Dr John Hawkins
Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff,
home to a huge load of pictures,
and my daily blog.
My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.
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Main Index (text only)
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Maison de Stuff
- Recent Entries:
South to North
Out and About around Abergavenny
Guildford and Abergavenny
Rob and Kate's Wedding
The Peak District
Off to England
Getting Ready to Go
A Day with Lorenzo
Come Fry with Me
I had no idea it was St. Patrick's Day until...
A BIOP too far
Okonomiyaki and Karaoke
To Flame or not to Flame
Back into the Routine
In Japan Again
Back to Tokyo
- [Wednesday 29th March]
Went for a daytrip across to Dublin to visit my company's office there. I got the ferry from Holyhead about 9AM, which got me to Dun Laoghaire for around 10:30, and I was at my company's office before 11. You could also commute to work like that. Spent the day there talking with my Dublin based colleagues, and also went out for a couple of drinks and dinner after work. We chose a place for dinner very close to the ferry terminal, which worked brilliantly, so after we'd finished I just had a very short walk to get back on the return ferry. For some reason the return ferry is a fair bit slower, which meant I arrived back in Holyhead around midnight, and didn't get back to Dad's house until after 1AM. As you can imagine I was pretty knackered by this point, but felt very satisfied at having got a decent day's work done, despite being officially on holiday (and also ill!).
- South to North
- [Tuesday 28th March]
Today we headed up from Abergavenny (South Wales) to the Llyn peninsula (North Wales), where my Dad lives. Vera was coming to stay for a while too, which was nice as it meant I could continue to see her during the last few days of my holiday. The journey up took up most of the daytime - we left some time after 10, and it was around 5 by the time we arrived. We stopped off twice, once somewhere in the middle of nowhere for a quick coffee, and then later in Machyllneth for a pub lunch. It turned out the landlady at the pub we had lunch in was also a Hawkins, although we couldn't establish any immediate relation. Naturally though this meant the food was quite good!
So we arrived at my Dad's house around 5, and from then on I seemed to almost the entirety of the rest of the day on the computer - a lot to catch up on having been without an internet connection the past few days.
- [Monday 27th March]
Sadly Chie was not able to get quite as long a holiday as I did, so she was going to head back a few days ahead of me. Although her flight was Tuesday, she needed to head over to the South East the night before, so this meant today I was going to be waving her off.
In a slightly complicated arrangement, very typical of my family, the plan was for me and Chie to drive to Malmesbury together, where we'd then meet Dad and Janie who were returning from Romsey, and then we'd have lunch, I'd swap cars, and Chie would then continue on to Reading by herself.
Malmesbury turned out to be a very nice place indeed, and I wondered why I hadn't been there before. We had lunch at the Old Bell Hotel, which was all very nice, and then went for a quick wander to take a look at the abbey and some other old buildings. If you're ever passing junction 17 on the M4 and looking for "someplace nice" to stop off, then I heartily recommend Malmesbury.
So anyway, Chie and I said our goodbyes after lunch - not too bad this time, as I'd be back in Japan by Sunday, so I would be seeing her before the week was out. Me, Dad and Janie then motored on back to South Wales. In the evening I made a "rustic peasant" meal for everyone - Vera was keen to use up all the odds and ends in her cupboards, so I ended up making a red wine stew and some macaroni cheese. Not the best example I've ever made of either of these dishes, but OK I suppose.
- Out and About around Abergavenny
- [Sunday 26th March]
We were lucky enough to have a whole day where we could just stay in Abergavenny, and didn't have to travel anywhere. Chie really wanted to get out for a nice walk while we were in the UK, and given that Chie would be flying back on Tuesday, this seemed like more or less the last chance to fit that in. So we got in the car and motored over to the Sugar Loaf - a small mountain very close to Abergavenny.
It was a lovely - but tiring - walk on the way up, unfortunately though shortly after reaching the top the clouds burst, and we got totally drenched on the way back down. I seem to have contracted a cold as a result. Still, we definitely got plenty of fresh air!
We popped out again a bit later on, to take a drive over the Blorenge. I was reminded how nice it was for me and Chie to have a car, and be able to go out for a "little run" like this. Of course, having a car is completely impractical in Tokyo, there's nowhere to park it and nowhere really that we'd want to drive to either.
