Thursday morning I woke up above the Pacific Ocean somewhere off the coast of Japan. I knew this because right after I saw the clouds and ocean below I looked at the helpful map showing where we were on the planet. I was given breakfast and the loudspeaker announced that we were one hour out from Tokyo.
After eating I dozed some more, opening my eyes once in a while to see what was outside my window. Blue ocean with tiny white caps under hazy clouds. Nothing but a cloud. Picturesque rice paddies that were unharvested and nobody and no boats in sight. Soon we were on the ground and I was sleepily waiting in the security checkpoint line to get back into the international terminal. I looked around at all the unfamiliar people and heard them speaking in accents, some that I didn't recognize. I heard a Japanese girl speaking in deliberate, clear english. I thought about the world and how small my world had been while I was growing up, and my world was larger than many. I still couldn't help wondering if I'd done life a little wrong. I only traveled internationally once when I was young, and I didn't travel much on my own volition, and usually not to new places but back to old places. I didn't learn a second language. As an english speaker it is difficult to chose which language to master as your second, but that's really not an excuse because two are better than one. The line was long and I had plenty of time to think about these things. Getting through security was easy and they didn't seem to care that I had a bunch of liquids that I didn't remove for their inspection. So much of security is theater.
I found a little office area with wired ethernet and went to work trying to find a way to get free internet. These guys had done their due diligence though and I couldn't find any way around paying. This was a problem because last time when I tried to pay I still couldn't get online because Boingo's billing mechanism was broken. On top of that, the Boingo software for Mac is terrible, like so many OEM apps for Mac. They really shouldn't bother with those kinds of things and should spend that money on something more productive.
I wandered around the airport, plodding along tiredly. It was familiar, I had spent enough time here last time that I knew where I was and where to go to get whatever. My flight wasn't listed on the display yet though since it was too many hours away, so I just wandered aimlessly. I exchanged some money and went to an electronics shop with some stuff that isn't available in the USA, which is just a novelty to me but still entertaining. When my flight did appear on the monitor I was 2 gates down from where I needed to be, which would've been really convenient if it weren't boarding in 8 hours. I got some tea, found a power outlet and managed to successfully pay for internet access. This allowed me to kill many hours of my layover while catching up on blogging and chatting with some US folks who were up.
After sitting for too many hours I walked around the airport some more. I noticed the stark differences between Japan and Vietnam. Before landing in Tokyo I looked down at the rice paddies and it was immediately evident that we were not in Vietnam, even though there were rice paddies for as far as you could see. Japan was so clean, so quiet, so organized.
As I was walking around looking for gifts for friends a man offered me samples of sake, which I gladly tasted. It was delicious and I thought about buying a bottle, but the fact that you can't even take duty free liquids over 100ml through Japan made me wary of what other ridiculous liquid restrictions I would encounter.
After what seemed like an eternity my plane began boarding and I watched everybody line up and get on, then when the line was nearly nothing I boarded and took my seat. I sat next to an older Japanese woman with a dignified demeanor. She began writing a note and when I glanced over my eyes picked up the word "unforgivable". I was curious, and although I didn't read the whole note, I did also see that she mentioned her choice of airlines by their reputation vs simply price. She folded the note up, put it in an envelope and gave it to one of the flight attendants. From then on the flight attendants would stop by from time to time and talk and talk and talk, saying "hai" over and over as this woman spoke with calm certainty. I wondered what the note actually said...
After watching some of Cirque Du Soleil's Dralion, which has an awesome juggling scene, I switched to The Soloist and proceeded to be thoroughly unimpressed. Afterwards I managed to finally get some more sleep...
Thursday I woke up to the ongoing sounds of a boy crying. Not wailing, but genuinely crying. I realized it had been going on for quite a while and wondered why his, who was seated in the next section up, didn't come back and help him. The first thing I saw was the darkness map of the world with our plane positioned over the pacific right on the border between light and dark. The boy's dad eventually came back and took the boy off to the bathroom. I closed the window shades on the two windows next to me and went back to sleep. I couldn't stay asleep though. It was an uncomfortable drifting in and out of sleep. Eventually we were landing in San Francisco and as I carried my bag off into SFO I finally woke up.
