Australian Beckons

Tuesday, August 6, 1996

Oops… I’m really slacking aren’t I! Here I am sitting in Melbourne and starting to write up the events of a couple of weeks ago. The problem has been that I’ve just been a bit tourist-ed out in the last few days and felt like a break. I’ve also been travelling so much that I haven’t had time to write. Anyway, back to Tokyo!

Well, I did have to wonder if climbing Mt Fuji the day before I’d arranged to meet the local X1/9 owners’ club was a bad idea. My body really didn’t feel like getting up in the morning, and I was already late when I went to the bathroom and locked myself out! The owner lives a long way from Marui House, so I had no choice but to head off without my camera or guidebook and meet them.

My arms and neck were glowing red from sunburn from climbing down the mountain, and I was hoping that I wouldn’t see a repeat of my previous experience in China. Broken arms or legs I could have forseen, but not sunburn!

The train-trip to Yokohama was surprisingly easy, and now I think I’ve used ever kind of train in Japan except for the steam engines. For the first time I noticed the LCD screens hidden away in the corners of the carriage which were displaying share prices, ads, and weather forecast. Mount Fuji was predicted to be wet that day…

I arrived rather early and wandered around, picking up an ice-cream for breakfast. I’ve been eating a lot of them recently for reasons that I don’t entirely understand. I sort of started when I was in Taiwan, and have continued through Japan. Now I just get the ice-cream urge every now and again…

Finding the club members was easy. Only one person could possibly be driving past the station in a red X1/9! We met another member who has one of the cars with a large wing on the back, then drove off towards the meeting. Until then I’d forgotten just how much fun those cars were. I’m pretty much certain now that another X1/9 will be high on my list of things to buy when I’m settled again.

On the way we spotted another X1/9 stopped at the side of the road and pulled over to take a look. The engine had cut out with some kind of electrical problem, which was something I could empathise with – the only times my car broke down on me were when some wire fell off or electrical component wore out. We continued on to the “Seaman’s Club” where the meeting would be held.

As we parked, more and more cars turned up, most with some kind of cosmetic modifications, and as most were the low-powered US version they had also been fitted with more powerful engines. The director of the Seaman’s Club came from Belgium and was amazed to see eight or ten X1/9s parked outside. He hadn’t seen any since he came to Japan.

One of the club members is a mechanic, and zoomed back to sort out the broken-down car. He also has a very unusual X1/9 which he uses for racing, cut down to the absolute minimum with a huge air-scoop in the front for extra downforce on sharp corners. When I first saw the photo of the car on the Web site I was very puzzled, so it was nice to see some more that showed what it really was.

The rest of the afternoon was spent discussing LHD-vs-RHD, X1/9s from around the world, travelling the Trans-Siberian Railway, the perils of living with only an X1/9 and Porsche 911, Lancia Stratos Replicas, the relative driving ability of most X1/9 and MR2 drivers (not including those who drive both), and whether X1/9s were more exclusive than Ferraris in Japan. I’d seen a couple of the latter and many Porsches while I was travelling around, but no X1/9s. All in all, it was a fun day out. I was glad to see that the cars are as admired in Japan as in the rest of the world.

Back at Marui House I had an attack of computer-itis and decided to try to get a Web server running on my laptop. I’d carried the Apache source all over the world so I thought I should make some use of it. With the extra RAM it compiled quickly and I was even able to run Mosaic on X-Windows. With a few modifications to configuration files I was soon reading my web pages, and Mosaic flew along. Unfortunately being an old version there was no support for tables, backgrounds, etc, so the pages didn’t look that good.

I planned to visit a shrine the next day, but heavy rain began in the morning and continued most of the day. I took a trip to the Net Cafe to check out the situation in Australia and download a copy of Netscape for Linux, then sat around most of the evening listening to the rain and rewriting CGI scripts. Netscape the memory-hog crawled along, but at least the pages looked the way they should. I tried to use up the remaining couple of dollars on my phonecard by calling my parents, but the phone refused to dial so I ended up going via AT+T instead. I was glad to discover that my car is probably now sold. Yay!

Anyway, the phone card is quite cute. Japan seems to be Phonecard Central, pretty much every museum or other tourist attraction sells a selection of phonecards with pictures of their exhibits, and there are vending machines on some streets selling cards with a wide variety of pictures. I wonder how many people buy them for the pictures and don’t ever use them?

