Saturday, December 31, 2011

Enter the (year of the) Dragon!

Did we ever get to see "Aunt Petunia"?
So, another year is coming to it's end and with some surprise and horror I realise that this will be the fifth year of existence for this little blog. Japan is now finally leaving the year of the puny rabbit for the year of the mighty dragon. As has now become an institution at this blog, I will do a quick review of the year 2011 for you.

Biggest Event of 2011 is basically a no-brainer... The earthquake and following tsunami that struck Japan on March 11 is without any competition the biggest event of the year. To be honest, living in the Tokyo area and working (more than) full time as a salaryman with a hungry family to feed when I get home, it's really hard to believe that it was less than a year ago the earthquake struck. Life in Tokyo pretty quickly went back to normal, but every now and then reminders of the horrible tragedy shows up. The quake itself and the week directly following it will forever be etched in my mind though, pretty scary stuff.

Biggest Non-Earthquake Related Event of 2011 is the changing of jobs (again) making me realise just how painful it can be to change jobs from a comfy (but not challenging) position where you know everything and everyone to a completely new environment way out of the comfort zone, having to go through the 'ol song and dance routine again. Now, almost six months later, I'm finally starting to settle in and getting my bearings, just about when an old friend gave me a call out of the blue with a very attractive job offer (we'll see what happens to that, the job seems great, but the timing for me is equally not-great).

Girl that Occupied my Brain in 2011 is... ... ... toddler Sunshine. I wish they came with a manual, but as she is now over a year and half, she's getting a little easier to interpret. As nice as it is with the Sunshine girls at home, I'm starting to feel the need for a Jnr. Salaryman to maintain the status quo of mutually assured self destruction  

Most Important New Life Companion of 2011 is my beloved iPad! As my new job carries with it a lot more travelling across the country in work, the iPad has become invaluable as I have packed enough entertainment there to last me at least a year. The iPad is packed with movies, e-books, e-magazines, games and comics and as if it's not enough to use it out of the home, I basically carry it around with me all the time in the house as well. The only drawback I can see is that I'm getting a bit lazy with it, using my stationary computer much less than before and dropping comments on other people's blogs I read and appreciate becomes a little more of a hassle (sorry about that!).

Biggest Revelation of 2011 is much harder to pinpoint... Looking back, 2011 was actually a quite poor year when it came to great movies and music (hey, at least what came up on my radar) with no particular movie or music artist and/or album that really rocked my world (hey, there were quite a few really good ones though), but when it comes to the world of entertainment I guess discovering the TV-show Dexter and working my way through the first five seasons in the commute comes pretty high. I had heard the name before but never really thought it was worth investing the time to try and watch until Big Bro recommended it and I got hooked.

Best Video Game of 2011 is actually much harder as a large number of really really great games came out in 2011, but for me, the without doubt best game of 2011 has been The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. This game has forced me to neglect both family, work and precious sleeping time as I've been completely immersed in the world of that game. Part of me is happy to say that it looks like I have quite some ways to go until I finish the game, but the other part of me feels bad about me withdrawing into my den to play the game when I really have better things to do. If you're into games, you probably already know the game so I won't mention it in any detail, but it's like a mix of Fallout, the Elder Scrolls, Diablo and a bunch of other games I can't remember now. The sense of wonder and fun of exploration that I felt when playing the game is one that I probably haven't felt since I first played Fallout 2 or even way back to Wasteland on the old C64...   

Best Blog of 2011 is probably also worth a mention. I'm not sure on how much of an achievement it is coming from me, as I don't really read blogs that much, basically the stuff that is on my blogroll from time to time ,but I don't go out hunting for new blogs to read. But the blog that I find most interesting is that of Aussie bird Corinne in the outback of Kyoto and her blog "Always leaving things unfinishe" (yes, the final "d" is not supposed to be there). At this point, I get the feeling that we already share most of the readership base (or to be more correct, most of the people who read my blog also check out hers, her horde of foreign women married to Japanese men probably couldn't care less about my blog) so I might be preaching to the mosque here, but if you haven't checked it out I highly recommend you to do so. A very close runner-up is the good 'ol Badboy Chris with his "Confessions of a Badboy in Japan", and the rest is in the blogroll.

Whatever Happened to... of 2011 is a brand new category for this year (let's pretend that I'm consistent here, just for kicks) and is custom made for The Octopus! Good 'ol Octopus had a quite funny blog (although very irregularly updated at the best of times) and was one of "my regular" commentators whose comments quite often made me burst out in a grin-like parody of a smile, but who, since autumn seemed to stop existing on the Internet.

With that, I want to wish all of my readers a very Happy New Year! Hope you all have a great 2012 and hope to see you around here in the year of the Dragon.

Up until now, I've steadily increased my readership base year by year, but in 2011 the earthquake (for obvious reasons) drove a lot more traffic to my site so I feel a bit anxious about having 2012 be the first year that my pageviews go down compared to the year before it, so tell your friends, ok?

