The Princess I was travelling with, on the other hand, looked spiffy in her colour-coordinated pink ruffled dress and coat and boots, pulling along not one, but TWO suitcases. We may be friends but we’re as different as chalk and cheese. We were teased earlier about how different we both were in spite of our friendship. She is the posh publisher who wears only colour-coordinated dresses and accessories, travelling with suitcases packed with glam stuff and accessories including curlers! I was the diametrically opposite independent traveler who is happy to live in scruffy jeans and tees out of a backpack.
That said backpack was now a deadweight thanks to the mad spree I went on in Disney.
Why oh why did I succumb to temptation and buy so many Disney souvenirs? With no KH there to stop me, I went on a Disney binge in the resort’s shops – buying boxes of Mickey crackers, Tinkerbell souvenir plates (porcelain for heaven’s sake!), lunch boxes, bags, key chains and all nature of paraphernalia. Thank God I stopped short of buying the blue Monsters Inc. helmet – though I was sorely tempted – because now, lugging all this behind me in a rainy net to make two train changes and one long commute to Shiodome was just not fun anymore. After struggling less than 200m into Ikspiari, the mall leading to the JR Maihama station, I sat for a rest.
The Princess surveyed me with amusement. This is why, she said loftily, I would never travel with a backpack. You have too much stuff. Go into the Disney store and buy a spare bag, she advised. The large one with Mickey and Minnie on it, she directed. It was canvas and looked like the tacky large ones that hold all manner of sundry, usually seen on rural trains in China. But apparently the Princess was not above one of these. It was on sale anyway, so buy it I did. But to my immediate dismay the bag was so large and unwieldy that it was practically dragging on the floor! Glumly I folded it back and added it to my already groaning bags. One more for the road.
We plodded through the rest of Iskpiari and I resolutely walked past the cute bakery that tempted me earlier, with the milk roll and oh-so-kawaii cow-print bag it came with. I ignored the colourful scarves on a cart nearby. I could NOT add to my already stuffed bags anymore. Wisely the Princess also decided not to stop and shop.
We made it to JR Maihaima. And here’s where I slipped into familiarity and navigated the ticket machine like a native. The Princess, being a Princess, left the ticket-buying to me. Once in, I had to scout around for a lift to take the Princess and her bags to the platform level. My turn to feel loftily smug. This, I told her, is why I would never travel with suitcases! It would not be the last time I would rub it in as our slow journey through the train stations to our hotel would be punctuated with attempts to look for lifts.
Once in the train to Tokyo, we chatted – about life, loves, present and past, children, travel, just catching up on the 20-odd years that had elapsed since we last met. Back then she was a sales executive and I was a fresh reporter working for the same magazine. Today she is a publisher of well-known travel magazines and I am a mother of five. She asked, not cruelly, “What happened to you? I always thought you were ambitious.”
What can I say? Life happens in ways you never expect.
It’s not as if there were no doors open. But like the game shows, you walk through the door of your choice. Had I walked through those, my five children would not have happened and my life would have been very different. I chose a different door. Still, one man’s booby prize is another man’s lottery win. I think it’s where you are in the present that counts and right now, my life is in a pretty good place. I have no money, no status, no designer togs and my resume now reads as simply ‘mother of five’. But being where I was that night – sitting in a train on a rainy night in Japan, my kids waiting back home, I felt so thankful already, like life had already taken me further than I had ever expected. It was not grand, but it was fine.
In Tokyo station, after navigating streams of black-suited penguins again on the long walk from the Keiyo line and always pointing the Princess to the lifts, we found ourselves in front of glass-fronted station cafes, suddenly starving. She plumped for kare raisu (curry rice) and I opted for that tempting bowl of rice with a dollop of mentaiko next door.
It was not until I sat at the counter, salarymen tucking into steaming bowls of udon on either side that it hit me – I was really and truly in Tokyo. Back in Japan! It was hard to hold back the squeal of excitement so I just ended up choking a bit on the mentaiko.
The Princess later told me that was the best kare raisu she’d had. And this was just a mere faceless hole-in the-wall shop in the bowels of Tokyo station!
At Shinbashi station, the Princess met her waterloo – no lifts! She motioned me to go ahead on the escalators. I said drily that I would feel safer being BEHIND her! Nonetheless I went ahead and waited at ground level to see what she would do.
And of all things? The old damsel in distress trick. She batted her eyelashes and smiled winningly at a passing salary man who happened to speak a bit of English and he helped navigate her bags down the escalator, whereupon she thanked him sweetly.
The rain had slowed to a drizzle but the Princess had had enough. We’ll take a cab, she decided briskly. And so in less than 3 minutes, we had arrived at the Villa Fontaine Shiodome. The ride had cost us 710yen. Sometimes, there are perks travelling with a princess.
Minutes later, we had checked in easily. The Princess was miffed to be given a room on the second floor and tried to no avail to get her room changed. I, on the other hand, was given what I think is the best room – on the highest floor, in a corner where the view peeked directly out onto Hama Rikyu garden and Tokyo Bay! No way was I going to swop rooms with the Princess! It didn’t matter even when my room reeked of stale smoke because – check out the view! And never mind that the view was one of raindrops silhouetted against a black night, I was here in Tokyo and all on my own.
Now that was what mattered!