Monday, October 23, 2006

The Tokyo Chronicles: Money Walk or "One For The Money..." 

What do you do in a new city if you have 3 holidays back-to-back and don't know a soul? Why, you walk. You get your ass off the hotel and head out in no particular direction. The trick here (especialy if you are in a city where you are a certified illiterate) is to look back at the road you came by and picture how it would look in the dark. Note the signsboards and the shops in the corners. Of course, it helps if your hotel has a nameplate right on top of the 18th floor, but still, you never lose the basics.
Walked left from the hotel, down a bridge over the metro rail and again turned left. Walked a kilometer and reached Meguro station. So far so good. Saw a bunch of hotels nearby including 2 or 3 Indian food joints. Hmm...info stored for later.

I had run out of money in the first 3 days itself. Had only converted about 100$ into yen and it was time to withdraw more from a nearby ATM. Nearby? They were EVERYWHERE! I had noticed the ATMS during my previous walks and it was now time to put the info to good use. So I go up to the first ATM I see, check to see if it accepts Amex and slot it in. Around here is where I hit the first roadblock, namely the lack of an English option on the screen. Now, punching randomly on the screen with your ATM card safely ensconced within the machine is not a good idea, right? Right. I decide to take the card out. Which button exactly, again? Err...hmmm. At this point I am conjuring up images of all the ATM screens I have seen and collecting data for a huge leap of faith based on the fact that software engineers everywhere will code in similar fashion. Not quite scientific but it bore me out when I touched the bottom left menu item. The card came right out with a polite voice telling me to "Domm Arigato Gojaimas"...which I learnt later that day meant "Thank you very much".
Onto the next machine. Same problem with the language option which I checked before even taking the card out of my wallet. Ditto with the next 3. Sigh..this was getting to be frustrating. I decide to take the ultimate leap of faith and go over to the counter and ask for help from the attendant. she takes me to the ATM machine, slots the card in, punches the right buttons and up comes the PIN screen. She moves aside and I enter in the PIN. Now its easy sailing because the next screen asks me for the amount to be withdrawn. I enter in a judicious amount and wait to get rich. Well, not today! The machine spits out my card (politely, of course) and murmurs "Domm Ari.." like it means it. The preplexed lady calls for help from her colleagues and they crowd around trying to make sense of the gaijin's gibberish. Long story short, I return to the hotel empty handed and enquire at the front desk about forex. Turns out the ATMs in the shopping centers were meant only for Japanese cards and all foreign cards had to use the Post-Office ATMs to withdraw cash.
Ka-Tching! Next morning 20,000 yen richer and a whole lot wiser.



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