Thursday, December 29, 2011


This morning, Mrs. Sunshine had dressed up Toddler Sunshine in a new outfit, this time with a turtleneck shirt. As she showed me this new fashion creation she asked me what I thought and the conversation went something like this:

Mrs. Sunshine: (enthusiastic) Isn't she cute?
Me: (sleepy) She looks like Steve Jobs...
Mrs. Sunshine: (confused) Why? Because of the turtleneck shirt? You have a turtleneck I gave you, which you never wear by the way...
Me: (still sleepy) Yeah, I know, but if I wear it I look like Steve Jobs...
Mrs. Sunshine: (slightly annoyed) It's not like Steve Jobs invented the turtleneck you know!
Me: (still sleepy) Are we really sure on that? Maybe he invented that before the iPod and iPad and he always kept some resentment that it never took off like the rest of the stuff?
Mrs. Sunshine: (had enough of stupidity) I don't care, she's cute and she doesn't look like Steve Jobs, now she wants to play with Daddy (handling me a giggling Toddler Sunshine, effectively ending the conversation)

In any case, I strongly believe that she looked very much like Steve Jobs and here is a picture I took of her during the morning.

To further put weight behind my claim that everyone in a turtleneck looks like Steve Jobs I also found a rare photo of Kim Jong-Un, the Great Successor wearing a turtleneck while on vacation at Tokyo Disneyland.

I rest my case.

Monday, December 26, 2011

We're not really working together here...

Having Mother over here in Japan puts some difficulties to me and Mrs. Sunshine's otherwise good teamwork.

My instinct is to leave stuff for Mother to clean up after me (I see it as signs of affection as she rarely gets to do it anymore).
However, Mrs. Sunshine's instinct is to make sure that THE Mother-in-Law  gets treated like an honored guests who should not have to lift a finger while she's under our custody.

So I go about putting up my little traps while Mrs. Sunshine swiftly cleans it all away without Mother ever noticing. We really need to get a little more aligned on our strategy here as both of our actions turn out to be somewhat futile. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas to all of you!

It really is about time!
Christmas merriment, little toddler Sunshine and visiting Mother from the old country is keeping the Salaryman family busy in a good way, making me miss posting the traditional Christmas greeting yesterday. From tomorrow it's back to work for a few days until we go on the real New Year's vacation.

I just want to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year (I'm sure I will post more before new year's, but just in case)! Hope all of you managed to get chill out and charge up for next year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ikea - You've gone too far!

Too soon?
Like most people, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship to Ikea and their furniture. On the positive side the design is usually relatively nice with reasonable prices but the assembly of the stuff usually end up with a lot of cursing and questionable results. In recent times we have started to go around this problem by paying some of the Ikea peons to assemble the stuff for us even if it cost a little extra.

Those not from Sweden might not know it, but Ikea is founded in an area in Sweden which is famous for the people there being extremely stingy. The founder of Ikea, Ingvar Kamprad, is notorious for being stingy even by the standard set by the local population (he's also a former nazi in case you didn't know). So Ikea is also famous for their lower than industry norm salaries, but for some reason a lot of people seem to want to work there (at least in Sweden).

But there has been one thing with Ikea that has had my unconditional love since they established themselves here in Japan; the Swedish food section. I've been to Ikea many times just to buy some of the Swedish food, brands and stuff that I could not get anywhere except at Ikea here in Japan. However, now the stinginess of Ikea has struck again and a decision seems to have been made to phase out all non-Ikea products and replace them with generic dull own made products. The new products have exciting names such as "Bread", "Drink" and "Chocolate" and are packed in exciting one coloured packages. To add insult to injury, they are also quite expensively priced.

I used to be able to go there and get some nostalgic Swedish food of brands which I grew up with and loved, but it's basically all gone now, exchanged with stuff that makes it look like a North Korean supermarket. For expat Swede's it's a huge betrayal and I'm not sure I will able to forgive Ikea for this stupid move in making more buck out of their food section...

Monday, December 19, 2011

The deadliest of food, the Blow fish...?

There are many myths about Japan that for some reason keep surviving even though they were either wrong to begin with, or true at some point until current times caught up.

Apparently this is actually the mascot of the Yamaguchi prefecture PD...
One of the myths that I actually find somewhat amusing (as opposed to annoying) is the belief that eating the Japanese "Fugu" blow fish is associated with a relative high degree of risk. Ok, the basic concept of it is not completely wrong as the fish is poisonous and eating it raw with some amateur fisherman preparing it, then serving it could result in a quick trip to the hospital and possibly fatal outcome. As far as I know, there also is special licenses that you need to take to be allowed to prepare and serve the fish in a restaurant. So to be fair, the myth that it's dangerous is very much grounded in reality.

However, practically speaking, eating raw Fugu in a restaurant in Tokyo probably carries significantly less risk than eating at any fast food chain. I haven't counted, but I would guess that there are several hundred restaurants in the Tokyo area serving the fish to thousands of guests on a daily basis with no incidents. I've eaten it many times, but what I find most puzzling is that so many Japanese seem to think that it's a delicacy... Ok, it doesn't taste bad, it's just kinda bland (particularly raw without any seasoning). So, unfortunately, if you plan to visit Japan and had planned to "gamble with death" with eating Fugu, I have to dissapoint with the fact that you are probably taking higher risks each time you cross a street.

But ok, you want to come to Japan and you want to have something dangerous to eat? I can help you with that! A while ago one of the big thing in the news was a couple of fatal cases of food poisoning from people eating the raw beef dish "Yukke" at a Korean BBQ/Yakiniku place and more reports coming in from all over the country of suspected cases of food poisoning from said dish. If you want to have the highest possible chance of dying from eating this dish, I would recommend you to seek out the cheapest crummiest looking Yakiniku places you can find. To ensure the worst possible raw material, I would recommend one of those "eat as much as you can for almost nothing" places.

