Thursday, November 5, 2009
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Amazingly enough I had no bodyguards or escorts when I went to dinner with a friend (Felipe) of a friend (Michelle). Instead, my guard hired a taxi for the evening. Our driver waited for us while we ate and arrived promptly after we called (using a cell phone from a street corner "business" selling cheap minutes on his 3 phones...the modern day pay phone!).
My rib eye steak with arepa (corn cake) and baked tomato stuffed with mashed potatoes. Me and my bib (they place them on us). The jug on the left corner is for my glass of Malbec. And Felipe and his steak.
Getting the bill was actually fun! It came in this MasterCard box. Inside was a flashlight, magnifying glass (is this a hint?!), pen, candy, customer comment card, and the bill inside the large envelope. Totally cool packaging!
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Security is pretty tight for foreign visitors here. I had a bodyguard/driver and 3 police escorts on two motorcycles for the drive to the hotel. This will be my security team while I'm in Bogota. It may seem like overkill, but my family and boyfriend appreciates it.
Calling it a night....exhausted and I have a busy day ahead of me.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Check back in early November for posts and photos!
Friday, July 3, 2009
I did the same thing when returning to Narita today. I thought it was pretty cool that the ticket taker bows to the bus as it leaves. I felt honored to be on the bus! Similarly, the security guard at work salutes the employee bus when it arrives every day. What signs of respect!
The bus only took 60 minutes to get to Narita. Of course it departed promptly for a 11:55 am departure. Every bus and train we've taken departs as scheduled. Such reliability!
Arrival into the Narita Airport we had to stop and show our passports. Obviously they take security really seriously here. It only took a few minutes for security to board and also look in the luggage hold area of the bus. I felt just a bit more secure.
Thanks Japan for a great 2.5 weeks. I will miss the great food and shopping (the first time the exchange rate was decent enough for me to buy anything). I look forward to returning again, hopefully with Mom to serve as translator!
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
1) Company bus - Love this idea. The bus is in sync with the train schedule, thus we leave at 8:26 am in the morning after the 8:11 am train arrives from the Kawasaki station. You miss your train, you miss the bus. There are earlier departures in the morning, but we seem to be on the schedule to catch the 8:26 one. In the evening the last bus leaves at 6:25, which we usually take. But this last week of work, we're leaving at 6....barely.
2) Uniforms - This is a plant facility and I expected to see uniforms, but I didn't expect to see them on the office employees. The men wear shirts and suits on the bus in the morning, then change into a uniform of a light blue zippered jacket and slacks. The women wear a navy blue vest and matching skirt with white blouses and a flouncy bow tie with navy knee-high socks and loafers. They all look the same. Cute, but the same.
3) Exercise - Every morning at 8:40 am the sound of a grandfather clock chimes and a woman's voice says good morning and something else in Japanese. Then the piano begins playing and a booming male voice starts the exercise program. Ichi, ni, san, shi.....counting in Japanese. It's the same recording every day. It plays again at 3 pm. Today was the first day I happened to be in the hallway and saw people exercising. They're simple stretches - touch your toes, touch your shoulders and raise your arms, twist back and forth, etc. - but it was amusing to watch. It runs for about 8 minutes or so. Maybe I'll join them before I leave!
4) Cafeteria - The plant canteen offers 3 choices each day - a brown curry (Japanese love curry) with rice, noodles (usually cold soba or udon noodles...sometimes ramen), and the daily special with rice. Cost is 210 yen or about $2.10 US. A bowl of soup is included. Milk or coffee-flavored milk (yum!) is 60 yen. Total cost of my lunch is about $2.70. There is no cashier. We pay a vending machine and deposit tickets in a basket. We're usually in and out in 20 minutes. The food is decent. Some days better than others. I've had much worse at other locations - the food in our Germany operations suck (sorry Martine, but it's no better than airplane food) and Italy has the BEST food hands down.
