Travel Traumas

When Touring Goes Wrong

Posted on Oct 24, 2013 in Travel Traumas

When Touring Goes Wrong 0

Let me tell you about my trip to the Cupnoodles Museum today.  It did not go as planned.

My mom is visiting again.  This is her third trip to Japan, and in trying to come up with new things for us to do, I came across this: Foreign Visitors Pick the 20 Coolest Places in Japan.  This list reminded me of the Cupnoodles Museum in Yokohama, something I’ve been meaning to check out while living here.  An entire museum devoted to instant ramen?  Obviously a must-see.  Do you know that you can even create your own cup of noodles?  From an amazing 5000 flavor combinations?  Mind. Blown.

This was just the kind of fun, quirky Japanese thing to do while my mom is in town.

Today was a dreary day.  Overcast, and drizzling by the time we reached Yokohama.  That time, by the way, was around 11:30.  Elisabeth’s lunch time, and getting to be mine.  We made the short walk from the train station to the museum, and my mom handled the ticket purchasing.  We were assigned a time slot to visit the interactive noodle-making factory.  11:30-11:50.  In other words, right then.  No problem, we were all hungry, and what better way to warm up than with a hot cup of ramen?

We made our way up to the noodle-making floor, and were handed more tickets.  Then we were directed to vending machines.  Ostensibly, we were supposed to purchase the noodle cups from the vending machines.  This required more money, and as we had already purchased six tickets for who-knows-what, I asked for help from the nearest employee.  Asking for help meant handing him my fistful of tickets and giving him my best confused face.  He magically produced three square bowls (as opposed to the round cups found in the vending machine.)

My Cup Noodles Factory!

My Cup Noodles Factory!

Ohhh, had we unknowingly purchased some fancy cup of noodles?  Perhaps a special edition noodle cup?  Had we won a prize?  I didn’t know, but I did know that I wasn’t about to find out, so I just took the cups and moved on to the drawing station.  Yes – in Japan you get to decorate your own cup!  And write the date.  You must write the date on the cup, because the noodles are edible only one month from the date.  I found this odd, because didn’t everyone just eat their noodles right there?  By the way, where was everyone eating?  Was there a different room for that?

Elisabeth was bordering on meltdown territory, and despite the opportunity to stain her clothes with permanent marker (a favorite pastime of hers), she showed no interest in coloring her noodle box.  So my mom stayed behind with Elisabeth while I took our three special square bowls and entered  the very long line to make our noodle concoctions.  All of a sudden, a man appeared and directed me out of the very long line to a much shorter line.  Maybe our square bowls really were some sort of prize!

As I handed my bowls to the first person in the cup of noodles assembly line, I noticed she was dispensing rice.  NOT noodles.

STOP EVERYTHING.  I pointed to the next line over, “Noodles?” I asked.  The rice-dispenser lady looked baffled.

“Square bowl for RICE. Gohan!”  How we came to possess RICE bowls instead of NOODLE bowls, I have no idea.  I think it has to do with the multiple tickets we were coerced into buying.

“Uhhh, can we get noodles?”  I did not come to the CUPNOODLES museum for RICE.  Uh-uh, no way.  The museum staff, though clearly distressed over my unconscionable bowl mistake, was accommodating and provided me with new, round cups.  Crisis averted.

Another lady then directed me out of line and back to the drawing tables, where she instructed me to write the date on my new cups.  The date was non-negotiable.  “Only good for one month.'” She insisted.  (Having seen the ingredients, I’m pretty sure these things would survive the apocalypse, but nevertheless, I wrote the date as told.)

“Can’t we eat them here?” I asked her while writing.

She shook her head.  “No.  Not here.  No hot water!”

WHAT? WE DON’T EVEN GET TO EAT THE NOODLES?  OUTRAGEOUS!

Elisabeth snacking on a cheese stick, once we learned we wouldn't be eating anything else at the museum

Elisabeth snacking on a cheese stick, once we learned we wouldn’t be eating anything else at the museum

I trudged back to the back of the very long line, utterly demoralized by this revelation.  But by golly, we had gone through so much already that I was walking out of that museum with my cup of noodles, even if it was in a bag and not in my tummy.  My mom and Elisabeth joined me in the assembly line when it was our turn to select our noodle creation.  We hastily selected our flavor combinations from ingredients that most certainly do not come from nature.  (This is instant ramen, so I don’t know what I was expecting.)

The coveted round bowls

The coveted round cups

The noodles factory

The noodle factory

Anyway, Elisabeth was seriously cranky now, and I was seriously hungry.  We rushed through the bagging process (this involved an air pump and string), and our cups of noodles were finally finished, ready to be eaten anytime within the next month in the convenience of our own home.  Fantastic.

Our stomachs audibly growling now, we took our noodles and rushed to the mall across the street in search of a real restaurant.  Did we see any of the exhibitions or attractions?  Like the Instant Noodles History Cube?  Or the CUPNOODLES Park?  Or the recreation of the shed where instant ramen was first invented?  No!  We experienced none of instant ramen’s rich history because we were too damn hungry after making – but not eating –  our personal Cup of Noodles.

