Returning to the United States from South East Asia

It’s challenging to write about returning to the United States from South East Asia. The feelings are intense and close to the surface. We’re locked in a house in Colorado, separated from our family, just like many of you.

Just keeping it real

When we started writing the blog last year we discussed “how much” should we share with you.  What would be interesting to readers who already know us?  Or what would be interesting to readers that are just meeting us?  What would be interesting for us to write about?  We decided that for this moment in time we’re opening our lives up to you.  No secrets. 

We’ve talked about death, loss, grief, finances, health issues and a even a post about almost pooping on our shoes. You seem to respond to our posts when we’re the most honest. How do we share honestly with you about what this new phase is like without sounding like we’re whining?

Someone commented on our last post and noted how amazing we are at making decisions and moving forward. It doesn’t feel all that amazing on this end of the keyboard. It’s gut wrenching and very confusing. At this moment in time, this seems like the end of the road for our two year gap adventure. This made returning to the United States from South East Asia really, really difficult.

A little jet lag to liven up the day

I have a great deal of experience with jet lag when returning to the United States from overseas travel. I’ve never bothered to come up with a sum for how many trips I’ve taken outside the United States, but I’d guess it falls between 125 and 175 trips. I understand the challenges of jet lag. I’ve traveled back to the US from Asia many times, but this was the first time I returned to the United States from South East Asia.

Generally, I’m sleeping well the past few days as we acclimate into our new time zone. We’re going to bed early around 9PM and waking around 6-7AM. It’s plenty of sleep for me, and yet, I’m still dog tired. The heavy emotional stress of the past few weeks doesn’t seem to be lifting that much. What is it like for you? Are we alone in this stress? Maybe returning to the United States from South East Asia is only one of several stressors we’re dealing right at this moment in time.

A very (very) long day of travel

So, what’s it like to travel back to the United States from South East Asia during a global pandemic?  It’s pretty darn quiet! We’ve racked up the air miles before, but this was just a long grueling trek in the midst of an awful lot of stress.

So, here’s our travel itinerary:

  1. Hanoi Vietnam- Hotel to Airport-taxi
  2. Hanoi Vietnam to Haneda Japan -Flight
  3. Haneda Japan airport hotel
  4. Haneda Japan to California United States-flight
  5. California to Denver Colorado-Flight
  6. Denver to Colorado Springs-Rental car
  7. Colorado Springs-Dump the Rental car and pull the “Shaggin’ Wagon” from storage

Hanoi, Vietnam

Our hotel wished us a kind farewell and gave Noelle a single cup coffee strainer and some coffee after Noelle had filled out a review form and given the hotel a good review.

We left our hotel in Hanoi and headed for the airport via taxi. It was about a 30 minute ride.

Traveling from our hotel to the Hanoi International Airport
Taxi to Hanoi Airport

The taxi driver loved his horn! The cacophony of scooter and car horns is really one of my first impressions of Hanoi. Wow, the Vietnamese like their horns! Living in Portland Oregon I’d say that Oregonians are horn adverse. I like a good horn honk.

The scooter riders seem to use their horns as an instrument of warning.  I’m accustomed to using my horn as an irritation notification.  “Hey dumbass!  Wake up!”  The Vietnamese seem to use the horn to let you know that they’re traveling in your direction and you need to move.  It’s a noisy, but effective means of communication.

We decided that we’d shoot the pictures of our day of travel as it occurred.  We’d frame the picture “as it was” and not “as it could be”.  I think it would be easy to frame pictures to show no one in the airports.  That wasn’t our experience though.  So, if you see people in our pictures, there were people around us.  If you don’t see other people in our pictures, that’s because there wasn’t anyone else near us!

Arriving at the Hanoi airport was anti-climatic. We arrived three hours before our flight and were processed through immigration within ten or fifteen minutes.  It was very quick.  There were no health checks that we observed. 

No waiting line at the Hanoi Airport immigration
Hanoi Airport Immigration

We wandered around the international terminal and grabbed a quick bite to eat before our flight. Transitioning from ultra cheap meals ($3 each) to airport prices ($20) was shocking. I watched another traveler have a major melt down at the food counter over the food prices. What a waste of energy.

We boarded our flight from Hanoi to Haneda without incident. Almost everyone was wearing a face mask.  Our flight was fairly short, perhaps five hours.  I mindlessly rotated through movies on the “in flight” entertainment system, but none really captured my interest.

