Monday, September 26, 2011

Back in the USA

First of all, I should apologize for the lack of posting recently, it looks like September might hit an all-time low in number of posts for a given month... Really sorry about that and rest assured that it's not because of a lack of ideas, inspiration and willingness, these last few weeks I have had to do some travel in Japan for business where time to blog has been quite limited.

Yesterday I arrived to the USA for a week of meetings in the corporate head office on the east coast. A time difference of 12 hours gives it a slightly surreal feeling as the days have turned completely upside down.

So far I am already getting slightly annoyed with the cheery waiters/waitresses and gotten served a portion of food large enough to sustain 4 Japanese salarymen for the better part of a month. I've also gotten ripped off by a taxi driver who sensed that I was just fresh off the banana boat and getting annoyed with the tipping custom here in the US... More to follow later on....

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Defining Childhood Moments of My Life

Now I'm old and withered

As a special treat, I thought I should share with you some of those special occasions that have made me the man that I am today and I strongly remember even though it was long ago...
  • Going to the Museum of Natural History with my father and brother at age 4 or so and standing fascinated staring at the collection of mutated specimens pickled in formaldehyde, the siamese twin baby and the two headed snake I strongly remembered and how I wondered why they didn't just make the whole museum about that stuff (I do still wonder actually
  • Reading a Moomin comic at age six or so and realizing that I had my first pre-pubescent crush on the Snork Maiden (that has passed, the later crush on the Smurfette remains a little)
  • Around the same age when Dad brought home our first computer (a ZX81 home computer) and letting us play a video game where you were hunted by an invisible monster in an invisible labyrinth (yeah, no graphics at all) but I've been hooked on games ever since
  • When my brother played a tape with a Pet Shop Boys song that he had recorded from the coolest radioshow at the time (we only had three channels in Sweden, one played classical music, the other was all boring talk and the third one sometimes played pop) and getting so fascinated by the sound of electronic music (that never really let up either)
  • Going with Mom to her local Japanese foods shop in Stockholm at age 9 or so and walking around bored, looking into their freezer with frozen food and being freaked out when I realize that they had a huge Octopus in there (don't eat the stuff, I take it out of the takoyaki)
  • Reading the last Superman Story "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow" before they rebooted the whole DC universe at age ten or so and feeling oddly emotionally moved by the story (this was the time when no one died, the girls didn't have huge boobs and Superman mostly fought with a cowboy on a winged horse or some gay looking guy with thigh-high boots, and hardly carried any emotional weight). It remained with me so much that once when I was visiting home from University I spent the better half of a day digging through the childhood comic collection to try and find it and see if it really was as moving as I remembered it. A few years later I found it and realized that it was written by Alan Moore who I had been a long time fan of, so all the pieces came together
  • Visiting Japan for the first time with my mom at the age of 15 and almost immediately getting the odd feeling that I had somehow came home, in a place I hardly knew
Ok, maybe I should have included marrying Mrs. Sunshine, having Toddler Sunshine and getting my iPad (in no particular order) but those are not really childhood moments, so I leave them out. But there you have it, everything you need to know about me comes from these moments (but no, Mrs. Sunshine doesn't look anything like the Snork Maiden)!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Another one for the little one

It's pretty great!
I've settled in very well with life with my iPad, although the most intense and passionate affair has calmed down, my iPad has become a trusted friend and companion. Ok, maybe sometimes I download a few too many apps that actually are completely useless, but since they cost nothing or next to nothing it's really no big deal anyway and I just delete them when I get bored with them.

A few weeks earlier I got the brilliant idea to download some apps for small kids, interactive kid's songs and shit, to see if those could help pacify and entertain Toddler Sunshine. It worked... In fact it worked a little too well... Every time she sees me holding the iPad she immediately drops everything and very determined makes her way to where I'm sitting, forcefully climb up in my lap, starts staring at the screen and if nothing exciting shows up within five seconds she puts her filthy fingers all over the screen trying to get to the excitement. Her favorite app at the moment is "Talking Carl" as she seem to somewhat have figured out that it repeats the sounds she makes in a high-pitched voice (Toddler Sunshine's voice is quite high-pitched to begin with...).

So, I did the only thing I could do... I recently ordered another iPad, this one white and only 16GB compared to mine of 64GB (no 3G for me, I'm connected enough with the smartphone) for Mrs. Sunshine to have at home for herself and to give her a tool to tame the baby as I bring mine with me for the commute. I don't see myself as an Apple fanboy, but can't deny that I love the iPad!  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Degrees of urgency

You know where this is from, right?
The other day at work I was faced with the filing of some essential paperwork and received some help from the assistant of the office. As I had basically finished filling out the forms but felt a bit confused on the urgency level as I was faced with three options: "standard", "speedy" and "urgent" written on the form to cross one in. As I asked the assistant for advice the conversation went something like this:

