I woke up at 3:00 a.m. I was supposed to call my friend at 3:20 am so that he could pick me up by 3:45 and we could hang out before my flight at 6 a.m. since I wanted to be at the airport by 4:30. That didn’t happen, however. I started getting ready when I woke up. I showered, threw on my black maxi dress, ironed my hair and applied minimal makeup (I knew I’d want to take pictures and didn’t want to look like I hadn’t slept all week).
I checked my room not once but three times to make sure I had everything I needed. Once I assured my over-compulsive self I had everything, I woke my mom and sister up to say my last good byes. I don’t think I ever hugged them harder. My mom gave me her daily lecture. It’d be unlike her to let me leave the house without saying “be careful, stay in groups, wear sunscreen and I love you.”
My friend picked me up at 4:30 and around 5 a.m., we were at MIA. He was the last person I saw before I left. I wanted to sit in his car forever, in hopes that time would stand still and for a while longer I’d be in Miami, where everything was still the same.
After a long good bye, I grabbed my carry-on and backpack and walked into the airport to check in. This was fairly quick as at 5 a.m., there was around 50 people trying to catch a flight to Chicago. I went through security and remember hoping they wouldn’t stop me and tell me I couldn’t take any of my toiletries. I know Harry said there was a market everywhere and he was the area expert but for some reason, I thought I was going to be living in a jungle for the next month and without these things, I may just die (I can be dramatic at times). I breezed through and made my way to the gate. I looked around hoping a café or restaurant would be open because I was starving! But I guess I was asking for too much by hoping they’d be able to provide mw with breakfast before my flight.
I sat down by the gate and looked around as people joked around with friends, slept and looked through their personal belongings, hoping they had everything. I sat there, alone, looking at my phone, updating social media and letting everyone know that I was about to leave, even if it was 5:30 a.m.
I was boarding group 3. I guess I was a little distracted and almost missed the flight. I apologized and said: “I’m sorry I know you’re boarding group 4 and 5 but I can’t miss this flight.” The crewmember chuckled and said: “Go, right ahead miss.”
I lugged my heavy leopard print carry-on onto the flight and saw a familiar face. It wasn’t until then that I felt at ease. Paola, one of the other girls on the trip, smiled at me and I smiled back. I thought to myself: “As long as I don’t lose her, I’ll be fine.” Luckily, I sat behind her on the flight.
The plane took off and it wasn’t long until my body shut down after a week of sleepless nights. I slept the entire plane ride and woke up to the flight attendant saying we were almost in Chicago. We were to land at 8:30 a.m. I made my way off the plane and met up with Paola and about 3 other people on the trip, the Jen, Wanda and our other professor Cecile.
My time in Chicago was a short one. I used the restroom, ate some much needed breakfast, connected to the Wi-Fi and snapped my life away, and attempted to withdraw money at an ATM and had an “oh no I lost all my money moment,” after asking the ATM for $800 twice and seeing none of the money come flushing out.
After calling Wels Fargo, they stated I’d only be able to withdraw $300, as that was my daily maximum. “So you’re saying, I have money but I can’t access any of it without visiting a branch, you don’t have any sister banks abroad where I won’t be charged a fee for my banking needs, and I will be charged a percentage any time I swipe my debit card or take out money in an ATM,” I thought. Perfect. Just perfect.
I sat by our gate for our 13-hour flight to Bangkok and skimmed social media. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I get pretty shy when I don’t know anyone. I know surprising. So I waited until it was time for our flight to board. I looked at the Asian flight attendants; half wore pink scarfs around their neck and the other, blue. I thought they looked so cute and wanted to be a flight attendant just for the scarves.
We boarded the plane to Tokyo. It was three of us to a row. The flight attendants spoke Japanese and English over the intercom and most of the passengers were Asians. Felt like everyone was Asian besides my group, made me feel like an outsider but unique.
It wasn’t long until the plane boarded and I was fast asleep again. I don’t know what it is about planes, I can never stay up!
I woke up to the young Asian passenger next to me asking which meal I would like. “He said A or B.” I chose B. I wasn’t ready to try A, which was a Japanese meal consisting of greyish cold noodles, rice and some other things I had never seen. B was the international meal, it brought like meatloaf, potatoes, fruit, a piece of bread and water. It was much more familiar. I also decided to have green tea because the passenger next to me did. It relaxed me.
After lunch/dinner, I watched the movie Jupiter Ascending and it wasn’t until long that I was fast asleep again, mid-movie. More than half the flight, I was asleep. I’d only wake up for meals and potty visits. I woke up to finish the movie and heard my stomach growling. I thought: “I hope there’s another meal soon.”
Luckily, they turned on the lights about 2 hours away from Tokyo and prepared for dinner/breakfast. The options were beef or chicken. I had the chicken. It was chicken with vegetables, a piece of bread, fruits and yogurt. I asked for green tea, not once but twice with sugar this time. It was a good choice.
I stayed up the rest of the flight just thinking.
We made it to Tokyo, 13 hours later, and happy to be off the plane, I took a picture next to the sign welcoming us to Tokyo. We went through security and I remember thinking how lax things were there, they didn’t even ask us to take off our shoes. I laughed because the Americans were the only ones bending over attempting to take off their shoes until we realized no one else was.
We had a lay over for about 5 hours in Tokyo. During that time, I ate my first foreign meal. I ordered the Shrimp Tempura Don Set, which consisted of those grey noodles I saw on the plane, fried shrimp, rice and soy sauce. It was delicious!
I walked around the airport and did a little shopping and was attacked by my best friend Andrea who had been spending some time in Japan. I didn’t think I was going to see her until Bangkok, so it was a pleasant surprise. We talked and caught up just like we were still in Miami and nothing had changed.
Our flight was delayed but with Wi-Fi and Andrea, I was fine. We boarded the plane and we asked the person next to her to switch with me so we could sit together. It wouldn’t be us without taking a series of selfies first. The plane prepared for take off and soon we were both napping! The jet lag was serious. We slept the entire 6-hour flight to Bangkok.
When we arrived in Bangkok and saw their very modern, gigantic, and spotless airport, I was in shock. I didn’t really know what to expect but it wasn’t that. We met with Harry who awaited us with a smile along with the rest of the group. Our group of nine was finally complete.
When we walked out of the airport, we awaited for the van that’d be taking us to the hotel. Harry was sitting on the left hand side and I yelled: “You’re driving?” Everyone started laughing. I had forgotten they drive on the opposite side in Thailand. Silly me.
The city was like nothing I could have ever imagined. It smelled different. The heat and humidity even at night embrace you. There were highways, cars, huge skyscrapers, notable head quarters like Canon. It didn’t feel like much had change. I don’t know why I thought we were going to a rural area.
We arrived at the iResidence Hotel, which had Wi-Fi (moral of the story: Wi-Fi is life) and our room (I say “our” because I roomed with Andrea) had a huge bed, air conditioning and the nicest shower. Bangkok kept exceeding my expectations.
On our way in, we saw tons of 7/11s, almost like a slice of home while abroad and there was one next to our humble abode. Harry exchanged $50 into Baht for each of us, which was about 1600 Baht, on the ride to the hotel. The first hundred was spent at 7/11 on water and snacks and then we went to the room and talked all night about present, past and future. Night one was complete.