Our flight to Seoul isn’t until 13:55. We’re not in a huge rush.
Just as well. Andrew isn't a morning person. A right grumpy trousers, actually. He perks up around 6 PM, usually. Or the fifth beer. Whichever comes sooner.
Outside it’s still boiling hot. Thankfully we flag down a cab almost immediately and escape into its air-conditioned loveliness.
We’re headed for Nippori station, from which we’ll get a fast train to the airport. It’s hot and crowded in the station.
“Hurry up and get the tickets, Dad.” The heat is making Andrew impatient again.
“I’m going as fast as I can.” I’m not feeling that great, either. I want to get into the airconditioned part of the station as quickly as possible.
The train is wonderfully cool as it whizzes us through the tangled and confused suburbs of Tokyo, then the emerald-green paddy fields beyond. As with most new airports in the world, it’s miles out of town. The journey from the centre takes around an hour. With hardly any stops and rattling along like crazy.
A lot of escalators need to be overcome to get to departures at Nerita.
“We should have taken the lift, kids.”
“It’s a bit late for that now.” Andrew says as we crest the final one of the set. Bit like taking a narrow boat up a set of locks. Except with much less water. Other than the sweat that’s still streaming down Andrew’s back.
Our bags are soon whizzing away down the belt and we’re queueing up at security. Which we’re through in a jiffy.
“Hurry up and get in the queue, Dad.” Says Andrew when we get to immigration.
“Pay attention, Dad. Do you have our passports?” Alexei says with an amount of concern in his voice.
“Course I do. And the boarding passes.”
“Well don’t lose them.”
I feel pretty shit and mostly doze on the plane. Picking a little at the meal provided, not even having an alcoholic drink, just orange juice.
Once through immigration, we look to see where we get the train.
“I think it’s over there, Dad.” And so it is. Great having two extra pairs of eyes for spotting stuff.
“You’re so dozy, sometimes, Dad.” Despite the nasty things the attached mouths say.
The train is much like the one between Tokyo and Nerita: fast, modern and extremely well air conditioned. Thankfully.
The airport is out on an island and the early part of the journey is on a causeway crossing a river estuary. Goats graze on an embankment, ignoring the train hurtling past just a few metres away. The journey takes even linger than in Tokyo, it takes around an hour. The airport is a long way out.
We get off at Seoul station. Another stunningly simple name for a station in a megapolis. The platforms seem about a kilometre down. We take several massive escalators before we emerge at ground level.
“Looks like the station was built to double up as a nuclear shelter. Like in Washington DC.”
“Shut up, Dad and get on with finding a taxi. It’s boiling hot and I don’t feel like chatting.” What a miserable git Andrew can be at times.
It's boiling hot outside. Just as we exit an old woman gives Alexei a paper fan. That’s nice of her.
There’s a taxi rank right outside the station. But it’s hard to work out which is the start, and which the end, of the queue. There are a couple of minutes of confusion, while Andrew gets hotter, sweatier and more irritated. Finally we work it out and get in a cab.
We've just been showing the taxi driver the printed out names and addresses for our hotels. This one doesn't seem to be able to read Latin script, something I hadn’t anticipated. He rings up his office and has Alexei read out the address for a woman to interpret. It takes a few minutes. A few worrying minutes.
But eventually the driver understands and off we speed. Well speed, as much as the traffic will allow. We roll up to our hotel just before dusk. It’s still crazily hot. The walk from kerb to hotel door is enough to get Andrew sweating like a tap turned full on.
“Look, dad. There’s a shop on the ground floor.” Andrew observes as we approach the lift to go up a floor to check in. “That’s dead handy.”
The hotel is pretty nice, with decent-sized rooms. My room has a really good view of the city. Just opposite there's a tangled web of tiny streets. We’ll be investigating those tomorrow. Most importantly the air-conditioning is dead good.
After taking 20 minutes to catch their breath and fill buckets with their wiped off sweat, the kids rat-a-tat-tat on my door.
“Your view is much better than ours.”
“That’s because they knew I was the father and you two the kids. Of course they’d give me the room with the better view.”
“Fuck off, Dad.” Alexei has such a way with words. His Dutch swearing is pretty impressive, too. "You know that’s bullshit. Why do you say that crap?”
“Let’s go to the shop.” Andrew proposes sensibly.
“Fair enough by me. I could do with some more booze.”
“Dad, I meant to get food.”
“Of course. Though I’m putting money on you picking up some beer. Especially as they don’t have Strong Zero here.”
The downstairs shop is quite small, but has all the essentials, beer, crisps, sandwiches, soju and sausages on sticks.
“It looks like a corn dog.” Andrew opines.
“I want one, whatever it is.” Typical of Alexei. Always up for something new.
I’m drawn to one particular section at the back.
“Do you think this is soju, Andrew?”
“Looks like it to me, based on the type of bottle.”
“How strong is it, though? I can’t see the ABV on the label.”
“It’s on the cap. Looking for the strongest one again?” Andrew is such a cynic.
“No, just trying to be responsible by being aware of the strength of what I’m drinking.”
“That’s exactly the noise your Mum often makes in reply to me. I think it means, ‘yes, that’s exactly right, Ronald.’”
“Do you think I should get three or four bottles of soju?”
“Dad, don’t go crazy.” Alexei is such a worrier.
Back upstairs we chill awhile in the kids’ room.
“What’s your sausage on a stick like?"
"Good. Not a corn dog, though. Just like a bockworst. Except on a stick."
What is this thing about German-style sausages in Japan and South Korea?
We watch some Korean TV. We stumble on an incomprehensible programme that just seems to be a middle-aged bloke eating in a fast food restaurant. That really is pretty much the whole plot. Eating in great detail and with great relish. Though it’s not a Korean: it’s in Japanese and on a Japanese channel.
“What the fuck is this? Can you look it up on your phone, Lexxie?”
“OK. What should I search for?
"How about ‘Man eating food in Tokyo?’”
"Found it." That was quick.
"It’s called The Lonely Gourmet and is based on a manga."
A weirdly hypnotising programme, once you get past the oddness of the concept.
At the end of each episode someone, whom I assume is the writer of the manga, goes to the same restaurant and eats. Genius.
Which gets me thinking. Maybe I could do a series called "Lonely Pisshead" where I wander around aimlessly in the same way, but instead of stuffing my face, I knock back a few. I could easily show as much joy in consumption. Possibly even more. I'm that good an actor.
The soju is going down nicely. Just as well I went for five bottles. I assumed the kids would nick at least one.
Predicting things like that is one of the reasons I’m such a good father.