The conversation goes something like this:

Her: Visa credit card services, how may I help you?

Me: To be perfectly honest, I don’t think you can. But I’d like you to try anyway. This is the sixth time I’m calling VISA in as many days. Since I’m calling from Asia, these calls are prohibitively expensive. I know that VISA has a toll-fee number, but it doesn’t work in Asia. I know that VISA accepts collect calls, but the only other number on the back of my card is answered by an automated response and won’t accept collect calls. I know that there is another direct line to dial for collect calls but that number is only answered during normal North American east coast business hours – which doesn’t help me in Asia when I actually need to contact someone. I know that I should keep a record of all of these phone charges and VISA will reimburse me. But that’s not why I’m calling. I’m calling because, despite the fact that I informed VISA I would be in Asia for two weeks, it seems like very second time I try to use my VISA, it’s either flagged or denied, forcing me to pick up the phone and call you guys. The first time it happened, I let it slide because making a purchase in Hong Kong was a little out of the ordinary for my VISA track record and, after speaking to someone, I was assured it would not happen again. The second time it happened, I was willing to let it go because it was a fairly pricey purchase, one can never be too careful, and one of your customer representatives informed me he had made a note in my file and it wouldn’t happen again. But the third time it happened, after my card was declined for a $60 lunch bill, I began to lose patience. Each time I called I was assured that a note was made in my file and I would not experience a similar problem. This morning, however, I tried to check out of my hotel in Hong Kong, handed them my US VISA and, sure enough, five minutes later, I was handed the card back and informed it had been declined. I’m tired of being made to wait while store clerks call the VISA service center, tired of having my card declined, tired of calling VISA and being informed that the problem has been rectified. But most of all, I am tired of VISA and, at this point, I must weigh the inconvenience of holding a VISA card with the inconvenience of replacing it with an American Express or Mastercard. I’m sure you’ll see to the problem, you’ll make a note, and you can assure me that it will never happen again. And maybe this time you guys will get it right. But if you don’t, and it does happen again, I will be phasing out all three of my VISA cards (in addition to both of my wife cards) on my return to Vancouver next week. That is, provided VISA allows me to the privilege to make use of my cards while I’m in Tokyo. If not, it’ll be much sooner.

My VISA situation aside, it was a pretty nice morning. We slept in, showered, dressed, and headed down for our last continental breakfast. Fondy was a little wistful as she savored the last whipped butter pancakes and spring roll breakfast she would enjoy in a while. For my part, I will miss the oatmeal dish with the chopped walnuts and raisins and what they told me was muesli but could be shredded newspaper (see pic). Either way, it was damned tasty.

We then headed over to the mall where I picked up some suits and shirts, Fondy picked up a pair of pants, then took a leisurely stroll back to the hotel and packed. We checked out a little after noon and the hotel had a car waiting to take us to the airport. Our diver, Marco, was a friendly, boisterous fellow with a love for Canadians and tropical vacations. He dropped us off at the airport where another hotel representative was on hand to escort us, and our luggage, to the ANA terminal for check-in, then over to the security check-in. As we lined up to pass through customs, I noted the comparatively shorter line beside us, reserved for Diplomatic Use Only. For some reason, I thought of a guy I used to know. He worked as a sales rep for a major wine maker but, if anyone asked, he would tell them that he was “a wine ambassador”. I wondered what privileges he may have enjoyed as a “wine ambassador”. Did his desk hold a stack of unpaid parking tickets he would never have to pay on account of his diplomatic immunity? Did he get to take the short line whenever he flew out of Hong Kong International Airport? If he killed someone, could he be prosecuted under Canadian law and, if not, what country would grant him safe haven? The Principality of Ernest & Julio?

