Sunday, February 26, 2012

I know you don't want to hear this from me...

Is this a challenge?
In the new company, people are generally nice, friendly and helpful although I can sometimes feel the tension of being the "new guy" as opinions and ideas are welcome, up to a point. It can be a bit frustrating, but at the same time I can completely relate to attitude as you have to start with proving your worth before the voice internally gets stronger. After a little more than half a year, I'm starting to get a little warmed up but still some ways to go. 

Earlier in the week, I was working with a colleague in our Quality Assurance department, drafting up a formal and very important letter to the authorities regarding one of the products that I'm in charge of. We had some back and forth on the key issues to clarify and make sure that we had a common understanding of what we wanted to say and this worked quite smoothly without any big disagreements. My counterpart got to work drafting out the formal letter and I did not really think much about it as he and his team work with stuff like this on a daily basis, so I trusted that they would draft up a good letter. 

A few drafts of the letter were sent back and forward for input and feedback and I focused on making sure that the right stuff was in there and not thinking much about the language used. At the end of the day a "final draft" was sent to me, looking very nice with all the right stuff in there apart from one very awkward and strange sentence in Japanese. I probably spent 10 minutes reading it back and forth, assuming that they would not make such a simple mistake I started to wonder whether it was my Japanese that was the problem and not the sentence. After asking a few (Japanese) colleagues close to me, of their opinion, they all agreed with me that the Japanese indeed was strange.

At the deadline was getting close, I quickly shot of an e-mail to the QA guy highlighting the sentence and adding a suggestion followed by "I'll call you know". I called the guy up and the, up until now, very friendly QA manager first responded with indignity that I would question his Japanese ability and a mildly condescending attitude suggesting that I had perhaps not grasped the Japanese. However, after a few minutes of conversation and him looking at his sentence he got silent for a few seconds, followed by a meek "Oh, yes, I see what you mean, this sentence actually is a bit odd...".

I really did feel a bit bad about giving him the news that the Japanese was odd as they take considerable pride in their competency in drafting up advanced letters (both in topics and written Japanese level) and I probably was one of the people least suited to correct his Japanese... I did my best though to keep a humble attitude towards it and it all ended happily.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Me and comic books

Where's the rape kit? I think this seal did get serious injuries!
Currently I don't really have as much time to spend on the blog as I'd like to and being busy at home with the little one and being the new guy at work also means that I don't have as many amusing work stories yet, but fear not, I'll keep up the blog but it's probably not the most dynamic time right now.

So, I thought I'd sprinkle in one of my few personal introvert posts instead. This one about me and comic books. Those of you completely uninterested in the topic might as well skip it, I won't be upset with you.

When I grew up, I would say I probably read basically as much comic books as the average kid. In Sweden that mostly meant Donald Duck and some of the local Swedish humour comics ("91:an", "Lilla Fridolf" etc.). Reading comics weren't frowned upon at home and as our Dad liked the old Carl Barks Donald Duck comics from the 50's and Lee Falk's "The Phantom" (which for some reason falled into obscurity in the US but remained extremely popular in Sweden) I guess it was mildly encouraged even. As I got a bit older I switched from the cartoon comics to Superman and Superboy, which at that time in the early eighties was heavily geared towards younger kids with pretty silly plots.

Then as I got a little older still I started to get into the Marvel comics, particularly Spider-man, X-men and the Fantastic Four as those were published in Swedish language editions. For a little while I even started buying imported US Marvel comics as the Swedish publication tended to lag a few years and the offering was limited. But on a limited weekly allowance this was pretty minor, but still, going up to Stockholm and one of the few real comic book stores and check out all the American books was quite the event. 

But as I started high-school I had begun to outgrow the stories and my interest and money instead shifted to music and I basically stopped buying comics. It's not that I didn't want to like comics, it was just that I found the stories a bit too juvenile and not particularly interesting anymore. I had checked out some of the comics geared for an adult market but found them dull, expensive and focused on sex and nudity instead of stories (which I found a bit pointless as regular real porn seemed more fitting to fullfill any needs of sex and nudity). Then I remember one summer at a used market close to our summer house when our family was staying there and I came across a few cheap used copies of the Swedish edition of Watchmen and it completely blew me away. I remember managing to scavenge most of the back issues but lacking one of the volumes in the middle (in Sweden they were published two US editions combined in one). But Watchmen demonstrated how great and mature comic books could be when done right. Then a Swedish company started publishing some of the US Vertigo contemporary horror comics ("Hellblazer", "Swamp Thing" etc.) and they caught my interest, but after a while the publication stopped as the market was not large enough in Sweden. Buying imported English language versions was not really an option either as money was tight and imported stuff considerably more expensive. So throughout University I knew there were some interesting stuff out there but access to it was strictly limited.