As proper regulations for preparing Yukke now has gotten much much stricter, it seems like many places go around this by making a similar dish but just calling it another name, thus dodging the regulations and still giving you a fair shot at a glorious death from food poisoning. Best of luck! 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I drink to forget... 2012 version

Ok, you know the comic?
Ok, in case you are wondering why the updates here are even fewer than usual, it's because Japan has entered the depressing "bounenkai" season again (I wrote about it four years ago so if you've forgotten you can catch up here)...

It's quite exhausting and this week I have had drinking events four days in a row, one with friends, one with a customer and two internal... This usually means that I don't get home until twelve at the earliest and get at best five hours sleep, going to work hungover and then just have a rinse and repeat the following day... But the long New Year's holiday is in sight and I just try to survive until then!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Unique Japan

I've lived in Japan over ten years now and have gotten used to life here since long ago. So there is rarely times when I see or experience something and think "wow, this is something that I could only experience in Japan". But there are somethings that still make an impression on me without fail, unique Japanese things that I could never experience anywhere except for Japan.

Visually I would say that walking through a busy street looking for a client's office and coming upon a small hidden away serene temple is one of those thing that really strikes me as completely Japanese. Another one is getting up from the subway into the busy nightlife area of Shinjuku at night, seeing all the neon signs and the complete mix of people stumbling around the street. These things are something you could never experience anywhere outside Japan.

Audially I think it's a tie between all the female robot voices talking to you  in Japanese from every machine and the busy noise in a Japanese izakaya of people screaming orders, laughing and the general happy noise. You could would never experience this anywhere outside Japan.

Something like this, if all the men were drunk on cheap liqour
Olfactory (or "smell" for those of you who might not have English as a first language) The most Japanese smell that I know is that of a late night commuting train packed with people. The smell is a mix of old man, stale sweat and cheap liquor all mixed into one very unique odour that could never be experienced anywhere outside Japan. The mix sounds disgusting, and it is, but after being immersed in it for 5 minutes I find it somewhat soothing. This is a very unique Japanese smell and I doubt I could experience it anywhere else. Out of the senses listed, I would probably name this the most "uniquely Japanese" sensory experience.

So if you come to Japan and want to have an unique experience, take a late train on a weekend, heading out from the city towards the suburbs and make sure that you are completely sober for the full experience!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Deep Deep Underground - The Commuter Battlegrounds

In the Subway at 2AM anything goes...
When you lived a bunch of years in Tokyo like I have, you develop some form of relationship with the network of subways in central Tokyo. Although the regular JR train lines (the JR lines do not go underground) might have some small variances (I do enjoy in particular the silent English lessons on the Yamanote line tv screens) they're basically the same wherever you go in central Tokyo.

The subway though is different and even though most of the lines are operated by the same company, Toei Metro, they still have a distinct "personality" based on the time they were built and the areas they go through. The train line I hate the most is without doubt the relatively new Oedo line which is built so deep underground that you pass through Hell, Hades and Hel before finally reaching the train platform. Usually the trek from the sunny surface to finally reaching the train takes longer than the time you actually need to ride on the train.

To it's benefit, I must admit that the stations are usually very nice and clean and in some of the vast corridors they have some fancy artificial sunlight effect going. Also, all the stations are equipped with barriers and automated gates, probably having saved thousands of drunken salarymen from a sordid death through falling on the tracks. Also, probably even more significantly, this has probably saved Toei a lot of money as they could reduce the corpse cleaning crew.

Still, it doesn't matter, I still hate the Oedo line. It does go through some fancy areas but that just makes me hate it even more as I might need to occasionally use it...  I often go out of my way to avoid this line, sometimes making both elaborate and innovative train switches...

As you might have figured out, to follow up on my commuter terrorists series, I will also guide you a little through the battlegrounds of the commuter war, starting here with the Oedo Line. Up next; The Ginza line: Sluts and money

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Summit of the Year!

Kumamon in the middle flanked by the runner ups
Yesterday, one of the hottest news was the "Yuru-Kyara" event where image characters from all over Japan gather together for a few days of an intense "summit". It's not really clear exactly what is discussed between the characters at the summit and it seems mostly to consist of said characters prancing around and trying to get elected as the most adorable mascot of the year.

Apparently it was a really intense election where the mascot of Kumamoto prefecture ; "Kumamon" managed to win first place, followed by the chicken-like character of Aichi prefecture "Bari-san" and in third place the distinctively creepy mascot of the Kokubunji area of Tokyo "Nishiko-kun".
I hate him so much...
Actually, I find this kinda amusing and among the herd of image characters (around a hundred) that gathered for the summit, there were very few distinctively creepy and/or disturbing characters. I do find it disturbing though that the Kyoto character "Sento-kun" still seems to be around and about as I had hoped that someone would have put him out of his misery by now. To add insult to injury, it looks even more hideous as a costume than the illustration...

There you have it, the most up to date and exciting information on current events in Japan, presented as always by your favorite Salaryman!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Suburbian neighborhood complications...

I should get Mrs. Sunshine a claw glove for X-mas
After several months of staying vacant, it seems like a new family have moved into the house that has stood empty after the traffic accident that apparently killed the father of the previous family (see here for a recap). As the house is a few rows down from us, we haven't really given it much thought apart from when passing by the garden-turned-jungle so we're neither excited or annoyed by a new family moving in.

However, a few days ago, the new family apparently did their "walk around the neighborhood, say hello and hand out towels" routine. Mrs. Sunshine had been out playing with Toddler Sunshine and seen them a little from a distance as they were ringing the doorbells to the houses around us. She installed herself at home and expected the doorbell to ring and get a nice towel set within a few minutes, but as time passed and no one rung the doorbell she thought that they might just have done the greeting to the houses immediately next to it (not really wrong, but proper manner dictates that people 2-3 houses away also deserve a towel). But as she looked out the window she could see how they now had moved to houses further down ours, but for some reason skipped our house.