The final product

The final product. Elisabeth is also pissed she doesn’t get to eat her noodles.

This is my fault.  I’m sure had I researched properly, I would have known that after making the ramen bowl you don’t get to actually eat the ramen.  How silly of me to assume such a thing.

I will conclude with this: Should you visit Japan, absolutely visit the CUPNOODLES museum, if you have some extra time.*  As I mentioned before, it is a fun, quirky Japanese-y thing to do.  Just don’t go on an empty stomach.

*I stress extra time.  There is an abundance of things to do and see here, and I’m not sure this would make my top-20 list.  But to each his own!

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What Not to Do with a Toddler: Travel by Air (Part Two)

Posted on Jul 22, 2013 in Travel Traumas

If you missed Part 1 and feel like catching up, here it is. To recap why air travel falls under my list of “What Not to Do with a Toddler”: 1) Toddlers require even more stuff than babies. 2) Air passengers seem to be a particular breed of mean and unhelpful. 3) Toddlers are tiny bundles of energy that must be allowed to exit their seats several times over the course of a 10-hour flight or they might literally explode.  And, the diapers. 4) Toddlers have the attention span of a gnat. I believe when I left off last, I was struggling to get Elisabeth to go to sleep.  Which brings me to reasons 5 and 6 to avoid flying with toddlers: 5) Toddlers are little rebels. That fasten seat belt sign means nothing to the little rascals! It was bedtime.  The fasten seat belt sign lit up.  Elisabeth pooped.  Rebel, I say!  I was thus forced to defy the sign and venture to the rear lavatory in order to change her diaper and put on her PJs.  When I exited, another mom traveling by herself – with TWO kids, bless her heart – was waiting.  Naturally, I offered to hold her baby so she could assist her older child in the bathroom.  (SEE PEOPLE – IT’S NOT THAT HARD TO HELP!) She then held Elisabeth so I could use the restroom, and I then watched both her girls while she took a turn.  It was all Kumbaya in the airplane bathrooms until a second fake-nice flight attendant showed up. “You really should return to your seats.  Should something happen…” Do you think I’m standing back here for fun? I nodded in acknowledgement and then ignored her.  Like I was going to ditch the one-year old in my arms and her five-year old sister.  As soon as the other mother was done in the restroom, we all promptly returned to our seats.  And then the battle to get Elisabeth to go to sleep began.  And so, #6… 6) When faced with the choice to repeatedly slither out of their...

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What Not to Do with a Toddler: Travel by Air (Part One)

Posted on Jul 17, 2013 in Travel Traumas

Welcome to the first edition of a series of posts entitled: What Not to Do with a Toddler. This is certainly not the first time I have written about traveling with a baby; it’s a common theme on my blog.  However this is the first time I have written about traveling with a toddler – a far more harrowing experience.  While traveling with Elisabeth during her infant stage was a scary prospect, the fact is she was small and light and generally quiet and could nurse anytime she became less than quiet.  What’s so hard about that?  But now as a toddler, she walks and talks and eats.  All. The. Time.  And she’s heavy and squirmy and too big for the bathroom changing tables.  And she’s social and likes to touch everyone and everything and she eats.  All. The. Time. Last month’s 10-hour international flight from Tokyo to Los Angeles caused me a great deal of pre-trip anxiety.  So over-planned and over-packed.  Was all my planning and packing in vain?  No.  But did it make the trip really all that much easier?  Heck no.  Here’s why: 1) Toddlers require even more stuff than babies.  A few days before we left, I went one of our local 100 Yen stores (like a dollar store, but way, way better) and bought a bunch of crappy toys that were sure to entertain Elisabeth.  My personal favorite?  A small, cylindrical tin I filled with brightly colored, plastic clothespins.  I envisioned Elisabeth completely engrossed by this tin, endlessly opening and closing the top, removing and replacing the clothespins.  I had never conceived so brilliant a plan!  And for so cheap!  Quite pleased with myself, I packed all of Elisabeth’s entertainment (also including a sticker book, some paper and crayons, a knock-off Etch-a-Sketch, and a couple of books) into one carry-on. I figured the key to a stress-free flight was compartmentalization.  So after dedicating that one carry-on to Elisabeth’s in-flight entertainment, I reserved her diaper back for her snacks (And, well, diapers.)  Did I mention Elisabeth likes to eat?  Because not only did I have...

