On January 28, 2023 I embarked on a journey back to the United States. I took a total of three planes (or two layovers) to get to my final destination of Las Vegas.
A friend of mine was getting married in Vegas, and so my close friends decided that the four of us would meet in Vegas to celebrate the wedding, my sister's birthday, and spend time together. Since we all live in different places, it is rare for all of us to be together these days.
Another close friend of mine also happened to move to Las Vegas. She was kind enough to pick me up from the airport and then meet up with me again for dinner. That night, we ate at Uno Más in the Sahara. It was my first reminder of how expensive everything is on the strip. Because of the strip traffic, I ended up being away from my room for several hours. I got back to my hotel, the Excalibur, around 10 p.m. and began to get ready for the night in the bathroom.
At around 10:20pm I began to realize that someone had entered my room while I was gone. What first clued me in was when I had first arrived, I laid out all of the omiyage (gifts) that I brought for my loved ones on the table in the main room, but the gift I had purchased for my mom was left in the bathroom. I brushed it off that I was tired as I hadn't slept in over 24 hours, since I can't sleep on planes, but then I realized that my necklace that I had left on the bathroom counter was also no longer there. The necklace was a long chain that I had placed two pieces of jewelry on: one was given to me by my sister and was a cut out of California with a heart located on Santa Cruz (something that I had been wearing religiously through my time here in Japan) the other was given to me by my dad and step-mom, it was a peace sign with bright green jewels on it. That's when I started panicking. I ran out of the bathroom and found that all the drawers in the cabinet below the TV were open, as well as the drawer to the nightstand. I opened the closet where I had placed all of my belongings and noticed that my backpack was gone, but thankfully my luggage was still there. I opened my luggage quickly went through everything that was in it to see what I still had, and called my friend on the phone in a panic, while rushing out of the room. I reached the hotel lobby at 10:26 p.m. I told the woman at the front desk what had happened, and instead of helping me, she told me that I went to the wrong place and called her manager over.
The manager told me that I needed to speak to security. He told me to standby and wait for security to fill out a report. At this point I began to lose track of time. I was in fight or flight mode and I struggled to remember everything. However, I will say that it took a long time for security to come over to the front desk so that I could fill out the report. The manager at the front desk changed my room, gave me some water, vouchers for free drinks, and took the resort fee off of my bill. Additionally, I was given a temporary room key to my old room that would only work once. I was told that I could go back to get my belongings and do a walk through of the room with security. Once a security officer came over, I told him my story. He took me back to the security desk where I was told to fill out the report to include everything I remembered and how much the missing items were worth. I was then told to wait at the desk because they were calling police (or Metro as they call them in Las Vegas). Time went by, more security officers came to talk to me and I had to retell my story numerous times. At some point, I was told that Metro was, in fact, not coming and that I needed to call them myself. I explained that I had a Japanese phone with a carrier that doesn't have access to roaming data in the U.S. I could physically not make the call. I was relying on wi-fi and can only make calls through apps like Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Snapchat etc. Security would not even let me use their phone to call Metro.
I would like to add, that my mom was already in town. She was staying in the same hotel, however she had gone to sleep before I had even returned back to the hotel. I tried calling her multiple times, but she was fast asleep. I also couldn't physically get to her room because she was staying in another part of the hotel which my room key didn't have access to. So my only other option at the time was to call my friend back, I then had to wait for her to arrive so I could borrow her phone. I would also like to point out that she was working and that all the back and forth to and from the strip was a huge inconvenience for her. I am still so grateful for everything that she did and I would not have survived that night without her.
At some point while waiting for my friend, my phone died. I had no access to my charger as it was in my room, security would not allow me to charge my phone on their chargers even though I asked multiple times because it was the only way I could communicate with my friend. When my friend arrived at the Excalibur I immediately called Metro with her phone around midnight. When I was speaking with the dispatcher he asked me why I had waited so long to call the police if I had noticed that my belongings were gone at around 10:20p.m. So I had to explain that security refused to call the police and that I did not have access to a phone until then. I was also asked if I had taken any drugs or drank any alcohol twice...
After the call to Metro, I had to wait, again. Security told me that it could take anywhere from an hour to multiple hours for Metro to actually arrive. I then asked if they would do a walk through of the room with me so that I could grab my belongings, move rooms, and charge my phone. I was told that security "does not do that" and that I needed to wait for Metro, even though previously I had been told they would do a walk through of the room. I was also informed that security would not check security footage or the history of the room's key fob information, that again, it was metro's job.