Had dinner with Vera and Robin back at their house, and then spent the evening filled with that wonderful feeling of comfortable tiredness you get after a good walk and plenty of fresh air.
- Guildford and Abergavenny
- [Saturday 25th March]
My brother had very kindly given us a place to stay after the wedding - this was hugely convenient as he lives just a short taxi ride from the venue. This worked out brilliantly, as it meant we were in exactly the right place from first thing in the morning to spend some "quality time" with Adrian, Liz and the kids. I met the newest addition to the family for the first time - baby Daniel had been born just after I left for Japan back in October. Spent a lovely morning playing with the kids, and after a very nice lunch we got our things together, said our goodbyes, and set off on the next leg of our journey.
The next location on our whistlestop tour of the UK was South Wales - Abergavenny - to see Vera. We shared the driving again, but I think I pulled the short straw this time. I took the second half of the journey, which was all motorway in the absolute pouring rain. I'd felt pretty comfortable driving the day before, but today it was a real struggle. Anyway, we got there OK obviously.
Spent the evening at Vera's house, where she'd laid on a bit of a family gathering - my aunt, uncle and cousin all came over, and I also got a chance to meet my cousin's boyfriend for the first time. I often wonder what people think when they meet my family. We're not exactly rich, but it occurred to me that we very probably come across as quite snobby - it was once pointed out to us by a friend of the family that the sort of things we talk about over dinner are very high brow compared to some families. Anyway, all that aside it was a very nice evening, great to be completely surrounded by family like that.
- Rob and Kate's Wedding
- [Friday 24th March]
Today was the day for the main event of our trip back to the UK - Rob and Kate's Wedding. Chie and I left my Mum's house in the morning, to motor down South. We made pretty good time, but predictably were held up on the M25, and so arrived in Guildford with not much time to spare. We very quickly called in at my brother's house to drop off the car, and get changed, before heading over to Clandon Park around 2:30.
The wedding was just lovely of course, the venue was really smart, and I loved the fact that Rob and Kate were able to just do their own thing and not be bound by convention.
So here's to the new Mr. and Mrs. Lang! Cheers!
- The Peak District
- [Thursday 23rd March]
Spent the day in the Midlands with Mum and Keith. As we had a nice little hire car, we decided to take them out for a little run in the daytime, so motored over toward Matlock for a drive around the Peak District. I was reminded how nice the countryside is around there - you don't necessarily have to go to the extremes of the British Isles to find nice scenery. Had a somewhat disappointing lunch whilst out at a place in Matlock Bath - the food was OK but the service terrible. We waited 45 minutes for our food to turn up, only to then be told when it finally did arrive that it was our own fault for ordering fish - absolutely no apology. It was only our second or third day back in the UK and we'd been very quickly reminded about one of the negative aspects of my homeland. Still, you can't have it all I suppose - whilst Japan does offer a very reliable standard of dining out, it doesn't on the other hand have charming little villages like Winster, where we stopped off on our way back for a bit of a wander.
- [Wednesday 22nd March]
Our first full day back in England, and there was lots of things to do. We left Simon's flat around 9 in the morning, and got a taxi over to the car hire place. This did make me wonder how people normally got to this place - it was nowhere near any station, or even any bus routes. Clearly the whole point of going to a car hire place is that you don't have a car! Err, anyway...
After picking up the hire car we drove down to Chie's old college - formerly Gyosei, now called "Witan". It is in the process of closing, which is a little sad really. Still, two of Chie's friends are still working there doing admin type jobs, so we had a brief chat with them, and arranged to meet up for lunch. We spent the remainder of the morning in the centre of Reading visiting banks. It must have looked highly suspicious, as we changed large volumes of cash between different currencies, and shuffled it about between different bank accounts. To transfer any money internationally by some electronic means you generally get stung for some kind of fee, so it makes much more sense to just draw out a load of cash, and take it yourself, if you're going back to the UK anyway. Japanese interest rates really stink at present, and as we've managed to save a little from the wages we've earned thus far in Japan, that money is much more sensibly invested back here in the UK.
Anyway, after all our money tasks were complete, we headed back to meet Chie's friends for lunch. We went for a curry at a place I used to go to years and years ago when I lived in Reading (Sardar Palace). It was pretty good actually.
