Wednesday, January 6, 2010

25 Kilograms

(PICTURE: My bags at Narita airport.)

When I left for Japan I had one big bag that weighed 25 kilograms. Between shopping, receiving presents, buying things for my apartment and purchasing gifts for Huyen, I was ready to leave Japan with two bags each weighing 25 kilograms.

25 kilograms is the number that stuck out in my head whenever I would get anything in Japan. I kept thinking to myself, I have 25 extra kilograms to accumulate before going back to Vietnam.

So here's a really funny story: Being an August, I arrived at Narita Airport three hours early for my flight to Hanoi. You can go back and read my first ever blog entry about how us Augusts like to be on time. Well, I showed up at the Vietnam Airlines ticket counter with my two huge bags that I figured were both around 25 kilograms. I put the first bag on the scale and it weighed 28 kilograms. I put the next bag on the scale and it weighed 23 kilograms. I looked at the ticket agent and said, "Can I just take a couple kilograms out of one bag and put it into the other?" The woman gave me a strange look and nodded. She then took out a pen and paper and started to do some math. After she finished tabulating whatever she was tabulating she looked at me and said, "You can only bring 25 kilograms." "25 per bag, right," I asked. "No, 25 total." I looked at the woman as if she was crazy having realized I had an extra 26 kilograms of stuff to bring. The woman then showed me her math work and pointed at a number. The number was 98,560. She then said to me, "If you want to bring the extra weight it will cost you this much yen." I'm not sure if I started to laugh right then or just blurted out, "Yeah right!" 98,560 Yen is $1,059.47.

I quickly grabbed my bags off the belt, snatched back my passport and told the woman I would check-in later. I quickly made my way to the end of the airport terminal where the Japanese delivery companies were. I figured it had to be at least 10 X's cheaper to send stuff then to put it on the plane. Unfortunately the Japanese equivalent of UPS told me they don't deliver internationally. My back-up plan was to send it from the post office. Unfortunately the post office wasn't open yet. My back-up, back-up plan was to dump approximately 20 kilograms of stuff in a garbage can.

I found a somewhat empty section of the extremely busy airport and proceeded to unpack all of my stuff. First, I threw away everything I didn't absolutely need. This included some books I had read, some toiletries, hangers, a clothesline and nearly all of my kitchen goods from Japan minus my rice cooker and expensive pot. The rest of my kitchen -- plates, bowls, silverwear, etc. -- were left on top of a garbage can for a lucky passerby. Next I decided to use two day backpacks as carry-ons. I loaded everything heavy into these bags to the point that I thought the zippers would break. In fact, my one bag wouldn't close at all so I ended up tying the zippers together with a shoelace. I then took out my winter coat and STUFFED all the pockets with underwear and socks. I then filled the sleeves of the jacket with sweaters and sweatshirts. Finally, I put on a few layers of clothing and headed back to the check-in counter. I sneakily kept all of my carry-on stuff hidden below the counter while I put my two bags on the scale. The first bag weighed 11 kilograms. The second bag weighed 16 kilograms. I started to think about wearing four pairs of underwear when the ticket agent said, "We will let you bring this extra weight." I smiled from ear to ear and thanked her profusely. I'm pretty sure if I carried anything else I would have passed out from exhaustion.

But that was only half the fun. Next I had to go through passport control and security checks looking like a homeless man. I'm not trying to make fun of homeless people but it is the best way to describe my look at the time. I had two bags filled to the brim with pots, a yoga mat, and other stuff coming out of every pocket. Not to mention my coat which was stuffed with clothing.

When I went through security, I actually passed the metal detector before my bags went through the machine. I watched as the security agent looked at my bag for about thirty seconds. Clearly he must have been confused why a rice cooker stuffed with underwear inside of it was going through the machine. Somehow no red flags were raised though -- despite this being the day after the failed terrorist attack on the Detroit flight -- and I got my bags through without a problem.

Moral of the story: It is good to show up to flights very early in case you need to repack your luggage.