Categories
Travel

Narita Airport’s Smoking Rooms, Free Wi-Fi, and Exciting Toilet Bowls

Japanese packaging for a pack of Marlboro Light Menthols.

As a not avid but long time smoker, something I enjoy about foreign airports is that their assholes aren’t so tightened by political stupidity that they’ve banned smoking rooms.  I understand that non-smokers don’t want to inhale smoke, but I also think it’s wrong to punish smokers, or inconvenience them, for doing something that isn’t illegal.  Singapore’s Changi Airport has smoking rooms.  Japan’s Narita Airport has smoking rooms.  Germany’s Frankfurt Airport has smoking rooms.  NAIA in the Philippines doesn’t have a smoking room, but the Philippines tries to emulate all the laws the US passes, and that airport just sucks anyway, so it doesn’t count.

On a long-haul flight from Manila in the Philippines to New York City, that stop at Narita is a small blessing if you’re a smoker.  I’ve gone through there twice, in different areas each time, and in both instances a smoking room was conveniently placed for people on short or long layovers.

The smoking rooms are completely closed in with tinted glass windows and doors that you open by pushing on a pad on the door, located where a handle would normally be.  Inside is a vending machine, lots of benches, a television, cigarette butt receptacles / ashtrays and even a stand with car-style lighters for people who forgot those or couldn’t get their lighter through security at their point of origin.

A Japanese man and woman taking a break in a smoking room at Narita Airport in Tokyo, Japan.

When I sat down in the smoking room it had a really relaxing atmosphere.  There was an assorted crowd inside that fluctuated constantly as people rushed in and rushed out to head to their gates.  I saw Japanese businessmen talking in clipped tones, likely about some upcoming project, convention or deal.  I saw airline attendants, Japanese and otherwise, enjoying their breaks.  There were plenty of travelers, mostly Asian, lounging with dazed looks on their faces.

A group of Japanese people in a smoking room at Narita Airport, Tokyo, Japan.

While there, a traveler that looked like he was from the Middle East was trying to give away a meal voucher he had.  He asked me if I had time ‘til my next flight and told me about the voucher, asking if I wanted it.  I only had a few minutes left by that point so I declined.  It was odd, but he went around almost the whole room before running into someone that would take it from him.  It’s possible that everyone had a connecting flight coming up shortly, but I think it’s more likely that most people just won’t take something free, because scams are so prevalent.  No one wants to get suckered.

Another guy I spoke to was from the US.  He was on his way back home to pick up his dogs and bring them back to Japan.  That sparked a long conversation about pet importation, since I had my cat Marble with me on my flight, importing her to the US, and had previously imported her and three other cats to the Philippines from Singapore.  Japan is pretty strict on their import requirements, especially compared to the US which barely asked me for any documentation at all for Marble and didn’t require an import permit.

Sitting on the floor near my connecting flight's gate, charging my phone at a wall outlet.

Narita as a whole is a very modern, attractive airport that reminded me of Changi and the airport in Kuala Lumpur.  My only complaint about the place is that it didn’t have free wi-fi throughout the terminal, though I did find a wi-fi kiosk sponsored by Google.  The catch was that after registering to use the service, you were presented with an advertisement encouraging you to download the latest version of Google’s browser, Chrome.

Google sponsored free wi-fi at Narita Airport in Tokyo Japan.

Leaving Narita and arriving at JFK in New York was like leaving a posh neighborhood and stepping into the projects.  JFK even smells funny, but from what I’ve been told it’s common knowledge that the place is a dump in serious need of remodeling.  One of the most interesting thing about Narita, though, are the toilets.  Have a look for yourself:

A toilet with butt sprayer, butt blow dryer and heated seat at Narita Airport in Tokyo, Japan.

