Saturday, 27 October 2012

11 Days-How this differs from last time...

We leave for China in 11 days…

I remember last time we were 11 days from leaving for China, in 2008 when we traveled to adopt J.  We were excited but also anxious.  Just saying “we’re going to China” was so exciting.  We had packed and repacked, changed our minds a million times about bringing this, that or the other thing.  While the excitement continued to mount, the pressure did too.  Imagine the anxious days just before you became a parent-those days when you wonder if your child will be born healthy or not, how you’ll know what to do, how your life will change, who you’ll be able to call on for help, how you will learn aaaaaaaaaall the things you need to know how to do-change a diaper, feed your child, even how to hold him or her- and all the other questions new parents ask themselves.  Now combine that with the stress of having to be in a foreign country as you try to answer all of these questions.  Imagine if you’d had to leave for the hospital knowing that you have to have to have everything you “might” need in a suitcase that weighs less than 40 lbs.  And add to that the fact that your child could very well have eczema, diarrhea, lice, fever, be teething, not like to eat, not like to drink with the bottle(s) you've presented to him or her, be constipated, or a whole ton of other issues that you’ll have to resolve from the items you've brought.  Now up the ante-Imagine if everything you had to bring for you, your spouse and your new unknown child for 2 ½ weeks had to fit in 2 suitcases not exceeding 40 lbs each…

So THAT was stressful.

Now- how do I feel about our trip this time around?  Let’s see.  Firstly, I already know the awesome, amazing, thoughtful, kind, reasonable, sweet kid I’ll be traveling with (fully recognizing that my descriptions of her are likely to change a bit-or a lot-during this trip), and I also know her current excellent (knock on wood) health status.  I know how to deal with her basic needs, and I know what makes her tick (and ticked off! Ha!) and I can talk to her to prepare her for what is about to come.  So in terms of uncertainty, I can focus on the real uncertainties a trip of this kind exposes us to.  We know this will be a sensorial experience and a half!  The sounds, smells, images and physical sensations we will experience will be so very different than they are at home.  And isn’t that what makes a great trip?  

So all that to say that I’m excited about being 11 days away from our trip.  And while I recognize that it is likely to come with some pretty impressive challenges, this will definitely be a very different experience than last time.  I expect I’ll have to “think on my feet” a lot more in this trip, and address issues that are much more emotional in nature.  But in the grand scheme of things, that’s progress, isn't it?  The way I see it, it means that J’s basic needs are fully met.  Once you can stop worrying about basic needs and can move on to emotional fulfillment, you’re in good shape.    

I know there will likely be tired and hungry tantrums, emotionally overwhelmed meltdowns, and feelings of loss of control.  But there will also be, I hope, feeling of overwhelming joy, amazement and elation, as well as , if we’re lucky, one or two moments of feeling that we are exactly where we should be.  I still have the butterflies when I get to say “We’re going to China”.  So there are definitely some things that will be exactly like last time….  J

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Japan Airlines is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!

I found our flight in April, through the Kayak website, which directed us to book directly through Japan Airlines.  The price we got was amazing, about half what we would have paid on a good deal on another airline.  Our itinerary takes us through Chicago and Narita, on the way to Guangzhou, with lengthy layovers 19 and 15 hours) in Narita, which we are considering as an important part of the overall experience.

A month or two after I booked, I decided that we would be better off traveling later in the year, for a few reasons, including the weather in China, and working in a statutory holiday to extend our trip by a day.  I contacted Japan Airlines by email, and was assisted by a lady named "Barbara", who was amazingly helpful and efficient.  I was so pleased with the service I received at the time and right away, I felt that this was going to be a great trip.

I have been doing a lot of research on the Japan part of this trip, and had booked hotels in Narita for our layovers (traveling with a 5 year old for 40 hours, I can see us REALLY looking forward to being horizontal).  One of the websites I stumbled on in my research said that if you have a layover in Narita, you should check if your airline offers complimentary accommodations.  So I did a bit more research and saw that in rare circumstances, Japan Airlines provides complimentary hotel accommodations if you have an overnight layover, but it was not a common occurrence.  So I thought-let's see what happens if I email them and ask.  So I did.

Within 24 hours, I had an email back from them, this time, from a lady named "Samalyna", confirming that she had booked us into their private airport hotel, including a free shuttle between the hotel and the airport!  All for FREE!!!!  See?  Sometimes all you need to do is ask!!!  This was not in the fine print anywhere, nor was it indicated on my ticket or their website.  Which is smart, really.  But I want to shout it out on the roof tops, because I seriously am amazed with how awesome Japan Airlines has been to deal with!

