Archive for October, 2003

I had the pasta bar and chawanmushi for lunch….

A long time has passed since I uploaded anything to the journals… and a few things have happened that I should at least mention in brief: I exercise my materialistic muscle a little more…

  • I got a sword! No, not a real sword (the blade is not sharp) but it’ll look just fine on the wall. Must give my thanks to Ben for picking that up for me at the Seki festival.
  • I also got a Zaurus SL-C760. I’ve talked about this before. It’s basically a mini-computer that just oozes coolness. Yeah, I really like it. =)
  • Spent a lot of money buying many little things like a new mouse pad that I now swear by, a power bar, some cds, and other useful things. I may have to go back an pick up a wireless optical mouse. It was a really good deal, and that would be really nice.
  • Friday, after bearing yet another two hour Japanese class, Ben, Alex, and I met Lance, Mayu and Mami and went to a really nice Izakaya. A group of drunk business men sat at the table beside us and tried to initiate conversation, so that was cool. The food was really good, and we had some awesome expensive sake that seemed carbonated. The only bad thing was that 98% of the business men (and the 2 accompanying women) were constantly smoking, and we were in a tiny back room. After that, we headed out for karaoke, which was lots of fun. That marks my first time doing karaoke in Japan, and I will be making a point of doing it again. =) about 500yen / person / hour.
  • Yesterday was very relaxing. I went for a swim. Sat at a park and used my new PDA with my wireless card to browse the Internet… c’mon, I *had* to try it! Got lost casually biking around Hashima. Took some pictures. Eventually ended up back at the pool, where I was able to find my way back on my regular route. I intended to update my webpage, but I got wrapped up in translating my Zaurus (everything’s in Japanese). The only non-relaxing thing I did yesterday was try to install a screen protector on my precious new toy…. I ended up TOTALLY SCREWING UP the screen protector, but since that flimsy piece of plastic cost me 500yen ($6CDN), it’s probably gonna stay there for at least a week before I attempt it again with a new one. That was a most troublesome process I’m not looking forward to repeating. *sigh*
  • Today, I have to do some Japanese homework. I must. One of my teachers asks about it every class, and I don’t think I’ve done any for the last couple weeks… =/ I feel bad. Especially cuz she’s so nice! She’s a lot of other things, like the most hyper teacher I’ve ever seen, and ridiculously entertaining. I hope I can get it done.
  • I’m at a transition in my project at work, so it’s a little difficult to get focused, but that is what I must do now. =)

*pops another M&M* Wooooh… a green one!

Office Trouble: What’s that foreigner doing making all that noise?!

I’ve already said the office here is quiet. Well… today, I was stuck on a problem at work and getting very sleepy. I had the cheap plastic stylus that came with my zaurus in my hand, and I guess I let it fall. Woops.

*plick plick* At contact with hard floor, my frightened stylus managed to leap into hiding under the massive cabinet at which I sat. Damn. I proceeded to my hands and knees to peer at the underbelly of this metal beast. I couldn’t see it. I grabbed my cell phone and used it’s light to try and cut through the darkness, but I still couldn’t see it. Fine. It *must* be under there, so I cleverly decide to pull the bottom drawer of the cabinet out. It slides with ease, and comes out very far. I could see the floor through the open drawer, but still no stylus. Well, I figured it would just be easier if I completely removed the drawer and then put it back after I’d found what I was looking for.

having a delicious snack in the drawer you most frequently open is dangerous.

A little wiggle here, a small tug there, and the large metal drawer came out with ease. The new problem was this: any time I made contact with the drawer and the cabinet, a hollow clattering of thin metal on thin metal echoed throughout the office – possibly, the whole floor. Great. Oh well, it should be easier to find the stylus now. Nope. I double checked with my light, once more, but no luck. I eventually gave in to the realization that it may not have landed there, and found it behind the cabinet amongst a bunch of black cords. *sigh*

I spent a good 10 minutes trying to put that friggin drawer back together, the whole while causing a cacophony of noise. Of course, because this is Japan, nobody looked at me or asked me what I was doing – they’re saving my face. heh. I would have just laughed about it if they had asked me what I was doing. In fact, I almost wish someone HAD asked me so as I could explain why I was making so much noise on the floor with a big metal drawer removed from its cabinet.

