John Hawkins



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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Recent Entries:
Still Being Positive
Let's try to be positive
No Gaijins
Pay Day
The day before pay day...
Flat Hunting
Smells Like Team Spirit
Back in the Office
Not as restful as it could have been
A Very Short Day
Flying to Japan
You have to remember where you are - America!
The Success Token
Turn off the damn PC, John!
Cheese Bickering
Tedium
Saturday
Asian Tiger vs Indian Elephant
Yet Another Meal Out
Argentinian Steak House
Stayed In
The British - They're Everywhere!
Messing about on Boats
Day out in Seattle
Talking shop? Not on my shift!
Out with the Europeans
Wish I Hadn't Bothered
Mexican Tuesday
Monday in America

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Pictures:
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Blog:
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Still Being Positive
[Monday 28th November]
I spent the whole day at work biting my lip, akin to the Fawlty Towers "Don't mention the war!". I was desperate to spout off to my colleagues about how injust I thought their country was, but knew deep down this would be a very bad idea (and thanks to my Mum for re-inforcing this point)! I think I managed to resist fairly well - I had a bit of a chat with a fellow foreign member of staff who had experienced similar things, and also explained the situation in a fairly passive manner to one of the admin staff there, as it would have some repurcussions on my temporary accomodation, etc.
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Let's try to be positive
[Sunday 27th November]
Following one of the whingiest posts in my blogs' history, I have determined today to report nothing but the positive aspects of what has happened. So, here we go, I shall list things that were good about today, and totally ignore the fact that I spent all the intervals feeling sorry for myself as the poor underprivileged gaijin.
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No Gaijins
[Saturday 26th November]
We'd found a flat on Wednesday which we quite liked, and had filled in all the application forms etc. Hoping that the unpleasant business of finding a place to live was all behind us, we'd set out to have a stress free weekend of relaxation and fun. I think you can see what is coming. We got a phonecall in the morning saying that our application had been rejected, the reason they gave was simply that I was a foreigner.
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Pay Day
[Friday 25th November]
Finally, after getting on for 9 months with no regular income coming in, I got paid today. It was great to see those numbers lit up in my new bank account....! Naturally in the evening I was keen to actually spend some of it, so we went off to Ikebukuro to visit my two favourite places in Tokyo. First, a couple of drinks at Quercus Bar, where some kind of promotion was being held (a tasting for a new bottling range I believe) and I have never seen it so busy. We slipped out after a bit and headed over to my favourite restaurant in Tokyo - Rohlan, where the vegetarian Taiwanese delicacies were as fabulous as ever.

After dinner, finding my thirst for whisky had not yet been sated, we returned to Quercus for a bit. It was still very busy, but managed to fit in short bursts of conversation with Watanabe-san, Iritia-san et al. A particular highlight was meeting Ichiro Akuto, who is now (as I understand) running the Chichibu distillery. He is the Ichiro of Ichiro's Malt fame, for those who know their Japanese whiskies. Naturally it seemed only proper to mark this occasion with having a dram (I wonder is there a Japanese word for dram?) from Chichibu, and I bathed in a luxurious heavily sherried specimen from 1985. As Watanabe-san is apparently a good friend of Akuto-san, he has possibly the best range of Chichibu malts in Tokyo (therefore probably in the world!) and so this is definitely the place to go for those wishing to try this rare Japanese gem.
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The day before pay day...
[Thursday 24th November]
Today was the day before pay day, so we had determined to live frugally for the day. We both rather fancied going out for some Indian food, but decided in the end that was an unjustifiable extravagance and opted instead to eat indoors. Really not much else to report!
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Flat Hunting
[Wednesday 23rd November]
Today was a national holiday in Japan. I'd thought originally Chie still had to go to work, so I'd decided I might just as well go into the office also... but then it turned out actually she was off after all, so in the end we did both have the day off.

Most of the day was taken up with looking for an appartment. We went to a different estate agents this time, in a slightly different area, and they seemed to have a lot more suitable places for us. We went to look at three, and we both seemed to get a good feeling about one of the places, so have filled in the application forms and so on. Apparently the background checks are quite stringent, so there is a good chance we might not be accepted, but we can always find somewhere else if that turns out to be the case.
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[4 comments]

Smells Like Team Spirit
[Tuesday 22nd November]
Almost immediately after starting my new job in Tokyo I had found out that my immediate manager was leaving (I am sure the two events are not connected!). Today was apparently his last day in the office, so my team headed out after work for a nomikai - Japanese for "drinking party". It was a fun evening, the team really felt like, well, a team, even though one person was leaving. After an initial trip to an izakaya we moved onto a karaoke place - I thought this was a great idea at the time, but in hindsight this was probably something of a bad move.