Haneda, Japan

It's a bird!  It's a plane!  It's Hitachi Japan!
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! …

I was surprised and sort of excited to see the name of my former employer, Hitachi, appear on the flight map as we approached the Haneda airport. Go figure!

After walking the immigration tightrope in both Vietnam and Thailand and receiving a 30 day tourist pass, it was a pleasant welcome back to Japan to have a 90 day stamp placed in our passports.  We explained to the immigration guard that we were only in town for 18 hours, so the 90 day stamp was a surprise.  Japan wasn’t intentionally selected as a stopover location, it was the only option. Japan wasn’t a terrible location though. I was thinking that if the borders shut while we were in the air, I would be able to call on local friends for help. 

Yet again we were surprised that there was no visible heath check at the airport. Hanoi we could kind of understand, we were leaving. Do they care if we’re infected if we’re leaving Vietnam? Somehow though I thought that Japan would be more stringent with a detailed questionnaire, or something…

The international terminal at the Haneda airport was fairly desolate.

Empty terminal at Haneda International airport in Tokyo Japan
It’s very quiet in Haneda airport

Haneda airport is close to Tokyo.  You can catch a train from the Haneda airport to downtown Tokyo in the blink of an eye.  It was really tempting to just go down to the train level at the airport and go into Tokyo for dinner, but we tried to keep in mind that we might be virus carriers, so we opted to take the intra-airport shuttle and go to our hotel.

Haneda intra-airport shuttle terminal three to terminal two
Haneda Airport shuttle

I found that my tension decreased a bit after we arrived in Japan. I haven’t been in Japan since November of 2018, but being back in Japan was akin to the feeling of donning a comfortable set of clothes.  The world may be going to hell in a hand basket, but in Japan, the trains will still run on time.   I took comfort in the familiarity. 

After staying in a hodgepodge of hotels the past few months, I laughed out loud at the amenities collection in our bathroom.

Excel hotel amenities
Hairbrush, toothbrush, razor, shaving cream, etc.

I didn’t take comfort in the cost of our lodging though. The cost of one night in the airport hotel was equal to the cost of one week’s hotel tab in Hanoi. It was tempting to go elsewhere to a much cheaper hotel off airport property, but we stuck to our goal of self isolation. Sigh. Tokyo is one of my favorite food cities. So close, but so far.

We awoke to messages from Delta Airlines that our flight to California had been cancelled and we were instead heading to Minneapolis.  This added an additional few hours to our “relax” time at the airport.  We left our room at noon (latest checkout possible) and returned to the international terminal.  The terminal was still rather empty.

We arrived before the Delta counter opened, so we wandered through the airport. The International terminal is definitely smaller than Narita airport. We ran across one of my favorite restaurants and our lunch fate was sealed. 

After passing through immigration (no visible health check) we had hours to waste before boarding our flight. 

We did a little souvenir shopping and walked around the terminal to kill time. We did run across a great Ema plaque collection. This is the first time I’ve seen Ema plaques when they weren’t displayed in conjunction with a Shrine.

I was sad that the vending machine selling the Ema plaques only accepted Japanese currency, but not credit cards. I really, really didn’t want to add Japanese currency to our mix so I didn’t exchange any currency. I’ll write a post about Ema at a later date. It’s an interesting aspect of the Shinto/Buddhist religions.

Flight Status
A good day to not be arriving from China

Out flight from Haneda to Minneapolis was about twelve hours. It seemed like it was much, much longer. I found myself annoyed while we were waiting to board the flight and then annoyed again while in flight. You could easily pick out most of the “Western” travelers by their lack of face masks. I’m not sure I understand the hard core Western avoidance of face masks. Perhaps it’s an easier sell in Asian countries where the population density is so high. I did chuckle a little bit about an article I read in the news back in the US about why we shouldn’t wear face masks. I interpreted the article’s point was that we shouldn’t be wearing face masks because there’s a shortage of face masks. Sigh.

As I was writing this blog post, I was searching for the link to the article dismissing the use of face masks, and then ran across this article on the New York Times discussing that perhaps, just perhaps, Americans should start wearing face masks. I see that the American Association for the Advancement of Science is now also wading into the fray.

Minneapolis

Minneapolis was a 90 minute blur, 45 minutes of that spent in customs and immigration.

