CH 3 AIRPORT LIMO (Hanako)
It was a strange feeling to step onto a plane in California and step off, just one movie, a nap, two meals, and two snacks later, in Japan. Hanako had peeped a look out the airplane window a few times during the journey but had quickly pulled the plastic blind down again, each time--an assault on her eyes because it was never dark, only light, as they crossed the sixteen hours into the future.
Once they were through customs, Hanako could relax, look around the airport, try to get a better sense of her surroundings. As she followed Jiro toward the currency exchange booth, and then to the counter where he purchased bus tickets to take them from the airport to downtown Tokyo, she wondered not for the first time if she could ever function without him.
He made everything easy for her to step into. There wasn’t a practical thing on earth Jiro couldn’t tackle with confidence or ease. Without him, she would probably become a recluse; wear afghans around the house, order everything she needed online, live her life through social media, raise three dogs she would treat like her children--too afraid to interact with the outside world for fear of failure or rejection.
Minutes later, she and Jiro are standing outside the airport with their suitcases and music equipment, looking for something called the Airport Limo to arrive. There is no bus yet, but there is an orderly line of people, toes up against a bumpy yellow line. When the orange bus glides up with, Airport Limo in white emblazoned across the side, Hanako notes how everyone takes a synchronized step forward, as if one of them had counted it off. One, two, three, step!
She looks at Jiro to see if he has noticed this too, but he is busy hoisting their luggage from the cart to the ground. When it’s their turn to transfer their luggage to the attendant, Jiro apologizes repeatedly for the heavy bags. The men lifting them are so slight in build, Hanako feels sorry for them. She fights the urge to remind Jiro to tip them. No tipping anywhere in Japan, she remembers reading somewhere.
On the bus, Hanako and Jiro find seats next to each other and settle in. She looks out the window as the bus begins to move, accepts the hand Jiro places on her knee. She knows he wants to connect, to celebrate that they were here! Finally! That they had survived the first challenges of getting through customs, exchanging money, and finding the right bus--but she feels disconnected from everything.
She stares out the window as the bus merges seamlessly into traffic. It all feels so calm. At LAX, there would be horns, there would be shouting, there would be ten near fender benders between leaving the curb and getting into the correct lane. It’s otherworldly how quiet everything is, how relaxed the atmosphere appears to be.
Once the bus merges onto the main highway, Hanako feels as though they’ve been jettisoned through a clear, contained tunnel into the real world. As they move through the city, she thinks she’s been wearing contact lenses with a slight film on them until now. The world looks as it does after a heavy rain in LA--the marine layer gone for the moment--the sky is never more blue, never more perfect.
Around her is a world that is at once known and unknown. Everything appears to her in miniature. I’ve stepped into the land of Oz, except the color palette is softer, cozier, than the technicolor of Dorothy’s existence. The trucks and cars passing the bus seem to Hanako, premature versions of vehicles in the states. They looked as if their back ends had gone through a chopper and the top halves had been shaved-off. It appeared impossible to Hanako that anyone could actually sit inside, and yet, there they were, legs in tact.
Suddenly, she feels something inside her clench, a willful desire to reject everything she sees as inferior to what she has known. What’s with the cartoonish logos and characters on practically everything? Had they signed-up for a Disneyland tour? And there wasn’t a single mountain or palm tree in sight. A twinge of longing for LA, but then, the sweep of apartments and commercial buildings arrests her view.
Vibrant signs stack on top of each other like vertical Jenga pieces with swaths of Japanese characters in black, white, or red. Clothes hang from people's balconies in neat rows. Towers rise amicably against each other as though they’re in a friendly race to touch the sky.
Hanako has the surprising feeling that she has seen it all before and she realizes in that moment how pleasing it all is to her. I love your tiny and tall buildings. She says to herself. I love your impossibly clean restrooms and your soft color palette and your personification of inanimate objects with cartoon faces and cute animal characters.
She thinks for a moment about the country where she was born. Someone had told her that Korea was only an hour flight away. Did things feel somehow familiar because they were? How similar was all this to what she had known as a kid in Korea?
And then, they were entering the city center and all thoughts of the past were placed on hold as she looked on the face of her future.
Photo by Jason Ortego