After lunch, Chie and I drove up to the Midlands, as we were going to be staying the next couple of nights with my Mum. We made pretty good time - about two and a half hours - so we were at my Mum's house by 4:30. This was just as well, as I had to take part in a conference call at 5. It seems my company is the sort that never lets you be absolutely 100% on holiday, but I didn't really mind that much.
Had dinner with Mum, and to my delight she had even made me a birthday cake (with candles!). A combination of the jetlag and excesses of chocolate meant that both me and Chie were falling asleep not long after eating, and so by 9 we decided to call it a day and go to bed.
- Off to England
- [Tuesday 21st March]
Our flight from Tokyo Narita was at midday, but as the airport is a fair way from central Tokyo, we needed to get up and leave the flat fairly early still. Interestingly it was the first time for Chie to ride on the Narita Express train, which had become somewhat second nature for me with all my recent trips to Seattle.
Now I don't like flying, and as a side effect I also don't like airports. Today there seemed to be an unusually large amount of kerfuffle in getting checked in, and I had to visit a total of five check-in desks to get myself sorted out. So by the time I'd got all that sorted, as well as the usual messing about with security checks and immigration, I was actually feeling quite agitated.
Luckily we discovered an excellent remedy to this. As I've flown rather a lot recently with KLM/Northwest, I'm now a gold (almost platinum) member of their mileage programme. This means, apparently, I can use their business class lounge, even when I'm not flying business class, and even when I'm flying with a completely different airline (today we were flying with Virgin for the first time). Oh and also I was able to take a guest, so Chie could come and join me - and I don't think she'd ever been in one of these lounges before. I am still not sure if this was all totally official, or if it was just because we'd talked to a trainee at the reception desk for the lounge who was too afraid to say no! Anyway though, we were let in, and so prior to boarding Chie and I had a really good half hour or so relaxing in some comfy chairs, with free drinks and snacks.
The flight itself was OK I suppose. We'd paid a bit extra to get a seat with more legroom - they charge you to sit by the exits on Virgin. However, just after getting onboard the stewardess had broken my video screen (it just snapped off in her hands). The staff were very good about it though - to say sorry they brought champagne and chocolates, and we were also offered to upgrade to Premium Economy. We went to take a look, and actually it felt more crowded in Premium, so were were happy to just go back to regular economy, where we managed to find some pretty reasonable alternative seats. The food was more or less OK, the movie selection was a bit crap, but made up for with some very good TV programs. I watched a few episodes of the Simpsons, a few of Little Britain, and also an entire series of Peep Show which turned out to be rather good, albeit somewhat cringe inducing at times.
We landed in Heathrow well ahead of schedule, and although we lost some of that time in the horrendously long queue for immigration, we did still manage to get out of the airport around 4, meaning we were pretty much in Reading by 5. After a quick coffee, we got a taxi over to Simon's house, who had very kindly offered to put us up for the night. Spent the evening chatting with Simon and Vanessa, eating pizza, and supping beer. A very nice and gentle introduction back to England.
- Getting Ready to Go
- [Monday 20th March]
Today was my last full day in Japan before my nigh-on two week trip to the UK. I spent the daytime at the office, winding up things in preparation for my absence. In the evening we had the chance to meet Lorenzo again for a short time, and funnily enough we ended up in the same cafe/bar place in Shinjuku station that we'd been to the last time Lorenzo and I met up in Tokyo. Chie and I then retreated home, and spent the remainder of the evening getting our things together ready to fly the nest day.
- A Day with Lorenzo
- [Sunday 19th March]
Last time I'd met Lorenzo in Japan (see here) our travel schedules had conflicted so badly that we'd literally only been able to spend about an hour together. This time it had turned out again that for some of the time Lorenzo was in Japan, I would be out of the country, but it wasn't as bad this time - we did at least have a whole weekend where we'd both be in Tokyo.
So today Lorenzo and I had a whole day together to catch up and wander around Tokyo. This was really great - not only did we have loads of time to have a really good natter, but we were also able to share some of our knowledge of the big city with each other, and I realised again it's not such a bad place to live after all. We spent the afternoon around Shinjuku, including a visit to my favourite Tokyo park (Shinjukugyoen) and also a trip up to the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building to see the view (although it was very hazy. We also had a late lunch at Al Dente - the only place Lorenzo will eat spaghetti in Japan. Clearly I couldn't fail to enjoy it, given that it had been sold to me with such a glowing endorsement! Towards the end of the afternoon, we popped back to Lorenzo's hotel room for a bit, and then decided to head over to Ikebukuro for the evening.
