Missed opportunities/lost property

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8 August 1999

Working under the first rule of travel, allow extra time to figure things out, I woke Tod very early so that we could get to our destination in a timely way. We had dined, checked out and walked to the station before 8 am. The next train to Naruto left at 8:23.

It took about 90 minutes to reach Naruto, and operating under the second rule, sort out your return trip as soon as you arrive, we figured out what train Tod needed to be on to get back to Takamatsu in time for his 15:29 train back to Tokyo. If he missed the train in Takamatsu, he’d miss his connection and forfeit his seat on the Shinkansen which would mean standing on the next train. A three hour trip seems much longer when you can’t sit down.

So at 10:00 we were in Naruto, our bags were living in the coin lockers, and Tod had a ticket for the 12:46 Naruto to Takamatsu train. The next step was to get to the park where we could (maybe) see the whirlpools. Over to the bus stop we went.

The 9:56 had left only a few minutes before. The next bus was at 10:56. Ouch...that didn’t leave us much time at all for whirlpool-viewing, though by this time we’d resigned ourselves to not actually seeing any whirlpools. Maybe there was another way to get to the park.

Aha! A taxi stand with a taxi waiting for us! We hopped in and 20 minutes later we cruised past the bus stop we’d need for the return trip. The taxi driver pointed it out to us as he gave us the bad news that were no taxi stands at the park. Two minutes later he dropped us off at the viewing area.

As we pulled up, we saw two dozen costumed festival dancers boarding a tour bus to leave. We had just missed their annual dance show on the beach! The morning’s timing really wasn’t very good. Our 10:20 arrival fell 10 minutes after the tide, too.

We did get to see some whirlpools and the cruise ships that ride people out to see them. It wasn’t as dramatic as I’d hoped. In fact, since we didn’t know whether the sea at the straights was ever calm, we didn’t know if the churning waters were a tidal effect or just normal. We concluded “normal” until I saw a tide table later on that day.

So it’s 10:30. We know Tod has to be back at Naruto Station for his 12:46 train. And we also know that the bus is on an hourly schedule. But we don't know the schedule or how long the bus takes to get to the station. How long can we stay at the park before we lose our chance to get back to the station in time? I was living an algebra word problem!

The kind shopkeeper at one of the souvenir stands had the answer for us--a bus schedule! We had enough time to buy some omiyage (souvenir gifts), have an ice cream and take some photos. Then we walked to the bus stop and boarded the 11:16 bus to the station.

Tod is not a master of time and I’ve never seen him more tense about a schedule. Losing the Shinkansen seat would be a bad way to end the day. He tried to be relaxed about the disappointing showing of the whirlpools, but he checked the time frequently and was pretty high strung about getting back to the station. Fortunately, we caught the bus and got back to town with no problems.

Until Tod went to check the time again...his clock which is actually the display of his cell phone was gone. “Oh my god, my keitai denwa is gone!” he exclaimed. “It must have fallen out of my pocket on the bus.” This was bad. He had managed to hang on to that phone for more than a year while his colleagues kept losing theirs. He used it all the time as a phone and even more frequently as a watch. Its loss devastated him. A slightly bad day had turned into a disaster.

My watch, still firmly attached to my wrist in the conventional manner, told me we had 45 minutes before the train. So we headed to a restaurant nearby the station to discuss the day’s disasters. As we reviewed the plastic food in the display case, the waitress (who didn’t know I could see her) looked at us, turned to her colleague and made the arms crossed sign that usually means “Sorry, we’re out of that” or “no.” She meant, I think, that she wasn’t looking forward to having to deal with foreigners during the lunch rush.

But we went in anyway and spoken entirely in Japanese to her. She had nothing to worry about. Our level of personal distress required some calming foods so even though it was only noon we ordered two mugs of beer and a plate of edomame, salty steamed soybeans in their pods.

Two beers later, we had a plan. Although Tod was returning to Tokyo, I was about to begin the next leg of my journey at Tokushima. Amazingly enough, Tod’s phone was headed there, too. I would check in at the wasuremono (lost items) office and see if Tod’s phone had been found.

Which was easier said than done. I arrived in Tokushima at 1:45 and the first place I went was the bus office. I explained that I had lost my portable phone and told them which bus I was on. The woman who I explained this to picked up her intercom and broadcast to all the buses in the lot, as well as to all the passengers in the queues, to see if the Naruto Koen bus was there.