Yeah, I was tired at work, today.

Bathrooms in Japan

Just got back from the company bathroom, and thought it was about time I wrote about a typical bathroom experience.

The bathrooms in Japan – definitely a mixed bag. On one end, you have the company bathrooms, very nice. If the lights are off (to conserve energy – this is Sanyo, after all!) they turn on when you enter the bathroom. The taps do not seem to have a “hot” option, as they just dump out moderately cold water. I don’t mind. A couple of the bathrooms have a motion sensor “jet towel,” that blasts many small streams of air at your hands blowing all water droplets off – very effective. The urinals, for us guys, also require no physical touch: stand in front, customary pre-flush (“I like a fresh bowl”), do your thing, walk away, manditory after flush. So far, no contact required….

If you have more serious business to attend to… OR, you’re a girl… you MAY require contact… Read on….

The toilet comes in 2 basic varieties. First, the Asian squat toilet. Sounds appealing doesn’t it? These seem to be the most abundant in Japan, for reasons I’m unsure. I think the disadvantages of this toilet design far outweigh any savings made. But, there is ONE (that is a single) advantage to the squat: no contact. You don’t sit on anything. You don’t have to touch what other people have touched with one of the most dirty parts of the human body. Okay. Fine. Disadvantages? Well, where do I start? It’s not as relaxing, because you’re not sitting, you’re squatting! Once you’ve assumed the position, you can’t help but worry: “geee, I can’t really see my pants… I’d better try and change position just to be sure I don’t….” Needless to say, it is not an enjoyable experience, and I still do not trust it. I can’t even imagine doing the squat if I was… oh… not feeling so good, maybe? Only disaster could follow!

It is not uncommon for older woman to be in the men’s washroom. 100% of the cleaning staff are older woman, easily identified by their pink and green uniforms. They sweep the floors around the office while pepople are working, and clean the bathrooms while people are… busy. At first, it was weird taking a piss with a woman sweeping the floor behind me. Now, I’ve gotten used to it. On a related note, train stations are infamous for having very open washrooms, where you may as well just walk up to a wall and do your thing there. Japan is strange. Very conservative in some ways, and not in others.

Yes, it’s true, “western style” toilets exist in Japan. But like the Japanese have done with many things, they’ve copied and improved. At the company washrooms (the ones I frequent, anyways), there is one western style toilet and 2 squats. How is it improved upon, you ask? Well, the seat is always warm (this could also be because it’s much more popular and frequented than the squats). When you sit your arse down, a fan turns on… I’m not too sure where, but I’m sure it turns on. There are soluble paper sheets you can place on the toilet seat to avoid the “contact” issue, as much as possible. Once done here, you can even play with the bidet function and a couple variations of it (there’s a remote control). Just try not to enjoy it too much. 😉

No, I did not write this whole thing on company time. As usual, I cannot bring myself to spend too much time doing non-work stuff; I have a big project constantly beating the crap outta me.

Only the luxurious bathrooms have jet towels, or any sort of drying mechanism. Usually, you will have to pull out your trusty handkerchief to dry your hands. In Japan, you must have a handkerchief. There is no other option….

Ceatec, Korakuen – On the Hikari Shinkansen from Tokyo

Yes. It’s true. I’m a lucky son-of-a-bitch. Sanyo was kind enough to send me to Tokyo on business. That means they paid for my to/from travel expenses – shinkansen-style!

Steve? He got sent to Tokyo on “business?” What the fuck? Yah, I know. =) I should clarify something, though: it’s only technically “business.” I got to go the a convention called Ceatec. It is the biggest electronic convention in Asia, apparently. If you call going to different companies’ booths, collecting information about new products and technologies, and gawking at the amazing woman displaying all these new things… then yes, I suppose I was working. And oh god, was it tough. =)

The shinkansen is the bullet-train that Japan is famous for. “Hikari” = Light or Ray. It is one of a few shinkansen models. I think there is also “sound” and “echo” (the fastest).