I must admit, I am a bit worried about the flight.  Being a bit on the chunky side, and knowing the seats on JAL are a bit narrower than what I am used to, I am concerned that I may be VERY uncomfortable during this long flight. I am also worried as I have heard that they maintain their planes at a very warm temperature (and I am always hot on a good day!). I wish we could afford to upgrade to Premium Economy (or even 1st class!  Wouldn't THAT be a dream come true!) but I can honestly say that the goodwill they've shown so far is putting me in a very positive receptive mood going into this.  I have also heard their flight attendants are some of the greatest in the world and that their in-flight customer service is incredible.  We are pretty easy travelers to accommodate (we are always polite, respectful, kind and appreciative) so we hope that we will be able to make them as happy to serve us as they will  make (and have made) us.

Thankfully, J is a really great traveler.  She is a really easy going kid, and as long as she eats (but limited sugar) and sleeps, she is perfect to deal with.  Thankfully, she sleeps anywhere and eats easily if I plan her snacks well.

I had also sent some other questions to JAL at the same time as the hotel enquiry, with regards to where to check in (our 1st leg is on a partner airline) and whether our luggage can be checked right through to Guangzhou or if we had to collect them in Narita.  She answered everything fully and clearly.  I can't imagine interacting the way I have with JAL with any other airline.  But maybe I'm just used to the service we get with Air Canada (I never complain, as that's not my style, but when you have something to compare to, you appreciate amazing service so much more).

So thank you Japan Airlines.  I hope our flight will be as impressive as your service has been so far.  I really expect it will be, because you have shown yourself to be an airline which prides itself in delivering outstanding customer service.  Bravo, well done!

I will blog about the flight as soon as I can, to let the internet world know if Japan Airlines are as amazing in flight as they are online.

So seriously-if you are looking to travel anywhere in Asia, check out Japan Airlines.  They DESERVE your business.  How often can you say that?

Three weeks from tomorrow.....  :-)

UPDATE: In case you'd like to know how it felt to actually travel with Japan Airlines, see this post.  Here is the excerpt from it relating to JAL:

"So all in all, the trip was an amazing success.  I reiterate that Japan Airlines is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!!  Their staff was the most wonderful staff I have ever met.  Prior to the flight, they all gathered around the attendant's desk, welcoming passengers on board with a collective bow prior to them boarding the aircraft and starting our boarding.  I was over my carry-on allowance, but instead of telling me I had to check some of it, THEY HELPED ME CARRY AND STORE IT!  They were so attentive.  During the entire flights (even the 12 hour one), we were never more than 5 minutes without seeing an attendant as there was always one pacing in the aisles.  They refilled my water bottle with ice water too many times for me to count.   And on our flight back, when I was looking for something new for J to play with in the middle of the night with my bag near the emergency exit, one of the approached me (I thought she would tell me to move away from there, and in a way she did, but so delightfully) and she asked if I would like to come to the kitchen area where there was more light.  She closed the curtain so as not to disturb anyone with the light and then entertained J until I found what I was looking for.   Finally, they gave J a gift on every flight (a metal plane that she could assemble herself, sticker games, etc).  Oh wait-there's more!  The Food!  OMG, the food was incredible.  Smartly, I had ordered children's meals for J, so that we had more variety to choose from if there was something we didn't like.  Instead we liked EVERYTHING!  Especially the delicious Haagen-Dazs ice cream they provided on every flight!!!"

I should also mention that although I couldn't check my bags all the way (as a result of the Narita-Guangzhou portion being more than 24 hours from my check-in time), when I got to Narita, a JALemployee helped me get my bags, went to get the appropriate tags and retagged them before I left he airport for Tokyo, so that I wouldn't have to carry them around during my 19 hours in Tokyo.  She was so nice and friendly.  And on the way back, in Chicago, another JAL employee helped me with my bags again, even helping me go through the items I had bought at the airport in Tokyo as I needed to go though security again.  He helped me put my liquids and utensils in my luggage before taking my luggage over to the luggage cart so that I didn't have to walk all the way over with J and all of our carry-ons and he helped me figure out where I needed to go. They were absolutely incredible.  JAL rocks!!!!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Four weeks and counting...

We leave for China 4 weeks from today.

A combination of excitement and nervousness/anxiety has set in.

As far as our planning goes, I have worked an awful lot on our budget, as it is extremely tight.  I have now added the Chinese and Japanese exchange rates, and sectioned out what I will need, and where.

At this point, our trip into Tokyo (from Narita) is likely to be cut.  It is sad but true.  This is disappointing, but I'm more ok with it than I thought I'd be.

Now that we have our passports and travel visas, the only "official" document left to prepare is Hubby's permission for us to travel abroad without him.  Then, all the official stuff will be done and I can stop having nightmares about leaving and having forgotten to prepare these all too important documents!

We've also started to pack.  We have a bin where we put anything and everything that we want or need to bring with us, so that we don't forget them.

It's coming so quickly...  but at the same time, still feels so far away...