To begin with no-one was singing, and I couldn't bear the thought of sitting in a room that you were paying for by the minute and not actually doing what you were supposed to be doing there... So I was the first up to sing, and proceeded to sing in just about every gap that occurred. I don't think my vocal talents were really at their best - and they are never very good - so yet again I worry I have severely embarassed myself in front of my new colleagues...! Oh well, somebody had to break the ice, set the lowest bar etc... I guess this is what you call "taking one for the team".
[5 comments]

Back in the Office
[Monday 21st November]
First day back in the office in Tokyo after my three week business trip. Woke up at a silly time in the morning, clearly the theory that jetlag doesn't apply when travelling West is not relevant to me! It was a pretty uneventful day at work, and a fairly uneventful evening too. In fact I was really knackered so went to sleep pretty soon after eating.
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Not as restful as it could have been
[Sunday 20th November]
It would have been nice to have spent the day completely relaxing. Unfortunately this wasn't really on the cards, as there were a number of small tasks to attend to. Chief amongst these were that Chie and I both needed a haircut, and also we needed to do something about our accomodation.

The fun part was getting a haircut. This is my third time now to get a haircut in Japan, and the first time in Tokyo. I wasn't prepared to mess about, so we strolled rather bolshily into the first half decent place we found. The staff were very nice, I chatted away in my broken Japanese and seemed to make myself understood somehow or other.

The not so fun part was the house hunting bit. We went back to the same agency place we'd been to before I went off to America. We even ended up going to look at (almost) the same flat again! I was really starting to get irritable towards the end, and rather rashly told the estate agent guy that my problem with making a decision was that I had realised I don't actually like Tokyo! I think the jetlag was getting to me.
[8 comments]

A Very Short Day
[Saturday 19th November]
Having left Seattle at lunchtime the previous day, it was in fact still Friday according to US time when I landed in Narita Airport. However in Japanese time, a rediculous 17 hours ahead, it was well into Saturday. So the plane touched down around 4 in the afternoon. I got on a coach at 4:30, which got me to Shinjuku at 6:30 (yes - 2 hours - Narita is a long way from the centre of Tokyo), and I was back at the flat by 7. Chie, who had been out for the day, got back a short while later. I'm sure I don't need to say how nice it was to see her after three weeks!

We popped out for dinner shortly afterwards, and went to the stupidly cheap Italian place we'd been to once before. I noted it had gained in popularity somewhat since our last visit!

Within an hour of getting back to the flat I had fallen asleep, knackered (as always) after the flight.


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Flying to Japan
[Friday 18th November]
After almost three weeks I flew back from Seattle to Tokyo today. As always when flying between different time zone it is hard to know where one day starts and another stops, particularly when crossing the International Date Line!
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You have to remember where you are - America!
[Thursday 17th November]
Well today was my last full day in the US. Three weeks has been a long trip and it felt good to have it more or less behind me, only the unpleasant matter of the long flight back to deal with. Went out in the evening with the one colleague from Japan who had stayed on with me for the last few days. I suggested it should be a bonenkai (Japanese for "forgetting the year" party), but he said perhaps more appropriate would be uchiage (a "completing the project" party). Whatever you call it, we had a nice evening out. First off we went to a fairly average Mexican (ish) place which served rediculously huge portions I couldn't possibly finish. The waitress helpfully said "You have to remember where you are - America!". She asked us if we wanted to box up the leftovers, and it felt kind of cool to be able to say we were flying to Tokyo the next morning, so we wouldn't get a chance to eat any of it.