Salaryman: (slightly puzzled) Hey, for this, what level of urgency should I pick? It's not that urgent, but it can't take forever either?
Assistant: (cheery) Mark "urgent", we always do that since they never get to it otherwise.
Salaryman: (slightly hesitant) You do that? But isn't there a risk that other more really urgent stuff gets delayed then...?
Assistant:(still cheery) Everyone always do "urgent" so it just gets done in the order it comes in.
Salaryman:(feeling the pull of the corporate void) Oh, I see, maybe they should divide "urgent" into "urgent", "very urgent" and "extremely urgent" then instead?
Assistant:(thoughtful) Hmmm... Maybe that would be good actually.
Salaryman: (getting into it) Yeah, and then they can just remove all the options except the urgent ones since no one uses it anyway
Assistant: (thinking deeper) Yes, we could do that since it's no point to keep the other options
Salaryman: (pleased with myself as the lunacy trap is set) Yeah, exactly, and when there's only the three urgent left they could be renamed to "standard", "speedy" and "urgent" instead!
Assistant: (looking confused) No? That would not work as there is only one degree of urgent then?
Salaryman: (deciding that enough is enough) Yeah, you're right, didn't think of that, how stupid of me! I'll just check urgent then!

Always nice with some good 'ol fashioned corporate insanity! 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Fake Beers of Japan - Happoushuu

However fake beer is not good for kids
The subject of the Japanese "fake beer" called 発泡酒う "happoushuu" has probably been discussed about so many times that it's a bit boring and unimaginative to bring it up here in this usually so groundbreaking blog, but I'll do it anyway, encouraged by the comments in the previous post.

Most people reading this blog might already be quite familiar with Japan and know of this nasty little bastard half-brother of real beer. For the record, I should probably say that I generally like the regular real Japanese beer. The three big brands Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo make quite good light beer comparable with good European brands. When it comes to darker, heavier beer the Japanese have some ways to go though, but I don't particularly mind since I prefer the lighter beer in any case.

The thing here in Japan is that beer comes in a special tax bracket which is a bit higher than that of other alcoholic beverages (I'm not completely sure why this is the case though...). So if comparing a pre-bottled cocktail with a beer with the same alcohol percentage, the beer end up something like 30% more expensive due to the added tax slapped on top. What the sly Japanese beer makers set out to do to work around this tax problem was to brew "beer" with a malt percentage just below the official limit defined for beer and use substitute for malt to cover the rest of the brew. These beer variants are not allowed to be called "beer" as they fall outside the formal Japanese definition and have received the name "happoushuu" which means something nondescript as "sparkling" or "foaming" alchol. Japanese official definitions aside, I think that it could be argued that it's actually beer, albeit low quality as the use of malt substitute distort some of the beer taste. You can read up more here on Wikipedia if you happen to be interested in the history of these type of drinks (hey, some stuff was new to me too).

For a visitor and/or non-Japanese speaker it can be really confusing as these fake beers look deceptively like regular beers and have product names as close to something beer sounding as possible. All the big beer makers carry a large fake beer portfolio, sometimes with can design very similar to their more premium quality beer cans. The big give-away is of course that the price is considerably lower (about 150jpy for a fake beer while the real deal goes for 230jpy for a 330ml can).

"So, what's the problem then?" you might think. Well, let me tell you what the problem is, although the quality of the fake beers has considerably improved in the last decades (ten years ago they were pretty foul), they still carry with them an aftertaste that you don't get with real beers and they give a hangover that's not in adequate relation to the amount of beer consumed (granted, this might have been improved upon in later years without me knowing since I avoid the fake beer like the plague since many years back).

When I have guests over at the salaryman base of operations, I always make a point of buying the real deal and not cheaping out with fake beer. The problem is that sometimes when visiting friends you get these fake beers shoved on you with the words "here Salaryman, have a beer!". Sadly enough, it seems like these fake beers have become the norm for most people at home and the times I get offered a real beer is getting more and more rare... Thankfully you still get served real beer at restaurants and bars, even though some extremely cheap "drink as much as you want" sometimes are suspected of not serving the real deal...

As a Salaryman, it goes without saying that I like beer (it's almost a requirement) and I try to stay as far away as possible from these fake beers as I can. Sure, there is a smaller financial gain in switching to the fake beers, but before I do that there are other less essentials corners that can be cut, such as lowering the quality of toddler Sunshine's food and removing non-essentials such as Mrs. Sunshine's massage therapist and her visits to the hair salon. It's all about priorities and I've got mine straight!

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Sit like you Shit" - My Favorite Japanese Words

Maybe this is actually worth a separate label, but since I've just done a few posts on the subject of my favorite words in Japanese I can't really be bothered...
The way it's done!

But I thought I should highlight one very popular way to relax and chill out here in Japan, which also has a very suitable name given to it. I will let the picture to the right illustrate this for you, demonstrated by a true master in the art. The word in question is うんこ座り "Unko Suwari" and literally translates into something like "crapping sitting" as the way of chilling out without a chair is reminiscent of how you need to place yourself to utilize the traditional Japanese toilet.

This particular way of sitting works very well with a cigarette in one hand and a cheap Japanese "fake" beer (the happoushuu stuff that is very close to beer but can avoid the higher beer taxation through a lower malt percentage in the brewing). It just reeks of class, I'm working on it but haven't yet nailed it down perfectly but will keep working on it!
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