After university I moved to Japan and started doing my Salaryman thing. For the first time in my life I found myself with a decent paycheck and money to spend on other stuff than the pure necessities. As the Japanese Amazon shop provided quite good access to US publications at decent prices I started to order some comics on a regular basis. Mostly trade paperbacks of the larger "mature-audiences" titles like Preacher, Hellblazer, Sandman and whatnot. But I still kept very far away from the Superhero comics. But sometime in 2004 or so during a visit in Sweden, facing the 10+ hour flight home, I went to the local book shop to see if I could pick up some interesting serial killer biographies or other interesting and nurturing reading to kill time with on a long flight. The bookshop also had a quite large comic section in it, but as there really wasn't anything out on the market that I particularly wanted, I didn't really plan on buying any comics. But then I saw "The Ultimates", at first I didn't really know what it was about much, but through reading on the back and quickly flipping through it I figured out that it was a reimagining of the classic superhero team "The Avengers". Without any big expectations, I bought it as I thought it might help kill an hour or so on the flight with some brain dead superhero comics.

As you might understand, it completely blew me away. It had somewhat the same effect that reading Watchmen had had on me many many years earlier. The Ultimates showed how cool it could be with superheroes if you left all the silliness and stupidity behind and put the superheroes in a somewhat realistic contemporary setting. When I first read the books, I remember how I kept thinking "this should really be made into a film". So again I started glancing a bit on the Superhero stuff out there and granted, most of it still was crap, but I started to find some really good stuff in there as well. As it turned out, the kids nowadays never read comic books, so it seems like the stories aged with the readers so by the time I came back to the superhero comics, they were no longer really written for the kids but for an audience in their 20's and 30's.

Well... "What about Manga?" you might think... The irony in it is that I live in Japan with plenty of access to cheap manga everywhere and the Japanese ability to be able to read it without too much effort, but I just never really got it... I don't hate on Manga as an art-form or storytelling device, but I just never really could get into it as I am used to the Western pacing, style and clearer divisions between genres. I tried "Akira" and some of the bigger titles back in the day and really really tried to like it, but in the end I just gave up...

There you have it, the story of me and comic books. If you made it all the way to this you might even have found it mildly interesting, who knows?        

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Hey! I read "My name is Loco and I'm a racist"

No need to lower your expectations for "My name is Loco" though!
To be completely honest, I didn't really have particularly high expectations on neighbourhood blogger Loco's self-published book "My name is Loco and I'm a racist". Well, maybe that doesn't sound completely right actually, I did have expectations on it being worth 10 bucks/1000 yen but I didn't expect it to be a "real" book in terms of editing, packaging and overall feel. My expectations were more of a re-packaging of posts and a little edited to be able to give some consistency and then published as a book. As I know Loco's writing from the blog, I would have been fine with this and I thought I'd write a generally nice "review" here saying something like "it holds up in book format as well".

I was wrong, to my surprise and delight, it's a "real" book. Like the man himself says, it's hard to label it, but I'd guess it's more of a memoir than anything else with large parts of it taking place in Japan (but by no means all). Loco comes from a completely different background from me, being black and growing up in New York during times of racial tension. The path that he has travelled is also very different from mine, but this is what makes it interesting to me as I find it interesting to read different perspectives from that of mine.

As the title of the book hints at, a lot of the book is discussing the topic of racism, but not in a theoretical judgemental way, but instead based on the personal experiences that Loco has had, in Japan and the US. Not only directed at him, as a black guy, but also his own prejudice. I unfortunately don't really have the time to elaborate more on the contents, but you can check out the Amazon page for more info, but if you have any interest in Japan and/or racial issues I can only strongly recommend the book. It's very well written, and contrary to my assumption, it's not a bunch of post from his blog fused into a blog (there's a few posts in there, but they mostly fit right in and if I hadn't read them on the blog, I'd never figured it out). It's also a ferociously honest book and at times quite emotional, but manages to pull it off.