These types of toilets are common in Japan.  The one pictured above had a heated toilet seat and a sprayer that you could use to clean your backside.  It also had a blow dryer that would dry your backside after it was sprayed clean.  Even if I’d needed to use them, I don’t think I would, since it was a public toilet.  I spent about five minutes looking at the toilet bowl from different angles, trying to figure out where the spray and blow drying would come from, but I gave up.  If I ever have a chance to stay in a hotel in Japan, I might give it a try.  Or France.  I hear they’re used there too.

Passing through Narita is, overall, a pleasant experience with a clean environment, satisfactory amenities and interesting people watching opportunities.

Categories
Living in the Philippines

Public Toilets in Malls in the Philippines

Today while at Megamall in Manila, I had reason to visit one of the public toilets.  It took me a while, because the restroom was crowded, but I finally managed to secure a stall.  When I walked in, there was piss all over the floor, no toilet seat, and no toilet paper.  I wasn’t expecting that, but when I saw it I remembered that it’s always that way.  I first visited Manila in 2008 and noted that the public toilets never seem to have paper or even toilet seats available. 

It seems like such a basic commodity to have in public restrooms that I always take for granted that some will be available.  Back in 2008, I asked my wife why there aren’t any toilet seats or paper and she said it’s probably because if it were there, people would steal it.  That makes sense and she’s from the Philippines so her guess is better than mine.

So, if you’re going out, even to a seemingly high end shopping center, be sure to bring your own stock of toilet paper.  It wouldn’t hurt to bring antibacterial wet hand wipes either.  Or, if you’re really in need of comfort, there is one other solution, which, thankfully, fit perfectly into our plans for our evening out.

On the 5th (or 4th?) floor of Megamall there are quite a few massage / pedicure / manicure / etc. type parlors.  You can treat yourself, or your spouse, to one of these services and then partake of their pleasant smelling, well appointed restrooms, like the one pictured below.  I don’t remember the name of the place but it’s pretty nice and my wife says she got good service there, so we’ll be going back for massages soon.  More on that later!

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Categories
Living in Singapore

Singapore 2010 Chinese New Year: Luck, Decorations, Crowds & Surcharges

Last year my wife and I missed out on seeing Chinatown at Chinese New Year’s completely.  Somehow, I got the date mixed up and we wound up going down there the day after the celebration.  This year I made sure to mark my calendar correctly.

Luck

We’d originally planned on eating at Bugis Junction, at the Pastamania in the food court.  We didn’t realize the place would be shut down.  In fact, almost everything was shut down.  Yoshinoya was open but I don’t care for the way the food there tastes.

We decided to take our chances and headed on to Chinatown.  There was a hawker open across the street from the MRT exit so we walked over to it, using the pedestrian bridge to go over the road.  At the base of the stairs, hiding by the edge where the plants are, we saw this kitten:

 

This is the year of the Tiger and a tiger is basically a big cat.  Maybe this means luck will come our way this year?  We like cats, so my wife carries around a little cat food to hand out to strays that look hungry.  We gave some to the kitten before going into the hawker to have our dinner.

Decorations

The reason we went down to Chinatown was to see the decorations.  The atmosphere was very lively so we wound up staying a bit longer than we’d planned.  I was really impressed with the decorations.  They were very nice looking.  It put us in a great mood and we even stopped for ice cream.  There was a guy there selling ice cream from a push cart.  He cut a slice (literally) and put it between two wafers and handed it to me wrapped in a plastic.  It was really good and only cost me 1 SGD.

Here are some of my favorite photos.

There weren’t as many decorations as there were at Christmas, which surprised me, but the decorations that were there were really nice.

Crowds

For a short while, we considered staying for the main event, but the crowds were starting to press in real tight.  We could hardly walk.  The crowds kept bottlenecking in certain areas which made it hard to get around.  Also, having so many people in such a small area was cutting out the breeze.  The place was starting to get hot, sticky, smelly and just plain unpleasant.

The stage was set up in such a way that unless you were a special person, a VIP, and had access to the privileged seating area, you could barely see anything.  There were very few vantage points that would offer a decent view and they were packed.