What's great about eating at a canteen is that it's true local food. Some of this stuff I wouldn't have eaten if my Mom made it when I was growing up. For example, I dislike the slimy texture of yama imo (mountain potato). It's white and has the consistency of okra and I've avoided it as a child. But there it was on my plate of udon noodles and I ate it. I still don't like it, but I did eat it.
5) Employees - They're all kind and willing to endure my questioning and requests for documentation. It's been difficult communicating at times. Yesterday the gentleman I've been working with since I arrived told me that Accounts Payable (APAY) was sent the invoice. This was the first I had heard about the existence of an APAY department and I asked him where APAY was located. "Here," he replied. Then later in the afternoon when I asked again, he looked at me dumbfounded and said there was no APAY. Sigh! The joys of working in a different country where you don't speak the native language!
Sunday, June 28, 2009
The clothes are pretty conservative and shapeless. Lots of baby-doll tops and frills. Way too girly for my taste sometimes. Strapless or sleeveless tops are worn with a shirt underneath or a sweater or jacket covers their arms. Women also tend to wear nude-colored stockings and pedi's with their ballet slipper shoes. It's too warm here (80's) for me to feel comfortable wearing layers of clothes (but I try to), but stockings and socks don't even enter my mind.
I still have 6 more days left in Japan. Six more days of listening to the sales clerks cry out "come in" and lure you in with shouts of their discounts, which can get very loud with many of the stores so close to each other. Six more days of glorious shopping! :-)
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Lastly, Starbucks are everywhere and I have been in the one next to the hotel a couple of times. What I thought was cool is the stirrer that fits in the hole of the cup. It does a good job sealing the hole so the coffee isn't spilling everywhere. I don't recall ever seeing this in the U.S. Anyone know if they have them in the U.S.?
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Sunday, June 21, 2009
This is the tonkatsu restaurant, which is basically fried food. Typically meats and shrimp, but I've also had potato-type tonkatsu as well. Usually served with cabbage and rice. I doubt I'll ever eat here.
In addition to these Japanese restaurants I've found Chinese, Indian (2 of them to quench my saag paneer craving), Thai (excellent Yom Yum soup!), California Pizza Kitchen and lots of Italian.
Plus Beard Papa's (my favorite cream puffs in Hawaii), gelato, and Portuguese donuts (malasadas!) for dessert. I have yet to find my favorite cookies - palmiers - but I'm sure I'll find a bakery with them. I definitely don't starve when I'm in Japan. I'm in dire need of exercise though!
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Once I got to Yokohama, I changed to a local train in order to head to the port area (Minato Mirai). The area is supposed to be geared for visitors. There's a lovely park at the waterfront, next to the convention center along with a "boardwalk". Most people were sitting, having lunch and watching the boats in the water. I was surprised to see this guy in his suit actually laying on the concrete step. I know Japan is clean but I couldn't even sit on the step in white pants without first sitting on something!
The tallest building in Yokohama is located in the area (left photo), which I had originally thought I would go visit. But after walking down to the waterfront I thought the huge ferris wheel would be a better way to see the area. It's like the London Eye - a leisurely one rotation ride. I got to have my own pod - whoo hoo!
After a wonderful sushi lunch (sushi in Houston pales in comparison....how will I be able to eat that stuff again?), I went looking for the Hard Rock Cafe in order to pick up a key chain for one of my colleagues who collects them. I figured I had about 2 hours to kill before I should head to the baseball stadium so the Yokohama Museum of Art seemed to be the perfect place. They had a special exhibit of French 19th century art, much of it from Japanese collections, including Yokohama's museum. Nice to be able to see pieces that aren't in the Musee de Orsay.
Around 4:30 pm I took another local train to the baseball stadium. Thank goodness I found a blog earlier that explained which station to get off. There were a number of people on the train going to the game even at 1.5 hours prior to game time. I heard that baseball games are quite well attended in Japan so I was a bit nervous that I wouldn't be able to get a ticket. No problem when you get there early!