More packing to do! I’m coming to the conclusion that I like travel, but I’m not so sure about the actual travelling. Stuffing everything that I have into my bags and lumbering off to the bus, train or plane every day or two does get tiring after a while. I’ll be glad to get to the Cook Islands so I can stay in one place for a week. I also discovered that I’d lost my Maglite somewhere on Fujisan, which was a little annoying after it had travelled with me for the last five years.

I grabbed a sushi breakfast from the store down the street, then walked to the Post Office to mail a card to my parents, on the way looking for somewhere I could buy a yukata. No luck. I said goodbye and set out for Australia. People gave me some strange looks on the way to the airport with all my luggage and my big walking stick. Outside the train the scenery seemed far more rural than anything I’d seen on my way across the country, and the outer parts of Tokyo seemed to have a lot of grass and trees between the buildings. I was pretty tired and wasn’t looking forward to such a long flight and a change of plane at Christchurch.

I had a few hours to kill before I could check in, so I wandered around the airport looking for a power socket conveniently placed near to a chair. The only one I found was already occupied so I sat down by the window and ran down the laptop’s battery hacking the scripts for web Page. I was surprised that the check-in staff didn’t complain about the stick, and one of them hand-carried it away.

Inside the departure lounge I was more fortunate and after my last noodles meal I plugged the computer into a convenient socket to charge up. More web-hacking ensued while people around me slept or watched TV. After a brief trip on a monorail occupied by a group of Americans who appeared to have studied at the Beavis and Butthead Charm School I was soon snarfing some more Watts from a power socket at the gate. I was continually expecting that someone would come over and ask what me to stop, but aside from passengers’ bemused stares noone seemed to care.

Before this flight I’d seen power outlets in various airports but never thought to plug the computer into them. I was glad that I’d decided to try it this time and that it seemed to work. When I’m writing programs or stories I find that hours just vanish, so my seven hour stopover in Christchurch Airport would be much easier to deal with.

The flight was late and Japan covered in clouds so I saw little as we took off. After a couple of whiskies and a dinner I was soon back to hacking Web pages and listening to loud rock music while the plane jumped around in the very turbulent sky. What planes really need is a 50W 12-20V output in the arms of the chairs – however you look at it a two-hour battery life doesn’t fit very well into a twelve-hour flight.

Luckily I had three seats to myself, so when the battery ran out I stretched out across them and got a few hours sleep. Just north of Auckland we flew into a very pretty sunrise, with light blue and red bands lit up against a dark sky. The South Island of New Zealand is full of mountains with clouds huddled up in the gaps between them. I guess those are the Southern Alps.

Around 8am I crawled off the plane in Christchurch with an outside temperature of 1°C. This wasn’t too promising as all my baggage was checked through to Sydney, so I had no clothes but the T-shirt and trousers I was wearing and I’d just been told that I had to actually go through the NZ Immigration and Customs to check in for the next flight. Bizarre.

At the immigration desk I tried to explain that I only wanted to enter the country in order to go to the check-in desk and leave again, and would much prefer not to have to go through it at all. This did not seem to work, and the immigration lady scrawled a large red mark on my customs form. Oh well… I had plenty of time to spare.

The customs guy took me to one side and searched my bags while grilling me on my trip. Not that he had much to search since everything but my cameras and computer were heading for the plane to Sydney. Satisfied that I wouldn’t be getting up to no good in the next six hours he let me through.

Ooops. The international departures section of the airport was not in the same building as the arrivals. I walked across the airport in my T-shirt amongst the crowds arriving in thick quilted jackets. With great relief I arrived in the tiny departures area, only to find that all the desks were closed until noon. I wandered into the domestic departures area and considered buying breakfast before I realised that I had no New Zealand money and changing anything would be a waste.

From the technomadic point of view that part of the airport was pretty well equipped. In the smoking area power sockets were fitted next to several chairs so I was soon finishing off my Web site redesign. At noon I checked in, only to discover that I was supposed to have brought my bags through customs myself, for reasons that seemed totally stupid. Luckily they said they would collect them for me, but I would not be surprised if I didn’t arrive at the same airport as my baggage.

On the flight to Sydney more people stared at me as I worked, and the girl on the other side of the aisle and a row back pointed me out to the guy alongside as I started up Netscape. He strained to read the text on the screen as I typed away. I guess that even today few people take laptops with them, or perhaps that most of them are in the business section.

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