We were early and, with over an hour to kill, we sat down for dim sum at one of the airport restaurants. I was surprised to see snake soup on the menu. After hearing Terry’s talk, I’d have been foolish not to order it. So I did. It was surprisingly good. Yes, reminiscent of chicken, but with a nice almost-abalone-like consistency that I’m sure 9 out of 10 of you wouldn’t appreciate. Though, come to think of it, 9 out of 10 of you wouldn’t put yourself in the position where you would be testing its consistency in the first place. We shared a nice mixed roast meat platter that included: honey-glazed porkloin, roast goose, and crispy suckling pig. Excellent. The shrimp rice noodle dish that Fondy ordered, however, was not. She found the shrimp salty yet devoid of any real flavor. I had to take her word for it.

The flight was uneventful and we landed at Narita a little after 8:00 p.m. local time. By the time we picked up our luggage, it was almost 8:30. We wandered around and, rather than take a taxi, I inquired about shuttles to the various hotels. I bought seats to the Park Hyatt Shinjuku and it was only after I’d paid and received the tickets that I realized the bus wasn’t due to swing by until 9:30 p.m. 50 minutes later, we embarked on one of the most grueling, near-intolerable rides I’ve ever had the displeasure to experience. It took us an hour and a half to wind our way from the airport, through Tokyo traffic, around construction, in a hot, stuffy, slow-rolling bus.

We finally reached the Park Hyatt and, what can I say? It looks and feels like an Asian version of the W Hotel. And I don’t mean that in a nice way. Sparse, minimalist décor (that Fondy insists is beautiful). Silly lamps (pictured included). Those annoying feather pillows. And a staff that looks like they’d feel right at home in a German existential nightclub. There isn’t even a damn ironing board in the room! Compare this to the hotel we just left, the Island Shangri-la where were enjoyed free wireless networking, complimentary laundry, continental breakfasts and foam pillows. I hate to say it, but I’m regretting we didn’t spend the full two weeks in Hong Kong. I suppose that could just be the “3+ hours it took us to get from the airport to our hotel room” talking but I’m admittedly cranky right now. And not even the gift that awaited our check-in (pictured), some very good brownies that normally would have done the trick, helped improve my mood. Hopefully, things will pick up tomorrow when we hit Ginza.

Okay. That does it! All of the writing in the banner is in Japanese and it won’t let me post pictures! This is the final straw! If I’m unable to post my pictures by the time I log off, I’m switching hotels!

4 thoughts on “December 2, 2006

  1. Joe,
    Many commiserations on your Visa experience. I have heard this before, sometimes first-hand and with even more colorful language than you employed. They more than deserve to lose your business! Same for the hotel, because I’m loving your pictures and missing them. At least you’re not in one of those horizontal boxes with the little TV at your feet, though. And I love down pillows!

    Since you’re in the mood to answer questions… 1) Will your new suits still fit after the trip? 2) How do you maintain consciousness after dim sum (it always puts me in a coma)? 3) Do you use any “Stargate Producer” lines to get better service? I hear the show is very big in Japan 🙂

  2. Switch hotels! switch hotels! I mean, what’s a travel blog without the visual stimulation silly lamps (need to know what they look like in order not to buy as anniversary gift), the hairy crabs (needs to know how they look like in order to NOT eat) 🙂

  3. Thank you, Joseph, for your selfless culinary adventures. Just this morning (let’s call it December 2, since it is December 2) my little girls asked me what snake soup tasted like. Embarrassed, I turned red, not being able to quench their inquisitive little minds. What kind of a mother was I, I berated myself. I then remembered your culinary blog! So I logged on, tuned in and freaked out to see that you had indeed dined (or is it lunched) on snake soup! Armed with my new knowledge I shared it with my offspring and they leaped into my arms, grateful to have such a “Mommy Dearest” (they keep calling me that – should I be worried?).

    Anyhoo, enjoy Japan. We had a young Japanese woman staying with us this summer on a Canada-Japan exchange thing. Her name is Asako. Just go up to Japanese women on the street saying, “Asako? Is that you? Come back to my hotel.” I’m sure you’ll find her. She’s really nice.


  4. LOL… This situation reminds me of that famous scene in “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” with the rental car lady.

    Sorry about your VISA troubles Joe!

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