After this we moved on to a bar which had a small but respectable selection of single malts. Did a short tour of some of the more popular Islay/island distilleries - Lagavulin, Talisker, Laphroaig then back to Lagavulin. I'm not sure my colleague was that pleased when I said his Bourbon reminded me of nail polish remover, but you have to take this in context - it's a valid bit of whisky nomenclature, and I don't mean it to be in anyway detrimental. My Laphroaig, for example, is well known for it's medicinal, TCP-like qualities. Not sure what TCP is called internationally (particularly in the US and Japan) - perhaps Dettol, Germolone, antiseptic...? So if TCP is an acceptable adjective, then surely so is nail polish remover!
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The Success Token
[Wednesday 16th November]
Today at the office was a stark contrast from the incredible frustration of the previous day. As is often the way of software (which I know now is a living entity and from time to time decides it hates me), today everything just suddenly started working with an air of "I don't know what all the fuss was about". At my previous company a colleague of mine used to talk about "the success token" in situations like this, and clearly the previous day somebody was hogging it greedily, whereas today it had been released for general use. I felt I could actually hold my head up amongst my fellow colleagues now, and began to think perhaps I am capable of doing this job after all.
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Turn off the damn PC, John!
[Tuesday 15th November]
I had an incredibly frustrating day in the office where it genuinely felt like every piece of software I was working with was conspiring against me to make my life as irritating as possible. I literally couldn't get anything to work at all. I think I probably lost my temper a bit towards the end of the day, which can't have been very nice for my poor colleagues. Everyone else I work with always seems so unphased by all these difficulties (or they just don't have them in the first place), which only goes to make me more frustrated and annoyed. Is it just me that is incapable of working with this setup?
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Cheese Bickering
[Monday 14th November]
Well, we're into the last week of my business trip now, the end is in sight I suppose. Really didn't feel that great (again) in the evening, so declined the offer to go out for dinner with one of my colleagues, opting instead to go to the supermarket and buy stuff to cook in my hotel room.

In the supermarket I went to the cheese counter, and enquired as to why no cheeses in the US are labelled properly as regards the rennet they are made with. The only cheese I could find which had any mention of vegetable rennet was one imported from England! Apparently US vegetarians don't seem that bothered about this sort of thing. In reality I wasn't actually that concerned with getting the answer, I just wanted to register a protest and vent my frustration. It was my little way of saying "I don't want to be here", albeit to some guy who literally couldn't care less.

So anyway, I bought the extremely expensive Borough Market Cheddar, safe in the knowledge that as a proper bit of decent English cheese it would not only be devoid of baby cows stomach lining, but it might actually be worth eating. This was the sole highlight of my day really. I made spaghetti and melted some of this over the top. The spaghetti was too thin (people here seem to like it like that - I mean, what's all that "angel hair" bollocks about?), the sauce I had got in a jar was just plain crap... but the cheese was good, and reminded me of home.

Apologies to any American readers - this article is not intended to be a bout of US bashing... It's just that I have been sent here against my will, and I really would rather not be here. I hope you understand!
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Tedium
[Sunday 13th November]
It was a tedious, tedious day. The weather was crap, I didn't feel that great and had no enthusiasm for anything, so I stayed in my hotel room all by myself almost the entire day. The only two exceptions were when I went to the hotel laundry to do some washing (wahey!) and when I popped out for less than an hour to get something to eat at a nearby Mexican restaurant. I was more annoyed than ever at this stupid bloody business trip.
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Saturday
[Saturday 12th November]
It was quite a varied day. One of my colleagues (in fact the only one left behind from the Japanese office, the rest all went back today) had offered to give me driving lessons. It's been a year since I passed my test, but having spent the last six months or so travelling around, I haven't driven for quite some time. Plus I have never driven abroad, never driven on the right, and never driven an automatic. So I wasn't that confident at the prospect of taking a car out for a spin! Actually it turned out to be easier than I thought, although it was very reassuring to have someone to say "Right!" at regular intervals.

We incorporates lunch and a spot of shopping into the driving practice. First we went to a mall somewhere in the Seattle area (possible Bellevue?), where I bought a couple of CDs. After that we went to a Vegetarian Chinese restaurant I had read about on the web for a spot of lunch. Very nice too. We also fit in a visit to Fry's - the big electrical store, and a supermarket to buy food for the weekend.

Spent the early part of the evening benefitting from the wonders of digital technology and the internet in order to spend some "quality time" with Chie, albeit remotely. Not only could we see and talk to each other via webcams/microphones etc, but we could also listen to the same music, and I was able to show her pictures of what I had done the last couple of days. I think we both find it particularly miserable eating by ourselves, but thanks to webcams we were able to "sync up" for our respective lunch and dinner. This would probably look very strange from a third party point of view! Obviously this is at best a poor substitute for the real thing, and I am still somewhat annoyed at having to spend so long away on business like this, but still, I guess it is better than nothing.
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Asian Tiger vs Indian Elephant
[Friday 11th November]
The title here comes from a TV program I saw in the UK a while back (possibly Ian Hislop visiting India). An Indian businessman was talking about the rise of India in the global marketplace. He talked about how many of the tiger economies had risen - and fallen - in a very short space of time, whereas the Indian economy was more like an elephant: slow to move but unstoppable once set in motion.

