Thursday, April 26, 2012

Commuter Battlegrounds - The Chicken Race

Fastest man alive!
It's been a while since I revisited the harsh battlegrounds that the Tokyo commute consist of. Not that there is any lack of topics but more due to the fact that most of the days and nights I'm happy to make it out alive with little energy left to write about it...

In the Tokyo stations there are ticket gates that you must pass in and out of the station. Thanks to the electronic tickets it's a pretty smooth thing in principle and a quick tap with the card on the reader lets you through. In most stations there are a few gates going only one way but also a few that switch over and are available both going in and out, if in use they usually stay one-way for a few seconds before switching back.

Today, on my merry way home from work, probably about 20meters from a gate open both ways I looked up and saw a woman approaching the same gate from the other direction, our eyes met, then we both looked at the gate and then back at each other measuring the enemy resolve... Without making it look too obvious I picked up the pace, pulled out my wallet to not lose a valuable second that could give the enemy passage and possibly force me to wait for the gate o switch over, or even worse, helplessly see more people from the other side making use of the gate and hindering my passage...

Around five meters from the gate I looked up again and saw that the woman had also picked up her pace and was about the same distance from the gate as me, again our eyes met and went to the gate. We both continued our path straight forward from opposite sides, but both of us realised that there can be only one winner in the Chicken-Race to the gate.

Around two meters away I looked up again and this time she looked at, looked uncertain and suddenly took a turn to her right, giving me free passage through the gate. I know that if I had shown any weakness she would have kept going and possibly cost me several seconds and steps to another gate. Mercy will take you nowhere in the commuter battlegrounds and ruthlessness is the only way to survive.

Sometimes people ask me how I can do it, keep on going through all the pain and senselessness of it all, but in this world it's all that I know and am good at... After a while you learn to just turn it all off...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I am thankful as you're giving it to me roughly up the...

These young guns battle it out too

I'm still the new guy in the company but am not seen as a complete beginner as I come in with over ten years of work experience. Comparatively things are easy for me...

Earlier in the week I visited the Fukuoka sales office of the company to join in a local sales meeting and was treated friendly and with respect from the guys and gals over there. Most of the reps over there are veterans in the company, but one of the guys is recently hired with just a little over half a year in the company and only a few years of previous work experience. At one point in the meeting there was a session with presentation training and the newbie had been chosen to hold a training presentation on one of our products.

The guy was obviously extremely nervous as the veterans watched with their arms crossed over their chests and serious frowns, I could almost feel some of his cold sweat from where I was sitting. The presentation was very poor, he kept using the wrong terms, stutter and generally read straight off the slides. After ten very long minutes he finally finished and was met with some half-hearted applause after which the feedback session started.

It was brutal... As I was the guest and was uncertain about their internal culture I wasn't sure to which extent I should just say "Good job" or be more honest and direct and how softly I would need to wrap saying "that was crap". I didn't need to worry as the first veteran started off with "If I was the customer I wouldn't have a clue as to what you were talking about and what you actually wanted to say, it was garbage and you need to think about what you want to have said properly!". Then it followed around the table in a similar vein from about eight people for a good twenty minutes. The newbie rep looked like he was about to start to cry. To be fair, the criticism was harsh, but not mean-spirited and his presentation had been very bad so I didn't feel overlyy sorry for the rep as he'll recover and no one meant any real harm. However, what did make me feel sorry for him was how he after each round off harsh criticism had to respond with a fake smile, say "Thank you so much for your feedback" and bow.

I wonder if the prisoners about to be hanged here in Japan thank their executioners for their patience and apologize in advance for soiling their pants when they die?

Friday, April 20, 2012

The end of the line

I'd go with hanging?
Earlier today I found myself a bit early for an appointment with a customer. The customer is located a bit out of central Tokyo and this time I didn't catch a ride with the local rep and got there on my own. I didn't mind since the hospital was easy to find and the weather was really nice, but with 30 minutes to kill and no Starbucks in the immediate vicinity I hesitated for a while whether to wait inside the hospital waiting lobby with all the sick people and have to look sharp and alert as it's obvious from the suit and the tie that I'm not there to get treated. After a little hesitation, I instead headed to the park just across.