As she retold me the story when I came home in the evening, she was visibly annoyed by this breach of etiquette but was thinking that they might come by the next day, temporarily frightened by the foreign name on the nameplate by our house. But no one came around the next day either and the family has been seen scuttling around their new house, much to the annoyance of Mrs. Sunshine, seemingly finished with their rounds of greeting.

Mrs. Sunshine is generally a very pleasant and friendly person to deal with for people that don't know her, but a blatant breach of etiquette such as this ensures that the new family has ended up with a very negative balance to make up for. The politics of suburbia can be complicated and frightening indeed!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Commuter Terrorists: The Giggling Madman

I thought I should follow up the previous Commuter Terrorists posts with another type of commuter terrorists; The Giggling Madman...

To be fair, this type of terrorist is not a very common combatant on the rush hour trains and as far as I know, I've basically the main culprit of this particular form of terrorist.

Imagine a fully packed train, everyone is irritated, uncomfortable and just waiting to grit through it with the least possible difficulty possible. The person standing next to you is a regular Salaryman, watching some form of TV show on his PSP, nothing particularly odd or strange about the scenario so far. But then, imagine how that Salaryman starts to burst out in giggling followed by explosive laughter (maybe even spitting out some saliva on the people sitting in front of him). This is exactly what I have been doing during the commute last week and the cause of it has been watching through the tv-show "An Idiot Abroad - The Bucket List" featuring Karl Pilkington. In fact, after making people uncomfortable on the train a few times due to spontaneous and uncontrollable laughing fits, I have felt forced to turn it off a few times to watch something less funny.

As long as you're not going to watch it in a crowded train, I can highly recommend it. Although I find it slightly disturbing how I, at quite a few times, somehow can't but agree with Karl Pilkington's take on some things...  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hey, was this racist of me?

I'm sure one of the was Ukrainian
The Salaryman base of operations lies in a pretty Japanese little enclave, almost completely ethnically cleansed of everything but the Japanese. I have rarely seen any Westerners at all in the neighborhood or in the vicinity of the station, passing by one or two, probably on their way to the station to go back home after doing some English home tutoring or so. But that's about it, otherwise it's all Japanese.

But last weekend, I took toddler Sunshine to a local playground, but not the closest one we have in connection with our gated community as all the kids in the neighborhood were hiding or just refusing to come out and play. I've been there with her quite a few times and there's always kids running around there, so I thought it would be more fun for her. For some reason, it was even more kids than usual there and a fair number of parents hovering over their little offspring just like me. 

I saw one kid who looked suspiciously half-Japanese/white but didn't really think that much about it, but after a half an hour or so I noticed two white ladies, probably in their 30's or so standing and chatting just outside the playground, obviously with their kids running wild inside. As foreigners are hard to come by in the neighborhood and I thought it could be nice to at least introduce myself and little Toddler Sunshine, I walked over to them and said something like "Hi, I haven't seen so many foreigners around here, I'm glad to see that it's not only me" with an attempt of a smile. I was met with blank stares, and then confused expressions as they realized that I was talking to them. A few seconds of silence followed, me still with the smile attached to my face and toddler Sunshine attached to my arm, then one of them said "No speak English". Slightly confused in turn, I switched to Japanese and repeated the greeting and added, "where are you from?". Then they seemed to catch on and replied back in Japanese "we're from the Ukraine".  A few seconds of awkward silence followed and I squeezed out, "oh, ok, nice to meet you, wave goodbye to the nice ladies now Toddler Sunshine" as I walked back to the playground with Toddler Sunshine. 

I had assumed that they maybe would be European or slightly worse but still acceptable; Australian or even, failing all else, American and thought it could be nice to know some people in the neighborhood coming from something of a similar cultural background as me who might also be interested in having their kids get to know other more international kids. But Ukrainian not able to speak English...? The only thing we probably had in common would be the "whiteness" (and for me, that's only 50% anyway) so my interest in socializing with them quickly dropped down to somewhere below 0 degrees C. 

I almost feel like my shift from friendly interest to complete disinterest in the realization that they were Ukrainian was slightly racist, but hey, in the suburban life sometimes you just have to do some things you are not always proud of to survive!       

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Commuter Terrorists: Win some, lose some

Like being locked in between these guys...

As everyone have figured out by now, the commuting war is harsh and unforgiving. Everyone can be your enemy and having friends with you only serve to drag you down and delay you in getting a reasonable seat and a safe haven from the worst battleground as they might want to "socialize"; talk, sit together and other stupid things. No, the commuter battle is fought alone.

Sometimes split second decisions needs to be made, either to go for it or to stay back and wait for a better opportunity to strike but risk to lose it all. 

This morning I was forced into making such a split second decision... It was in the morning train, at my station with almost 50 minutes on the train in front of me. The train was not too crowded yet, but in just a few stations I know that it will be packed with enemy combatants and if I cannot secure my ground quickly I will leave myself vunerable for attack. Then I see it, an open space even though there are a few people standing, momentarily confused as to why no one has gone for the opening I take a better look and see that the available space is half of what is normally available due to a quite abnormally obese Japanese man taking up one and a half seat by himself. 