My friend and I were LIVID. We became friends because we were coworkers working as dispatchers for a private security company. We both knew that everything security told us was a lie. She demanded to speak to the manager. The manager was incredibly cold and short with us. She asked him several questions like why they were refusing to do a walk through when the person who broke in could possibly still be hiding in the room. I don't remember all of her questions and I certainly don't remember the answers, but just know that she was the best advocate when I was in fight or flight mode. Checking security footage, especially since I relatively knew the time stamp, would take a few minutes at most. Security was making it very clear that they did not want to help me.
Eventually around 1:00am Metro arrived. I had to retell my story once again and I also had to fill out another written report. I tried my best to write the second report exactly the same way I had written the first report, but again, I was struggling with my recall. One officer viewed the security footage, while the other officer followed me up to my room to finally do a walk through. When I got up to the room, the temporary key fob was not working. My friend offered to go down to the lobby and get a new one while I continued to work on the report. However, the front desk would not allow her to get a fixed room key because her name was not on the room. So, after pushing them and explaining that I was busy filling out a police report and that this task needed to be completed without me there. They agreed to give her a room key if she came back and showed them my ID. While this was happening, the officer that was standing next to me told me that the other officer had checked the security footage. He said that when I left my room, I didn't double check if the door was completely closed. At around 8:32 p.m. a man entered my room, was in there for two minutes, came out carrying my backpack and left through the stairwell. He said, that it was obviously someone who "knew what they were doing" as there are NO cameras in the stairwells.
My friend finally came back with the key. The officer entered the room with us and stood by as I packed up my belongings, that's when I also realized that all of my makeup had also been stolen. After exiting the room we parted ways from the officer. My friend and I tried to go to the new room, but, as I am sure you can guess, the room key was not working for the new room. So, again, we had to trek down to the front desk and get replacement keys.
Once we finally got settled into the room, my friend agreed to search the parameters. With our background in dispatching we both know that it is common for thieves to throw out belongings that they don't want near the scene of the crime. By this time it was around 3:00am, so obviously, this person was long gone. We followed in the footsteps of the thief based off what the officer had told me. We had walked all the way down the stairwell. If you were wondering, there are 26 floors in the Excalibur. We didn't find anything. I also checked the trashcans at the base of the stairs and the other trashcans lining the outside of the casino as well as glance at the general surrounding areas, again to no avail.
What I did discover, though, was that the stairwell could be entered and exited on any of the floors EXCEPT the first floor. You can exit at the first floor, but you cannot enter through the stairwell. This means that the thief had a key fob to get at least to the second floor, meaning they were either hotel staff or guests... I also looked for cameras, there are cameras in the elevators and by the elevators, but there are very few cameras in the hotel other than that, in fact I don't remember seeing any other cameras in the hallways.
As someone who considers myself to be independent, I was scared to be by myself. Especially in the hotel room. My friend did offer to have me spend the night at hers, but I wanted to wait for my mom to wake up so I could tell her what happened. So my friend left, and I was insistent that I was going to stay awake until my mom woke up. However, I did end up falling asleep for a few hours. It was much needed after being awake for about 40 hours at that point!
So I am sure you are wondering what was taken. In my backpack I had my Nikon d3500 with two Nikkor zoom lenses an 18-55mm lens and a 70-300 mm lens. Additionally I had a Godox flash and transmitter. My GoPro Hero 9 was also stolen as well as a book that included ALL of my SD cards I had a total of six regular SanDisk cards that stored 128 GB of data, and three mini SanDisk cards that stored 128 GB of storage (one of my mini cards was corrupted, though. Wear and tear on SD cards is a part of being a photographer!). I had an Acer Spin 5 laptop that was also stolen (which is where all of my pictures were backed up). Additionally, my passport was stolen as well as proof of Covid vaccines, which were both things that I needed in order to get back into Japan. There were less important things that were also in my backpack like various clothing items (including the outfit I bought for the wedding) and travel snacks.
I will spare you the boring details of how I had to go about getting a replacement passport. However, I will say, take pictures of all of your important documents before traveling, it could help you out a lot! I mainly wrote this entry for myself as a way to process my trauma. Even three months later, I am really shaken up about everything, I don't feel as independent, and the depression has been pretty ugly. During my free time I often find myself wanting to do nothing, I haven't been reaching out to friends and family, and have lost interest in most things. I do know that it could've been worse and that at the end of the day things can be replaced. I am most upset about losing my pictures. I lost so many of my pictures that I don't have hard copies of. Like from my days in high school, college, grad school etc.
Anyway, this is not the end of this blog entry. I did also have good times in Vegas too! I will say, though, that I was suffering with my short term memory loss. So even though I enjoyed myself at times, I was also very forgetful and needed my friends to look after me and take care of me. For obvious reasons, all the pictures in this entry were taken with my phone.