The venues for the evening's entertainment in Ikebukuro were somewhat obvious - drinks at Quercus, dinner at Rohlan, then more drinks back at Quercus. Like everyone else I take to Rohlan, Lorenzo did the standard "I can't believe it's not pork" routine when he tried the vegetarian tonkatsu. I have to admit I am now quite worried that they've just been feeding me meat all along, and not telling me! Anyway, I certainly enjoyed dinner (as always), and I hope Lorenzo did too. Quercus was very quiet - I think this might be the first time I've been on a Sunday - but I did still recognise a few of the die hard regulars. We had a wide ranging whisky tasting session, all over Scotland and also taking in Japan. Lorenzo seemed pretty taken with the Chichibu - so it sounds like we have another convert to the school of thought that says Japanese Whisky is actually pretty good after all.
All in all a very nice day - great to see Lorenzo; great to have a really long chat about life, the universe and everything; and great to be able to spend time enjoying Tokyo together.
- Come Fry with Me
- [Saturday 18th March]
Or alternatively, Fry me to the Moon...
Today Lorenzo came to Tokyo, which was just fabulous. I spent the daytime at home, awaiting with anticipation his arrival. Luckily I was not devoid of things to do - just after lunch a delivery guy arrived with a very large parcel. Upon opening it you can imagine my delight in finding half a whisky barrel - a birthday present from Chie. The idea was to use it for putting plants in on our balcony. You could still smell the whisky that was soaked into the wood, and I was absolutely over the moon with it.
So Lorenzo and I met up in Harajuku around 6:30. After struggling to find anywhere to go in Harajuku for a while, we managed one quick drink before deciding we might be better off heading over to Shibuya. Along the way we met up with Marta and Chie, and the four of us set about finding somewhere to eat and drink in this bustling part of Japan's capital. This was not an easy task - it appears our timing was less than great, and we were turned away from a number of over full izakayas.
Finally we came upon a kushiage tabehodai place. They actually had several free tables - not entirely encouraging as to the quality, given that everywhere else was full, but by this time we would have eaten just about anywhere. So the format was that you get allocated 90 minutes, and in that time you can eat as many little fried things-on-a-stick (kushiage) as you can. Oh and also drink as much beer as you can. Thus you can imagine the commitment with which we entered into this enterprise, and one hour and a half later I was feeling thoroughly unhealthy. Still it was fun though, you got all the kushiage things in their raw form, and we then cooked them ourselves, in our own private deep fat frier built into our table. On the downside though this meant we left the place absolutely stinking of that evil lingering frying smell, an insight into what it must be like to work in a chip shop.
- I had no idea it was St. Patrick's Day until...
- [Friday 17th March]
By the end of Friday, me and my favourite drinking companion at work decided we had both done enough for this week, and so left very much on time to head out for the evening. We went over to Roppongi, so my colleague could meet a friend from the broadcasting industry, and it also meant I could invite Chie along.
We started off the evening in the Hobgoblin - arguably the best English pub in Tokyo. Upon entering I found an overwhelming number of gaijins (i.e. non Japanese people) in there - I really don't think I'd ever seen so many in one place before. Then it occurred to me - it was St. Patrick's Day! We stayed for dinner and a few pints, and there was a really good atmosphere, very much a little piece of England (or Ireland?) in some far off land.
Right on schedule, around beer number three, the desire to go for karaoke overtook me. So we went to a really classy place in Roppongi, of the box/booth variety. I'm reliably informed it is used by the workers of TV Asahi. It was very clean and nicely designed (karaoke places can be a bit grotty at times). One of the rooms even had a jaccuzzi in, but this seemed a little over the top for the purposes of this evening, so we went for a regular room. I'm not sure how long we were there, I guess an hour or so. Again it was a really good atmopshere - we'd clearly brought some of the St. Patrick's Day spirit along with us from the previous bar.
Chie headed home after the karaoke place, but my thirst for night life was clearly not yet quenched, and so I dragged my colleague over to Shinjuku (actually it is on the way home for us), into the karaoke bar we often go to there. The St. Patrick's Day theme seemed to be carrying on there - a number of people had shamrocks painted on their faces and so on. I am surprised by how big it is in Japan -at least in the gaijin community.
