Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Crappy at three languages

Quite some time ago, I graduated from a Swedish university and even if I by no means were a master of grammars and spelling I think it would be fair to say that I had a pretty decent grasp of language measured up to other natives. My English was also at a decent level with normal everyday conversation no problems but quite a few grammatical and spelling flaws and with a pidgin level of Japanese capable of me making it through the day without not too much pain, but not that great.

Now things have changed, in work my first language is obviously Japanese since all my colleagues are Japanese, but I also frequently talk to people in English in the head office, with other foreign colleagues and at home with Ms. Sunshine. Also, in my years in consulting, English was the primary language. But the times I use Swedish are now pretty rare and usually limited to conversations with family and friends back home, speaking it is now problem at all if you exclude business lingo which I am not completely comfortable with in Swedish. But my writing in terms of spelling and grammars has worsened quite considerably.

So now I am in the situation where my Swedish level has decreased quite a bit, my English ability has increased and my Japanese ability has increased significantly, but as it looks now, I am by no means perfect in any of these languages. So now I've ended up in the strange situation of being semi-crappy in three languages, some form of balance has been struck and the three languages live in harmony and equality inside my head.

Maybe I should mention my German as well, once I had a basic grasp of German, but the Japanese took the German language in my head outside and gave it such a beating that it hasn't really dared to come back. I can still understand a bit, but the moment I try to speak, the Japanese shoves the German in my head to the side and out comes Japanese instead...

I do not intend to learn another language...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Making the Case

Recently I have been precoccupied with finalizing up a business case that is on our table, concerning establishing a separate subsidiary to deal with some business outside the core medical device market, namely the dodgy IT and "service" support side... I have no particular experience with this market and has more been working on it from the business side and putting together all the calcs to see if the investment makes sense and is worthy the millions of dollars that needs to be pumped into it in hiring the staff, investing in the new office and developing the systems etc..

After quite a bit of work and some subtle adjustments of some figures I did come up with a version that gives the company a return on investment 5 years from start of investment (which is the requirement we have for making a "go" or "no go" decision). However, all the revenue forecasts from our brand new IT and service offer comes from the "soon to be" president of this new great subsidiary, but since his business skills are not really enough to convince hardened western executives I got involved. I was pretty satisfied with the financial model and the subsequent business case I put together and am ready to face the dreaded head office management full on to argue the justification of this investment.

However, some of the revenue forecasts seemed a bit too enthusiastic and I sat down with the up and coming president to discuss this. The conversation went something like this:

Mr. Salaryman: Seriously, do you really think we can pull off these kinda figures so soon after launch?
To-be-President: (frowning) No, I think it might be a bit too high estimates actually...
Mr. Salaryman: So you don't think we'll reach the targets you set?
To-be-President: (looking concerned) Well, not really, but we'll do our best...

After talking to a few more related people and everyone basically answering the same way "those figures are a bit too difficult" I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

Here we were, the whole organization ready to put on a pitch for something that no one believes in without no one really seeing it as a huge problem... After a week it started getting to me and I started to change around some of the assumptions and limiting some investments to get it more reasonable and finally ending up with a reasonable return on investment. After showing it around to the related people the response was "yes, this looks much better, this we can do".

I don't think this is only my company that's doing things like this, the plain truth is that most organizations become pretty stupid even if the people inside it basically are smart... But now we finally have a feasible and reasonable plan that people believe in, for some reason it makes me a lot more comfortable to negotiate with the dreaded western executives...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Are we not communicate?

The scientific event I attended recently gave me quite a few pearls of entertainment and hearing doctors communicate across borders can be amusing and sometimes borderline absurd. After a lecture when the floor is open for questions, it is not uncommon for exchanges such as this:

Japanese Doctor: (Speaking in severly broken English with a strong Japanese accent) Thank you very much for your beautiful presentation! I am Kawahara from Kyoto . I have two questions for you.