My best friend arrived the next day, on the 29th. During the day, my mom, her partner, my best friend and I ran errands to do all the bureaucratic stuff that I could do in Las Vegas towards replacing my passport. That evening my best friend and I went to the Taco Bell cantina, something I had been looking forward to for months! Would you believe me if I told you that between the two of us, we spent $74 at Taco Bell? To be fair, we got two of the tall frozen drinks and each chose to get a double. Was it worth it? Absolutely! We then headed over to Skybar at Waldorf Astoria which happens to be across the street from Taco Bell. The two of us had a lot of fun! After that, I got the best night's sleep.
The next day, the 30th, played out in a similar fashion. During the day, the four of us were running around Las Vegas doing stuff that needed to get done. In the evening my best friend and I played arcade games in New York New York, where I beat him by double points on a basketball game! And we also ventured down to one of my favorite bar's in Vegas, the Chocolate Bar! We ended up closing the night at Johnny Rockets, which is where we ate quite frequently due to it being conveniently located by the elevator in our hotel and the fact that it's open 24 hours a day.
The following day was my mom's last day in Vegas. We completed all the bureaucratic stuff we could do the previous day, so on the 31st, we rested until around noon and then met up for lunch. We ate at a Mexican Restaurant in the Luxor called Diablo's Cantina. I miss Mexican food the most since moving to Japan, so I was somewhat disappointed that the food was mediocre. Afterwards we purchased tickets for the two exhibits in the Luxor hotel: "Bodies" and "Titanic". We decided to go to "Bodies". Bodies is a science museum that showcases 13 preserved bodies as well as organs, muscles, veins etc. I actually went to a similar exhibit as a kid with my dad. At the time, I remember being freaked out by an eyeball they had on display. Even though I haven't completely overcome the creepiness of it all, I do think I had a better appreciation for the exhibit as an adult. I even spotted some Japanese!
Afterwards, we didn't have time to go to the Titanic Exhibit because we had reservations for dinner at Top of the World in the Strat. For those that don't know, Top of the World is a restaurant that is sometimes called an "air pod" and it slowly rotates around while you are sitting and enjoying your meal. It is VERY expensive. On top of the cover charge, there is also a $55 minimum per person. I was the only one that was disappointed with my food. I ordered lobster mac and cheese as my entrée thinking it would be mostly mac and cheese with lobster in it, however it ended up being mostly lobster with mac and cheese. The ambiance was really cool and we enjoyed our time together! We made the most out of a difficult situation and I am so glad to have had my mom be the one there to help me during this time. She also replaced my GoPro, thanks mom!
Afterwards was probably my favorite Vegas experience. My best friend and I went to Area 15. Area 15 is an interactive/immersive entertainment venue that is off of the strip. There are multiple things to do there including VR, a flight simulator, and axe throwing. We decided to go to Omega Mart. I am not really sure how to explain what Omega Mart is. On the surface it looks like a regular grocery store, however there are multiple ways to enter the back of the store and behind it is an immersive, mind bending attraction. It is somewhat similar to an escape room. It seems that you are supposed to figure out the dirty secrets behind the corporation of Omega Mart. However, the longer you stay in there, the weirder and weirder things get. The two of us couldn't figure anything out, but I would definitely go back and try again. It was fun!
The following morning we had breakfast at Mon Ami Gaby. Mon Ami Gaby is a French restaurant located in the Paris at the base of the Eiffel Tower. I really wanted to go because in the few times that I have been to Las Vegas, I have never actually done anything at the Paris. Je sais que Las Vegas est différente de la France, mais j'espère déménager en France après le Japon.
Afterwards, I had an appointment for a haircut. It's the first hair appointment I've had since moving to Japan. I did want to get a significant amount of hair cut off, to be fair, but the stylist cut it way shorter than I had asked. Three months later and I am still hating how short it is! She chopped off all the trauma away, I guess.
That evening was my dad and stepmom's first night in town. We went to the Comedy Cellar at the Rio. It was a great show with four comedians in total. I got roasted multiple times both for living outside of the U.S. and for wearing a mask. Say what you will about masks, but I have been wearing one since the pandemic started and I have avoided all kinds of sicknesses. Teaching before the pandemic, I was perpetually sick, so I don't see myself getting rid of the mask any time soon.
The following day my dad and stepmom had us meet them at Dick's. Initially, I didn't know what it was, but it's a restaurant where the staff roasts you, nothing is too far at Dick's. It was mostly enjoyable because my dad was getting a kick out of it. Both him and my stepmom were getting roasted the most. Afterwards we headed over to the Mandalay Bay aquarium. One thing that makes the aquarium at Mandalay super cool is that they have an open tank full of piranhas.