So, anything I didn't like about it? Well, not much to be honest, there's just a few small things that I'd maybe recommend Loco to think about by the time the book goes into it's 4th printing. As great as the cover of the book is, I find it jarring a bit with the content as the cover makes it look like it's a book with funny anecdotes about the square peg in Japan. Don't get me wrong, there's humour in there, but it's not the dominating theme. I guess it's up to personal taste, but slap on a more suitable cover and put it in airport book shops and I think it could really reach an audience. Then there's just one or two posts from the blog that come off as slightly disjointed in context as people are mentioned in one chapter and then again later on in the book but there's nothing to bridge what has happened in the relationships (did anyone understand that?). It's more of a teaser than anything as one chapter makes me interested in knowing more on what happened later on but is not followed up on later in the book. Then finally, a really small thing, but in a few places the book writes out the Japanese characters for words but in most places it does not. For a nano-second or so it shakes my brain a bit and I personally think that the Japanese characters are not needed as the book is not for Japanese learning purposes anyway.

In conclusion. Get the book. If you are the type of person that haven't figured out e-books it's also available in a paperback edition now here. I'm eagerly looking forward to his upcoming stuff and what he could possibly pull off with hopefully decent sales from My Name is Loco behind him!

(Maybe I need to explain the choice of picture here a bit... But what I meant to illustrate here is how I initially expected the product to be like only to be surprised to see that it actually looks exactly like the picture on the box with no need to lower any expectations)       

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sluts, Madame and hags, a trip through the girls of Tokyo with the Ginza line

Something like thi
The Ginza line is probably the subway I hate the most apart from the Oedo line. If I don't have my facts completely messed up, I believe it's the oldest subway of Tokyo. Not old in a good "oh, I feel the wings of history" way, but old in a bad way like that half crazy old lady in your neighbourhood. The stations are old, dirty with low ceilings make them a bit claustrophobic. Also the stations were built at a time when hundreds of thousands of Salarymen did not yet experience the joy of the morning commute through the subway, so the trains are short with few cars and thus almost always crowded, even off peek hours.

But I can at least handle this train line, I don't enjoy using it but it does it's job in getting me from point A to point B quickly. The interesting thing about the Ginza line is how it starts from Shibuya, goes all the way through central Tokyo, including the posh Ginza district and stops at Asakusa, part of the old Tokyo. 

It also makes it quiet interesting to see how the clientele of female passengers changes as the train goes from Shibuya though Ginza. The girls getting on in Shibuya consists mostly of the "fashionably slutty" (for "trashy slutty" you need to go to Shinjuku) young girls into the "gal"-fashion. But as the train make it's through Tokyo the "gals" start to get replaced with the more posh and elegant Ginza ladies crowd with expensive brand handbags and elegant fashion sense. The point where the to types of women mix is a fascinating, albeit brief time, it's almost like seeing two worlds collide. Two things that are not meant to meet, something like seeing lions and zebras play or like a silver age JLA/JSA crossover.
Then as the train goes further, again the females change from the Giza ladies to the regular mix of Tokyo girls and women and then finally into the old hags of Asakusa. It really is a fascinating journey of girls/women to take. It should be noted that the salarymen are exactly the same across the whole line so it might not be as an interesting journey for the ladies...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

My daughter indeed!

Kill enemies, score points!
Again, apologies for the lack of posting recently, the cold and entering a quite work-intense period at the company has made it difficult to gather up the energy to post much recently... For the first time in quite a few weekends I had a weekend without work and found it extremely difficult to get rid of little toddler Sunshine as she kept following me wherever I went in the house to make sure I wasn't running out on her again. That she's now also figured out how to climb stairs and move the sorry excuse of a baby-gate we put at the bottom of the stairs means that she is not restricted in movements either.

So, I did turn on the Playstation to relax with an exceptionally gory game and of course, within minutes of going upstairs to the computer/work/Salaryman-play-room I heard the panting and patter of feet as she climbed up the streets, followed by a squeal of joy as she saw me and my iPad next to me (it's quite packed with toddler-friendly apps). As she's now a little past a year and a half, I briefly considered whether I needed to turn off the gory game as to not traumatize her but decided against it for the moment. As she hopped up next to me on the sofa, grabbing the iPad with her hands, she noticed the noise and movement from the tv-screen and stared at the game for a few moments, just as I was shooting up a few enemies and putting my knife through the eye of one of them. 
I expected perhaps some crying or in best case indifference, but instead she screamed out a huge happy "Yay!" as I kept up the killing in the game, each kill followed by a happy "Yay!" for about half a minute until she decided that the iPad provided more fun and she turned her attention to that instead. 

So yep, not that there was any doubt before, but if this isn't complete and final confirmation that she's my little daughter, I don't know what is! 
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