Wednesday, February 22, 2006

China Trip II - Narita

On my return flight to Chicago, I had a 6 hour layover at Narita Airport, which is usually spent watching movies in the AA lounge on my laptop. This time, I was told by a colleague that there's a nice temple to visit in the small town of Narita just outside the airport. He was an American citizen and had no problems leaving the airport and coming back.

Being on an Indian passport makes travel a little bit more difficult than most other countries as we dont have any kind of tourist visa treaty with any country. That means, for every country I visit, I need a visa, which requires paperwork and a fee. My friends and family are pleasantly suprised at the number of countries that I've been to on my Indian passport.

I called up the Japanese Consulate in Chicago before the trip and asked about whether a short term visa could be acquired at the airport. He immediately said I wouldn't have enough time to visit Narita and it's not advisable but did say that it's possible. So, I was on a mission to get out of the airport, enter Japan, have a look around and make it back.

The Japan Airlines flight from Beijing landed at Terminal 2 and I wanted to leave my laptop bag at the AA lounge in Terminal 1, so that I wouldn't have to lug it around. I was told that immigration is only in T2, and I had just missed the hourly bus connecting T1 back to T2, so I passed the time watching some beautiful birds land and take-off. I later found out that immigration is also present in T1.

There's no proper channel to go back from the waiting lounge area of the airport through security to get to immigration. It's meant mainly for passengers coming directly from an arriving plane. I tried to explain to the security guard that I wanted to go to immigration to get out of the airport. He couldn't understand me, but took me to an immigrations officer anyways. I explained what I wanted to do and was then lead off to a side room and made to wait with other passengers who had immigration problems. I was all cheery about this. They said on US passport, no problem. Indian passport, no good. They also said I wouldnt have enough time to visit Naritasan Temple. But after convincing them that I worked for Motorola and was legally living in the US (showed my driver's license), they reluctantly agreed and gave me a 72 hour Shore Pass (short term visitors visa). Woo hoo, I had done it.

Welcome to Japan! My second visit.

Map showing Narita's location with regards to Tokyo.

I changed some of my Chinese Yuan to Japanese Yen and following directions from my colleague, got onboard a train to Narita station. It was only one station away and cost about $2.50 each way.

The train map was clearly marked in English and Japanese. The automated ticket machine was simple to use. You saw how much the fare to your destination cost, punched the amount in, put the money in and ticket and change came back. Simple.

Map of Narita town. The brown buildings on the left are the train station and I was heading to the green area on the right.

Immediately I noticed the charm of this lovely little town. I was heading down a one-way street to Naritasan Temple. Not figuratively speaking, as I was planning on coming back the same way, haha.

A colorful store front

Interesting little sculptures on the side of the road.

A lion?



Indian restaurant. Just like McDonald's, can be found anywhere in the world. Too bad they were closed for the afternoon.

Special discount for airline screw: $15 buffet

The narrow street leading to the temple in the background.

The crowded little buildings faded away and suddenly, the temple was there in all this open space. Quite a sight.

Couldn't figure out what this was for...

Huge building on the temple grounds


Perspective shot

On the way back

I was noticing the various cars go by and was amazed to see that no two models were alike. I saw at least three different models of Toyota minivans go by. It also seems like every Japanese automaker has a little hatchback and a full size minivan, of which I saw every model go by. In the US, each company has one model for each category (full size sedan: Honda Accord, compact: Civic, etc). In Japan, the choices must be overwhelming. And then I noticed something familiar, a big honking black BMW 7 series. Looked out of place.

The venerable Japanese beer vending machine

Noticed on a side street next to a restaurant

Handwarmers on a two-wheeler. Similar to that seen in China.

My helmet company, Arai in its homeland. Note the biker zipping by.

A grocery store. You wont find this setup in Tokyo.

The Keisei Narita train station.

Back at the airport

The check-in area of Terminal 2. I was walking around the shops here and noticed a flood of school children. It was around 5 pm. The shops and restaurants are open to the public as they are located before you go through passport control and security, unlike the ones in the States. The young kids might just be thrilled to stop by the airport on the way home. I know I would if I was still a kid. Yeah yeah, some of you think I'm still a kid. Whateva...

The various Japanese tour operators. Japanese usually book vacations through tour operators.

The observation deck at T2, open to the public. Not as good as the one at T1. Narita is one of the few airports that still have an observation deck.

Checking back in for my flight and I made it back to the lounge in time for a drink and a little snack before boarding the flight on time.

I did it. I defied those immigration officers and those 6 hours passed pretty quickly. Onboard, after dinner, I felt a little nap would be good before getting up mid flight and watching some movies or reading my book. But when I awoke, there was only an hour left in the 13 hour flight. I hadn't knocked out, but went in and out of sleep.

What an excellent journey.

China Trip II - Inbound Travel

Return travel after two weeks in China.

My inbound travel itinerary was:
Japan Airlines 767, Beijing to Tokyo, then a 7 hour layover to catch the
American Airlines 777, Tokyo to Chicago (13 hour flight).

