I absolutely hate travel days. I get extremely anxious, I get nausea, abdominal pain and bloating, and very very windy. And constipated. My body hates travel days.
As a result I plan the process so everything goes as smoothly as possible. Its going to be long, it's going to be boring and tedious, but it's going to all work out. Even if it's sleeping in the airport enroute ( like the night before my trip to Java last year), I'm usually all prepared for what to expect. Interestingly, my fucked up day today wasn't totally unexpected either, because I'd actually read about what happened to me happening to someone else....
Only I thought I'd ticked all the boxes so it would be fine.
I left home at 7:20am yesterday morning, after leaving till the last moment the impossible task of washing my hair and plaiting it so it wouldn't end up the dreadlocked nightmare I had last trip. Colin (my housesitter and windsurfing friend from UK) drove me to the airport and I had just enough time to check in, go through security and board the plane. In Perth I transferred via free bus from T4 to T1, put the big ski bag into luggage storage for 4 hours and went outside to meet Lil and Hans, who I haven't actually seen for a couple of years. They had their own mini drama trying to get to the airport, as road construction for the new airport infrastructure at T1/2 means that even though they were out at the airport 2 days ago, things had changed, roads had closed and new ones opened.
Back at the Thomas's we had a chat and caught up over a lovely cooked lunch before heading back out to the airport to retrieve my luggage, check in (Air Asia now offers baggage transfer right through to your destination when flying through KL) and go through immigration. Why doesn't Perth have the SmartGate system yet? How ridiculous!
The flight to KL with Air Asia was pretty full, but I managed to enjoy the space of 2 seats, and since I'd also managed to order myself 2 meals, I ate well too. In KL we landed at the brand new KLIA-2, which opened last August and replaced the decrepit LCCT, which although it really was crappy, had some great food stalls. KLIA-2 is set to be the largest shopping mall in Malaysia, but most of that's on the outside, not available to the international transit passenger who has 3 hours between flights and wouldn't mind a wee taste of Durian ice-cream. I absolutely adore Durian, almost to the point of addiction, but I can think of worse things to be addicted to than a rather weird smelling fruit! No luck unfortunately, though I did see some dried Durian, and durian chocolates.
The flight from KL to Tokyo wasn't so full, but I wasn't quick enough to get myself a nice 3 seats to myself, so instead did the old reclining with the neck cushion. I'm pretty good at sleeping on planes and don't actually mind flying red eyes because I like arriving in a place first thing in the morning rather than late at night. In fact I had great plans to spend the day sightseeing in Tokyo.
Back when I booked this trip the meeting up time was 9am. With my flight arriving at 8:45 am I decided that was too narrow a window, so booked myself a flight arriving the day before the trip, and booked a room at an airport hotel, with a plan to stow the gear for the day and head in to Tokyo on the train, do a little sightseeing, then return in the evening and hit the sack.
As it turns out now, the meeting up time has been revised to 10am. If that had been the original time I would have happily done same day arrival, and then if what happened today had occurred, well I would have been pissing off a lot more people than just myself!!
My ski tour happens to be one where we paid a minimal deposit of $500 (and NZ dollars at that!) and the rest needs to be paid, in Japanese Yen, tomorrow. This actually keeps the prices down, because although the Japanese Yen fluctuates a lot within the international money market, the domestic costs stay pretty much the same. And the JPY is a bit weak at the moment so it's not a bad time to be travelling here.
I looked at all my options for acquiring Japanese Yen, in cash, and decided, after exhaustive research, that the two best options were: 1. head up to Sydney whilst I was over east at Xmas and get my cash at KVB Kunlum in the city, which has the best cash rates in Australia or 2. put the money in my Citibank Visa debit account, ring them to get the daily withdrawal increased to $3000 per day so I could take out the amount I needed to when I got there, and also tell them I was going to Japan so they wouldn't lock my account.
Sydney didn't happen. I was having too much fun hanging with family in Canberra to do the trek, so decided on option 2. If you are Australian and you don't know about the Citibank Visa debit card, please look it up. It offers fee free access to your money from ATMs overseas. No big slugs of fees from your bank when you withdraw your cash, and excellent exchange rates. Much better than forex rates.
So, 3 weeks ago I rang Citibank, reactivated my card because I hadn't used it since Java last year, told them I was going to Japan and that I needed my daily withdrawal limit changed from $1000 to $3000. Since I only planned to put $5000 into the account, and almost all of that would be withdrawn in the first 48 hours to pay for the trip, I'm unlikely to get into trouble when there's actually no money in the account to withdraw. Yes I did the legwork beforehand, but I have to admit that I almost rang Citibank again on Friday to just check that they knew I was travelling to Japan. In retrospect......