At some point we left the karaoke bar to go for a curry. It's a sort of tradition me and my colleague have developed, at the end of a good night out (like going for a kebab I suppose).
...however this actually didn't seem to mark the end of the evening, as we went back to the karaoke bar for a bit longer afterwards.
- [Thursday 16th March]
Today was a very grey and drizzly day. Normally I quite like rain, but today's weather had a particularly dreary sort of tone to it. So anyway, I determined something hearty and warming was required for dinner, and decided to make a red wine stew. It generally came out pretty well, but I somewhat regretted the last minute addition of some fake meat (these big soya chunk things Chie had bought in Shinjuku). They clearly needed a lot more cooking / rehydration than I gave them, and so they ended up a bit inedible. Still, once Chie and I had both fished these out and put them back in the pot, the rest was actually pretty good.
- [Wednesday 15th March]
Well, today was my birthday. It is the first time I have spent a birthday outside of the UK, so it felt a little bit odd. I went to work as usual, and largely it felt very much like any other ordinary day. In the evening we went out for dinner (again with Chie's Mum and sister) to my favourite restaurant - Rohlan in Ikebukuro. I ate far too much, but the food was great as always so it was very hard to resist overdoing it a bit. Not much else to report really!
- Posh Nosh
- [Tuesday 14th March]
As a sort of pre-Birthday treat, Chie had arranged for us to go and have dinner at the hotel where she works. Chie's Mum (who was staying in Tokyo for the week) and sister also joined us as well. The food was OK, I wasn't exactly bowled over, but it certainly wasn't bad.
- Working Late
- [Monday 13th March]
For the first time ever since starting this job I managed to out-work my colleagues - the other guys on my immediate team all buckled and left before me, although it did mean it was almost 9 by the time I left the office. Unusually though I didn't mind staying late that much, I took the bold step today of - gasp - actually writing some software, rather than the usual endless reams of documentation. I realised I actually quite like my profession, when I'm allowed to do what I'm actually qualified to do.
It was around 9:30 when I got home, and superbly Chie had dinner waiting for me - I felt very much like a typical Japanese "salary man".
- A BIOP too far
- [Sunday 12th March]
Spent my day off writing a DSM-CC object carousel client. Boy, I know how to live! It is, however, just a small part of my sinister and evil master plan to take over the world. Or at least the broadcasting industry. I would love to tell you all about it, but unfortunately I am far too possesive of my good ideas.
- Enoshima Spa
- [Saturday 11th March]
The previous day it had been damp, cold and drizzly, and it had occurred to me it would be really nice to visit an onsen (hot spring) at the weekend. To begin with the prospects were not looking good, we got up really late, and didn't start getting our act together until about 3 in the afternoon. It was very reminiscent of weekends back in the UK, where we'd want to go somewhere, but then completely fail to plan anything. We'd often spend Saturday afternoon looking around on the web for somewhere to go, but end up going nowhere.
However, we managed to find a solution in the end - rather than going for an overnight stay at a hot spring a long way from Tokyo, we decided instead to give Enoshima Spa a go. Enoshima is a little island right next to the coast (connected by a bridge) and is not much more than an hour from where we live. Many onsens have ryokan (Japanese inns) attached, and quite often you can only visit the onsen if you stay overnight at the ryokan. This place however was more like a western health spa - we just turned up and paid for a day ticket. The spa place was a large-ish building, split across four floors. They had a regular onsen style area (separated for men and women) but also communal areas where both men and women could go (provided you were wearing your swimming togs). This worked much better for me - I'd much rather enjoy the experience in the company of Chie, rather than surrounded by a load of strange (and naked!) Japanese men.
Anyway, it was very nice - we basically spent two hours or so lounging around in a variety of hot pools. Some were just regular hot water, some were onsen water (a different colour and chemical composition). There was even one rather gimmicky pool with music playing which you could only hear under water. Some parts were out in the open air, and you could look out to sea from the comfort of the hot water - this was very nice. The only thing lacking was a nice flask of hot sake! Though they had a bar in the building, it had been kept quite separate, probably for safety reasons.
- Okonomiyaki and Karaoke
- [Friday 10th March]
Having had the work night out postponed just about every night this week, it had been pushed into a corner by tonight as one of the guys from the US was flying back the next day. So no more postponements, and arguably it was worth the wait, as it turned out to be a very good night out.
