The Return

The moment has come. It’s time to fly back home to California. Feeling fulfilled from the past five months of travel, I’m excited to return home and see my family and friends again.

I have one last adventure on the way in Japan, thanks to a nine-hour layover at Narita airport. Researching my options before the flight, I decided to visit a nearby town, Narita. I had the option to go to Tokyo, but with a 90-minute commute via train each way, and Tokyo being so big, I preferred to spend more time relaxing in the smaller town of Narita.

Once I land in Narita at 7am, I learned about a program they were testing for people with long layovers, which is a common event at this airport. An attendant takes me into a lounge and presents me with several packages to choose from. I sit in the chair sipping coffee while my host is on her knees showing me brochures. It feels awkward to be treated so nicely.

In the brochures there are several guided tours to choose from, with several permutations including a sake brewery tour, visiting a temple, and shopping at a big mall. I’m not in the mood for sake or shopping. I opt for a package to get a free massage and free lunch. After my relaxing 45 minute massage, I take a train to Narita, a small town I will explore on my own.

I was prepared for December weather in Japan, it being in the 40s during the day. I get off at the Narita stop and begin walking into town. I haven’t felt cold weather like this in six months! It’s a quaint town – cobblestone streets, small shops, no traffic. Orderly and clean. As I pass shops, there are no aggressive peddlers asking me to buy their merchandise. No loud motorbikes. Clean, crisp cold air. So different than Indochina.

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As I explore the temple, the feeling that I had seen it all after traveling for several months is no more –  my mind is being stimulated again by new architecture, art, and culture. A humble reminder that there is much to see in this world.

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After two hours of exploration, I make my way back to the airport to head back home.

Twelve hours later, I land at LAX. I smile seeing Obama’s face as I pass through customs. I’m back home! I expect to be questioned by the customs officer about why I had been traveling for five months, where I had been, and then have my bag searched. Instead he says, “welcome home!” and waves me on.

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I’m delighted to see my family and this loving poster they had made for me.

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After five months, numerous sights and experiences, my backpacking adventure comes to an end.

And so the process of re-integrating back into society begins.

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