4,000 yen later and I have a seat in the left field line...my favorite section. Unfortunately the ticket office only takes cash (they aren't even automated....you tell them which section you want and they flip through printed tickets to find a seat for you) and I needed to find an ATM to get more cash or else I would be hungry all evening. I also read in the blog that people bring their own food into the stadium and there were street vendors outside of the train station selling bento boxes and other items for hungry fans. So off I went to look for an ATM that accepts international cards (not easy).
Oh thank heaven for 7-11! Not only did I pick up some cash, I got my beverages and some inari sushi along with lots of other fans stocking up on food and beer to bring to the game. Made me wonder how the stadium could any sell food when everyone brings their own. Besides my goodies from 7-11 I bought some fried soba from a street vendor (he had a fancy move to fill the container) and teriyaki chicken from another. I love this idea of bringing food to a game!
The Yokohama Bay Stars were playing the Fukuoka Sky Hawks. Fukuoka happens to be the city where my mother is from. In fact, I've seen their stadium. What I didn't know when I bought the ticket is that the left side of the stadium is for the guest fams. So I'm sitting with Fukuoka fans. Pretty cool! Both teams have a small band consisting of a drum and trumpet players sitting in the outfield seats (left photo is of the Fukuoka outfield section). They pretty much play the entire time their team is batting. The fans in the outfield are also singing with the music, which got a bit annoying because it's the same song repeatedly. I do like the Fukuoka's celebratory song (after a runner scores) which ends with three "banzais!" The fans cheer using plastic bats and noisemakers, a very civilized way to express joy! Because I was in the opponent's section, the souvenir stores in the stadium only sold the opponent's merchandise!
For those of you who care about these things, the pitchers bat in the game, which I think makes for a better game.
The home team lost. It was a bad night for the pitchers of both teams....5 home runs in the first 25 minutes. I think there were 8 or 9 in the entire game (I lost count after awhile). I made it through the top of the 9th, which was 3.5 hours into the game. All in all, a good visit to Yokohama!
More photos can be seen at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=26305&id=1134000222&l=59cee78a10
Friday, June 19, 2009
I have no idea what the temps are here. I believe they're in the 70's during the day. This morning it was quite humid, but dissipated by the time we left work. It's cool and comfortable right now.
I've had 2 bottles of the Diet Coke with green tea flavoring. It's not sweet as U.S. Diet Coke and I can't taste the green tea at all. I'd buy it again.
Eating in Kawasaki has been quite a challenge. Menus here are in Japanese. Some have pictures of some of the dishes, which is what we've been relying on. The staff don't speak English either. Tonight we went to a place where you grill meat on a small gas grill. The beef was highly marbled and melted in my mouth. Sublime. We rolled the meat up in lettuce leaves and dipped them in a miso-soy sauce. My colleague added some chili paste for heat. It's the best meal I've had so far.
Lunches at the company canteen have been OK. You have 3 choices for lunch. One is a curry. The other is the daily special - something with rice. The third is a cold noodle dish such as udon, ramen or soba in a small amount of cold broth with vegetables on top. You pay via a vending machine in advance and take the ticket to the counter. Our guest auditor tells me which button to push because it's all in Japanese of course. I get flashbacks of eating at a ramen restaurant in Tokyo every time I have lunch (for those who haven't heard that story, my friend and I had no idea what we were ordering and we selected based on price...he got a steaming bowl of noodles and I got cold noodles and a chilly December day!).
I have to take a photo of the vending machines here this weekend. I'm always amazed at what one can buy from the vending machines that seem to be on every block. Like the beer and liquor machine at the train station. Who needs a 7-11 when a machine will do.
We've been taking the train to and from work for the past 2 days. It's always silent in the mornings and livelier in the afternoon. Guess it reflects how people feel about going to work.
I took this photo on the train this morning. Could someone please explain why this sticker on the train door would be written in Portuguese? Would there really be enough Portuguese speakers to warrant a sticker like this?
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
I arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday night after spending 12 hours on the flight from Los Angeles. The virus scare is evident as I saw face masks worn by many of the airport personnel. Passengers staying in Japan had to fill out a health questionnaire. Not only do they want to know where you're staying and how long you'll be in the country, but whether or not you've been running a temperature or have been coughing, have a sore throat or runny nose. Plus the form asked for your seat number. I hear it's a lot worse in China where they actually take your temperature!