In your lecture, you mentioned that you sometimes treat patients who are suffering…um… um… from, related complications such as this and that which we often… um… um… se in Japan but I have never heard of the things you mentioned because it is not customary…um… here in Japan to treat such complications as you mentioned in your lecture through… um… the treatments you described so I was wondering whether it is normal for the patients to be suffering from these type of complications because I don’t um… think it should be usual and we need to consider many aspects when selecting the appropriate treatment for the patients, things like um… physical um… um… condition, history of illness and other such items I think, so my question to you is how do you perceive this?

American Doctor: Thank you very much for the praise, it is a pleasure for me to come here to beautiful Japan and present some of my findings. What you say is true to some degree, but you must keep in mind that the methods we use here in the United States and Europe are not as accurate as some of the methods that I have heard are available here in Japan. That said, I think that we need to keep in mind that every patient is different and from my own personal experience I have seen some cases where the patients have been overtreated. I think we have a lot to learn from each other. Did that answer your question?

Japanese Doctor: (Says nothing and sits down)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Happy Birthday to my blog!

I just noticed that today is actually exactly two years since I started this blog with this humble little post. So I think that I should congratulate myself for actually keeping this up for the two years I've been doing it, and I have no plans to stop in the near future, at least not as long as the craziness continues all around me.

It's nice to see that the visitor number has been growing, at a humble, but steady rate for each month and regardless of number of visitors dropping in from the link, it's always very flattering and nice to see when people start to link to my site (thank you very much to the latest additions; Karen in Praha, Our man in Abiko and DJlosangeles, I'll get around to linking you back eventually), also fun to see that people from different age groups can find something to like here.

It's always really fun to see a visitor dropping in from a random link and then see how that person spent several hours reading through all my previous posts (but for some reason most people work their way back in time, but if you're going to read through all of it, it would be better to do it from the start, but hey, whatever makes you happy!).

Also, I would like to thank all the people who sometimes leave comments, seeing feedback on a post is one of the really fun things in doing a blog, however, as a pretty rare comment poster myself I fully understand people who are content with just reading the stuff without commenting. I should give a special mention to my favorite comment of all time Kaiju on this post who showed that being a grown man doesn't stop you from throwing random personal insults on the Internet, good man!

It's always hard to know what posts have been most appreciated, if I count "popularity" based on the number of comments a certain post received I find it a bit strange since some of the posts I find most amusing myself generally get the least comments...

Personally, I would probably rate my post on advice in handling large amounts of jizz, the Ikea picture post, my discussion about the shitty box Sapporo sex scene, me taking on stance on the human rights of pygmies and my foray into the always hot topic of Manpanzees as those posts that makes me giggle a bit when I go back and read them again. For some strange reason, those posts received very few comments... It seems like me and my readers are not always completely aligned in our interests here...

Also, I'm pretty satisfied with my choice of pictures and fitting in Ted Bundy, My little Pony, retro Superman, Nazi war criminals, God-Jesus and Fix und Foxi in the same blog is a feat of its own. My own personal favorite though is probably the screenshot I took from the movie "Meet the Feebles".

So, Happy Birthday to my blog and let the congratulations pour in!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I think he's dead

A quick highlight of one of the more entertaining events at the scientific event that I attended recently.
Scenario – A Japanese doctor is holding a lecture in English discussing his participation in setting international guidelines for a certain surgical procedure:

Dr. Deadpan: In 2004, I was in the meeting held in Bonn , Germany , chaired by Dr. Steiner he died (Observe that there is no pause here between “Dr. Steiner” and “he died”, it’s said in one breath)… (Dr. Deadpan silent for a few second and looking like he’s searching in his mind) Yes, he died after the meeting...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Everyone is naked and is having sex all the time - Welcome to Sweden!

To follow up on my previous Sweden post, in addition to the welfare pornography and all the misconceptions around that, there is another image of Sweden that I regularly have been forced to correct during my time here in Japan .