For the first venue of the evening, we went to an okonomiyaki place in Shinjuku. I have to admit not really liking it at first - it was very crowded, noisy and hot, and I was tired and not really feeling that great. However, I stuck at it, and it turned out to be really good in the end - we managed to negotiate an entirely vegetarian okonomiyaki (although as is often the case this took two attempts), and Chie came to join us after a while, plus I even found my taste for beer returning once it had been gently eased in. It was the type of place where you cook the okonomiyaki yourself, which (despite my cynical side wondering what exactly you are paying for) was a lot of fun, especially with a large group including some relative beginners.
Some time around 10 we moved on from there to what has now become something of a regular venue for our team - my manager's favourite karaoke bar in Shinjuku. Here we stayed until after 3 in the morning, and, whilst I was definitely flagging a bit towards the end, the atmosphere was great and we had a really good time there.
- [Thursday 9th March]
Our managers from the US were over this week. Whilst this normally means lots of work nights out, this week the social events didn't seem to have materialised thus far. Each night my manager had told me maybe we'd go out tomorrow instead. By today I was really in the mood for a drink after work, and when the "official" night out was postponed again, I determined instead to organise one unofficially. So to start with just went for a couple of drinks at the station near my office, with a small group of my colleagues.
As they all live rather far away, they didn't stay out particularly late, so some time after 9 I found myself devoid of drinking companions. I however was by no means done for the evening, so decided to pop over to Ikebukuro to see my friend Watanabe-san in Quercus bar. I think I made a new friend - I got talking to the guy sitting next to me who was an English teacher (but rarely for Japan was actually Japanese). So naturally his English was very good, but I made a big effort nonetheless to speak mostly in Japanese. Had a few very nice malts - including an '82 Port Ellen. I got the very last train back - purely by chance really, I didn't know what time it went but just wandered optimisitcally towards the station when I thought it would be appropriate.
- To Flame or not to Flame
- [Wednesday 8th March]
I'd got rather wound up at work for a completely non work related reason. To cut a long story short, I'd sent a mail to a mailing list within the company set up for vegetarian employees, forwarding on a reply I'd had from Northwest to a complaint I'd sent about the food on my last flight. Whilst I had a number of positive responses from the mailing list - people saying thanks for representing us etc - I did unfortunately get one very snotty response which rather spoiled an otherwise very positive experience. He basically accused me of sending spam, and said I shouldn't have posted, told me to just stop complaining and "bring my own food" next time, etc etc. As it is an opt-in mailing list, and I thought my post was highly on topic, this really got to me.
I was the bigger man, and resisted the very strong temptation to start a flame war. Instead I sent a very humble and apologetic mail (but underneath that veneer it was laden with sarcasm) directly to the guy who had accused me of spamming, but didn't respond to the list itself. I guess I did the right thing, and was the bigger man etc etc, but I still felt what this socially inept git really needed was a round of public humiliation, which would hopefully persuade him to unsubscribe from the list. I mean, it is rediculous - the very definition of spam is unsolicited bulk mail with a commercial intent. I posted to an opt-in (and thus easily opt-outtable) mailing list, completely on-topic, and certainly not trying to sell anything.
I the evening Chie and I went out for dinner, at an Italian place next to one of our two nearby stations. We'd been once before, prior to moving into the flat, and I think we actually ordered almost exactly the same dishes as the previous time. Still, it was very nice, the sauces were very well made (one tomatoey sauce, and the other a creamy mushroom sauce), and my only slight criticism would be that they didn't have any bread to mop up with afterwards!
- [Tuesday 7th March]
We were feeling lazy so ordered in a pizza in the evening. Pretty boring evening really, not much else to report.
- Back into the Routine
- [Monday 6th March]
Was back at work in the Tokyo office after a two week absence in the US. One of the positive things about working in the US was that I'd had my own little room there (or at least had shared with one other colleague for some of the time) - whereas the Tokyo office is totally open plan. I have never had my own little office, and it has occurred to me this would be quite a nice thing.
Anyway, I wasn't hugely enthusiastic about going in to work today, but it wasn't so bad I suppose. We have a new cafe on the ground floor, wherein I spent the first half an hour of the day catching up on things with one of my colleagues - this actually made quite a nice start to the day, and was very helpful in easing me gently back into the routine.
Didn't do much to talk of in the evening, I made curry for dinner, and bought a few beers to go with it. Was quite excited to find the Asahi robot has now made it onto the packaging - but my chances of actually getting one seem quite limited...
