Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Nothing lost, nothing gained? Losing 300 USD in Tokyo.

Sometimes, in a move to be social and see a different side of a place, you agree to go out on the town, even when you are tired and want to wake up early the next morning. For me Monday, September 28, 2015 in Tokyo was one of those nights. I was on vacation. Why not get to know new people from the hostel and explore a different side of Tokyo?

I had spent the day exploring. I had eaten an awesome meal of ramen, suggested by the host of the hostel, and I was just hanging around in the common area planning my Tuesday. Not many people were around. It was 9 p.m.

I went upstairs, debating with myself what to do. I could go to sleep. I was tired after a long day of walking and exploring, but when I heard people talking in the room, I took a chance. I stepped out of my capsule bed and ask if anyone had plans for the evening.

That was when the evening turned from a potential quiet night to a night I will not soon forget. M the Italian girl in the room said, “Yes, another guy from the hostel and I are going out. Do you want to join us?”

I hesitated for a split second, then said, “Yeah, why not?”

I thought for sure we were going out in our area, so I only packed a bit of cash, about 4,000 yen (40 USD). When I went downstairs, I found out we were going to Shinjuku, a place full of yakitori and small bars. I asked if I would have enough for the evening. G the French guy who was coming with us assured me that it would be enough. “We won’t be out for that long. I want to be back before 2 a.m.”

We were an unlikely group of three. M a graphic designer who worked for an architecture firm, G a teacher trainer on sabbatical who had coordinated visiting artists to schools, and me, a EFL teacher, formerly an art educator. We came together at a great place, Kai(su) Hostel, attracted by the artistic layout of the hostel’s website and the charm of its interior design.

As we headed out to Shinjuku via two transfers on the metro, I considered what I would do if 4,000 was indeed not enough. I had my bank card. I knew I could always stop by a 7/11 ATM and withdraw more if needed.

We started the evening at a small yakitori bar and left around midnight. Already, I knew it was going to be a long night and my 4,000 yen had somehow already dwindled to 1,500 yen. It was not a good feeling. No one else was ready to head back, and I didn’t have money for a taxi. So, the conclusion was to stay out, tell M and G my money situation and figure out how to pay them back later. Feeling like an awful mooch, I let them know that I was pretty short on money.

“No problem!” was the response that I received.

After dinner we wandered over to Golden Gai, a series of alleys crowded with small 7-8 person bars. Between my method of using GPS and G’s method of asking every time he felt we were going the wrong direction, we made pretty good time. As we walked through the alleys of Golden Gai, we discussed the criteria for selecting a bar.

First, no cover charge. Many of the bars charged a cover for foreigners who may have just come to see what all the hype was about rather than to sit down, have a drink, and talk to the bar tender.

Second, there had to be people in the bar.

Third, it needed to look like fun.

As I predicted, I was out of cash after the first drink and a half. That was when things started to get uncomfortable. Sure, it’s not hard as a woman to get men to buy you drinks, but I like to pay for myself. I felt the guilt starting to rack up. We were all travelers on limited budgets staying at a hostel – so when we left Golden Gai in search of a place to dance – I kept my eyes open for an ATM. I didn’t care to dance, but no matter what we did, at this point, I felt I needed to grab some money.

That’s when I saw a 7/11 bank. This was my chance to get cash and pay everyone back for their generosity. I went into the bank, put in my Korean ATM card and started pressing buttons to withdraw money. I had remembered from before that 10,000 yen (100 USD) was the minimum I could withdraw at a time in Japan, but this time it seemed as if I could withdraw 50,000 Korean won (5,000 yen, 50 USD). I was excited, it would mean less money left over in yen at the end. I withdrew the money, put it in my purse without examining it, and left the bank.

After I took the money, we walked a bit more, looking for a club, and finding only places with hopping music and no dance floor. By this time it was 4 a.m. well past the 2 a.m. I was promised and well past my budget for this night out. Finally, to my relief, we headed, yawning, toward the metro. We were somehow under the impression that the metro opened at 4 a.m. When it wasn’t open, G, in his way, asked the poor student on the steps about the opening time, 6:30 a.m. We all agreed that it wasn’t worth the wait.

It was time to take a taxi.

Now was my time to pay back the favors, so I offered to cover our taxi ride of 2,400 yen (24 USD). When we arrived at the hostel, I handed over three bills to the taxi driver. G handed me a 1,000 yen bill for some reason. I received 600 yen in change from the driver, and I got out of the taxi and headed for bed.