This usually comes from Japanese men in their upper ‘50s and 60’s with the question of “Sweden ? That’s the country of free sex?!” accompanied by a leer. This requires me to have to explain to them that this concept of “free sex” does not mean that a Swedish girl will actually sleep with anyone; but that it means that women in Sweden can actually chose with whom to sleep. Also that the chances that they would actually chose to sleep with the person who asked the question is lower than the chances of the Swiss Navy winning a naval battle with the British Navy.

I have crushed a lot of dreams this way…

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

We need to discuss what we discussed in the meeting

As I probably have pointed out way too many times by now, I'm pretty used to corporate insanity and stupidity and I've probably gotten used to most of it, but there are still some instances when I can get completely floored by something going on in the company.

A little bit earlier I was asked to participate in a meeting to discuss some of our projects which Mr. "We Have A Serious Problem" is responsible of, due to some unclarities in whether we, as a company, are adhering to the proper rules and regulations. The theme of the meeting was appropriate and nothing I had any issues with, since the company might be stupid, but we are trying to adhere to the appropriate ethics associated with the healthcare business. However, since I am no actively in charge of this project and by no means an expert, I declined to participate but asked them to provide me with the results of the meeting so I can stay informed.

Apparently they had a meeting for 2-3 hours and later in the day I got sent the minutes of the meeting as Mr. "We Have A Serious Problem" compiled them and sent them out. From the corner of my eye, I could follow how the other participants kept having additions and amendments to the meeting sent back and forward to each other (a lot of mails were deleted that day by without being read...). Without following the details I could clearly see that there was a certain amount of disagreement to what actually had been said in the meetings and to my mild amusement I could see how some people wanted to add things that actually hadn't been said or decided upon...

Then, the mail that really floored me came... Obviously from Mr. WHASP and it requested another meeting for 2 hours to "confirm the minutes of the previous meeting"! I couldn't stop myself from laughing out loud at my desk, probably temporarily dropping my mask of sanity. I cannot say how happy I am that I declined to participate in the first meeting!

Monday, February 9, 2009

"This is so exciting!"

There are certain aspects of Japanese culture that I have difficulties wrapping my head around and understanding what the deal is about. I'm talking about the Japanese fascination with wrapping paper and the elaborate wrappings that gifts are subjected to here. If you're a westerner like me, you probably see the wrapping as just an obstacle to tear through like a meat grinder to get to the actual gift hiding inside. However, in general, Japanese people love to admire the wrapping and often also saves the wrapping paper while commenting on how beautiful it is.

Now, wrapping presents is not one of my talents as people in my immediate vicinity are very well aware of and the rare times when I purchase a gift which I cannot have gift-wrapped for me at the shop usually end up pretty messy and something I have to profusely apologize for if the recepient happens to be Japanese.

Just recently I was walking towards the station with the always wonderful Ms. Sunshine and as we were passing by a crappy mom and pop like shop I never paid any attention to ever before, she cries out with excitement "Wow, this is one of those shops!" and pulls me inside it with her. The shop was dedicated to wrapping paper, paper bags and similar stuff, something which holds a minimal interest to me. As she was walking through the small cramped shop she exclaimed repeatedly "This is so exciting!" and once even followed by an enthusiastic "Aren't you excited?!" (thankfully she never gave me time to answer that one, but I assume that my complete lack of excitement was pretty plainly visible on my face).

I think the picture here very well illustrate how differently the two of us must've perceived the shop, it is clear that we saw very different things, to the right is how I imagine that she perceived the store and to the left is how my camera perceived it

I'm not against this excitement about wrapping paper and general obsession with gift wrapping here in Japan, but I do have severe difficulties getting in on the excitement, after all, the wrapping is just an obstacle to getting to the gift!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

It’s all about the hits baby!

I recently went through a meeting here at work where we discussed some of the promotional channels we are currently using and how they could be utilized better. Of course our homepage came into the discussion and the webmaster presented the number of daily hits we get and the average length of stay for each visitor.

The daily amount of hits was lower than that of this little blog and the average length of stay considerably lower than that of this little blog…

Now, this does in any way mean that I have tons of visitors, in fact, I would say that I have a very modest number of visitors to this little blog, but it does indicate how uninteresting and insignificant my little company is and how horribly we suck at E-marketing...