I chatted with the Border Agent and he said that ours was one of the last international flights coming into Minneapolis.  Most of the big jets have already been parked to ride out the virus storm.  The Agent said that there was a big push from travelers in Mexico trying to get back into the United States, but after that, there weren’t any flights scheduled. 

The Border Agent thought that he might be sent to the US/Mexico border for work since international flights were coming to an end for the foreseeable future.

Wandering through the Minneapolis airport we were now in the minority of travelers wearing a face mask.  I noticed lots of stares from other travelers.  Some stares I interpreted as curious, others displeased, others disinterested.  We didn’t care too much.  We kept our face masks on our faces.

Minneapolis to Denver was quiet.  I think we slept most of the flight.  Exhaustion was hanging on us like a smelly funk. The flight was about three hours. 

Denver

The Denver airport was, well, kind of empty.  It wasn’t as empty as Hanoi or Haneda, but it was still pretty empty by Denver standards. Health check? Nope. It’s crazy to recognize that the restaurants in Hanoi were holding us to higher health standards than the airlines or United States Immigration.

Waiting for the Hertz bus was a test of our patience. I knew I was tired and whiny. Waiting 30 minutes for a rental car shuttle was an exercise in deep breathing.

When we left Hanoi the temperature was around 85F/29C. When we landed in Denver the temperature was around 35F/2C. We are “geared” for warm weather, not winter weather. We don’t have clothing for cold weather.

We finally snagged our rental car and drove about an hour to my sister’s house. Lisa popped her car’s trunk (from fifty feet away) and we collected a few items and hit the road again. We drove another twenty minutes or so and landed at my parent’s empty house, where we’re now residing.

It was a long journey to come here.  It was crazy expensive to book last minute tickets to come back to the United States.  We read about other travelers that have just hunkered down where ever they were at because they couldn’t afford to travel home. 

Colorado Springs, Colorado

We’re now living in my parent’s house, without my parents. Many of their belongings are still here. The “smell” of them lingers. Everything about living here without them in the house seems wrong. It’s like living in a house filled with ghosts. The ghosts of my childhood, siblings, and all that is no more. I sit at the kitchen table that I ate at as a child as I write this blog post. (I don’t think I’m sitting in my correct seat though!)

Peeking at the retirement accounts

I had been talking with our financial advisor for the past several months about making some changes to our investment portfolio, so yesterday I bit the bullet and looked at our investments. (Too bad we didn’t have advance notice of the impending market meltdown like members of the US congress had…) We easily lost 20% off our portfolio from the market meltdown. We have a stretch to go before retirement, so I’m not freaking out, but I’m certainly not happy either. Returning to the United States from South East Asia immediately spiked our finances into a heavy spending rotation.

Day to day life

We’re trying to get out of the house and go for a walk each day for a little exercise.  The elevation plays with my mind.  It’s 6,035 feet/1838 meters elevation.  Am I winded because I’m sick?  Winded because of the elevation?  Winded because I’m exhausted from stress and travel?  It’s hard to know.  I’m not a hypochondriac, but this is toying with my mind.  I’m grateful to be here, but I’m anxious to move onto the next chapter of life.

Conclusion

So, was returning to the United States from South East Asia the correct choice? We really don’t know. Time will tell.

See you on the trail-

6 thoughts on “Returning to the United States from South East Asia

  1. I am not thinking as much as you . Maybe because i am so much older and not going anywhere probably until I take the ride across the river of life to the other side. When this is over I would like to visit my daughter in northern California . She was here in February before all of this exploded.

    You are back so let your thinking relax for a minute. I am sure you know about being present to the moment etc. No need to rush ahead or think behind……….

    1. Thank you for your kind words. We’re working to relax more and being present in this moment.
      Hopefully you’re able to visit with your daughter in Northern California soon!

  2. Glad you are back and relatively safe. Enjoyed the openness and details of your travels. Look forward to more. Love to see your gear list from the pct. starting to build mine.
    Paul

    1. Hi Paul! What are your plans for adventure this year if you’re not able to go to Base Camp?
      We just hand washed our sleeping bags today (in the bathtub) and have them air drying after a few cycles on the spin cycle in the washing machine.
      We’re reunited with all our gear in Colorado, including a weight scale to calculate the actual weight, so a gear list will be coming soon.
      Even though I thought I knew what I was doing, I was still jettisoning gear as I progressed further and further on the trail.

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