I hesitate for half a second before I decide to go for it and forcefully squeeze myself down in the seat between the obese smelly man and the regular sized salaryman on the other side. With some effort and force I manage to wriggle my way in the seat (and I'm of a larger size than the regular salaryman). I quickly realize that I'm sitting extremely uncomfortably between the fat man who's huge, smelly, makes strange noises and have to move his whole arm to turn page in his little book, which makes it even more uncomfortable for me. On my other side, the regular salaryman is obviously pissed off at my invasion and claiming of territority and tries to make me even more uncomfortable through subtle tricks such as pressing his elbow hard into my side while pretending that he's sleeping. 

I knew that I was taking a huge risk and would actually have been more comfortable standing but gambled on one of them getting off at one of the major transit points just ten minutes away, but to my horror I realized that they're not going anywhere... I consider cutting my losses to stand up and just hold on to the best of my ability, but the train is quickly filled up with passengers and I missed the opportunity. 

During the whole 50 min of train time I have to put up with the noises, moving and smell of the obese man while the salaryman keeps up the pressure with the elbow, sometimes moving it a bit to try and find a more painful spot. 

Sometimes you just have to admit that you lost and today was such a day.   

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Breakup...

Ban it!

I guess it started here on the blog a little while ago... I guess I should have seen it coming, but it still doesn't really make it easier...

You see, for many many years, probably from almost my beginning days as a Salaryman here in Japan I have had a very good working relationship with the font Arial. In the beginning it was not that serious, I used is most of the time, but sometimes I forgot and just used the default times roman. But as time passed, our relationship deepened and I started using Arial for basically everything written, both in work and in private. If you sent me a file in Times New Roman, chances are that I did a quick "select all" and quickly changed it all to Arial before I bothered reading through it.

The change happened here on the blog on June the 8th... Suddenly I felt like it would be nice to use another font and changed to trebuchet here on the blog. I guess I should have seen it coming already then, that me and Arial had started drifting apart, our working relationship was still OK, not very dynamic or exciting, I no longer felt any enthusiasm for changing the font in other people's documents to Arial but did it mostly out of habit.

Then, just a few months ago, I started using Calibri a little, just a bit on the side. I had seen the font in use in other documents and found it appealing and started little by little using it more myself. Me and Arial still tried to keep things as normal as possible, but it was clear that the flame had gone out, our relationship was no longer exciting or dynamic, it was just running on fumes and good 'ol times.

Last week I did the breakup. It wasn't easy, but I think it was best for both of us. I changed my default font and font in e-mail signature to Calibri and sticking with that font now for all documents. It feels fresh and exciting, every time I do a "select all" on a document now I feel a rush as I see the document turn into a nice looking Calibri fonted document.

It feels sad to have said good bye to Arial after all the years we spent together and all the documents that it helped me create or make better looking, but it was time to move on. I'm a very monogamous font kinda guy, I have a font and then I stick with it for letters, power point, excel and any other software that uses a font. I hope that me and Calibri can stick it out for many years but we are still getting to know each other. I have toyed with the thought of changing some old documents I'm still using from Arial to Calibri, but have so far resisted since it would feel wrong to ruin all the memories of our good times together. 

But hey, maybe I just once in a while could play around a bit with Courier for some stuff, after all, I have Trebuchet mainly here for my blog and there's no reason why Calibri would ever find out... 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The factory burned down and he stole all my money

This needs dry-cleaning
When we moved into our new Salaryman base of operations we got a sales visit from a dry cleaning company that would come by to pick up our dirty laundry when we called them with quite reasonable prices. The sales rep/driver was a little scabby looking but friendly enough. Although we're not a huge volume dry cleaning user, we used the company regularly and found it reasonably convenient and fast.

After a few months, our regular guy announced his retirement and introduced the guy who would take over after him. The new guy looked normal enough and we didn't really think much of it as our local dry cleaning guy is really a very minor extra at best in our lives and will likely not be mentioned at all in any of my biographies.

However, quite quickly after this transition the problems started. The guy would not come when we called, either he would not pick up his phone or he would just show up unannounced making Mrs. Sunshine quite uncomfortable (especially since he also smelled a bit of alcohol and yes, he drove). So we decided to ditch the service and switched instead to a regular dry cleaning place even though it required the effort to hand in and pick up the stuff at the shop.

Another few months passed and we didn't really think much of it until the owner of the pick-up dry cleaning firm suddenly stopped by when Mrs. Sunshine was home. He then launched into an apology for the previous representative and told her that he had mishandled his job and then taken off with all the money he could get his hands on and now was on the lam. Then apparently the actual dry cleaning facilities had mysteriously burnt down leaving him on the brink of ruin. He then gestured to his shaved head and told her how he had shaved his head as a new start and asked for our continued patronage of his company and ensured us how he would personally manage the pick-ups of our dirty laundry.

...but we found the whole situation a bit too sticky and decided to stick with the safe "big chain located in the supermarket" instead as we felt like we were being dragged down into the dirty world of underground dry cleaning...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

To me every day is Halloween

Admit it, she's adorable!
The Halloween tradition has been picked up a little here in Japan (still I can't figure out why they picked up on Halloween and not Easter with all the cuddly rabbits and chicks). But it's mostly about selling some pumpkin related stuff and getting some candy and stuff sold, not much effort goes into it. For any real Halloween terror, I think you might need to go to Chris place in West Japan.

Generally there is no "trick or treat" tradition at all here in Japan, but our Mama Mafia took it on them to set up such an event for the kids in our little gated community. I do doubt that many who participated actually had any idea what the "trick or treat" phrase actually means, but since everyone got their fair share of candy it didn't matter much in the end anyway. As you can see in the picture, Toddler Sunshine did however look completely adorable in her little Ladybug suit, which was the only thing that mattered in the end.