I went with 3 other “lucky bastards”: Alex, Lance, and John. Of course, this convention was on Friday at the beginning of a long weekend, so we simply MUST stay in Tokyo. Alex and I crashed at Jeff’s (he’s doing an internship for NTT) on Friday night. So sorry for being late, Jeff!! I’m still not sure why you waited for us, though…. Anyways…

Saturday morning, we get up nice and early. Alex and Jeff are going hiking up Nikko mountain, so I get booted out of the dormitory. I was thinking I would go to Akihabara (also known as “Electronic Town”) and see if I could bargain a decent price for the Sharp PDA that I’ve been eyeing. I left with Alex and Jeff, but I stopped at Shinjuku station and said bye to them (and everyone else they were going with). I thought I would take my time, so I hung out in Shinjuku for a while. I got breakfast from a Japanese bakery (chocolate muffin, pastry with fried chicken and gravy, and yogourt drink), and ate it on the sidewalk.

Shinjuku is considered the heart of Tokyo, but at 7:30am in the morning, it’s practically normal looking! The stations are unbarably clean, even more so than at other times of the day. I must have walked around Shinjuku station and its immediate surroundings 4 times. I had to sit down for a while and pull out my laptop to check email and train schedules – IMPORTANT! If it wasn’t for my laptop and useful websites that suggest routes for given destinations, I may still be staring at the tokyo subway map!

I could have chosen a better place to sit, however. I saw one man sitting at one side of a wide stairway, so I thought it would be okay. But, a few old ladies almost fell on me, because it was the only side that had a hand railing all the way down, and I was in the way! Oops. Now I know….

I met John in Akihabara for lunch. We ate ramen, and then wondered the crowded streets and electronic shops. John kept asking to go into all the cartoon-porn shops, but had to keep him in line. It was difficult to resist the urge, myself! 😉 Most of the shops in Akihabara are not good deals, despite being called “electronic town.” However, we found a small shady operation on the 6th floor of a building with barely any signs, and this guy had good deals! The thing I wanted, he would not get until Monday (today!), but it was still a bit more than I can buy it for online, anyways. I ended up getting some more memory for a really good deal. Cool.

Damn, I think it might be raining when I get back to Gifu-Hashima. We’re plowing through quite the rainy weather, right now… One of the tenants is checking tickets… sometimes, they skip people that appear to be sleeping, but she woke the woman up beside me to check her ticket. I like riding the shinkansen much more than the airplane. There is WAY more leg room, and the preparation/arrival time is almost nil. Oh, and it’s almost as fast, after all is said and done. Very enjoyable.

John was meeting some other people in Shinjuku for dinner, so I went with ‘im and we wandered around some more. It’s amazing how much time can be killed just by watching people. After I said “bye” to John, I had to use the washroom really bad – didn’t feel that good. So I use a washroom on the top floor of a large department building in Shinjuku. It looked clean – Tokyo department stores cater to the rich, after all. But after sitting down on the toilet, a cockroach that must have been over an inch in length crept into my stall! Wah! I try to stomp to scare him away, but those things are SO fast. Anyways, when a giant cockroach disappears behind the toilet of which you are sitting on, you may likely be traumatized. And when you pick up your bag and ANOTHER scurries away from underneath it, your situation may be worse. It kinda freaked me out, but I’ve since recovered.

After wandering around some more, I went back to Akihabara, and met Hana after she finished her job at a curry shop. I stayed with Hana’s family AGAIN for the next two days. They were, of course, incredibly hospitable, once again.

