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F.East'12-5: Sayonara!

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Joined: 28 Oct 2007
Posts: 4477
Location: New Delhi

PostPosted: Thu May 30, 2013 9:41 am    Post subject: F.East'12-5: Sayonara! Reply with quote

F.East'12-5: Sayonara!

45.1 Getting to the Bottom of the Matter

This is the fifth and concluding part of my 2012 trip to the Far
East, primarily to Daejeon, Korea and Tsukuba, Japan. `Daejeon'
sounds a bit like my staple food, Digene, partaking of which is
nearly customary after every meal, given my contradictory
situation of being a glutton, yet having a fragile disposition.
The reader may have already guessed where this discussion is
headed towards. Yes, the shower toilet, and associated matters.
I have received numerous emails and posts on this, after I put
down `My Experiments with (The Moment of) Truth' in the previous
part, `44. F.East'12-4: Arigato, Nippon'
I personally prefer water for a posteriori matters, since
however smooth the paper may be, it still ends up sandpapering my sensitive
bottoms. I like the soothing feel of water, over toilet paper.
On a related note, a friend who reads my trip reports, mentioned to me that he
did not dare to take printouts of the reports, to read them.
Why, I asked.
``Simple,'' he said, ``if I took printouts of your trip reports,
I would not need toilet paper. Ever.''

The other parts of this trip report can be found at the following URLs:

41. F.East'12-1: Inching towards Incheon

42. F.East'12-2: S(e)oulful Korea-graphy

43. F.East'12-3: The Morning Calm, The Rising Sun!

44. F.East'12-4: Arigato, Nippon

I woke up with the alarm, and put some final finishing touches to
my packing. I had told Mr. Green that we would ring up each other
to ensure that there would be no over-sleeping on the part of
either of us. We had to wake up, finish our morning duties, and
check out at around 05:00 am, and catch the first train of the
Tsukuba Express from Kenkyugakuen station (which was very close
to the hotel where we were staying, Toyoko Inn), to Tsukuba. We
made it comfortably to the platform, and were able to catch the
05:35 am train, which spend along to drop us at the Tsukuba
station two minutes later, from where we lugged our luggage all
the way till the bus stop, which was right outside the station.
We had tickets for the 06:00 am NATT Narita Airport bus. Mr.
Green and I met quite a few other acquaintances, all of whom
where travelling to Narita airport, and a good number of them on
AI 307 that too!

45.2 Martial Arts, Narita-l Arts

I had not got much sleep that night, and when I compared notes
with Mr. Green, I found that he had had a similar experience. Both
of us tried to sleep. The above noble intention had two severe
impediments. The first was the bright sun outside, which rose in the
East in all its glory. The second was an acquaintance from the
Eastern Indian city of Calcutta, let us call him `Mr. Karate'.
Mr. Karate was sleeping soundly.
Sound sleep indicated sleep with sound.
The very loud and varied sounds of his snoring filled the bus. It
ranged all the way from a deep baritone growl, to occasional high
pitched whistles, spanning the entire range of the frequency
spectrum with sounds from his mouth and nostrils, or at least, I
assumed that these were the two musical instruments in question.
There was nothing to indicate whether there was any
accompaniment, but before matters get a bit to gross, I should
leave it here. Why the name `Mr. Karate'? No, it was not because
he was an exponent of the famous Japanese martial art. In fact,
his round middle is quite similar in dimensions to mine. `Karate'
is simply a bad pun on the Hindi term for snoring, `kharrate', to
make quite explicit, the grotesque pun.

I too was drifting in and out of sleep. My eyes turned towards
the cup holder on the bus. It had an interesting design!

Should I have invested some time and money in purchasing some coffee?

45.3 No Self-Defence, Getting Car-ried Away

No, I shall not engage in any self-defence after the previous
section. I was drifting in and out of sleep myself. As the bus
moved towards Narita airport, I noted with some interest, the
cars all around. There were quite a few Japanese cars in India. I
had been interested to know how the models looked, in their
original setting: the original Japanese models. My memories went
back to the sight out of my window, on my first morning in Japan.
This was a parking lot of a multi-storeyed building beside our hotel.

There was a Wagon-R in the parking lot beside the Tsukuba station,
and bus stand:

There was a two-door version of the Alto:

I had seen an interesting variant of the Wagon-R at Akihabara.
Please also note the car behind it.

Here is another view of the second car. It is a variant of the car which is
known as the A-Star in the Indian market.