- Girly Chat
- [Sunday 5th March]
After a lazy morning, and lunch at home, Chie and I headed over to Shinjuku in the afternoon to sort out plane tickets for our forthcoming trip to the UK. Chie got a call from her friend Kanako while we were out, who it turned out was also hanging around Shinjuku. So we met her, and the three of us went and sat in a cafe in Shinjuku station for a while, and had a very girly chat about life and all that. Went back home again for dinner, and Chie made a kind of stir-fry with crispy noodles.
- Busy Saturday
- [Saturday 4th March]
Traditionally, the day after a long haul flight I do pretty much nothing but lazing about and sleeping. However, similar to when I arrived in Seattle, my first full day back in Tokyo was actually quite busy.
I thought I would try to trick jetlag (which always causes me to wake up 4AM the first morning after changing time zone) by going to bed early the previous night. So I woke up slightly later than the norm - around 4:30 perhaps. Still, I felt fairly OK, so at about 6 I proceeded to get up and get ready for the day.
I actually had to go to work, despite it being a Saturday. It wasn't in the office though - we had a "focus group" being conducted in an office elsewhere in Tokyo. It wasn't too straining I suppose, I basically just had to sit behind one of those two way mirrors, observe and take notes. I was all done by 4, and as it was quite near to where Chie works (who was also working on Saturday unusually), I decided to go and wait in a bar for her. Superbly there is a Hobgoblin pub in Roppongi, and although rather expensive, I enjoyed a very nice couple of pints of bitter and a packet of smokey bacon crisps in there whilst waiting for Chie to finish.
When Chie finished we went to a burger place called "Homework's" that, to my surprise, had a whole selection of vegetarian burgers. There were a staggering six to choose from if I recall correctly. I went for one that was nice, but perhaps a bit more lentilly than I usually like. It reminded me of what veggie burgers used to be like in the 80s, when they were made from a kind of dried powder stuff you bought in packets (sosmix, etc). I also had a very nice chocolate milkshake with it.
We basically just went home after this, again I was very tired, and was falling asleep on the train. Just like the previous evening I went pretty much straight to bed when I got back, and was asleep pretty soon after. Although I was woken up by a phone call from my manager a little later on, who presumably must have been in a karaoke place, as he was asking me the name of a song. Given that I was half asleep, it was a little bit surreal, and I wasn't entirely sure if it had actually happened or if I'd just dreamt it.
- In Japan Again
- [Friday 3rd March]
My flight was a bit delayed, so we landed around 5:30 PM. Luckily passport control, baggage reclaim and customs were all running very smoothly, and I was on a train leaving the airport by just after 6. Two of my colleagues from the US, plus the guy I had been sitting next to on the plane, all got on the same train. So we had an impromptu meeting about business strategy and so on over a couple of beers, whilst hurtling along towards central Tokyo. I felt a superficial sense of importance, being part of this group of high powered businessmen, but in reality I didn't understand half of what they were banging on about.
I got to Shinjuku station at around 7:45, and Chie was there to meet me on the platform, which was really nice. We went for a quick dinner - to the branch of Great India near Shinjuku station, then headed home. I was pretty much falling asleep on the way back even as I was walking along. We were back home around 9, and after a brief omiyage session (souvenirs) I went and fell in a heap, and was asleep within minutes.
- Back to Tokyo
- [Thursday 2nd March]
Today I headed back to Tokyo after my 10 or 11 days on business in the US. Checked out of the hotel around 10, and got a very dodgy taxi to the airport (I thought the taxi driver was a homeless person when he first wandered into the hotel). I ended up arriving at the airport a lot earlier than I needed to, so spent some time attempting to recover from my hangover in the business class lounge. I drank a lot of their expensive mineral water, plus some tomato juice, although the latter didn't seem particularly helpful. The cheese and pretzels, on the other hand, did seem to bring about a slight improvement.
The business class section of the plane was almost full of people working for my company - two of my colleagues were coming to Tokyo, plus the guy I sat next to turned out to be in a distantly related department, and I also spotted at least two other people carrying the tell tale signs (asset tags on their laptops).