This piece of economic analogy is not hugely relevant to today's post, I was just reminded of this as we went for an Indian meal in the evening, and it took bloody ages to turn up.
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Yet Another Meal Out
[Thursday 10th November]
Went out for dinner to a seafood place - again I was rather apprehensive about this before we got there, but they did seem to have one mushroom dish on the menu, so it was OK in the end. Not really much else to report!
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Argentinian Steak House
[Wednesday 9th November]
In the evening we were taken out for dinner, to an Argentinian Steak House in Downtown Seattle. I thought this would end up a disastrous repeat of last Wednesday's visit to a steak house, but luckily I did manage to find a non-steak pasta dish on the menu. Everything was incredibly salty (even to my tastes), but other than that it wasn't too bad.

I have to admit to having felt slightly uncomfortable as a British person in an Argentinian restaurant - it may have been my imagination but I am sure I got some rather cold stares, and whilst everyone else at the table received lots of pleases and thankyous, the waiter seemed to be oddly quiet when passing anything to me. Whether I had insulted him by virtue of being British, or whether it was just because I was vegetarian though, I am not sure.
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Stayed In
[Tuesday 8th November]
Yet another dull day in the now dreary away-on-business routine. I "stayed in" (if you can call being stuck in a hotel "staying in") in the evening, as I had got fed up of eating out. I thought originally getting to eat out every night (with someone else picking up the bill) would be great, but somehow when it is on business there seems to be little pleasure in it. The food hasn't been bad or anything, I think it is just something about it being a necessity rather than a luxury that removes any sense of glamour or excitement from the activity. The task of choosing where to go each night becomes quite tedious after a while. My hotel room has a miniature kitchen, so I cooked some vegetarian burger things I had bought in the supermarket a few days prior. These weren't that great really. So even eating in didn't appear to hold much fun.
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The British - They're Everywhere!
[Monday 7th November]
This was another of those days that followed the "crap daytime equals good evening" model. The daytime really was particularly crap and frustrating. The evening however provided a much needed relief from this.
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Messing about on Boats
[Saturday 6th November]
I headed out again in the morning (well, 11ish) with Atsushi-san, to get a bus into the centre of Seattle. From here we went down to the waterfront, to get on board a boat for a short cruise. It was the Argosy Locks cruise - starting off going along the waterfront, then out into the sea a bit, then through a lock, along the canal, and finishing up at Lake Union. We were extremely lucky with the weather - there was a window of blue sky which almost exactly enveloped the time we were out (it was raining before and after). So I was able to take some really nice pictures - the blue sky makes such a difference.

The boat trip finished around 3ish, after which we went back into the centre of Seattle for a quick beer, before getting the bus back to our hotel. Went for dinner with a big group of Japanese colleagues (a couple more had just arrived today) at the Japanese restaurant next to the hotel. It was an all you can eat buffet type of place, but wasn't actually that bad.
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Day out in Seattle
[Saturday 5th November]
Spent the day doing touristy things in Seattle to pass the time with one of my colleagues. It seems slightly ironic that the colleague from my team in Japan that I talk with the most, and get on with the best, is also the person who speaks the least English. I guess it may partly because there is something more relaxing about being on an even footing - he speaks about as much English as I do Japanese. I always feel sort of guilty or something when a Japanese person speaks with me entirely in English.

Anywho, the two of us went and did a similar set of things to what I did when I was here back in July. The monorail, the Space Needle, the Westlake Center, Pike Place Market, the Waterfront and so on. The weather was pretty crap though - it was cold, wet and windy all day without reprieve. Although to begin with I was convinced I wasn't going to let it dampen my spirits (ho ho!), it did begin to grind a bit towards the end of the day, especially when it got dark.
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Talking shop? Not on my shift!
[Friday 4th November]
I am somewhat proud of myself, in that over the last few days I have been successfully nurturing a culture of talking about anything-but-work with my fellow Japanese colleagues. Clearly in work hours this is mostly unavoidable, however when we all go out to dinner afterwards - a daily occurence as we're away on business - I have made sure that the conversation steers as far away from "shop talk" as possible.

