't exactly motivating, but in some ways it is. It's an experience, one that I remember clearly seven years later. Things like that mold you, change you somehow and reveal things about yourself that you might not have known otherwise.
I'm off on another journey today, off to San Jose, Costa Rica. I have no idea what it will be like down in Central America. I can imagine, can read up on it, look at pictures online but until I step on Costa Rican soil and breath the air down there, I won't know.
Fear of the unknown? Maybe, but it's also energizing and exhilerating.
At least I don't have to worry about too-tall buildings and overcrowded train stations today.