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Friday 11/29/2002

We awaken in our room in Tokyo rested and eager to begin the final leg of our journey home. Even though our flight doesn’t leave until noon, we agreed the night before to be ready to get on the 8:00 bus to the airport so that we’ll have the best possible chance at getting bulkhead seating, which comes with bassinets (more on this later). Crossing the lobby to go to breakfast we notice something that we’d somehow missed the night before - a JAL ticket counter, right there in the hotel! There’s a bit of a line, but it’s worth it if we can get our boarding passes right now. We wait in line for 15 minutes or so and reach the counter only to find that we can’t get boarding passes outside of the airport because our flight’s going to the United States. You know, heightened security in response to these troubled times we now live in. Oh well, it was worth a shot, but now we have to really hurry with breakfast so we can make the bus to the airport.

Of course the Nikko Narita has a breakfast buffet, and the food is good, but nowhere near what we’ve gotten used to over the last two weeks in China. We eat quickly, check out fast, and just make the 8:00 bus to the airport. A young American woman on the bus notices Hope and strikes up a conversation. Her husband is in the military and is currently stationed in Japan. We talk a little longer and realize that she grew up only a few miles from where we live right now, but hasn’t been back for a few years. I give her my standard landmark “we live just a few blocks from where the Vogue Theater used to be.” She’s surprised, “Used to be? Do you mean it’s gone?” Sometimes it really is a small world!

At the entrance to the Tokyo airport the bus is stopped for a security check, the first we’ve encountered during our travels. All of us who are standing in the aisle are asked to step outside to show passports to uniformed security guards. Meanwhile other guards walk the aisle checking passports for those lucky travelers who actually have seats. A third group of security guards inspects the side luggage compartments and checks underneath the bus with mirrors on long poles. The check is thorough but quick and we’re back on our way in less than 10 minutes.

We get off the bus and head for the JAL ticket counter - lots of agents and pretty much no lines at all. The JAL 747’s have several bulkheads within the passenger cabin; each bulkhead has a fold-down bassinet and is faced by a row of 3 seats. In order to accomodate the bassinets, the seats in the bulkhead rows have considerably more leg-room than the normal seats do. Because of the bassinets and the extra leg room, these seats are in great demand. The agent informs us that the best she can do is give us 2 bulkhead seats and a third seat a few rows back. We go ahead and take it hoping that we can convince whoever has the third bulkhead seat to trade - we figure that the prospect of an 11 hour flight next to a crying baby will be a pretty good incentive to make a deal. Unfortunately our travelling companions don't fare as well. By the time they reach the counter all of the bulkhead seats are gone, they’ll have to settle for standard seats.

We clear airport security pretty quickly and arrive at our gate a little early. The girls play on the floor while we wait. When the gate crew arrives they page the passenger who has the bulkhead seat adjacent to ours, and he graciously agrees to trade. As we found on the trip over, the in-flight service from JAL is amazing. As soon as we get to our seats a JAL attendant arrives with a baby kit for Hope. Packed in a miniature JAL flight bag we find a jar of baby food, a bottle of juice, a JAL logo bib, a baby spoon with a handle shaped like an airplane, a big box of vegetable crackers, a disposable diaper, a small package of wipes, and a banana.

A message comes over the intercom, “Thank you for flying Japan Airlines. We hope you have a present fright.” We laugh and hope that this last bit was just a mispronunciation of “pleasant flight.” The flight itself is a whirl of meals and movies, bottles and naps. Hope does great and the extra leg room provided by the bulkhead seats is a godsend. I feel a little guilty that our friends are stuck in general seating trying to get their daughters to sleep without the benefit of a bassinet. But whenever Hope and I go for a walk around the plane we check on them and they seem to be doing just fine.

Finally we get the word that we’re ready to begin our descent into Chicago. We look out of the window at the Chicago skyline and are amazed at how small Chicago looks! Compared with the huge cities we’ve visited in China, Chicago seems downright tiny.

Once on the ground at O'Hare we gather our bags and proceed to Immigration. There are lots of counters, but only four are manned and the lines are very long. A kind INS official spots us and hurries over. He takes us off to the side and opens one of the vacant stations just for us. He tells us that there’s no reason for us to stand in a long line with our new little Americans. From there we’re taken to the Immigration office. It’s a big room filled with rows of wooden of benches (it would accommodate hundreds of people) but it’s just the nine of us plus a couple of young Hispanic men. They process us first, collecting our immigration packages and going over information about what we’ll need to do to apply for citizenship for the girls. We sign some papers and we’re on our way.

We’re thankfully waved through Customs without any bags being searched and proceed to a final counter to have our bags re-checked for the flight to Louisville. A friendly Hispanic man takes the bags and checks our tickets. He’s very helpful, but speaks with a bit of an accent. “Your flight departs” he tells us “from Chairman Mao 2.” I’m exhausted, both from jet lag and the sheer amount of time we’ve spent traveling over the last 48 hours. I look back at him blankly, knowing that’s not really what he said, but having no idea what he actually did say. He repeats himself, speaking slowly, “Your flight departs from terminal 2.”

We ride the airport tram from the international terminal to our departure terminal. On the tram a woman spots the babies and, realizing what we’ve been up to, tells us that she’s on her way to China to adopt a daughter - it’s a crazy small world! We wish her luck, thankful that we’re not just starting out. We know that in a few hours we’ll leave our new friends behind and board a plane for the short flight back to Louisville. We’re sad to be leaving them (we’ve become very close over the past two weeks) and also sad that our great adventure is finally drawing to a close. But we’re excited at the thought of seeing our boys again, and seeing the rest of our family and friends. And we’re especially excited by the prospect of starting life with our new daughter

Tokyo Airport   Lillian, Hope, and Kathleen have a little play time in the Tokyo airport while we wait for our flight to Chicago.
Tokyo Airport   The girls playing in the Tokyo airport.
Tokyo Airport   The girls playing in the Tokyo airport.
Tokyo Airport   Lillian and Kathleen "put their heads together" and try come up with a plan for getting their toys back from Hope. I'm sorry, but I just couldn't resist!
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