One member of our team seemed to be busy up until about 7:30, which, given the driving arrangements, meant we all had to wait until that time, somewhat to my frustration. I had finished everything I needed to do for the day by about 5:30 though, so my last two hours in the office were pretty much engaged in anything but work. One particular highlight of this time was when two members from one of the US teams came long with a couple of bottles of Bourbon. I think I may have to change my mind about Bourbon - it appears to be not that bad after all. I was somewhat proud of myself that within only my second week of employment in my new job I had consumed hard spirits in the office (albeit outside of office hours). Brilliant.

When we finally left the office, I went for dinner with two of my Japanese colleagues to a chain place called something like Red Robin. Therein we had some exceptionally unhealthy (but actually quite tasty) fried American food and a couple of beers. Barely a single word of shop talk was uttered, which was great, and we spoke a lot about Japanese culture, Anpanman, Kiyoshi Hikawa, life, the universe and everything.
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Out with the Europeans
[Thursday 3rd November]
A rule seems to be developing during my trip to Seattle - if I have a good day at the office, I have a comparatively crap evening, and vice verse. So unlike the day before, today was quite frustrating and irritating in the daytime, but the evening was actually quite nice.
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[4 comments]

Wish I Hadn't Bothered
[Wednesday 2nd November]
The daytime was slightly better than the previous two days. Had some meetings in which I felt for a change I was able to make a valuable contribution, and my new role is starting to clarify a little bit.

The evening was, however, a bit of a downer. There was a plan to go to a kind of steak house place with some of the staff from the American office. When I heard about this the day before, I had spoken to the guy organising it, saying iI would rather gave it a miss, given that I somewhat doubted my dietary requirements would be that well met at this sort of establishment. I was cajoled into going, although I really would have preferred to have just gone back to my hotel straight after work (for one thing Chie had the day off, and it would have given us an opportunity to chat for a bit). It was difficult to refuse point blank though, as the organiser bloke had phoned up the restaurant to check, and they said they did have a vegetarian option. To have put my foot down would have looked very unsociable I suppose.

When I got there however my fears were confirmed. It was that sort of brain dead we-want-huge-slabs-of-flesh sort of place I had imagined it to be. When the waitress came round I ordered the vegetarian option and it transpired they had ran out. They offered me a salad instead - one which normally comes with bacon - and offered to do it without the bacon. It was utter crap, I thought I really liked spinach, but somehow they managed to make it soul destroyingly inedible. I ate about a tenth of it, and just couldn't be bothered to waste my jaw muscles on it any more after that.

Oh well, these things happen I suppose!
[16 comments]

Mexican Tuesday
[Tuesday 1st November]
The daytime seemed to amount to pretty much the same as the previous day. Went out for dinner in the evening with two of my colleagues again, this time to a Mexican restaurant nearby the hotel we're staying at. I had some kind of Burrito, which was pretty good. Not much else to report really!
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Monday in America
[Monday 31st October]
Spent the daytime "in the office", here in thr States. It is hard to describe exactly what it is we're doing here, but I guess you could broadly describe it as training. Me and my fellow colleagues from Japan have our own room, and even our own PCs to use while we're here. Whilst the provision of equipment is wonderful and the provision of space is, well, passable; the provision of information has thus far been a little lacking and I am not totally sure what I am supposed to be doing longer term, or even what the exact purpose of this trip is in the shorter term. Hopefully one or both of these will become clear in the next few days though.

Went out for dinner in the evening with a couple of my Japanese colleagues, ate at a sort of American style pasta place called something like Frankie's. It wasn't bad I suppose. As we had to wait a bit for one of our colleagues I'd managed to knock a few beers back in the intervening time, and have a vague suspicion I probably embarassed myself somewhat. Oh well, if you force people to give up their free time like this, then what do you expect? I am generally pretty respectable during office hours, but outside of that I am not going to make anyone any promises. I am still thinking I ought to get time off in lieu, not just for the two or three weekends I'll be displaced for, but also for all these evenings. As nice as my colleagues are, this is my free time, which I ought to be able to spend how I want. I am being paid for 9-5:30, 5 days a week, not for 24-7.
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