(If anyone is interested, the graph is actually the hits to this page by month...)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Welfare pornography - Sweden

One of the more annoying things that you have to put up with as a Swede living here in Tokyo is the misconception of Sweden as the paradise on earth that most Japanese people seem to have.

Obviously the Japanese media is more than happy to help promote this image and I would go as far as to call it “welfare pornography” featuring Sweden . It is not unusual to see in tv shows here in Japan showing how wonderful and great Sweden is with happy elderly people smiling in the nice elderly homes, how great the schools are and how education, including university and healthcare is completely free. In some of the shows, they actually do mention that it’s not completely free since it is all paid for through taxes. However, they usually emphasize how happy everyone is to pay these high taxes since everything is free anyway.
Now, as you might understand, I don’t agree with this image and have to fight it on a regular basis trying to explain that most Swedish people are sick to death of paying huge taxes and then have to apply back to the government for grants for housing, children and most things you can imagine to make ends meet. Not to mention that Sweden has a fair share of horrible elderly homes (I particularly remember one case where some senile elderly were found to have maggots in their bedsores) and schools that provide less than ideal level of education.

For my recent birthday, I received a photo book from my brother with pictures of some of the most horrible and desolate places you can find in Sweden which I gladly showed to Ms. Sunshine who after spending a few minutes flipping through the book looked at me with a frown and said “You know, you’re not really selling in the concept of your home country in to me here”. That said, I actually do like Sweden , but it’s no more the paradise on earth than Japan is and I will continue my efforts to a fair and balanced view of Sweden here!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Learning how to state the obvious - Business Management

These recent days I have been tied up in meetings with overseas management that has come to inspect our little Japanese subsidiary, fortunately the people in the current regional management seem a lot better than the last bunch I had to interact with (that a certain infamous Senior Vice President had been fired was the first thing I was told when I was scouted back to my company since they knew of the problems I had with that person). Basically, as far as management goes, it seemed like a huge improvement.

However, one issue I always have had with people in corporate senior management positions is the tendency to often state obvious things and make it seem like they are actually saying something very very interesting and important. What annoys me even more is when other people in the audience is nodding and looking like they are seriously thinking about what just had been told.

Some of the more groundbreaking things I have heard just in recent times are things like:

"A positive cashflow is very important"

"As a company, we have to seriously consider our investments"

"Profitability is one of the key things we in management are looking at"

"The CEO of the company doesn't know the details of local businesses"

I seriously wonder how anyone who works in a sales and marketing company that doesn't understand this gets by on a daily basis, but still they have all been said as it's very important stuff that people don't generally understand...

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Now, yours truly has for years suffered from allergy which manifests itself as hay fever with itchy eyes, runny nose and excessive sneezing. This is periodical and usually I get the worst symptoms early winter and spring. When it's at its worst it can be pretty intensive and I wouldn't be suprised if the daily amount of bodily fluids lost through the runny nose would be best measured in litres.

Now, most of the time it really isn't that much of a big deal, some mild sneezing and a little itchy eyes, but when it's bad, it's pretty bad. Basically I haven't spent much thought about this and just accepted my allergy as a periodical inconvenince that passes.

The thing is that I have never actually had a proper allergy test to find out what exactly I'm allergic too, I just assumed that it would be some form of pollen allergy since I always get the worst symptoms at the same time each year. After some persuasion from Ms. Sunshine in which our conversations would look something like this:

Ms. Sunshine: Your allergy is pretty bad today?
Mr. Salaryman: Yeah, it must be something blossoming now.
Ms. Sunshine: You really should test it you know, just for your own sake, maybe it's house dust and mite allergy?
Mr. Salaryman: I know, but I'm pretty sure that it must be some pollen so I don't think I can avoid it in any case.

But just recently I finally actually went to the hospital and had the blood tests done to check exactly what I'm allergice to. The results? Mite and house dust... No pollen allergy of any kind...

Well, I'm sure there's a lesson in there somewhere and I just hope I learned it...
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