Sunday: I go to Korakuen Amusement Park in Tokyo with Hana. We probably went on all of the best rides. It is not as good as Nagashima Spaland, but a couple of the roller coasters were lots of fun! They didn’t let me bring my camera on the ride, though!! Next time, I’m not gonna bother asking… cuz I could have had the coolest video ever!! *sigh* We left in time to stop at Akihabara for ice cream (I eat a lot of ice cream since coming to Japan), buy some rum for highballs, and get back to her house in time for an early dinner with her family. Dinner was steak (awesome), okonomiyaki (awesome), yakisoba (awesome), and ika (awesome). Of course, there were other little things – I can’t believe I’m now voluntarily eating tomatoes! (Initially, it wasn’t a voluntary thing.. but a polite thing.) I could barely eat everything without feeling pain. The meals at Hana’s house are always so good.

For some reason, I was extremely tired this whole weekend. I feel bad for just falling unconscious after dinner – I didn’t really get a chance to talk to everyone. Thanks again, everyone! As it turns out, Hana may be coming to Vancouver next summer, so hopefully, my family can be half as hospitable as hers has been. =)

Just arrived at destination! It’s now time to try biking (with many bags) back to the dormitory!

Back at the dormitory. It took about 2 hours to take the shinkansen from Tokyo to Gifu-Hashima. There was only 2 stops in between, and none of that “changing train” business. This journey takes over 7 hours via regular train, and there are many many stops and changing trains. Shinkansen tickets cost maybe 12000yen and the cost of going by regular train would almost be 7000yen. Riding the shinkansen is actually enjoyable. Riding the train is not. Conclusion: I don’t know if I’ll be able to take the regular train on long trips again. ^_^

I gave my new camera lots of exercise over the weekend. Interesting pictures (and movies) of Shinjuku, Akihabara, and Korakuen! A lot of the pictures are experiments, trying to figure out the best ways to use my camera, and a lot of them are to portray the craziness of Tokyo to my family and friends in Canada. Hopefully, I’ll get the pics/movies up at some point.

It’s kinda sad being back at a grungy dormitory, again. And… work tomorrow. Maybe I’ll go swimming.
.. So tired….

the effects of staying awake all night….

I finally did it: Stayed out all night in Nagoya going to (foreigner specific) bars/pubs!

After meeting up with everyone in Sakae (a cool area of downtown Nagoya), we went to an Australian bar called, Red Rock. It was so packed! And packed with foreigners, too! I had to stand half of the time while eating one of the biggest burgers I’ve had in my life. Full for the rest of the night, after that. We had a couple drinks, talked, and then went to a club called, Plastic Factory.

Why is it called Plastic Factory? Well, it used to be an actual plastic factory, but then a few British people decided to buy the space and make it a club that caters to foreigners.

Plastic Factory was SO DEAD by the time we actually found it. Apparently, we had just missed a show. But honestly, there wasn’t more than 20 people in the whole place (including staff) at any one time. However, they played some cool music and had couches that we could rest in. We were already getting tired, and it was only 1am. I must mention how nice everyone was. They closed at 4am, and we asked about any other place we could go while we waited for the trains to start running, again. We kept being redirected from one person to another, each one actually TRYING to help us out, and one eventually drawing a map! Cool. So we headed off, not knowing where we’d actually go.

I swear, that one guy from the Plastic Factory was on some kinda crak. Back at the club, when he was telling us about an upcoming show with Leeroy Thornhill (from The Prodigy fame) DJ’ing, he kept climing all over the table. Granted, he’s British and probably loved the Prodigy more than his own mother – but still. Did I mention he wasn’t wearing any shoes or socks? And he kept making really jerky movements. Maybe he was just on a caffeine high, required to operate all night. I dunno. Nice guy, though.

