Bay-su-Bo-ru, Japan and America

October 31, 2010

When I attended my first baseball (or bay-su-bo-ru, as it is pronounced in Japan) game in Tokyo, to watch the league-leading Seibu Lions in their home stadium, nothing could have prepared me for the intensity of their fan base. The bleachers were a sea of blue and white: Lions caps, Lions jackets, Lions blankets, clappers, and ice chests; Lions pennants, signs and pompoms. I felt seriously underdressed; the only blue I was wearing was a pair of Levis. I had wanted a Japanese baseball cap, though, so, mildly chastened, I dutifully made my way down to the concession stand and spent a small fortune for a Lions cap. Back in the stands, even my seatmates (these were not friends, mind you, just folks I met upon taking my assigned seat) clearly thought I was underdressed, and they dug deep into their cache of Lions ephemera to outfit me in a manner that they felt appropriate to the occasion. I returned the favor by buying a round of beers from the wandering concessionairette, but it was a case of bringing coals to Newcastle, as my new best buddies had a couple of twelvers of Asahi in their blue-and-white Lions cooler.

The Lions would likely be little more than a blip on the radar for most Americans, but for their fortuitous sale of ace pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka to the Boston Red Sox, for a reported six billion Japanese yen (around $50 million!). And every time Dice-K plays, the game is televised in every bar from Hokkaido to Kyushu, never mind the time difference, almost as if the broadcast were some sort of legal requirement. Attendees cheer as if they were in the stands, and the beers flow freely every time an opposing batter goes down for the count.

I never see this level of excitement about baseball in the US anymore, except once a year when the American League and the National League gear up for their annual showdown. I will be leaving soon to go to my friend’s house, where we can watch Game Four on a big screen. I won’t be wearing a Rangers or a Giants cap (although I must confess a small leaning toward the San Francisco team), there’ll be no blanket, no pompoms. I suspect the beer will be flowing, however. Traditions die hard.

Air Travel 101

October 31, 2010

I log a fairly impressive number of air miles each year, even if I only do the one return flight from Tokyo to Prince Edward Island. As much as humanly possible, I try to avoid paying for air travel, and I have been remarkably successful to date. The downsides of using frequent flyer miles, though, are that there are blackout dates, the route may be a bit convoluted (like Canada to Japan via Kurdistan, for example), and it is a fair bet that no flights operate between wherever you are and wherever you’re going (so a flight ostensibly from PEI to Tokyo might actually translate to one from Boston to Seoul, with you left holding the carry-on bag for the connecting hops at the extremities), and it is a given that even if such a flight is available in principle, it won’t be on the day(s) you want to go. So this year I bit the bullet and actually purchased a ticket, one that allows me to depart right from Charlottetown and fly more or less directly (via  Toronto) to Tokyo, and then back once again, without side trips to Boston, Halifax or Kurdistan. This is not entirely without its downsides, however: the initial flight leaves at 6am, a time with which I have some familiarity at the end of a late night, but rarely as the beginning of the day (plus of course I have to get up much earlier, as I live an hour from the airport, and I need sufficient time to clear security). The arrival time is thankfully much more civilized, 330pm, which means I should get back to my apartment in time for supper.

I’ll be flying with Canada’s national carrier, in my opinion a step up from the US carrier I typically use, about whom it is said that if you die and fly with them to Heaven, you will still have to change planes in Atlanta. Neither offers the sybaritic experience of flying with, say, the flag carriers of Singapore or Hong Kong, but those two sadly do not include Charlottetown in their itineraries, at least not yet. That said, the airline I am itching to try is Kulula Air, whose lime-green Boeings offer travelers a budget choice when flying in South Africa and the neighboring countries of Namibia, Zimbabwe and Mauritius. They have a great sense of humor, evident in their ads and perks (their frequent flyer miles are called “Kulula Moolah”) and their in-flight announcements are infused with levity:

“People, we’re not picking furniture here; find a seat and get in it!”

“We’ve reached cruising altitude and we will be dimming the cabin lights. This is for your comfort and to enhance the appearance of your flight attendants.”

“There may be fifty ways to leave your lover, but there are only four ways out of this airplane.”

Or this gem, after a rough landing: “Please take care when opening the overhead bins, because after a landing like that, sure as hell everything has shifted.”

This is one for the nervous flyer: “In the event of a sudden loss in cabin pressure, masks will drop from the ceiling. Stop screaming, grab the mask and pull it over your face. If you are traveling with a small child, secure your mask before assisting with theirs. If you are traveling with more than one child, pick your favorite.”

But perhaps a picture of a Kulula 737 in its latest livery says it best:

PS, a heartfelt thanks to Tony Pennock, who sent me the email that spurred this post!