Due to flying across the International Date Line, my flight would depart Beijing at 8:30 am on Wednesday and arrive in Chicago at 3:30 pm the same day, 21 hours later, gaining 10 hours on the clock. For the outbound travel, I left Chicago at 11 am on a Wednesday morning and arrived at Beijing the next day at 9 pm, whilst only 20 hours had passed, losing 14 hours on the clock. Fun to think about.

Onboard: breakast on Japan Airlines to Tokyo. The breakfast sausage wasn't all that great.

Mt. Fuji on approach to Narita

Just landed on Runway 34R, going to Taxi way B7

A Korean Airlines Airbus A300-600B4

Spot the odd one out. The Japan Airlines 747's tail on the left is very similar to the Northwest livery. Not suprising, considering that NW actually helped start Japan Airlines after WWII, by loaning it some planes and crew. The surrender and agreement after WWII allowed US carriers (NW and United) to use Narita as a base for commercial operations, that exists till today.

A China Southern 777 marked with ETOPS signage.

A little aviation general knowledge:
ETOPS stands for Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards and is a global law for commerical aviation stating that two-engined aircraft like the 777 have to stay within a certain flying time from an airfield at all points of its flight to ensure the safe landing of the plane, in case one of its engines fail. On a twin-engined plane, if one engine fails, the plane has to land at the nearest available airport, since it can't risk having the other engine fail. If a plane is certified for ETOPS 180, that means it can fly on one engine for a maximum of 180 minutes to safety.

This rule doesnt apply to four engine aircraft like the 747 and Airbus A340 and thus gave Airbus an advantage in the early days of ETOPS when aircraft were only certified to 90 minutes flying from an airfield. On a 4-holer, if one engine fails, it can safely continue on 3 engines, albeit at a slower pace and reduced altitude, but if another engine fails, it will be forced to land. Just recently, a British Airways 747 blew an engine on take-off from Los Angeles, but continued on with 3 engines all the way to England. However, it is advised that the plane should have landed.

When crossing the Atlantic, airfields that are used for ETOPS are located in Nova Scotia, Greenland and Iceland. When crossing the North Pacific, airfields in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska and the Midway Atoll are used. To help certify its planes, Boeing actually subsidised the construction of the airport at Midway Atoll to handle an emergency landing of its 777.

Two-engine aircraft are preferred as they are more fuel efficient than four-engined ones. But with ETOPS 180, 95% of the Earth's surface is accessible to twin-engined aircraft.

Dark blue represents areas that are off-limits to ETOPS flights

However, there are several commercial aviation routes that are still off-limits to ETOPS flights. This mainly applies to routes on the South Pacific, Southern Indian Ocean (Perth to Johannesburg) and Antartica (Auckland to Buenos Aires). These routes are currently flown with either A340 or 747 aircraft.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

China Trip II - Highway Signs

Being a motorcycle rider, you tend to develope a strong bond with the "way of the road." This leads to my fascination of road signs in different countries and the way the roads are run, the way traffic behaves and the general attitude of drivers. I've already given my point of view on how horrible the general Chinese driver is and how hazardous it actually is to be driven around.

To show a side of China that wont usually be found in the guidebooks, following is a display of the various highway signage on China's modern highways.

Road sign in the city. Couldn't figure out its message. Maybe pedestrians should only be on the sidewalk, instead of in the path of moving vehicles? Or something about car pollution?

Must be a "dont drink and drive" warning.

This open four lane highway still had uncontrolled traffic crossing up ahead. Out of the city, I didnt notice this much, but the highway in the city was pretty scary.

Toll booth

Toll gate, looks just like the ones in the states. Note the camera on the left for violators. There's an automated toll system (like I-pass or EZ-pass) on certain tolls around Beijing, but the transponder costs about $80. For all other toll roads, a prepaid card as such could be purchased, which was cheaper than paying with cash.

Exit sign, clearly marked.

Warning sign about tail gating

This sign indicated that up ahead were signs allowing you to keep a proper distance to the vehicle in front (approximately 50 meters).

Three signs measuring out 0, 50 and 100 meters to aid in spacing yourself. I wish we had that here in the states.

Carriage way referring to cruising lane, I think.

Highway clean up crew. Note how small the shoulder is, not wide enough to park a car. A person is used to clean the side of the highway as a vehicular street cleaner would be blocking part of the right lane.

End of the Jinbin Expressway between Tianjin City and Tangu.

Sinopec gas station. Major sponsor of the F1 and Moto GP races in Shanghai.

The levels of petrol grade were 90, 93 and 97. Couldn't figure out why. Gas was about 4.36 Yuan for a liter, that's about $2 a gallon for 93. Not bad.

Shen's car, a VW Santana 2000, based on a Passat, made in China. This is the typical car for a private taxi.

Bicycle crossing traffic light.

The speed limits on the highways varied from 80 km/h to 120 km/h. It was 80 around exit ramps and 120 when there was nothing around. I didnt see a single police car on the highway, but we generally cruised around 120, which is about 75 mph. The scary thing was passing trucks and small minivans going about 50 km/h on the expressway. In town, the only thing followed was a red light, as some of these are camera monitored, so running a red light is a big no no. Thank god for that at least.