Chasing the Sun

There are so many stories to tell of special times together with Charlotte, my girlfriend since our teenage years, but one remains in my mind, snowed in watching the falling flakes on this Austrian night. After graduating Japan beckoned. Charlotte saw me off from the airport, wearing a pink shirt and suit, but the realisation didn’t sink in until I was 30,000 feet in the air. I wanted to jump out and tell her so many words I hadn’t expressed, but it was too late, my year abroad had begun, and without Charlotte.
January, Winter, the first falling, flakes. Charlotte, being the wonderful lady she is arrives with a suitcase half full of my clothes, photographs and papers. Luckily, our next stop is Sydney, Australia and has course, and summertime.
I leave Charlotte jet-lagged in my tiny apartment on the mezzanine with the order to sleep. A full day teaching later, I find Charlotte, restless. I ask her if she has been out, “Yes” she says, “It’s like being in Space”! We laugh as she tells the tale of how she stepped out onto the platform in Yokohama, spun around with a mass of consumers and was carried back onto the carriage by the ebb of the crowd.
The following morning I wake her with number one of the twenty varieties of muesli available from Muji. That evening, together with my ‘crazy students on Thursday class’, I meet Charlotte for finest fugu cuts. Seated at the Sushi bar, my students: Kou, a transvestite working for Japan telecom and Minoru, a thirty two year old surfer and fisherman employed at Cannon; convince Charlotte that what she has just eaten, is fish balls. Jet-lagged, dazed and confused this shock is one thing I’m sure she wishes had been lost in translation.
Full of Sake, our hosts take us to a hole of an excuse for a room covered with faux brick wallpaper. We order sugary drinks they were so bright, could be radioactive. Charlotte and I regress, bopping along to Madonna’s 80’s hits. We release tension true Tokyoite style by screaming down a microphone and reading subtitles off a video, showing a western woman pining over a Japanese man in Ueno park among the Sakaura. Some nights can’t get much better J
The next morning, I see Charlotte is clearly excited, so I try to choose my words carefully. “I have to make a small detour to immigrations, for a re-entry visa to Japan, but it should take no time at all”. She looks at me doubtfully as I attempt to re-assure her we have plenty of time. We’re in Yokohama. The airport is in Tokyo; but not just Tokyo, it’s actually on an Island to the West of Tokyo. Our flight leaves late that afternoon. It’s already late morning.
Traipsing through city snow, I deposit Charlotte in Starbucks with our suitcases and vow to return not before too long. I steam ahead through the streets of Yokohama, through the Nippon Maru memorial sight and wait in line with hundreds of anxious immigrants for a re-entry visa for return to the land of the rising sun. The clock seemed to be speeding ahead and as I run over the polished floor-ways beneath landmark tower, I suddenly have the thought that I’ve finally caught-up with Tokyo Time.
Out onto the platform from the subway, I glide mechanically with the sea of black heads. It feels like the crowd is multiplying, expanding. The more I try and reach Charlotte, the further she seems away. On the slope, amongst neon Kanji signs, I see the gigantic, green Star of Starbucks. Behind huge glass windows and in amongst an ebb of black heads, I see blonde hair and blue eyes peaking, expectantly from out behind Naomi Kline’s, No Logo.
“What time is it”? I ask, a little harried. “Two thirty” Charlotte replies. Our flights not till seven thirty. Reaching the heart of Tokyo, we safely embark on the train to Narita. Relaxing, we allow ourselves to get excited about the trip before us. In between stories, we notice that there are an awful lot of stops and an awful lot of Japanese people. We look and spot a foreigner and inquire why is it taking so long. Why not? They are surprised that we ask. We look confused and they explain that there are two trains, to Narita, the Express and slow train. We look at each other, half in disbelief. “So how long does this slow train take?” “Three hours” -The deadly reply comes. We look at our watch, it’s five thirty and we’ve been on the train two hours, the check in time: two hours before departure. For the rest of the journey we stand in anxious attention ready to belt it through to check in. One by one, the crowded train empties, the stops become more frequent, and the stations are no longer over-ground. We reach terminal one and more like scramble rather than belt through the airport burdened by our cases. Finally, the lady with the big blue Quantus bow is smiling before us. We begin to breathe. She stops at my passport-“Where’s your Visa for Australia”? “My visa for Australia”? I reply. She looks at me, I look at Charlotte, Charlotte looks back at me, and I look back at the lady with the big, blue, bow no longer smiling. She reaches to her super hi-tech calling system and within a couple of minutes another woman with a big blue bow appears. Together, they stand aside, leaving me to confront Charlotte’s expression that has fallen from excited anticipation and is beginning to look increasingly worried. I turn, to see them fiddling with my passport. One blue bowed lady turns and stares into my eyes. “You’re Lucky”. I blink back at her. “You’re going to get a temporary Visa, this should get you through”. With that she stamps my passport; I hear Charlotte breathe a sigh of relief. We are so light, we literally glide through passport control; and I’m sure that’s not just the lack of luggage. Air-born and asleep, I feel Charlotte touch my arm, gently. Listen to this, she whispers handing me the headsets. We’re Chasing the Sun comes seeping into my ear as we fly over the pacific-ocean.