I’m writing while on a bus to the city airport – Haneda – as it’s the easiest way to get closer to Kawasaki, after which I’ll either take a taxi to the hotel. Flying into Haneda was either ridiculously expensive or way too long (no direct flights from the U.S.). The bus ride will take 75 minutes, especially since it’s 8 pm and we’ve missed rush hour traffic.
Narita is the international airport in Tokyo. Although I’ve flown here a number of times before (mostly to connect to other cities in the region), this is my second visit since 2006. I have to comment on the awesome baggage carousel, which is a great example of Japanese Ingenuity. There are sensors on the end of the carousel where the luggage comes off the conveyor belt. The bags stop if the sensors detect there are luggage on the carousel that’s turning. The belt quickly starts up and drops the waiting bag into an empty slot on the carousel. I watched my bag patiently waiting for an opening. It took a perhaps a minute but no double-parked bags on the carousel! How cool. I wonder why more airports don’t have these installed.
As I type, I’m listening to a high-school aged girl from Colombia (from Bogota no less) talk with a woman sitting next to her on the bus. She lives in North Carolina and speaks a little Japanese. I think her comprehension is about the same level as mine. Luckily the woman speaks very good English. She’s here for 6 weeks, staying with a host family. She says she’s always been fascinated by the country and is looking forward to learning about the country. I can hear the excitement in her voice. It's so cute that she's comparing everything to Colombia. For example, she asked if there were stalls where you buy fruits and vegetables as there are in Colombia (nope). She's just trying to get her bearings.
I'm now in my tiny hotel room. Probably the smallest room I've ever had on a business trip. But internet access is included along with breakfast. It's across the street from the train station (no horns blaring as they are in Houston) and there are lots of restaurant and shopping options within walking distance. Still, it'll be a cramped 3 weeks in here.
The taxi ride to the hotel from the airport was about $40 US. Most of the taxi drivers wear white hats, white gloves, white shirts and black trousers. The doors open by a push of a lever so they don't have to get out and you don't have to touch the door. :-)
I look forward to adding photos and being a better blogger than I was in Thailand. I hope to get out to Yokohama one weekend since it's only 4 train stops away and supposed to have lots of sites to see. And perhaps see more of Tokyo the second weekend. Since I'm pinch-hitting for an auditor, I am not leading the audit and should be far less busy than normal. :-) Stay tuned to this space!
P.S. It's weird logging into blogspot.com and seeing Japanese characters where Sign In should be!
Monday, January 26, 2009
We're getting immuned to what goes on around us. How sad....nothing shocks us anymore.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Pattaya is full of men of all ages and sizes and their young Thai playthings. Not only old white dudes and their young Thai girlfriends (or pick-ups), but dudes with their young Thai boyfriends. Plus there are a lot of Russians running around and the women dress as poorly as the Thai women (high heels, short shorts).
Having dinner and watching the world go by is pure entertainment. There is a walking street full of bars, restaurants, jewelry stores and clubs. What a bizarre mixture.
On the positive side, the food is cheap and good. Because of the wide variety of tourists that come here, there are restaurants serving Russian, Japanese, Italian, Indian, steak, seafood, Thai, Chinese, etc.
There are cheap massage parlors on each block (i.e., $5 for an hour Thai massage fully clothed) and facial salons everwhere. Dental clinics are also prevalent. Laser teeth whitening is about $300. I got a new bite guard for $140.
Shopping (my favorite topic) is also cheap, but so are the clothes. But silk items are inexpensive so I'll probably pick up some pieces before I leave. And definitely a visit to the tailor to custom make clothing is a necessity. Nothing beats a pair of pants that was made to fit you!
I am spending 3 weeks in Pattaya before taking off on a Thai beach vacation. I'm sure I'll have lots to blog about!
Friday, January 2, 2009
Next trip is Thailand in a couple of weeks. Hopefully there will be no technical difficulties and photos and comments can be posted in a more timely manner!