Just like the last business trip, the food had been OK on the way out (Tokyo to Seattle) but was awful on the way back (Seattle to Tokyo). I guess this means their caterer in Seattle really stinks - at least as far as vegetarian food goes. I think I may be forced to write and complain - a business class ticket is several thousand dollars, so you'd think they'd be able to make at least half decent food on that sort of budget. My lunch/dinner meal was a bowl of potatoes, cabbage and rice (go figure!) and the breakfast main was again the bizarre rice with cinnamon thing, I'm not even sure what it was supposed to be. Both of these "dishes" would have together had a raw ingredients cost of less than a dollar.
I'm still fascinated by timezones, particularly given that the last 12 months has seen me spending so much time flitting between them. Tokyo is a whacking 17 hours ahead of Seattle. This means on the way back you pretty much lose two whole working days - the flight I took left at 1PM on Thursday (Seattle time) and arrived 5PM on Friday (Tokyo time). In practice though I was only on the plane 10 or 11 hours of course. The particularly interesting thing about this flight is crossing the International Date Line. So normally, the time zone changes are roughly linear - every 15 degrees of longitude shifts by an hour. When going over the IDL though, there is a sudden non-linear "blip". So if you are trying to keep track of local time on the corresponding spot on the ground it, there is a big jump, in my case from Thursday evening to Friday afternoon. So this means, in a sense, the morning of Friday 3rd March 2006 actually never happened for me - this was an expanse of time that I never actually experienced anywhere. Bizarre, isn't it?
- Wrapping Up
- [Wednesday 1st March]
Today was the last full day of my business trip to the US, and ironically in work terms probably one of the best. We just had one meeting - at 9AM - which the key attendee decided to stroll in for at about 9:45 (and it was scheduled to finish at 10 sharp). So we sacked that off, and I went back to my temporary office to tinker away with a few things, where I was overtaken by a bizarre wave of enthusiasm. I actually got quite a lot of useful stuff done. Looking at this statistically, it could be construed that less meetings means more productivity - although I wouldn't dare utter such sacrilege out loud in the hallways of my company.
Anyway, the evening called for a small celebration - it was the last night of my trip, and also coincided with an anniversary for my European colleague. So me, him, plus another guy, went out for the night. We started at a Malaysian restaurant (smelly, but good), and then went on to a bar near my hotel which had a karaoke night. I was cajoled into singing, and it occurred to me this was probably the first time I'd ever sang karaoke outside of Japan. People seem a lot less forgiving in the US, and it was not by any means one of my greatest performances! I think the lesson to be learnt here is that some things are probably best off staying in Japan.
Still, that small embarassment aside, we did have a good night out, even rounding off with a couple of drinks in my colleague's hotel bar (my hotel didn't have its own bar). Generally it has been my experience that nights out on these trips to the US finish pretty early - basically just dinner and a couple of drinks, then back to the hotel by 9 or 10. The immediate viccinity around the hotel isn't much of a late night sort of area, but we did at least manage to stretch it out until about 1AM, which was moderately respectable I suppose.
- [Tuesday 28th February]
Whilst the daytime was nothing to write home about, on the plus side I did have a rather nice meal in the evening. There's a family run Mexican place near the hotel which I had been to on my previous trip to the US (twice in fact!). I had remembered it being pretty good, so I took my colleague from the European office there, and he too was really impressed. If anything the food seemed even better than last time. I had a combination of a chimichanga and an enchilada (or was it a burrito?). Anyway, the portion was massive, it was probably horrifically calorific, but it was immensely satsifying and tasted great. Naturally this was accompanied by a few beers too. On my trips to the US, generally speaking, the food is not all that marvellous (although, compared to Japan, provision for vegetarians is much better). Mexican seems to be the exception to this - something the US really shines at.
- [Monday 27th February]
It was actually a bit difficult to get back into the swing of things in the office after a weekend of what basically amounted to complete escapism. The day seemed to drag, and the evening wasn't that exciting either - having been away in the US a week now I needed to go and do some laundry. So I declined the offer to eat out with colleagues, and instead confined myself to the hotel for the evening.
I cooked using the mini kitchen in my hotel room, and was slightly annoyed to find all the vegetables I had bought the previous day had become frozen overnight, thanks to the fridge being on the wrong setting. Lettuce in particular is never quite the same after being frozen, and despite leaving the tomatoes out at room temperature for a couple of hours they still set my teeth on edge when I eventually came to eat them. Oh well, on the bright side, at least I wasn't going to get food poisoning!