But the bus hadn’t arrived yet--it was due in at 3:00. At 3:00 on the dot, I returned to the bus office. As I walked through the bus lot, I saw a bus bound for Naruto Park pulling out.

“Excellent,” I thought. “They’ll have the phone.”

But they did not. The woman at the bus office were very nice, but I didn’t understand everything she said. Eventually, we got around to drawing a map of the bus to pinpoint where I had been sitting. I described the phone’s color and manufacturer. The woman said the bus driver would search the bus again when he got to Naruto and she would call me at 3:45 at my hotel.

This gave me enough time to check into my hotel and get settled in. Packing lightly as I do, I was anxious to get some laundry done. I had rehearsed in my head on the train how to say so in Japanese.

“Sentaku o shitai desu ne,” I carefully enunciated to the kimono clad woman who was showing my room.

“Eh..?” she answered and showed me where the bathrobe was.

“Sentaku o shitai desu,” I ventured again. Maybe if I said it enough, she’d understand. It was a simple declarative,’ I would like to do laundry,’ that I hoped would elicit a response of “Oh yes of course. We can do your laundry for you and add it to your bill.”

However, on my repetition, the room attendant led me to the bathroom sink and showed me that I could put the stopper in and use the little bar of soap to wash my clothes. So much for an easy afternoon of sightseeing!

So I did my laundry by hand. I kept my fingers crossed that it would dry in time to wear it the next day. In the middle of the third t-shirt, the phone rang. It was the bus office.

“Keitai denwa o arimasu,” the nice woman said. We have the phone.

“Hai, wakarimashita. Domo arigato!” I answered.

Then she went on at length about something I didn’t entirely understand. I asked her to repeat and then to repeat again. I feel sorry for, but very grateful to, the kind people who struggle patiently along with my language problems. Not everyone does, but she repeated more slowly and simply until she was sure I understood that the bus would arrive with the phone at 6:00 and I could pick it up then.

I dispatched the remaining laundry in few minutes and went out to explore the city. Most of the day had been spent in the vicinity of the bus terminal, so I opted to head in the other direction--towards the Mt. Bizen Ropeway.

As ropeways go, it was perfectly fine. The view from the top was panoramic and the mountains on the far side of the city faded into the late day haze like a classical painting. I took some photos and then headed back down to recover Tod’s phone.

We had agreed that I would mail the phone back to Tod if I found it. In my numerous walks around the station, I found the main post office and noted it had an after hours section. So with the phone in hand, I went in.

“Hello, I’d like to send this phone to Tokyo, please,” I explained in Japanese as I held up the phone.

“Um...you can’t send that phone like that,” the young, pudgy postal worker answered me in rapid fire Japanese. He called over a colleague to confirm. “Yes, I think you need an envelope.”

“Just a second,” I said as I made room for the next transaction. I was not prepared to deal with a post office that didn’t sell envelopes. I needed to bolster my vocabulary. I checked my dictionary and got back into line.

Back at the front of the line, I inquired about where to buy an envelope. The post boy lectured me that I needed a box. But he spoke very quickly and I didn’t understand exactly what he said. I asked him to repeat, more slowly, please.

At this point, I wish I’d had my camera ready. The man cupped his hands around his mouth and spoke very loudly. But not more slowly. So classic and really funny. But at the time, I was frustrated and insulted.

“Yes, yes, I see,” I countered. “But where can I buy one?” The post boy was speechless. I thanked him for his help and left the post office shaking my head.

Fortunately my walks had also taken me past a convenience store. I bought a ten pack of manila envelopes and a pair of socks. The phone was a neat package shortly thereafter. When I returned with the sock-padded, wrapped phone and asked the post boy to have it sent special delivery to Tokyo, the transaction was complete in 30 seconds!

And it was time for dinner. I’d joked with Tod that now that I’d be traveling alone I would end up eating exclusively in fast food chains where I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. But I did not. I walked around another area of town and found a little restaurant that had food I had never tried before, zousui, which turned out to be a delicious rice porridge.

I was the only customer and the mama-san talked to me. We had the four questions conversation and she was patient with my fumbling attempts to conjugate verbs fast enough to continue the conversation. I was pretty stupid and I was glad to finish my dinner and get back to my hotel for a well deserved period of oblivion before another day.

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