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My Beijing “Vacation”

Posted on Apr 10, 2013 in Travel Traumas, Uncategorized

My Beijing “Vacation” 3

How do you define a vacation? For Damon, vacation means he is on official leave.  Time and place don’t matter. For me, vacation means I’m lying by the beach/pool/someplace warm with trashy magazine an intellectual book in one hand and an adult beverage in the other.  Preferably one with an umbrella in it. So when Damon got home from work on Wednesday evening (the night before we left for Beijing) and exclaimed, “We’re on vacation!” I had to disagree with him. Unless he was going to fold two loads of laundry and pack five days worth of clothes, extra clothes, diapers, wipes, medicine, portable snacks, and toddler entertainment, we were certainly not on vacation. Though I don’t agree with Damon’s mentality, I understand it.  When I had a paying job, vacation meant time off that job and usually travel somewhere to enjoy that time off.  But since my job now is rearing a child, I’m not technically on vacation until I am away from my child.  Which is pretty much never. So while our trip to Beijing was a truly great trip (despite my lack of planning), I wouldn’t call it a vacation. Because to me, a vacation is not: -Getting practically cavity searched at the airport because you’ve packed baby food pouches in your carry on. (That didn’t actually happen on this trip, but it has in the past.) -Flying on a several hour flight with a sweaty toddler attached to your chest. -Washing poopy onesies out by hand in your hotel bathroom’s sink -Waking every morning between 3:45-4:45AM because your baby will only go back to sleep if she is sharing your twin bed with you, squeezing your face, neck, chest and arm fat until your entire upper body is numb.  (But not your husband, who sleeps comfortably in the other twin bed, oblivious to the arm-fat squeezing happening to you a few feet away.) -Eating in mediocre restaurants that your tour company has pre-arranged. -Anxiety that your family is going to be killed because the van you’re riding in has no seatbelts and the driver likes...

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That Time I Forgot My Vacation

Posted on Apr 3, 2013 in Travel Traumas, Uncategorized

That Time I Forgot My Vacation 4

I realize I’ve been a bit MIA recently.  Damon was gone on detachment in Australia for three weeks, the better part of which either Elisabeth and I were battling illness at home in Japan.  We’ve been busy with other things as well: I hosted Damon’s squadron for Easter brunch, which brought out first-birthday party levels of Diana Craziness.  And we’re going on vacation to Beijing tomorrow.  Which I sort of forgot about. Okay, I didn’t actually forget about it.  I just kind of pushed it to the back of my mind.  Party planning will do that to me.  Easter brunch > Beijing vacation.  That’s not really true.  Only sometimes in my head it is.  I know, I’m twisted.  To be fair, we did have a very helpful travel agent organize pretty much our entire trip.  All I had to do was approve our itinerary and fill out unholy amounts of paperwork to secure our visas.  Let me tell you, securing visas to China is no easy feat.  Especially when you have a toddler who does not want to have her visa photos taken.  See below. So last night I had a moment of, “Oh, crap!  We’re leaving for China in two days and I don’t even have a guidebook!”  Who goes to a foreign country for the first time without even a guidebook?  I could say I’m just really adventurous and like to fly by the seat of my pants, take the road less traveled, see where life takes me.  But that’s not true.  I like a plan.  And I like guidebooks. So today’s quest became about finding a guidebook.  But first I had a spouse club meeting.  Then I had a luncheon planning committee meeting.  Then I had to go pay some road tax.  I have no idea what exactly a road tax is, all I know is that paying for it is a somewhat tedious process.  First I had to wait in a long line to present all sorts of documentation that proves… I dunno.  That we have insurance?  That our car is fit to be on the...

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Mele Kalikimaka

Posted on Jan 11, 2013 in Travel Traumas

Mele Kalikimaka 4

I want to be in Hawaii right now.  But who doesn’t, right? That’s where Damon, Elisabeth and I spent a wonderful but far-too-short week last month for our Christmas vacation. Growing up in Southern California, I always longed for a White Christmas.  Snow was such a novelty!  When I was young, we spent several holidays visiting my grandparents in Ohio.  We built snowmen!  We made snow angels!  We caught pneumonia!  Man I loved those Christmases. Eventually we transitioned to exclusively California Christmases.  No more snowmen.  No more snow angels.  Our California Christmas tradition?  A walk on the beach. A walk on the beach!?!  That’s, like, the ANTI-Christmas!  Despite our protestations, my parents dragged my brothers and me to the blasted beach year after year after year.  We (the brothers and I, not the parents) would grudgingly trudge through the sand complaining about the horrible burden placed upon us by living 10 minutes from the ocean.   I still love the idea of a white Christmas, though having now experienced several unpleasant winters as an adult (think: Snowpocalypse 2010), I am slightly less attached to the white, fluffy stuff.  And after a somewhat eventful last year (a new baby, travel that included 3 continents, 4 countries and countless states and cities, a Permanent Change of Station to Japan, a deployment, etc., etc.), nothing sounded better than a relaxing week by the beach. Even the monstrously long travel day (yes, day – over 24 hours thanks to delays) it took to get to Kauai didn’t damper my spirits.  Because I wasn’t traveling with the baby alone!  As soon as we had settled into our (inexcusably small for an international flight) seats on the airplane, Damon whipped out his iPad and headphones. “Excuse me, what are you doing?” I asked. “I am going to watch a movie,” he responded. “No, you’re not,” I replied and promptly plopped Elisabeth into his lap. That was the start of my responsibility-free week.   Well, not totally responsibility-free.  I still had to feed the kid and stuff, but it was the closest I’ve come to responsibility-free in...

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