45.4 Senorita Narita

I had been disappointed by the speed of the airport bus, or
rather, the lack of it. I guess there would have been a very
strict speed limit on small roads, and many of the roads we went
along, were quite narrow, and had a bit of traffic. That
however, did not prevent the bus from dropping us in front of
Terminal 2 at Narita, on the dot. As I showed the luggage
handlers my baggage tag counterfoils (yes, bags had been tagged!)
I took possession of my possessions like a man possessed. We
entered the warm terminal from the relatively cold weather outside.
While some of my companions were interested in catching up with a
quick bite, I was more interested in knowing about the famed
viewing gallery at Narita airport. There was a viewing gallery at
both terminals. I had noticed a small line building up near the
Air India check-in desks, and hurried to be the third in the
line. I wanted to check in as soon as possible, and head off
towards the viewing gallery.

At the time of my trip (Nov'12), the distribution of the airlines
which were of interest to me (as far as the routing went: the
airlines which I could have possibly patronised on the
ICN-NRT legs (plus Air India of course), was as follows:

NRT T1: ANA (T1 South Wing), Asiana (T1 South Wing),
Delta (T1 North Wing), Korean Air (T1 North Wing),
United (T1 South Wing)
NRT T2: Air India, JAL, Malaysia

The check-in desks would open at 09:00 am, and I waited,
expectantly. The check-in took quite some time. Air India had
outsourced the check-in process to Japan Air Lines. The staff
were quite cheerful, but perhaps because I was the first customer
on one of the five check-in desks for Economy class passengers,
it took a bit long for me. The security check, immigration and
customs - the whole process was a breeze, and I was air-side in
no time at all. As I waited for Mr. Green there, I was in for a
big disappointment, when I was told that the viewing gallery was
only accessible land-side. Oh no...while waiting for the
check-in, I had missed out on something unique at the Narita
airport. I regretted that while I had got some material printed
out from the airport's website, the 12-page Narita guide made no
mention of this. Printing this had caused the toner levels on my
office printer to go quite low, but the low feeling that I had,
only a fellow aviation enthusiast can understand. I had taken
down descriptions of the viewing galleries, which floors they
were on, but...not how one could get to them. I was to blame, too.

I sighted Mr. Green, and we decided to make the most of what we
could. We rushed from one end of Terminal 2 to another, clicking
pictures. While aviation doesn't figure very high on Mr. Green's
list of interests, he can identify 777-300s, 777-200s, 747s and
smaller aircraft quite well with a panache that surprised me
quite a bit. He asked me why a particular Boeing 747-400 had only
three windows on the upper deck, and why the upper part was
smaller. It was a 747F, a freighter aircraft. We went to the left
corner of the terminal. There was a majestic Philippines B773
waiting to go towards the runway:

A JAL B763 was being pushed back from its gate.

It too waited for a while before heading off to the runway.

At the right side of the terminal, there was a JAL B773.
The reader may note a Finnair A332 coming in to dock at the
Satellite terminal.

Mr. Green and I share quite a lot of interests,
including food. Yes, food!
However, I shall hold the discussion on food a bit longer. I
present some pictures from the the mad scurrying around Terminal
2, where we visited every gate which we could, right from gate 61
to gate 99, across the main terminal building, and the satellite
terminal connected via the SkyTrain.

I admire Mr. Green's passion for something that
doesn't figure that high in his list of interests, and with a
paining foot, he still scurried around me, darting from gate to
gate, to take a few pictures. I got him into the mood, pointing
out Boeing 777-200ERs, 777-300ERs, 767-300s, three Dream)liners
that had come in, the number of Boeing 777-200LRs in the Air India
fleet, and much more.

I noted with pleasure, the presence of our plane at its
designated gate (82) in the satellite terminal, as viewed from
the the main part of Terminal 2. Which plane would be my ride for
the day? As I got closer to the satellite terminal on the SkyTrain,
I noted that it was a plane which I seem to get on almost every
ride on the Boeing 777-200LR (77L), VT-ALC, `Assam'.

I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was absolutely
disappointed to almost always end up with a familiar plane. On
the other, `Assam' was looking absolutely resplendent in the Air
India `Flying Swan' livery.

So, this would be my fourth trip on `Assam'. I have only been on
`Haryana' and `Kerala' on my six trips on Air India's B77Ls.
That was my disappointment. I rushed around, trying to capture
the other interesting sights all around the satellite terminal.
There was a JAL B777 at one of the gates.

There was a Finnair docked at its gate - the very one which I had
seen from the main terminal building.

