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Cross-cultural Ocean Crossing

Feel free to disagree, but I believe if the breadth of human culture had extreme polar opposites, it would have to be the Mexican-American culture and the Japanese culture. For good measure, throw in a Chinese guy.
On my 25 hour flight from Singapore to Austin, I had the wonderful opportunity not only to traverse physical space, but also cultural space. I flew Japan Airlines from Singapore to San Francisco, then Continental from San Francisco to Austin, changing flights in Houston.
I checked in one backpack, carried a small camera bag, and another backpack with my computer and camera tripod strapped to its side.
The tripod and a petite Japanese girl would put my mathematical skills to the rack.How is it that luggage allowed on board at the point of embarkation is able to lose its right to be brought on board the aircraft halfway through the flight? Even if it is the same airline? If mommy told me that I could go swimming and daddy said no, I'd understand. But if mommy said I could have a cookie, then slaps my hand when I eat one, I'd be utterly confused. Heck, I'm confused, do rules change within the same airline based on geographical location, or do tripods grow longer when exposed to high altitudes?
At Tokyo-Narita airport, the petite Japanese ground crew decides to pull out her magic measuring tape and declares that my tripod is too long to be hand-carried. It is the grand total of 2 centimeters over the allowable 60cm length. She asks me to check it in. My flight to San Francisco leaves in 40 minutes, and a line appears at the check-in counter, as if on cue.
"Look", I told her, "it's 2 centimeters. Couldn't you just let me through?". She smiled sweetly and muttered something in Japanese. I didn't understand.
"Security item". She tried again in English. Wow, my tripod became a security risk because it was 2 centimeters too long. Did the plane have a hard reset button like a PDA that we could depress if we had something longer than 60cm to prod it with? What exactly was the risk?
She asked if I could detatch the tripod head. I had brought the really light one which didn't allow me to do that. I thought for a bit, then came up with my brilliant mathematical plan.
60cm in height, right? And I'm assuming most luggages are allowed a certain width, which the tripod definitely did not exceed. So if I opened the tripod just a little bit, it'd be shorter than 60cm. Bingo.
Smarty pants here then changes the rules on me and decides that height was relative and didn't have to be perpendicular to the ground. Please see following shoddy illustration on the remarkable ingenuity of the measuring tape-wielding Japanese girl.
<img alt="How petite Japanese girl measured my tripod" src="http://tribolum.com/archives/2006/03/11/jal-tripod.gif" width="308" height="189" class="img-center" />
She grabbed my tripod and waltzed to the end of the now very long line. I didn't know to be amused or incredulously incensed. How uptight were these people?!?
I told the counter staff that throwing the tripod in the luggage compartment as is would certainly break it. They tried to pack it in standard-issue JAL cardboard boxes, all of which were too short to hold the enormous length of my tripod. I can only ascertain that those boxes were exactly 61cm in height, because if your item were 60cm, you'd be carrying it through no problem.
So I huffed and puffed, swallowed my impotence at solving the lengthy problem and rushed to the boarding area, hoping to make my flight but half-expecting my tripod to be lost forever. They had just started boarding the first class passengers.
I slumped into the seat, a little winded from the running. Then I look beside me and see a fellow passenger carrying a bag that was larger, taller, longer, wider (you get the idea) than the tripod I was forced to send to its doom.
<img alt="fellow passenger's HUGE bag" src="http://tribolum.com/archives/2006/03/11/narita-bigbag.jpg" width="400" height="300" class="img-center" />
I'll write about the Continental flight to Austin tomorrow or something. It's almost 3am.

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