On a related note, just recently Toddler Sunshine surpassed Mrs. Sunshine in knowledge in using the iPad, expertly manouvering herself exactly to the annoying apps with songs and stuff that we got for her to keep her pacified. I'm not sure if I should feel proud or slightly concerned as when she will pass me by as Mrs. Sunshine knows her general way around computers and regular software...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

How to have lunch with a Japanese person you don't want to talk with

Delicious bowl of Ramen, love the chicken feet touch!
Let me teach you a little trick that might come in handy for foreigners in Japan. Say that a Japanese person that you know, but don't particularly enjoy talking with, invites you out for lunch (reasons for not wanting to talk could be anything ranging from English Vampires, co-workers that you don't really have anything to talk about outside work or generally people you don't want to spend more than necessary time with) and you feel that you can't make up an excuse or decline.

It's almost inevitable that the Japanese person will ask you what you want to eat and you should answer "I'd love some Ramen noodles!". With almost 100% guarantee the person will enthusiastically agree to your suggestion as I've after ten years in Japan have yet to meet a Japanese person who straight up dislike Ramen. You might get dragged into a conversation about which soup base you prefer but just try to stay out of it with a general comment like "I like them all so you pick one in a place close from here".

The geniality with this strategy is that when a bowl of Ramen is put in front of a Japanese person he/she/it will inevitably cease all conversation and focus on eating the Ramen soup, fast and methodically, without talking until the bowl is finished. If it's a popular place there might even be people waiting for a seat allowing you to eat yours more slowly as your lunch partner would be forced to leave the seat for another hungry patron as soon as he/she/it finishes up. If there is no line of people waiting you have two options.
1. You match the eating speed of your lunch partner, this is the most natural way to do it but can be hard as a skilled Japanese person can go through a bowl of Ramen with intimidating speed which can be hard to match
2. You eat as fast a you can and if the lunch partner finishes before you and tries to initiate a conversation while you still have food left you should focus on eating the food just nodding and grunting for replies while eating. This would not be considered as rude as they would relate to the focus on the Ramen and not conversation.

After being seated and ordering a regular Ramen bowl you should have it in front of you within minutes, minimizing any longer unwanted pre-food arrival conversation. However it is of utmost importance that you refrain from ordering anything from the side-dish menu apart from the regular Ramen (gyoza, fried rice etc.) as the rules of Ramen eating would no longer apply as strictly and conversation tries might be initiated.

As this strategy should minimize any conversation to the absolute minimum you could even feel generous and say "Hey, this was really great, we should come back here again for lunch again sometime!". On the opposite side of the coin, if you're going for lunch with a Japanese person you want to have a conversation with, you should avoid a Ramen place and if your partner suggest it, well, the reason might be that he/she/it just don't want to talk with YOU...

Note: This does not work with Udon noodles or Soba noodles so do do not felt tempted to try!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The day we killed a dog in Aomori

This is a story from my sordid Salaryman past that I have been thinking about posting for a few years but never really gotten around to it, partly because I want to make the story justice and partly because it involves the painful death of a little dog which really isn't funny... Just for the record, I probably should state that I'm quite the animal lover (leaning more towards cats than dogs, but like dogs too).

I was travelling in the northern prefecture of Aomori (just below the Hokkaido island) with one of the sales reps that I knew very well and was very friendly with. We had just finished one hospital visit and were heading towards a local Izakaya (Japanese pub/restaurant) for a "grease them up with a free dinner and booze" type of business dinner with our main distributor in the prefecture. As the place was on the other side of the town and we were running a bit late my colleague told the taxi driver to get there fast (although it should be mentioned that it was a quite mild request and not an order for the driver to burn the rubber, break any and all traffic laws and/or drive like a maniac).

The driver was a happy little camper (although you need to picture an old man since all taxi drivers in Japan seem to be around their 70's) and happily obliged, engaging my colleague in talking about how he surely could get us there on time as he knew all the fastest hidden routes through the city. He was driving quite fast through smaller streets, but I didn't really think about it as the speed wasn't obscene or felt dangerous.

It was getting darker outside, although still in the early stages of twilight and the driver was happily chatting with my colleague as he drove in on a smaller street next to a park. All of a sudden I register a shadow in my peripheral vision, coming fast out from the park towards the car, before I could think anything else there was a distinct bump and a crushing sound as something went under the front wheel and then repeated on the back wheel... At this point I'm honestly not sure if I actually heard that cracking sound of bones breaking or if is my imagination who filled that part in for my memory.
Then a female voice screamed out "Fifi! No!!!" in a voice filled with terror. The taxi came to a grinding halt and I remember how I felt wet with cold sweat and thinking "Please tell me we didn't just hit a kid". I looked back through the back window and saw a woman with a desperate expression hunched over a small brown dog that yelped in pain mixing with the crying of the woman.

I looked at my colleague who probably looked as stupid as me with an open mouth and an expression of shock, something that likely was just a fragment of what the driver felt. As the taxi driver feebly opened the car door to see what had happened the female voice screamed at him "You! What have you done to my dog!?", now mixing the terror with a good amount of fury. I could see the dog moving it's head but with the lower half not moving, I didn't feel like looking closer and thankfully the woman was covering that part of the dog. But I realized that we had likely run over the lower half of the dog, breaking any bones in there and making a nasty painful mess of the intestines and that the dog was as good as dead only it would take some time of horrible pain for it to get there...