On the other side of the terminal was a Cathay Pacific A333 which
was boarding, for a flight to Hong Kong.

As I went around the terminal, on the other side was a Malaysian

The highlight of the whole spotting operation was the aircraft
which could be best spotted in airports in Japan, at the time of
my trip...the Dream)liner! There was a JAL 787 at a gate close to
the one from there the Cathay A333 was boarding from.

As I was heading back, I noticed an exotic plane stealthily
making its way past everyone, as viewed from behind the
Dream)liner. It was an Atlas Air B744F.

By now, it was time to board the plane. I hurried towards the gate.

45.5 `Assam' to Delhi

There was the usual Air India secondary screening near the gate.
There was no X-ray machine this time, only a manual baggage
check, and a pat-down for all passengers.
I got my pat-down from a lady security officer.
Mr. Green looked at me with interest, was he green with...?
The lady went about it professionally, also cracking a joke.
Thankfully, nothing else.
The build up of people at gate 82 spoke of good loads. On
boarding, I discovered that it would be around 70 percent in
Economy. Mr. Green had been disappointed with his DEL-NRT leg.
No, it was not just the disappointing food (hold on...please read
on!), he had noted loads of around 40% on that leg. The plane had
been mostly empty.

The itinerary for my return trip was the following:

Set out 15 Nov (Thu) for New Delhi from Tokyo
AI 307: Air India (B77L) [Seat: 31A; PNR: Y5Z2P, Class S]
Tokyo Narita Int'l Airport T2 - IGIA T3, New Delhi
Tokyo Narita (NRT) - New Delhi (DEL)
[11:30 am - 06:00 pm, 15 Nov (Sat)] {10:00 hrs}

I settled down on my seat. Luckily, the seat beside me was empty.
I put my things in the seat pocket in front of me: the laptop,
and reading material, the Analog SLR went beside the seat on the
floor, and I lifted the seat cushion to insert the power cable of
my laptop into the adapter, and noted with a squeal of delight,
that it was in perfect order, in a plane that was showing its age
a bit. The IFE unit remotes had some cracks, and some had
broken buttons. I looked outside.

The initial announcement was very encouraging.
Yes, there would be lunch on the flight, along with a snack.
Even after the cost-cutting measures at Air India, on an average,
both the quality as well as the quantity of the food on board, is
just about one of the best one can get at altitudes of 29,000
feet above sea level, or higher.
I had compared notes with Mr. Green prior to this.
He had arrived on AI 306 DEL-NRT on 10 November (Saturday).
While he is a strict vegetarian, he loves good food, and has a
decent appetite. I overdo the last part, as the reader knows, but
both of us love to discuss food, in general.
He had had an experience similar to mine for the onward leg, the
catering was disappointing. There was dinner, and early next
morning, a wake-up snack of two Gulab jamuns.
Both had been quite un-inspiring.
He raved about an experience aboard Thai, which he had patronised
on a recent trip to Sydney, and back, which was very commensurate
with what some of my other friends have told me about Indian
cuisine served aboard Thai, and food, in general.

The start to the meal was quite inspiring. We had started about
half-an-hour late, though we were ready to depart at well before
the scheduled departure time. I had had a few snacks in the
morning. A fruit drink, a cream-filled chocolate bun, and four
energy bars. Now, one would not expect any ordinary person to
fell hungry at 11am with all this inside him, but then, am I any
ordinary person? Of course, I wished that the previous statement
was in a complementary sense. Alas, the reader well knows that this
just cannot be true.
The cabin crew were mostly young ladies and gentlemen, who went
about their task with panache. And a smile!
There were two packets of salted groundnuts/peanuts for me
(how did the young lady know?).
I took my usual orange juice with it.
The IFE was giving error messages, and the enthusiastic
crew announced that they would try to reboot it, and requested us
to try again after some time. An on-off on the display switch seemed to
do the trick for my PTV, and I shifted to my usual audio
channels. The seat next to mine was empty, and I connected my
audio jack to the middle seat's, and had the moving map on my
screen. There was some contact problem with my audio jack, and
some problem with the middle seat's video controls. Air India
would do well to set these little niggles right, as they have a
very good product, otherwise. The plane was neat and clean, with
the seat covers and plastic surfaces looking nice and clean on
this leg, in this part of the plane.

