Back to the future

Travelling to Tokyo from Singapore is mostly painless. I got up at four, was in a taxi twenty five minutes later, and checking in at the airport before it was even five o’clock.

Mostly painless: no matter how slick you make the journey from bed to check-in desk, it still hurts to get up at 4 for a 6:55am departure. As it’s a flight on a US carrier, there’s an extra security step – a man in uniform asks you questions in a barely audible mumble, possibly catching out terrorists with hearing difficulties.

I did ask what was the latest I could check in. The customer rep didn’t understand my question, and told me I should come to Changi at least three hours in advance for an international flight, or two hours for a domestic. Who is flying out of Changi in order to get to Singapore? And do I really need three whole hours to mope at the airport, when that will get me there before the check-in desk is even open?

The plane was packed – it always is on the Singapore-Tokyo leg – and I swapped seats so somebody could sit next to their wife rather than two rows back from her. That placed me next to a guy who was travelling with his wife and 18-month-old, who Delta had helpfully placed fifteen rows apart. If you’re going to make small children travel at an obviously sleep-depriving hour, you could at least keep their parents close to hand. But that’s not a concern for Delta, evidently.

Still, we got to have a good chat about the logistics of relocating to Canada, travelling with small children and working on the internet, which was better for me than just staring at a tv screen or trying to sleep when I don’t have my noise-cancelling headphones. (We have two pairs, lost in a box somewhere since our move, and one pair have stopped working. My new acquaintance told me that he goes through them every couple of years, but at least Bose will supply you replacements at close to cost.)

And so, back to Tokyo, a place languishing in a future that seems to have been designed in the 1970s. Perhaps it’s the damp, grey weather that casts a pall over proceedings. They have upgraded the ticket machines at the railway station so they take credit cards, but they also require your PIN, and since Singapore is in another divergent timeline where even if your credit card has a PIN, nobody knows what theirs is, I had to go and speak to a man to buy my ticket. But perhaps I am jaded: travelling at hyperspeed on a smooth smooth railway should be amazing, whether the carpet is gray and the decor unadventurous or not.

Scratch the perhaps, I’m definitely jaded. Hot coffee vending machines delight me not, nor do conveyor belts in sushi restaurants. All I really want, apparently, is to travel somewhere where I can get on a plane at the end of the evening, instead of before the morning has started.

At Tokyo Station I was beset with deja vu, brain flooded with remembrances of all the times in the past I’ve wandered though there before. There was quite a long queue at the taxi line when I got out the exit, but taxis were coming in quite frequently. It might be raining in Tokyo but Japanese taxis, unlike Singaporean ones, don’t seem to dissolve in rainwater.

Despite their waterproofing, taxis in Tokyo have other flaws. One is the sat nav. Every taxi now seems to have a big blocky navigation device on the dashboard that never seems to work properly. Maybe it was my driver not knowing where the Westin was. I spelled out the address several times to him and let him take the piece of paper, but he didn’t type it into his navigation screen. We just trundled off, down clear streets, and took 45 minutes to travel what Google Maps thinks is a 17 minute journey. Are we lost in the wrong future, or did nobody pay attention to how to enter data into computers?

Check in was slow at the Westin and the room, although it is big it feels quite old. It does have a sofa and a pair of apparently unnecessary pillows, but the carpet is drab, WiFi costs a super amount and there aren’t really enough lights. The bed is nice, but I feel I’ve been spoiled for Westins by the Shanghai Westin. We went there in early 2009 and no other Westin has impressed us in the same way since. The gym is ok, but other things are a little lacking, or just surprising; the key cards aren’t required for the lift, or to make the lights come on in the room. Not things that make me very sad, but just that make me feel it’s not quite in the same century as anywhere else.

Still, I may be on a different timeline, but I can still leave messages to my daughter via YouTube. Bits of the future are in the right place.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.