I looked at my colleague and we exchanged a wordless "what the hell do we do now?!", after a few seconds he said "let's get out of here". By this time the woman was screaming at the driver and he looked completely helpless, standing a few meters from the nasty scene, no longer the happiest taxi driver in Aomori. My colleague quickly pulled out the money that the meter showed and put it on the driver's seat and we got out of the car, quickly withdrawing with a quick "we're good here, the money is on the seat, thank you" to the driver who likely didn't hear a thing. And we sneaked away in the shadows and didn't bother getting another taxi.

Not my proudest moment, the most merciful thing to have done would have been to put the dog out of its misery, but I wouldn't be able to do that to a little cute dog, and I feel quite sure that the woman would not let any of us come close to the dog. So in hindsight, I'm not sure if we could have done anything more useful. Sure, the driver was to blame to some extent as he was driving over the speed limit but the woman should have kept the dog on a leash as well.

As we walked away into the night I said to my colleague "for a while there, I thought it was a kid we had hit...", still white in the face, he just nodded showing that the same thought had struck him. We didn't talk about the incident anything during the evening as it might have put a little shadow over the "grease them up dinner"... I have no idea what happened in the end, but I would guess that the taxi driver took the woman and the dog to a veterinary in his taxi, but I don't think that there was much that could have been done to save the dog. 

Being a Salaryman in Japan is not all fun and games...

Monday, October 24, 2011

I'm afraid of Americans!

As avid readers might recall, I pretty recently returned back to Japan from a trip to the big USA (East coast to be more specific), I think that most of my regular readers are smart enough to figure things out without me spelling it out, but in any case... Don't get me wrong, I actually like the US (although I don't necessarily always agree with the foreign politics run by the country) and most of my foreign friends here in Japan are Americans., but there are some aspects of American culture that I find a mixture of amusing, annoying and confusing...

Growing up in the cold, semi-socialist isolated country of Sweden (I'm taking about the late 70's and 80's here) people are just not very outgoing and friendly to people they don't know. However, once you made a friend in Sweden they're usually loyal friends for life, much like dogs, but it takes some time to get there. I mention this to give you a little background where I'm coming from here.

Visiting the US means becoming engaged in conversation with strangers at every turn... Back home in the old world of Sweden, if a stranger tries to engage me in a conversation there are are four questions that immediately run through my head:

1 Is he/she a drunk?
2 Is he/she a lunatic?
3 What the hell does this person want from me?
4 Is it a foreigner that doesn't understand how things work here?

It could probably be charted up as a decision tree thingy although one doesn't necessarily rule out the other. As this basic thought process is not unique to me, but quite normal in Sweden it becomes accurate in a twisted logic as people will not engage people in small talk of fear of being seen as a drunk, lunatic and/or overall strange person (e.g. foreigner) and the only people who will are drunks, lunatics, foreigners who doesn't know basic Swedish manners or people who wants something.

Even though I have lived over ten years in exile here in Japan now, it's very hard to change how my mind works and it doesn't help that Japan isn't a particularly outgoing country either. So coming to the US where everyone is overly social (particularly those who rely on tip...) means that my mind constantly has to go through the above thought process only to deliver the answer "You are now in the US, the thought process you initiated is not compatible here".

The constant talking, chatting and socializing I have to go through in the US is mentally exhausting... In Sweden you can easily go through a whole day without talking to anyone apart from the minimum necessary exchange of words when shopping or so, while in the US I find myself having to engage each and every person I meet in small talk knowing that don't really care at all; they're just doing it because it's the thing that you're supposed to do. Not to mention how paranoid I get when in restaurants and can't shake the thoughts "this waitress is probably a major bitch just pretending to be nice to milk some tip out of me"... After a few days of this, I find myself drained of energy, but still, it's a nice place to visit and the problem is at least not that the people aren't friendly...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

It's confirmed, we're all the same!

Recently I attended a corporate event where we had a quite large exhibition in Osaka in one of those trade shows that we regularly participate in. Nothing special about it really and it's something that I've done about a hundred times over the years working here in Japan.

I was there quite late and still on site when they brought in the workers that would dissassemble the booth and do all the heavy lifting, ot only for us but for all of the 50-something companies that had participated. As I looked around, all of a sudden I noticed the very high proportion of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden t-shirts and long hair in the guys that helped out with the dissassembly.

The longer I live here, the more convinced I get that people really are fundamentally the same all across the world. I'm sure that even in Saudia Arabia, North Korea or Iran, workers coming in would also be wearing Judas Priest t-shirts and have long hair. Even in one of those rare tribes in the middle of the rain forest with no contact with outsiders, I'm sure that when a new hut is about to be built, the builders will be wearing Judas Priest t-shirts. I really should get one myself since I've always fancied myself as a wannabe working class kinda guy!

(sorry for the lack of image to this one! My iPad is not really cooperating with me now, I'll add it when I get the change)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Count the little blessings...

No Picard, it just looks douchy!
Sometimes I feel like I've been living so long here in Japan now that I've stopped appreciating the little everyday things. I'm of course talking about the people walking around with bluetooth headsets for their mobile phones permanently plugged into the ear that are very common in the old country and I also saw quite a few of when I recently visited the USA...

I was reminded of it the other day in the subway when I saw a westerner walking around with such a headset and how immensely douchebaggy you look with one of those. I can understand that such a device might be helpful if you're working in a call center, but wearing it in the subway (where reception will be fluctuating between bad and nothing) just make you look like a clown.

So, I guess I should enjoy the fact that I live in a country where it's considered douchy and odd to use one of those unless you're driving. Sometimes it's the little things that count!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Just a minor fart!