The streets of Nagoya are very cold at 4am. Still dark. We headed in a direction we hoped was right, but didn’t find any other place to go. Then, two of the owners/staff of the Plastic Factory came riding by on bikes and told us to wait while they found the place for us! Next stop: The Creek. Another British establishment. Everyone at this place had just performed Macbeth earlier in the night, and were hanging out here. How fitting. I really liked this place. It had a bit of medieval feel to it; maybe just from some of the people (including owners) still being in costume (and character, at moments), or maybe from the rough decor. We were very tired. We sat, once again, on couches. More cool music. We drank a little more. One husky guy started talking to us. Turns out, he ALSO owns a place! The foreigner business people in Nagoya have a tight little circle. The Plastic Factory people practically walked us to the door of The Creek, and in The Creek, we meet an owner of The Misfits! This guy was really talkative for 5am in the morning, and quite entertaining. Met a few other people, but were so glad to get out of there and into….

…the sunshine? Yah, as we came out of The Creek, we were greetd by daylight. Strange feeling. 6am – the trains started running, and we were eager to get on them and get some badly needed rest.

I arrived back at the dormitory at 8:30am. I feel I could probably stay awake and go to sleep at a regular time, but I decide to sleep right away. 5:30pm – I wake up. Shoulda set my alarm, I guess. I hope I’m okay at work, tomorrow.

Papa’s got a brand new (shopping) bag!

I actually studied, last night! Man, it’s been a while….

And in my typical fassion, I did not study what I was suppose to. I convinced myself that I should study the more basic stuff before I reached what we’re currently working on. I just barely grazed what we’re currently working on, but I think I’ll be okay. I’m glad I covered some of the basics. It was really hard to study, though, as it usually is, because there are so many things I would like to get done! Currently on my plate:

  • modifying a script I downloaded from the Internet to generate static HTML pages for viewing photos. Right now, it adds metadata from the digital camera (stuff like the time the photo was taken and if a flash was used), but there’s no efficient way for me to add comments yet – that’s the BIG TODO for the gallery. Once I get that done, you shall fear the mass amounts of photo-barf being spewed in your general direction! Fear it, I say! er….
  • STUDY, of course. I’m in Japan. I will enjoy it more the more I understand.
  • get Internet working on my Linux installation. I’m not exactly sure how to set up the wireless modem in Linux, and all the documentation I find is in Japanese. But, I would REALLY like to use Linux more. Not than anyone cares….
  • I want to work on my webpage! As you may (or may not) have noticed, it hasn’t really been updated. I’ve been trying to catch up in actually *writing* my journal entries, and haven’t had time to upload them as webpages. This weekend, I will.
  • I’ve been doing some research on future purchases I may make while in Japan. I’ve almost decided completely 100% that I want to get a Sharp Zaurus SL-C760 (http://www.sharp.co.jp/products/slc760/index.html). “Well, Steve, that’s fine and dandy, but what exactly IS that?” I’m so glad you asked! It’s basically a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) / PPC (Pocket PC). However, generally, PDAs run the Palm operating system, and PPCs run WindowsCE (eeew). This baby runs linux! A full-fledged operating system! Lately, I’ve been having very geeky dreams… but I won’t talk about those. Anyways, this is only available in Japan. You can order it in the US for 800$ – 900$ US, if you’re rich. In Japan, the price is currently about 56000yen; after tax, about $700 CDN. Yes, still very expensive. But this would allow me to do so many cool things! These things are so cool, that most people reading this either won’t understand or care! That means they’re VERY cool…. yup. *adjusts coke-bottle glasses and snorts*
  • And just today, a few minutes ago, my attention was brought to a new Sanyo DV camera that will be released soon. it is only a bit more than the Zaurus, at 60000yen, and it records video onto digital media for as long as you have space available! It’s small, AND it functions as a regular digital camera, as well. Yay, Sanyo! Company pride is cool. Add to all this that it looks like a phaser from Star-Trek, and you have another thing on my shopping list.
  • with all these digital toys, I ‘m gonna need some memory. Nothing special, just a necessity.
  • also, with all these digital toys, I will need money to acquire them. I’m currently investigating the prospects of male prostitution, in Japan.

Woah, I hope that’s all I add to my personal wish-list, for a while! There are other things I’d like, of course, but not so pressingly as these. Okay, I’d better do work and stuff. It’s been so hard to work today. Friday.