That night, two more of our friends got into town. So my dad, stepmom, best friend, two friends, the groom of the upcoming wedding, and I all headed down to Fremont street. It was my first time at Fremont Street. We grabbed some food at a food truck that sold barbecue. It was probably my favorite meal I had in Vegas, what can I say, I am a simple gal. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich with a side of mac and cheese. It was delicious! I didn't realize how much I was missing barbecue until eating it again. We all caught up, some of us danced and sang, and overall we had a great time!
The following morning I grabbed breakfast with my dad before saying our goodbyes. In the afternoon, my friends and I went to a pre-wedding party at an arcade off of the strip. Overall, we were generally tired from staying out so late the night before on Fremont Street. So, we ended up leaving somewhat early. Both my sister (who was
driving) and our other good friend (who flew in) were also due to arrive that evening. Once the four of us were reunited, we of course had to visit the Taco Bell Cantina. Afterwards, we crossed the street to go to the Bellagio where they were decorated for Chinese New Year. We also caught the fountain show before heading back to our hotel for the evening. The Bellagio is arguably the most beautiful casino on the strip. It has been featured in several movies including Ocean's Eleven and Ocean's Thirteen. However, it's also incredibly expensive, or in my opinion, overpriced.
The following day, February 4th, was the wedding. It wasn't until the afternoon, so during the day we ended up going to the Titanic Exhibit (which we had previously purchased tickets for but didn't use, thanks mom for the extra tickets!!). At the beginning, you get a passport for one of the guests that was on the Titanic. You then walk through the exhibit which tells the story of how the Titanic was created and her one and only voyage. It showed the disparities of what life was like for passengers of first, second, and third classes through various artifacts. Then at the end, you find out if the person on your passport lived or died. My person was the only one who did not survive, she was in second class.
After that we got ready for the wedding. As I had mentioned earlier, one of the things that was stolen from me was the outfit I had purchased for the wedding. So, early on in the week I decided to get a dress expedited to my friend's apartment. I figured it would be easier and cheaper than shopping on the strip, as I am not much of a shopper anyway. The dress did in fact make it. It was a little big, but honestly, it wasn't that big of a deal because everyone knew that I was robbed. The bride and groom both individually told me it would be okay to wear regular, every day clothes. The venue for the wedding was off the strip and was small/intimate. There was an open bar, the food was great, and the DJ even played Harry Styles upon request.
After leaving the reception, we went to this bar called The Tipsy Robot. It's just as you would imagine: it's a robot that serves you a drink. The robots really are taking over! Even though it was cool to watch, the drinks were very weak. But anyway, please enjoy:
The following morning, February 5th, I ended up waking very early in the morning with a terrible sore throat. I was so concerned that it was going to be COVID, yet another hurdle of getting back into Japan. After multiple negative tests, however, I decided it was just a cold. I was completely dead, though. For my final days in Vegas I had no energy to explore. However, my sister and I had tickets to the Michael Jackson Cirque du Soleil show. We wanted to see it when we stopped in Vegas at the end of my cross-country trip back in 2021, but the tickets were sold out. So I am glad we were able to make it this time around. The performers were incredible. Even if you are not a fan of Michael Jackson, it is always fun to catch a Cirque du Soleil show, and being in Vegas, there are multiple shows to pick from. My advice is to purchase in advance, and know that it is definitely worth the money.
Around 4am the following morning, my sister and I woke up and drove to Los Angeles for my emergency passport appointment. Since I didn't know how long it would take in Los Angeles, I brought all of my belongings. I did end up getting lucky and was able to get my brand new passport in one day. That evening I flew back, in first class I might add, to Las Vegas with Spirit airline. My sister decided against driving back to Las Vegas because it was too much back and forth for her. It was a difficult decision because the following day was her birthday and we had plans to visit Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen to celebrate.
On my sister's birthday all I could muster myself to do was make it to the dinner reservation at Hell's Kitchen. While I was happy that I got to experience it, I didn't really get to enjoy it. I was super congested and I couldn't really taste anything. I ordered an egg white cocktail, the mac and cheese starter and the salmon. I couldn't even finish the mac and cheese, that's how you know I was really sick! We celebrated my sister's birthday from afar and were sad she missed out.