Nice smells permeating the cabin, and the presence of three types
of meal boxes made me expect something exciting.
Veg, or Non-veg, asked the charming young lady.
The latter, I said, and asked if there as any choice.
Chicken and Fish, said Ms Charming, with a smile.
I'll go for the fish, said an excited Sumantra, guessing that
this would be a Japanese-style meal.
True to expectation, this did not disappoint.
The salad was a Japanese attempt at some Indian green salad, and
a very good one at that, too.
It had the small Japanese green cucumber with the
skin, in small and extremely thin slices. This was on a bed of
some Japanese salad leaf/lettuce, and was accompanied with two
thin slices of orange carrots, and two slices of tomatoes. There
was also a black olive lending a beautiful contrasting taste to
all the above. This went very well with a French dressing, which
was provided. A great start to the meal, I told myself, and
opened the main box. It had to the left, some steamed Broccoli
pieces (not boiled, so that they retained their flavour well).
The reader may note that in north India, a few names have got
Indianised. `Barkali' for Broccoli, `Ras-bhari' for Raspberry,
and `Dana-sur' for dinosaur! There were two boiled pieces of the
orange carrot, shaped like a five-petalled flower. This was again
done just right: neither left a bit raw, nor over-done. On the
right was a bed of sticky rice, in a separate paper container,
with customary black cumin seeds on top. There were two thick
fish fillet slices, which had been steamed, and then just lightly
browned on the outside with a minute amount of oil. It was really
very nice, and calmed my frayed nerves.
The dessert was even better.
It was a fresh melt-in-the-mouth cheesecake, in a bed of thick
strawberry sauce, and half a strawberry on top. The dessert was
clearly not from an altitude of 29,000 feet, but from far above
that. It was simply heavenly! I had sighted a small sachet of
fresh cream (which said, `fresh coffee', incidentally) and a
sugar sachet. The coffee came in before the tea, and was not
too bad. After six days of bland Japanese coffees, it was nice to
taste something strong and different. In Korea, I had survived on
an instant coffee, which was a three-in-one pack: first out came
the coffee, followed by some milk powder, and then the sugar, in
order. I put in two sachets into one cup of hot water, to make a
strong (and sticky sweet!) concoction, which kept me awake for
most of the period I was supposed to be. A good sleep would
complement such a nice lunch, I decided, but switched on my
laptop nevertheless, and started keying in a part of this report.

The trays were cleared very quickly, and immigration and customs
forms thoughtfully given out, as the lights went out, and the
mood lighting started. One of the selections in the audio part
was a selection of old Hindi film songs by Suman Kalyanpur. Yes,
the lady with the incredibly sweet Lata-like voice who could
never make it as big as the Mangeshkar sisters. Fate would have
it that the lady still retained a good part of her sweet voice in
the 2000s when I last heard her voice, while the Mangeshkar
sisters's voices had gone shriller, and deteriorated quite badly.
I put down the shutters, and caught up with some eye shut, with
the headphones around my neck. I woke up to some very sweet
sounds. There was someone in the galley. I was a bit thirsty. Seat 31A ensured proximity to the
galley. I was gladdened by the fact that the cabin crew had left
enough hydrating material there: water, orange juice, and
two bottles of aerated cold drinks. I paid a customary visit to
the toilet, which was very clean. It was also well-stocked with
the usual amenities, there were soap bars, the yellow Air India
liquid soap was in the dispenser, as were two small bottles of an
Air India-branded moisturiser. Good job, Air India! Mr. Green was
on seat 36A. Like me, he loves to take pictures, and prefers
window seats. My senior colleague caught up with some
badly-needed sleep on the flight, he was in seat 32C. Another
senior acquaintance was assigned 31C, from where he shifted to
31D to stretch his legs. Mr. Karate was somewhere in the cabin in
front, and thankfully for the benefit of all around, wide awake.
I asked Mr. Green about the galley. He was pleased to see power
ports in Economy, a well-stocked galley, and a clean toilet. He
was very pleased with the lunch, too. I tried the galley after quite
some time, again. The cabin crew had come to check on the galley in
between - this is a sweet touch! I tried a different lavatory to
see whether the situation was similar. It was!

