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Trip to Japan, 2003

Day 1, 2003/03/19

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And we're off! Terry Locke, Rita Grelle, and Rebecca Grotts (me!) depart from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, heading for Washington, D.C., and our first meeting with our Japanese partner teachers. We are beginning the first stage of what will be a year-long partnership between our schools in St. Charles, Missouri, and schools in Komatsu City, Japan, under the auspices of the Fulbright Memorial Fund Master Teacher Program (FMF MTP), an education and technology collaboration and exchange program administered by the Japan Ministry of Education.

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The U.S. is preparing to go to war to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, and security is more than tight; our minivan gets a quick search, our checked bags must be hand-carried over to baggage handlers who put everything through the X-ray machines formerly used only for international flights, and checkpoint security stops just short of a full-body patdown. We get to the gate with plenty of time to sit around and visit.

Our flight (UAL 1014) makes it to Chicago O'Hare without incident; however, we discover that we have only 20 minutes to make it from Concourse C to Concourse B and our connecting flight. Terry is obviously in better shape than the rest of us; she gets there first, followed shortly by Rita and finally, me. (My left knee is not happy about that much movement that fast and complains bitterly about it later...) We find many of the Japanese folks are there waiting to board; Terry sees all of her partners, but discover that they are on the second flight, which leaves an hour later. Our flight has just begun to board; the plane had to have some last-minute repair work done, so we have plenty of time to settle into our seats. As our Japanese colleagues board, the pilot announces that the "large traveling group joining us today" is a group of Japanese educators headed to Washington, D.C., for a conference. Hey, so are we!

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UAL 614 flies into Reagan International Airport, and we disembark, collecting our luggage and finally meeting a couple of the program organizers, Ed Jones and Migiwa Ishitani. Our Japanese partners have invited us to share a chartered bus ride from the airport to our hotels, and Ms. Ishitani directs us to the group headed for our hotel.

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Hotel Lombardy is the first stop, and we three disembark here along with several of our Japanese partners. Hotel personnel are waiting to help with luggage and check-in. This is an older hotel/guest house right in the heart of Washington (2019 Pennsylvania Avenue, 4 blocks from the White House), completely up-to-date but with old-fashioned rooms and woodwork and rooms of all different sizes and shapes. I end up in a suite (Room 1408, on the 4th floor): 2 double beds, bathroom with a closet and dressing area, and a second room with kitchen and dining facilities. A lot of space for just one person...

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A classy restaurant and room service are available, but we three decide to walk across the block to a mall/office complex that has several eating places. We end up at Lindy's Red Lion, a local pub and grill. The menu lists lots of different kinds of burgers and subs, and the signs on the wall indicate that Guinness Draught is available on tap; it's a good place. A glass of wine apiece and a good meal do wonders for flagging spirits. An ice-cream shop next door completes the evening festivities. A quick stop at the CVS pharmacy down the street nets me a new pair of reading glasses (I forgot my old ones) and an elastic bandage (to placate the left knee), and then it's to bed at an early hour. We meet everyone else officially tomorrow morning, and we really would like to be awake and alert for that.

Addendum: This is the day that President Bush has set as a deadline for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq. The deadline passes without any moves by Hussein other than saber-rattling speeches; at approximately 9:30 PM EST, the U.S. makes the first strike in the war against Hussein, and every news channel in the country/world shifts to war coverage, with live camera shots from Baghdad. So much for a peaceful night's sleep...

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