To follow up on my previous posts while we're still on the earthquake theme, I'll just pull another one while I'm at it. Sensational disaster scenarios aside, the last months Japan has been spared of any larger aftershocks/quakes and the frequency seem to revert back to normal, as it was before the March 11 disaster. So, in terms of daily life, quakes are no longer at the top of the mind, at least not for me and the Salaryman family or at work.

However, last week, for the first time in many months, there was one of those "earthquake imminent" alarms in the Nagano region (I became aware of it as I was watching the NHK live news at the time, the warning did not get sent to Tokyo mobile phones). As Nagano is a bit from Tokyo I wasn't really worried about our personal safety, but it's still quite some tension from the time of the alarm until the quake actually comes. The news anchor looked very nervous and they immediately switched to some live feed from a building in Nagano to capture the quake. Seconds passed where nothing happened and the anchor man only repeated that people in the Nagano area should seek cover, a few more seconds passed without any shaking at all until about one minute fom the alarm when a measly "2" on the 1-7 Japanese scale gently shook Nagano.

Ok, it's great that it wasn't a big quake or anything and I assume that the Japanese authorities prefer to err on the side of safety when issuing these alarms nowadays, but the feeling I get is the same one as when you suddenly feel your stomach moving; making a desperate rush to the nearest bathroom under fear of crapping in the pants, but when finally safe sitting on the toilet (assuming it's not a Flaschspüler as you are never safe on one of those) only letting out a fart. It's a mix of relief for the false alarm and annoyance of the emotional trauma and desperate rush I had to endure for nothing...

Monday, October 10, 2011

...and this was the best you could come up with?!

It will look something like this (grandma fire brigade to the lower left)
Just a little bit earlier I was watching tv and one of the news shows did a feature on what could possibly happen when the overdue huge kanto earthquake, aka "the big one" would hit Tokyo. Quite sensational in nature, it showed how the Tsunami would carry with it burning debris and ignite large parts of Tokyo city turning Tokyo into a burning inferno with huge loss of lives and property as a consequence.

Although sensational in tone, it doesn't necessarily rule out that they're not completely wrong, so I watched with particular interest when they turned to the question "so now that we know that this might be a result of the big earthquake, what can and should we do to minimize the damage?".

...what they did show was a unit of voluntary "firemen" made up of old ladies which apparently had been formed in one of the wards of Tokyo city. The sweet old ladies seemed to have considerable problems running in a straight line and managing the fire hose. But yeah, if this is the first and only countermeasure that Tokyo city has put in place to combat the threat of going up in smoke, I feel more, not less secure...

I have however done my calculations... As the Salaryman family lives a bit outside of central Tokyo and I spend approximately ~12 hours of the day at home and also have some travel around Japan and the globe, I should have a slightly less than ~50% risk of being in central Tokyo when the big one hits... With the grandma fire brigade being the best countermeasure put in place, maybe I should see if I can reduce the risk a few percentage more... 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

That's my girl!

Relax, it's not opened!
Earlier in the day Mrs. Sunshine tried to solicit a kiss on the cheek from little toddler Sunshine. First toddler Sunshine stared at her for a while with a skeptical frown, looking like she was considering something, and then with a surprising speed and power she promptly gave Mrs. Sunshine a quite impressive bitch slap. While Mrs. Sunshine was recoiling in surprise, toddler Sunshine followed up with sticking her index finger up Mrs. Sunshine's nose giggling loudly. Then a few seconds later she gave Mrs. Sunshine a kiss on the cheek.

It's times like these that I find really touching, her sense of humor seem to be just like mine although still a little rough around the edges. She's my little girl indeed!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Well, if he's getting some, you really have no excuse!

So, after some adventures in the east coast of the US, I now finally find myself back at the Salaryman HQ in rural Chiba. The jetlag that the trip has given me is of monumental proportions and at 3AM this morning I found myself wide awake and promptly got up to sit and drink coffee in the darkness. 

During my absence, there is one quite interesting piece of news that I picked up on my return and it's related to our favorite Wig-Helmet guy, Nishiyama (aka Nobita-kun) and his personal romantic life... Apparently, last week, he was found to have "improper" relations with a lady in her early 30's in the ministry, kissing and fondling her in public in the workplace and as punishment was promtly put on a one month forced leave of absence. As I checked the news out, I also realized that I had missed a similar incident in June where he had been found to have improper relations with an assistant at work and was removed from the position of spokesman.

There is nothing that implies that these "improper" relations and public displays of kissing and fondling were of anything but mutual nature I must admit that I feel quite impressed with our little Nobita-kun's virility and success with the ladies. He is of course married as well so he's quite the busy little beaver juggling the young girls, work and family life!

So there you have it, there really is no excuse for you, if Nobita-kun can get some with the young girls, there really is no reason why you shouldn't either! But I can't help but wondering how he handles the wig-helmet during an intense session of love-making with one of his younger energetic girls? Does he place it on a hanger before, revealing his true nature or does he keep it on, desperately trying to keep it in place during the act? Much to contemplate indeed.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

I need to go home...

Heard earlier today as I was forced to share a ride with a woman apparently from Utah, constantly talking to the driver as we drove around in Maine...
"So yeah, I really think that Utah is a rising state, we got all kinds of events"
(to driver) "I don't see any basements, don't you have any basements here in Maine?"
Driver: "We do, but they're usually under the houses"
Utah Lady: "Oh, that's why I haven't seen any!"

I need to go back home...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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! 

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