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Thursday 11/28/2002 - Thanksgiving Day

We get up at 5:00 AM and pack our carry on bags. Once everything’s packed we head downstairs for one last visit to the White Swan’s breakfast buffet. After a quick meal we check out of the hotel and board the bus that will take us to the Guangzhou airport. Cynthia shepherds us inside the airport and hands out departure tax coupons. But this is as far as she can go - as a Chinese national she’s not allowed to enter the international terminal. We say our goodbyes and strike out on our own. After 2 weeks of her meticulous care, it seems strange to be on our own again. She’s done an unbelievable job of organizing the past two weeks – I can’t image how difficult this would have been without her.

Our original group is now down to just three other families: Mike, Marie, and Kathleen; Dave, Kaye, and Lillian; and Mike, Kathy, and Christine. We make our way slowly, but steadily, through the international terminal toward our departure gate. The Guangzhou airport is very inefficient - lots of redundant steps and lots of things done by hand which could easily be automated and, as always, every scrap of paper needs at least one red stamp. I suspect that this inefficiency is a product of China’s Communist system, and that procedures are designed to create lots of trivial, make-work jobs to employ as many people as possible. Also, owing to China’s enormous population, labor must be very cheap - it might well be more expensive to automate things.

The flight from Guangzhou to Hong Kong is easy, lasting only about an hour. Before our final hop to Tokyo we have a 5 hour layover in the Hong Kong airport, which is big and clean and modern, much nicer than any of the airports we visited in China. We browse through the airport shops and I am able to pick up a few packs of Japanese Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh cards to take back to the boys. I also stop by the currency exchange counter and have the bulk of my remaining Chinese RMB converted to Hong Kong coins, to take back home as souvenirs.

After lunch we say goodbye to Mike, Kathy, and Christine - they have a direct flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco. Our flight from Hong Kong to Tokyo takes about 4 hours and we have our Thanksgiving dinner of curried beef and rice 30,000 feet above the ocean, somewhere off the coast of China.

The Tokyo airport is a model of efficiency – the exact opposite of the airports in China. We queue up at the immigration desk where we’re issued temporary tourists visas to cover our overnight stay. It’s dark and cold by the time we board a bus for the 10 minute ride to the Nikko Narita hotel. The hotel is owned by JAL and is used primarily for overnight transits like ourselves. Our room is nice, but not nearly as luxurious as the rooms we’ve had in China.

Our room does include a high-tech Japanese toilet with a row of buttons along one side of the seat. Feeling a bit curious, I press the first button and am surprised by a strategically aimed jet of warm water. The sensation is far from pleasant and I quickly press the large red button labeled “Stop”. Strangely enough, the urge for experimentation has passed.

We turn in early – tomorrow will be a long day.

Hong Kong Airport   Mike and Kathleen take a little nap in the Hong Kong airport. Mike's parenting instincts are impressive - even while fast asleep he keeps a frim grip on Kathleen's foot to keep her from rolling off of the seat.
On The Plane   Here's Hope on the plane in Hong Kong. The long layover is finished and she's ready to head on to Tokyo.
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