The next day, I checked out of the hostel around 10 a.m. as planned and made my way to the Imperial Gardens and then on to a traditional looking area of Tokyo, known as Taito, where a hidden gallery called SCAI THE BATHHOUSE resided. The gallery didn’t open until noon, and I was a little early. So, I wandered around.

Not too far away was a great little hidden bakery and coffee shop nestled into traditional wooden houses. I went in and grabbed a couple low cost baked goods.

I thought I had about 3,600 yen in my pocket left over from the night before, 2,000 from the ATM withdrawal, 1,000 from G, and 600 in change from the taxi driver. I hadn’t bothered to check my wallet when I left the hostel. I just packed the extra 5,000 I had saved for transportation and was on my way. When I was at the metro, I put 1,500 yen on my card to get to the airport, so at the bakery I should have had 2,100 yen immediately accessible in my wallet.

I put down a bill for the baked goods, and waited as the cashier counted change. She took her time and grabbed a 5,000 yen bill and some 1,000 yen bills. I was about to wave her away and tell her she was wrong when I looked down at the bill I had handed her. In Japanese style it was still in the money tray on the counter. It was a 10,000 yen bill.

I stopped in shock. My first thought was, “Oh shit. G must have handed me a 10,000 yen note. What am I going to do? I don’t have his contact information. I don’t even know his last name.” I started thinking about how I could possibly pay this forward or return it to him.

After enjoying my snack, I went back to the gallery and then wandered on to the metro to head to the airport. I still had no idea what to do about the money, so I brushed the thoughts aside. I could figure it out later, when I had had more sleep and less alcohol the night before.

When I got close to the metro, I decided to stop by a convenience store to grab some water or something to drink. I went in and grabbed a marker and a drinkable yogurt. Then I went to the counter. At the counter, I opened my wallet and pulled out the change from the 10,000 yen bill. To my surprised I found another 10,000 yen bill. That’s when my neck flushed. I fumbled a bit, paid for my things with change from the first 10,000 yen bill and got out of there.

“What is going on? If I have two, it wasn’t G who made a mistake. I must have taken 50,000 yen (500 USD) from the ATM?”

As I thought of all of this and the foggy events of the nights before, I walked toward the metro, found my train, and got on. As I sat on the train, I badly wanted to open my wallet and do some calculations to figure out what was going on. If it was true, that I had taken 50,000 yen, maybe I misremembered the taxi ride. Maybe I gave him one bill and he gave me different change. The only other option is that he took 30,000 yen (300 USD) from me and gave me 600 yen in change. This couldn’t be right. There’s no way.

After a few stops, I got off the train to transfer and make sure I was on a train to the airport. I desperately wanted to find a place to hide and count my money.

There was nowhere to hide on the outdoor platform.

I would have to wait an hour until I was at the airport and in the bathroom. I had an hour to remember and make clear the events of the night before.

I remembered. I went to the ATM. I must have withdrawn 50,000 yen, there is no other explanation and it makes more sense that 50,000 Korean won. I was in Japan after all. I got in the taxi. At the end, I handed the taxi driver three bills. I distinctly remember this action. I also remember not looking at the bills, ever, until the bakery. I just assumed that 1 and 0 that I noticed were followed by two more zeros not three.

When I finally arrived at the airport, I was 90 percent certain of what had actually occurred, but I had a small sliver of hope that maybe I was remembering the night wrong. What kind of taxi driver, takes 30,000 yen for a 2,400 yen taxi ride?

I resolved to go into a stall and cry about my loss. 300 USD. The equivalent of a month of my teacher training course. Money that was supposed to go home. Money that I should have held on to, but not money that put me at a complete loss. Maybe the taxi driver needed that money … or maybe he was just a jerk who hated foreigners.

I went to the stall, still slightly clinging to hope. I opened my wallet with one last wish, and then I counted. One 10,000 yen bill. Two 5,000 yen bills. Three 1,000 yen bills. There was no longer any question. I had done exactly what I dreaded. I withdrew 50,000 yen and gave 30,000 yen to the taxi driver.

There was simply no other explanation. It will be absolutely confirmed when I see my sad bank account.

I traded 300 USD for a story.

Nothing lost nothing gained. 

There is no real excuse for the confusion ...

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