With some two hours to go, I heard another welcome announcement.
There would be a refreshment service.
The mood was set with the mood lighting turned off.
We were nearing Rajshahi in Bangladesh, when a cart zipped past.
The cheerful cabin crew members handed over trays with a smile,
and did the run quite fast, too.
I had had my fingers crossed over what this `refreshment' would be.
To my extreme delight, it turned out to be nearly a meal.
And a healthy one, that too!
The trays made the excitement inside me, rise. A complete tray!
The main course had two sandwiches.
This was somewhat like the LU Decomposition that one studies in
Numerical Analysis. The lower triangular matrix had brown bread
slices with a thick slice of cheese inside. The upper triangular
matrix had white bread, and inside in a mild cheese base, were
lettuce (salad leaf), thin tomato slices, and really thin
cucumber slices, which had been done length-wise.
What was special about this?
No, not much, but the breads were fresh, and the fillings, also
fresh and crisp. It was filling, too.
There was a small tomato sauce/ketchup box to go with it.
What excited me was the fruit bowl.
It had one black currant ellipsoidal in shape.
There was a spherical dark red grape.
The bed had two equatorial orange slices, and two slices of Kiwi
Fruit. Topping the eclectic mix was half a strawberry.
The fruits were exotic ones, and naturally ripe and sweet,
none of them had been sweetened.
If the fruits got me on cloud nine, the dessert was sheer bliss.
It was a tart, with a soft baked bowl-like base, with custard
filling inside. On top were three slices of peaches (sweetened),
with three pistachio nuts neatly sliced, and arranged neatly
around the top. All this fruity bliss was not just a sight for
the eyes with the different colours completing each other, the
taste released the feel-good enzymes inside me,
The coffee run happened after the tea run, and was a perfect
accompaniment to a superb meal.
The trays were cleared very quickly, and efficiently.
The crew did not rush any passenger, they chose their timing very
well, and did it all with amazing swiftness.
As I was served coffee, I requested the lady to pass on a message
to the AI Engineering staff, about the loose connection on the
headphone sockets for the seats on row 31 on the left, A, B and
C. The lady made a note of it, and cheerfully assured me that she
would do the needful.
The food and service on this flight reminded me of the Air India
of yore, and the Air India of the turn-around period.
If they can maintain such high standards throughout, passenger
satisfaction would contribute to decent loads on their flights.

The lady came back to me, and told me that she had conveyed the
message to the right person on board, and the needful would be
done. Would I fill up a feedback form? I would gladly do so.
She asked me if I worked at Air India.
No, I told her, but I worked for a semi-Government organisation,
and was proud to fly Air India, especially if such high levels of
service were maintained. It is really nice to see the cabin crew
put in an effort to make a journey a pleasant experience,
one to remember.

Much in my excitement, I had forgotten to note the name of the
Captain, who made an excellent landing on the new runway 29. We
had made up some time on the journey as well. Mr. Green would not
have to rush to make his train connection - he was to set out for
the `sun city', Jodhpur. He was to board the Mandore Express from
Delhi Cantt. The official procedures took place quickly, and our
bags came out without much ado. As Mr. Green set out for Delhi
Cantt, I set out for our official residences in another taxi.
With many sweet memories in my mind!
Links to my 45 trip reports:

Last edited by sumantra on Thu May 30, 2013 1:41 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Thu May 30, 2013 11:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow. Such a great end to a fantastic trip. THe Japanese style India salad Smile
typical food, aircraft, and travel.

Thanks a lot for the TR !

Enjoyed reading that a lot.
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PostPosted: Thu May 30, 2013 12:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks a lot, Sir - I really appreciate this, coming from an excellent TR writer like you!
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PostPosted: Thu May 30, 2013 1:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Excellent report - that parking house is ingenious. Tokyo has the highest population density in the world so it's a necessity, and Bombay's at second place. Maybe it should be a concept that the latter should pick up post haste.
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PostPosted: Thu May 30, 2013 1:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, Varun Smile
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 10, 2013 5:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice report Sumantra - thanks for posting! The meals seem pretty good - how is AI long haul in the drinks department? Do they serve the miniatures or is it a pour from the big bottle?
We miss you Nalini!
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 10, 2013 8:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks a lot, Nimish - the meals have generally been excellent, both in quality and quantity. I am quite sad to know that Air India may cut down further, and even not have a BoB on some short domestic flights. As a regular AI traveller, I have found even their small snacks to be excellent in most cases, and relatively filling (for my incessant hunger).
Nimish wrote:
Do they serve the miniatures or is it a pour from the big bottle?
That depends on what one patronises. The Beefeater Gin is in the small cute bottles, so is a nice red wine, in a beautiful small dark green bottle. The Johnny Walker and Black Label come in the large bottles, while the beers come in cans. As you may have observed in my trip reports, I usually have to go in for something less sinful, since any touch of alcohol makes me further uncomfortable if I have a headache, and in most cases, the lack of proper sleep on both legs of the flight ends up giving me a sever headache, in many cases, even before boarding.
Cheers, Sumantra.
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