So, I arrive in Tokyo - the view flying in of Mt Fuji was very nice - breeze through immigration and customs and find myself a Citibank ATM, of which there are a few at the airport. I then proceed to withdraw 250,000 yen, which is a tad over $2500. The ATM refuses to give me the money and also when I look for an account balance tells me I have nothing in the account.
At this stage I have a minor panic, but I insert my pre bought Japanese SIM card, connect to the internet, activate my VPN gateway ( I'm super prepared I'm telling you) and check my Citibank account. No, the money I transferred in to the account last Wednesday is still there, no one has nicked it, so I go over to the very friendly staff at the information desk and they suggest other ATMs that also take international cards. I try them to no avail. Even the currency exchange office chap directs me to Seven Bank ATMs on another floor, still nothing doing.
So, I pull out my phone, swap back in my Australian SIM and try and call Citibank. The tourist desk gives me the international code, but I can't get through. I even try my own phone number, also can't get through.
I head back to the Seven Bank, pull out my usual keycard and withdraw 800,000 yen before hitting my withdrawal limit. My bank slogs me over $35 in fees for this privilege. This really pisses me off.
Back upstairs I buy some lunch with my big 10,000 yen note so I have change to buy an international phone card. With this card I use the public phones and manage to get through to Citibank, who are extremely helpful and unblock my card. It seems that when I made my initial transaction a big red flag went up and they blocked it. The fact that I had expressly informed them that this is what I planned to do, in a foreign country, appears to have not been registered at all!!
I then try to withdraw some money from the ATM: denied. I wait, eat my lunch of sushi, and try again: still denied. I pull out the phone card and ring Citibank back. They agree to ring me back, so Aussie SIM back in the phone ( Japanese SIMs only give you data, no phone or SMS coverage) I await their call and we go through the process again. We recheck that everything is unblocked, we confirm that the card is linked to the account, we even try to do a withdrawal. Nothing doing, according to the Citibank ATM there is no money in my account, even though the very helpful lady on the line confirms there is indeed $5000 available.
So here I have a working Citibank account with a card that doesn't seem to work in Citibank ATMs. What am I to do? My very helpful lady on the line suggests I try it in another bank's ATM, and if that doesn't work then I need to go to a Citibank branch and I can withdraw emergency cash equivalent of $1000USD for a fee of $25. This is only a little cheaper than using my other fee gouging account, but a lot more inconvenient, as traipsing in to Tokyo city just to get funds is plainly a ridiculous idea.
During my second discussion with the very helpful ladies in the Philippines call centre we also discover that my daily withdrawal rate has not been increased to the $3000 I requested 3 weeks ago. Mildly livid might be a good description of how I feel, but it's quickly rectified and we are back on track. I say goodbye and head down the escalator, still trailing my luggage, to the Seven Bank ATM. I am not feeling very hopeful.
Halelujah! I withdraw 50,000 yen no problems! So I withdraw another 100,000 and another. I now only need another 100,000 tomorrow and I'll have enough for my balance of payment plus some spending money. At a little before 1pm, I become liquid.
I am now far too emotionally used up to go sightseeing in Tokyo, so instead take one more photo of Lambie then head out to the bus stop and take my shuttle bus to my hotel. There I have a nice afternoon sleep, a hot shower, and crack open a cold Asahi beer from the vending machine in the hall.
Vending machines are ubiquitous in Japan, which is primarily a cash economy and why I am in need of so much freaking cash in the first place. The phone card came out of a vending machine, as does the beer. Oh fuck it, I'm having another!!
They also have the most amazing toilets, compete with all sorts of buttons to wash, spray, dry and deodorise you.
So what have I learnt from this experience? Well I'm still happy with the Citibank card, but next time I think I'll ring up immediately before leaving and confirm that everything is working. I didn't have this problem in Indonesia because I never withdrew more than a couple of hundred dollars at a time. I'd still recommend this card, and the service I received, once I managed to get through, including ringing me back on my mobile, was exemplary.
It's a pity I'm missing out on visiting Tokyo, but I'm also pretty tired. I've been travelling for over 24 hours and am ready to get some decent sleep before the big ski adventure. I'm sure I packed my pyjama pants but I just can't find them in my bag. Oh well, woollen leggings will have to do...
I'm also really happy I brought my new down jacket with me. The flights were really cold, and it's not exactly warm here in Japan now I've arrived. My bluetooth beanie BTW, is freaking awesome!!
So all's well that ends well. I've got a cold beer, had a hot shower, and my arse is super clean thanks to Japanese toilet technology.