About 5 immigration people asked me if I had all my bags as they checked my passport. It seemed like they couldn't believe that person could have such little luggage. That may have been the thing that set me apart from the rest and made them select me to a full luggage search. The guy going through my luggage also couldn't believe that I only had one bag. He, like the passport control officer, found it hard to believe that I didn't have a physical mailing address. The passport control officer scratched off "San Francisco" and wrote in my parents address in Colorado Springs. The man searching my bag asked me "Why did you write down Colordo Springs if you live in San Francisco?" to which I replied that I did not write down c/s. It seems so simple, move out of apartment, quit job, live out of a backpack, yet so many people don't understand until they stop to think about it.
Sara was supposed to pick me up but I wondered if she'd even be there after my flight was late and my time was wasted while the LEO did a half search of my tightly and intricately packed backpack. She was though and it was great to have a friend there to whisk me away in a sleek automobile. We headed down 101 to Mountainview to meet up with some of the SugarCRM crew. Pretty much the whole local IT team plus Kyung showed up and we filled a nook in the restaurant with loud friendly conversation. Sara had to go and I was bummed that we didn't have long enough time to catch up with each other.
After lunch I caught a ride back to Sugar where Lila had brought my car. I sat and talked a while about my travels and the way that poor countries and technology fit together, then headed up to Lila's house to pick up some stuff I'd left there. When I got there I took a shower, which was great because I had been out for over 36 hours without a shower. I also tried to take a nap but couldn't sleep, so I decided to head on up to SF.
As soon as I started driving I got sleepy. Luckily I'd driven this route a few hundred times so I could drive it comfortably while sleepy. It was lame though, I didn't want to drive that route. I had quit my job partly because of that drive. Between that drive and the SugarCRM HQ I felt like my old life had been severed and I was having to pick it back up to get to something underneath it. I just wanted to let it go and move on, those times were gone.
The first place I went in SF was to my mailbox which hadn't been checked in two months. All of the mail fit into the box, so it wasn't too bad. The post office is right downtown SF, near embarcadero, and it was nice to submerge myself back into the heart of SF, like jumping straight into a pool to help you get used to the water quicker. The weather was kinda bad, breezy with a little rain, but it was familiar and that was great. The air was cool and clean, so different from anything I'd experienced in the previous two months. I also heard seagulls for the first time in two months.
Then as I was driving to the Sunset I witnessed the first crime I'd seen in two months. I thought about how I hadn't felt threatened in any way in Asia at all. The worst thing I'd encountered were animals and the fear of getting ripped off by agreeing to an inflated price, but I hadn't been scared of being mugged or anything while I was there. I was sad that it took less than an hour for me to witness a crime in SF. I love this city and honestly I don't see that much crime here, so that was a bit of a slap.
Right as I was getting to Golden Gate Park I remembered the microclimates of San Francisco, and even though it was somewhat warm downtown it sure as hell wasn't warm by the ocean. I turned around and drove all the way back downtown and went to my storage unit to get my jacket and picked up some other gear while I was there, including some camera gear I hadn't played with in a long time.
The ocean was vibrant and the horizon had a crisp line as I drove to Java Beach to get coffee and internet. I didn't stay long because Rob told me to meet him at Noriega Pizza, so I headed down there. We talked a little bit and it was good to see a great friend, but I had a hard time saying a lot of stuff about my trip because I still need time to process it. Maybe... maybe this is as good as it'll get and I should just blab about it without thinking too hard. At any rate we had good convo and then headed to Sea Biscuit to meet up with Rob Taylor so they could record a podcast for (d)NOT.
I don't know if it's just the fact that I can understand the language, but I think that San Francisco has more doers than other countries I've visited. Aside from Rob and Rob recording their gig in a coffee shop with friendly and familiar folks walking in and out catching up with the latest goings on, I've seen a lot of other people around already that look like they're up to something fun. There is a cool energy in San Francisco that I really really like. Some of it is the natural energy of the city, and on top of that there is the sentimental aspect, the familiar places with so many good memories tied to them. I was really really happy to be back.
We dropped Rob Taylor off at home and headed back to Rob's place and geeked out with laptops, linux, Star Trek and a sip of whiskey.