I found myself a comfortable bench, sat down, enjoyed the nice weather and started to write a mail to Mrs. Sunshine and didn't really look around until after about 10 minutes or so. On the benches surrounding me I saw one (probably) relatively clean homeless guy, one other Salaryman looking really sad and one elderly woman out to enjoy the weather. The playground was very empty and silent.

Salarymen and parks have a very special relationship and one I didn't fully consider before I sat down on the bench. Sitting in a park is basically the death sentence for a salaryman, the only salarymen who sit in parks are the ones who are complete failures; have no more customer to visits but cannot return to the head office because they are expected to be out visiting customers... Basically, if you're a Salaryman and sitting in a park, you're done for. The only things that you might consider while sitting in a park is the best way to off yourself and still make sure that the family gets the insurance money, despite your failure to provide.

I quickly left the bench and went inside the hospital instead, I had to look sharp but at least the rep showed up quickly...

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hey, thanks a lot doc!

A classic game
As you know if you've read the last posts, we recently added a baby Salaryman to the family. Baby Salaryman was born in a quite typical Japanese maternity clinic, which is nothing negative as the care and service is very good and they do not rush people out the door the moment they've popped the baby out. Some other interesting features of maternity clinics are facial treatments and sales pitches of powdered milk, those are something I'll elaborate more on in another post when I get around to it.
The first days after he was born, Baby Salaryman did fine, drank both the bottle and the boob in the volumes that he's supposed to. However, after a few days it became evident that he didn't really increase the volumes of milk the way he was expected to do, taking over an hour to get him to drink 50mls of milk on his third day or so. This was discussed a little on the fourth day with Mrs. Sunshine and the doctor expressed some concern over it and mentioned that they might want to have him sent to a larger hospitals to make sure that there was no serious underlying cause for this. This of course made us a bit worried, but as he otherwise was healthy we weren't overly concerned. Then a few hours later, I get a call from Mrs. Sunshine, crying and close to panic, saying that they would be sending Baby Salaryman to the NICU (intensive care unit for newborns) of a nearby university hospital in an ambulance for treatment. As we talked I could hear the sirens in the background...

I quickly dumped Toddler Sunshine (who I was watching at home) with a neighbour, who we don't particularly care or like, but has kids of her own and happened to be home and willing to supervise Toddler Sunshine while I headed off to the hospital as soon as I could. I arrived just as the ambulance came in and watched Baby Salaryman get carried into the NICU in steel "baby box" (reminding me of a cat-box), told that they would now initiate tests and was asked to wait outside until they were finished. With very limited information on what actually was going on now, me and Mrs. Sunshine were under the impression that Baby Salaryman was on the verge of death, making for a very nervous and unpleasant wait. 

After an hour or so, I was called into the unit as the results had come in. To my surprised Baby Salaryman wasn't actually in the NICU with all the scary machines, but in the GCU (Growing Care Unit - think nursery) next door. The young female doctor sat down with me next to our sleeping little baby and explained the battery of tests that they had been performing (blood work, ultrasound, x-ray etc etc.) and that everything had come back fine. 

However, they had also in the end performed another test... The final test was apparently putting a finger in Baby Salaryman's mouth to see if he had developed the fine art of sucking and breathing through his nose properly at the same time... It turned out that he had not yet completely mastered this fine art, but was already getting better at it. So the reasons for his low volumes of milk was simply that he got out of breath and really tired and fell asleep before drinking as much as he ideally should.

As the doctor was actually really nice and I was so relieved that everything was fine with the baby, I managed to hold back on aggressively asking them why they didn't just test that finger-in-mouth-test FIRST before starting to do the other more invasive tests... But hey, in the Japanese health care system, the more tests you make, the more money the hospital can rake in...  

Monday, April 9, 2012

Job Satisfaction

My best Superman pic ever?
We all take our job satisfaction where we can get it. For a teacher, seeing the students grow and get better must be a big source of job satisfaction. For a construction worker I can see how being a part of building something from nothing can give satisfaction. For a shop owner, happy customer probably also is a big one. For other people, getting a paycheck regularly is it's own satisfaction. 

Yesterday, as one of my colleagues was rummaging around one of our cabinets, she pulled out a couple of my demo products and asked "what's this and who's is it?", I immediately answered "Oh, those are my anal tubes, I was looking for those and need them, thanks!". No one in the office batted an eyelid as stuff like that is quite normal for us. For me, that is job satisfaction.
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