Wednesday, 6 January 2016

How I Ruined My Sister's Christmas (Act I, II, & III)


I could clearly see that my younger sister was not feeling good. Being forced out of bed and thrown into a taxi does that. The all you can drink Karaoke, followed by a 48-nugget Mac Donald's bucket* the night before didn't help either. Suddenly her eyes flare and panic spreads across her face. I instantly know what's coming, and in a hardly audible murmur beg
"Lorna no... you cant... not here... please... "

We both realise she can only hold it in for so long. I'm frantically trying to find a plastic bag or open a window. In desperation I unzip my backpack - anything is better than covering the back of the taxi with bits of chicken. Lorna of course has done this all before and has it under control. She braces herself, vomits in her mouth, and swallows it like a pro.

I check google maps. 40 minutes to the airport. 1 hour 40 minutes till Lorna's flight takes off. I might have really messed up here. I might have actually ruined everything.

Act I: The New Star Wars Movie is Excellent

This year was my first ever Christmas away from home. To stave off the homesick blues, I had the bright idea of inviting my sister to stay.**

Every big brother wants to be a good role model for their little sister. Or at the very least, trick her into thinking he's got his shit together. Organising a 10 day holiday was the perfect way to demonstrate how together my shit had become while in Japan. I could really put my local knowledge to good work. Show her the stuff that isn't in the travel book. The stuff you only discover by living among rice fields for a year and a half. Real Japan. The whole fun-ness of the Christmas adventure rested on my shoulders and I intended to do it right this time.

Unfortunately actions speak louder than intentions. I ended up planning absolutely nothing and winging it a day at a time. Just because I can now speak a bit of Japanese, or entertain a classroom full of 6 year old japanlings, doesn't mean I've changed. I'm still a procrastinator with the attention span of a small puppy. I still have no idea what I'm doing and regularly make it all up as I go along. However I am now better at pretending that everything is under control. I think that's what they call "being an adult."

Lorna arrives and we've got no plans. The first day I overslept, and Lorna was jetlagged, so we stayed in bed till lunch. All we managed to do the whole day was watch the new Star Wars movie. Great start. Let the lazy flow through you. Give in to the Sloth Side.

Act II: No Snow, No Water

The next few days were for snowboarding and skiing. Except this year is the warmest winter in Japan for a 100 years or something stupid like that. Last winter I had to dig my car out of the snow every morning from December 2nd onwards. This year it has snowed twice and melted almost instantly each time. Other than flying to Hokkaido, or booking some expensive hotel in Nagano, we were running out of options. In a panic move I decided to hit up my friend in Hakuba. He let us stay for free in a snow lodge he is renovating right next to the slopes. There were rumors of snow, and Lorna had brought her ski stuff all this way, so we had to give it a go.

The rumors turned out to be the worst kind of white lies. Lies of omission. Yes there was technically snow, but more than half of the mountain was closed. The open slopes were icy and crowded, with bits of brown and green poking through all over the place. After two days of trying to slide about in the mud and ice we returned on Christmas eve, weary and bruised, with no hope of seeing a white Christmas.

Which is when disaster number two struck. I received an email from my boss. Through gross negligence and forgetfulness on my part it turns out I hadn't paid my water bill. For over 3 months. They were turning off the water supply until I paid.

This year on Christmas day, Lorna woke up to a small box apartment in a foreign country with no shower, toilet, or drinking water.

It wasn't a complete catastrophe, in no small part down to Japanese efficiency and a dictionary. The usual Japanese service call has about 30 minutes prep time, where I look up key words and plan out what I want to say. Its a bit of a catch-22 because whenever I start a conversation sounding like a functioning bilingual, it tricks them into thinking I actually understand Japanese. Even if I draft out the perfect opener to the conversation, 9 times out of 10 I don't understand the answer. So I nervously just sit there saying "Er... yes... yes... hai.. wakarimashita" until they stop talking.

Ive got no idea what was said but 15 minutes after I called, a man came round to turn the water back on.  A Christmas Miracle.

We eventually got round to opening the presents that Lorna brought in her suitcase from the family, and the care package from the parents (thank you to the center!) I then opened the adorable Wes Anderson themed mug my loving sibling had gotten me. It had my name on it, and one of my favorite lines from his movies. Very sweet. Very thoughtful. It was at that moment I realised how truly awful a brother I really am.

In the rush to find snow and "plan" the holiday, I'd forgotten to do the most important thing.

I'd forgotten to buy Lorna a Christmas present.***

Act III: The Most Expensive Taxi Ride I've Ever Had

If you're thinking I couldn't do much more to sabotage the trip at this point, you'd be wrong. My incompetence knows no bounds. The final scene opens on Tokyo. Lorna's now seen Star Wars twice, met all my friends, eaten every kind of cuisine Joetsu has to offer, and even been in the public baths. We are staying with another friend of mine, who I will affectionately call "Big Shot City Lawyer" for privacy reasons.

Lorna has never done drunk karaoke, a problem which needs to be rectified immediately. One hour turns into two, two into four, and suddenly its 2:30 in the morning and everyone is plastered. Lorna's flight leaves from Narita Airport, which is quite a way out of Tokyo. As the responsible adult, I have everyone set their alarms for 6 in the morning, then leave them charging next to the bed, so Lorna definitely doesn't miss the 11:30 flight. Sorted. Lights out.

I wake up to a groan from Big Shot City Lawyer.
"Richard, Its 9:15.... RICHARD GET UP ITS 9:15!"
Oh Christ. This is bad.

Turns out in a moment of genius, Big Shot City Lawyer had gotten up at 6am, turned off all the alarms, and gone back to bed.

I go man-mode. My clothes are on before I even realise what's happening. Many years of procrastination and bad planning have prepared me for this very moment. The only way we'll get there on time at this point is a taxi. I shake Lorna, tell her to meet me down stairs, and run out to locate transportation. When I told the taxi driver where we wanted to go, he literally started jumping up and down with joy. 25,000円 and a serious vomit scare later, we make it to the airport on time for check in. After a hug good-bye Lorna mumbles "Thanks... it was.. fun.." before wobbling into the queue for security and customs.

As soon as she gets on the plane, she puts her head down on the seat in front of her and sleeps all the way back to Amsterdam.

-
*Apparently this monstrous nugget meal is a limited-time promo to advertise the new Japanese pop group NGT48. NGT48... NUGGET 48... get it? Close enough. It's probably a less tenuous link in Japanese. Ive tried to eat the 48-nugget bucket twice now. Its impossible to enjoy a meal that big, because you don't stop when you're full. You stop when you hate yourself.

**I was worried the 'rents would be a little upset not seeing either of us this Christmas. Instead it seems Mum and Dad have been waiting 24 years for the two of us to clear out. When I asked whether Lorna could come, they immediately agreed and booked themselves a romantic holiday somewhere hot with a beach. They didn't even pretending to put up a fight. I've never seem them so happy.

*** If you're reading this Lorna, it'll be in the post soon... Along with your birthday present. And the CD I promised Ali for his birthday. 8 months ago.

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