My day started like many others before it; a travel day. My plane was scheduled for 10:30; three hours to Port Moresby, followed by five hours to Singapore, then on to Tokyo; a bit of a grind but pretty regular stuff.
The joys of international business; I was the marketing manager for a large mine in Papua New Guinea. We worked hard, we played hard, but I could have been living in small-town Canada.
We arrived in ‘Moresby and I waited at the baggage conveyor to gather my bags for the next leg. Oh dear! The stench was breath-taking. First came a rather soggy box wreaking of fish, followed by several bundles, also soggy, then my suit bag.
I was horrified! The odor from my suit bag was enough to make my eyes smart and my suits were doomed, I was sure. Nothing for it. I collected my bags and headed to the Singapore Airlines desk to check in.
The check-in clerk visibly winced when she smelled my luggage but was quite unfussed. She asked me if I would like a plastic bag for my suit carrier and then went on with checking me in.
My arrival at Tokyo’s Narita airport was the first test. The customs officer noticed the aroma, but with typical Japanese courtesy did his best to be circumspect. He asked in his best broken English if I was bringing any fish into Japan. To which I replied, quite truthfully, “No, I was not, but it was a bit more complicated than that.”
His reply was “Ah, so desu-ka, musukashi desu.” Which roughly translates as “Ah, I see, difficult, awkward.”
“Momento, kudasai.” (“One moment, please.”)
He called for a translator.
I related my horror story to the translator as best I could, who in turn explained the situation to the customs inspector. A number of “musukashi’s” were uttered and I heard the word “quarantine” once or twice. Not auspicious.
The discussion continued. As it turned out, Japan did not have any regulations regarding the import of suits soaked in fish oil and, technically, I was not importing fish, so I was sent on my way.
The Palace Hotel is my favourite Tokyo hotel; not large, impeccable service, a great home away from home. Tonight, their standards would be tested to the limit. After checking in, I went straight to the concierge.
He smelled me coming. Fortunately, Kato-san knew me from past visits and his English was pretty good. He also understood that this was no normal situation.
After a pause, he declared “Musukashi! Totemo musukashi.” – “Difficult, very difficult.”
He did not have to explain, it was Sunday evening and dry cleaning services would be a bit sparse.” Then he said, “Okay. I have a way!”
He called over one of the bellmen, rapped off some crisp instructions and sent the bellman and bag off at a run.
At 7:30 the next morning, I received a knock on my door and the very same bellman was there with my suits and bag, all neatly laundered and hung.
Life had returned to normal. My business week could carry on with a semblance of normalcy.
Kato-san and the Palace Hotel had come through, again.