I have to wonder why the stage would be set up in the center of the road like that.  It offers such a narrow viewing area.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to set it up caddy-corner in an intersection?  A LOT more people could get a good view then, rather than just the few VIPs that were likely sitting comfortably across from the stage.

If you’re going to have a public event, set it up so the public can actually see it.

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We decided that it wasn’t worth the hassle and moved off into the side roads to look at the stuff for sale.  The crowds there were horrible too, so after fighting our way free to a major road we headed back to the MRT station and went back to Pasir Ris.

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Surcharges

Toilets

I forget the name of the mall just outside the MRT exit in Chinatown, but they had a clever scheme set up.  I really can’t blame them because it makes sense from a business perspective, but it was still annoying.  When we were leaving we stopped in at the mall to use the restroom.  The female restroom on the lower level was conveniently closed for cleaning.  So, we searched further into the mall and found another restroom.  The difference was that it was a pay restroom.

Like I said, I don’t really blame them, because there were a lot of people going into the mall just to use the toilet.  They have to cover the cost somehow.  But still… obvious scheme was obvious.

Food

The hawker we ate at on CNY Eve didn’t charge us anything extra for our meal.  When we got back to Pasir Ris and had roti prata and beer, we weren’t charged extra.

Yesterday though, on Sunday, we went to Bedok to look for something to eat at the hawker.  We were hoping the New World Mutton stall would be open, but it was closed. There was a chicken rice hawker stall open though.  Great Wall chicken rice I think.  We ordered two plates and after our food was ready the guy told us there was an extra .50 SGD per plate as a holiday surcharge.  Thanks for letting us know up front.  At least the food was good.

Sunday evening after jogging we passed through the hawker to get dinner.  We ordered two plates of roast pork rice.  2.50 per plate.  After the food is ready the guy says, “7 dollar”. I asked him what he was talking about and point at the sign. 2.50 and 2.50 is 5 bucks. Turns out this jackass wanted to add 1 SGD to each plate as a holiday surcharge.  I told him he should’ve put up a notice.

Well, turns out he did.  He pointed to a tiny sheet of paper, covered in Chinese characters and prices which I had assumed was another menu, or the same menu but in Mandarin.  I just gave him a look.  I’m white.  The chances of a random white guy being able to read Mandarin are pretty damn slim.  I’m sure that there are people from a lot of other countries in Singapore that don’t read Mandarin either, which is why English is the business language. Nice calculated way of trying to pressure people into giving up more money.

Well, I didn’t have 7 dollars on me.  We had literally just finished jogging and we brought just enough for what food usually costs plus 1 dollar for either a fee or in case I felt like having an iced kopi.  So, I told him sorry, that I only had 6 bucks, and turned and started to walk away.  Of course, the guy called me back and said 6 dollars would be ok.  I figured he would say that.  6 bucks is better than him throwing the food away.  So… haggling win for me.

I understand the point that they’re working on a holiday, but something tells me the workers aren’t getting paid any extra.  Also, with only a few stalls open, I know they’re already making a killing picking up business from all of the other stalls that were closed. The .50 SGD extra from earlier I can accept, but 1 SGD extra on a 2.50 plate?  That’s about a 30% markup.  Seems greedy to me.

I don’t remember this kind of surcharge being added to food last year.  Hopefully they don’t try to drag that out for the full 15 day holiday.

All in all, it was fun to get out of the house and look around and we had a real good time seeing the decorations in Chinatown.  It reminds me of when I used to go to Chinatown in New York City as a kid.  I regret not seeing any dragon-lion dances but I’m sure they’ll be other times.  I’ve seen quite a few since being here in Singapore, especially with the opening of so many malls over the past year and a half.  Lion dances seem to be a tradition to bring luck to a newly opened store here.

Happy New Year everyone!  I hope you all have good fortune this year!