This was my final evening in Vegas, it was very bittersweet. Although my time in the U.S. was filled with laughs, love, friends, and family, it was also really traumatic, stressful, tiring, and I was physically ill. I wish that I could have stayed for a bit longer. My body forced me to slow down, so I did, but there were many things that I had planned on doing that I wasn't able to do because of all the bureaucratic things I had to do and because I got sick. So here is a list of things I think might be cool to do in Vegas if you plan on going out there:
Blue Man Group: This is a group of performers who paint themselves blue and they come up with unique, and comical, ways to make a beat. They perform in the Luxor. One of the things that piqued my interest in seeing the Blue Man Group was one of my film professors who used to be a performer in the group before transitioning to teaching full time.
The Mob Museum: Tells the history of organized crime, not only in regards to how Las Vegas first started, but also looking at it's impact at the national level.
The Neon Museum: This museum has saved famous neon signs that were once used on the strip. It seems like it would be a great place to take some pictures, and it is decently priced. The website says to purchase tickets in advance.
High Roller: This is the highest Ferris Wheel in North America reaching 550 feet tall. It acts more as an observation wheel than an actual ride, so it is slow moving and takes about thirty minutes to complete. My sister had no interest in it, and I am also afraid of heights, but what I can say is only one person has died on the High Roller and it was because they stepped into a forbidden area. They ended up falling 50 feet to the ground. So... why not give it a try?
SlotZilla: A zipline that soars over Fremont Street, reaching up to 35 miles per hour! There are two ways you can sit: you can choose to sit in a normal position face up OR you can fly in a superman pose. Since I have experienced ziplining in a nature area, I would have loved to try ziplining over a popular urban area. Fremont street has four different stages of live music, lots of cool lights and people to look at below!
Helicopter Tour: I am an absolute sucker for city lights in the evening. One of the popular attractions in Las Vegas is to do a helicopter tour of the sky line. I have never been on a helicopter and have never had the chance of viewing a city in that capacity. Hopefully somewhere, someday I will get to try it out (and bring my camera or gopro with me??).
On my way back home I planned a pitstop in Hokkaido. The city of Sapporo, (yes, where Sapporo beer comes from!) Hokkaido hosts a yearly Snow Festival that attracts tourists from all over the world. Due to COVID, the Snow Festival hadn't gone on for three years, so this was the first year it was back. This festival is always held around the first week of February and lasts for only one week. So I was lucky to catch the tail end of it. BUT, I was still extremely sick so it wasn't the best idea to follow through with these plans because I couldn't fully enjoy my winter wonderland experience. Additionally, the combination of my congestion, and three flights made my ear so plugged that I couldn't hear out of my left ear the entire first day I was there. So as you can imagine, I didn't do much at all besides lay around.
I did end up going out a little bit, only within walking distance of my hotel of course. I had never seen so much snow in my life! It made me feel like a little kid and I experienced a good amount of snowfall for the first time in my life. My first morning I enjoyed drinking tea from a café that had a big window and looked out onto the city.
There are two different parts of the Snow Festival. On one street they have snow sculptures and on the other street they have ice sculptures. After enjoying my tea, I walked down the street with the snow sculptures.
Hokkaido is known for their soup curry. I have never tried soup curry and always try to enjoy the local cuisine when I am visiting a new prefecture. There were so many tourists in Hokkaido (side note I had never seen so many foreign tourists and heard so much English since moving to Japan!) that there were massive lines to all of the soup curry restaurants. I didn't have any kind of stamina to wait in a line. The only formal restaurant I visited while I was in Hokkaido ended up being a yakiniku restaurant (a place where you order your meat, season it and cook it to your liking). I ended up ordering wagyu. A coworker of mine ended up saying it was silly to get wagyu in Hokkaido considering that Miyazaki wagyu consistently wins awards. But there was no wait for the wagyu and I still couldn't taste much regardless.
My second and final evening in Hokkaido, I went to the street with the ice sculptures. The pictures don't do them justice, I have never seen anything like it in my life.
There were also artists working on new ice sculptures.
The next day I headed back to Miyazaki. It was the most stressful airport experience I have ever encountered. I assume the airport was so crowded because of the Snow Festival. I took the earliest train from Sapporo to the airport because I had an early morning flight, so there is no way I could have arrived to the airport any earlier. I had already checked in to my flight the night before, but I needed to check my luggage. The lines were extremely long and were not moving. Luckily a worker ended up pulling me out of line and lead me to the front. There were so many people on my flight in the same situation that they ended up postponing the departure time! I found out that only a few hours later they ended up canceling several flights due to a massive snow storm, I REALLY lucked out. There are no direct flights from Hokkaido to Miyazaki, so I had a layover in Osaka. The two flights back made my ear plugged again and it didn't clear out until 24 hours later. The traveling prolonged my sickness, but at the end of the day I am still happy that I got a little taste of winter in Hokkaido before heading back to reality.