Monday, June 27, 2011

The Foreign Boyfriend Pt. 2

A beloved illegal Alien
(Check here for part 1 of this story) the topic of Chieko's new boyfriends skin color had been finished, the questions now turned to the slightly more controversial topics of the boyfriends; 1. Illegal Alien status 2. Future career prospects and ability to support a family 3. 12 year age difference. At a first glance, it might look like three completely disconnected issues, but for the conspiratory minded it kinda creates an interesting scenario as A) Single Japanese women in their upper 30's are known to be more eager to get hitched, B) One way to possibly get a legal visa to Japan is to marry a Japanese woman (and even better, have a baby). 
Considering that Chieko is known as a really nice girl/lady who sometimes is a bit naive and think the best of everyone, the general atmosphere in the group was that of strong skepticism. One of Mrs. Sunshine's girlfriends, Rie, is also very well known for completely lacking any form of checkpoint between her brain and her mouth and always ready to give her opinion any topic, she immediately took the lead in the interrogation which was something like this:

Rie: (with an extremely skeptical frown) How did you meet this dude to begin with?!
Chieko: (still with an air of happiness, not yet picking up on the general skepticism) A friend introduced us, she thought we would be such a great match.
Rie: (seems shocked) A friend? Introduce you to this guy, who's an illegal alien and working with garbage disposal and thought you would be a good match?
Chieko: (looking a bit confused) ...yes?
Rie: (bursts out laughing and pours herself another glass of wine) No! That's not a friend, that's something else (laughing to herself)
Mrs. Sunshine: (chips in as Chieko looks like she's about to burst into tears) Look Chieko, maybe you should just take it very slowly and not rush into things, he might just be out after a visa...
Chieko: (eyes red) yeah, you are probably... (interrupted)
Rie: (finished laughing but very eager) So wait a minute, why did he come to Japan in the first place?!
Chieko: (looking like a deer caught in the headlights of an 18tn truck) He came for his career...
Rie: (basically spraying out the wine in her mouth laughing) A career as an illegal immigrant working with garbage disposal?! 
Chieko: (bursting into tear, sobbing) yes... (trying to say something more but keeps crying)
Mr. Salaryman: (trying to calm things down) Look, it's probably a pretty horrible job, but compared to what he can make in his own country it might be a lot of money so I can understand that
Chieko: (still crying, nodding)
Rie: (softening up a little as she seem to realize that she should ease up a little) Do you love him enough to be willing to go to Mali and live with him?
Chieko: (temporarily stopping crying) Maybe, I don't know...
Mr. Salaryman: (can't help it as I've been playing with my iPad and reading up on Mali) Oh, look, I hardly knew this country, here's some quick facts (reads up some pretty depressing statistics on the situation of Mali)
Chieko: (starts crying again)
Mr. Salaryman: (zooming in on the area with google earth and showing her) Wow, there's not much there is it? Mostly desert it seems like...

After that the situation got a bit calmer with more advice on taking it very slow and be a bit careful and make sure she really loves him etc. etc. I also managed to squeeze in that we knew a very good lawyer that might be able to help them if they decided to get hitched and needed some help with the visa (Mrs. Sunshine went back and forth afterwards as to whether that was a mean joke on my side or a legitimate good recommendation. In the end she settled on it being a bit mean but possibly actually helpful). 

That's the exciting story of the foreign boyfriend. I'm looking forward to getting continuous updates on the progress from Mrs. Sunshine.  

(Disclaimer: For the sake of fairness, I don't know the dude and he might be the greatest most honorable man, just trying his best to make a living in Japan to support his family and now accidentally had came upon his true love here in Japan.)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Mean and hurtful comments about body odor

As I am putting my affairs in order preparing for my imminent departure from the current company I returned some stuff into the company storage room (where the sales promotion goods is kept) and found it to be very neatly organized and not the usual mess.

Strap-On Girl is in charge of this and as I passed her desk on my way back I threw out a "hey, the storage room looks really neat now, that's great!" she lit up a bit and replied "yes, I spent a whole day organizing everything in there (pause for a few seconds and expression changes from a smile to half-sad) ... ... that's when you made that mean and hurtful comment about my body odor... I had been working in there and it was really really hot, so that's why I had gotten so sweaty".

I reply back immediately as I start to walk away "no, you must have me mixed up with someone else, I would obviously never ever say such a thing to a lady". To maintain my friendly relationship with her, I think that complete denial might be the best strategy!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How to be a hit with the ladies in the office

Never heard of it
It's getting hotter in the office these days as the power saving efforts are turning up the temperature in the office a few degrees higher than previous years (I think we're up to 28 degrees C now), but it's in no way unbearable. As summer has barely yet begun we'll see how things look in July and August when the real relentless summer heat will strike. But the sweating has started.

In the afternoon earlier today Strap-On Girl waved me over to her seat as she needed some help with figuring out how to do something in a software that I'm reasonable good at. As I stood behind her looking at her computer screen I noticed a quite strong odor of sweat and immediately blurts out "wow, someone really reeks of sweat here, is it you (looking at the sales manager next to her), me or you Strap-On Girl?". The sales manager shakes his head and I felt reasonably confident that it wasn't me and after a few seconds of silence Strap-On Girl meekly squeezed out "it might be me...".

"Wow, that's quite a musky.... (sniffs a bit and considers the correct description) ...pungent odor you've got going there. I would never have guessed it came from a lady, it's almost like a... ...a ripe old man... very impressive..." comes out of my mouth without getting caught in the checkpoint that usually exist between my brain and my mouth.

Then I went ahead and solved her problem and went back on my merry way to a less smelly part of the office. I'm certain that she appreciated my honesty.

Monday, June 20, 2011

I quit!

Is it only me who feels Batty is trading down?
One of the highlights in any corporate job is always to hand in an unexpected resignation letter, always fun to see the shock, desperation and then confusion that comes with the realization that I'm heading off to better places.

As you can understand, I'm heading off to bigger and better things, leaving Cpt. Awkward, The Shadow, Strap-On Girl, Doctor T and the whole menagerie behind for a new zoo. Instead of a crappy mid-sized European company, I'm moving the show to a major American company and expect a lot of meaningless business jargon, intricate and annoying corporate politics and and a complex bureaucracy. So those of you worried that the stories might dry up, fear not, I'm sure that my new hunting grounds will give ample opportunity for some 'ol fashioned corporate insanity.

My biggest problem now is how all those "farewell drinking parties" are going to be able to take place before I join the major American health care firm... Maybe I should just go on a week long binge, placing myself at a bar and have the people rotate and pay tribute?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Eddie Murphy black? - The foreign boyfriend pt. 1

I think this product is off the market now
Recently Mrs. Sunshine had a bunch of her girlfriends over and as one of them had brought along her husband and little kid, I had difficulties hiding and was drafted in to the festivities. Her friends are nice enough so it was reasonably pleasant and gave a valid reason for me to drink beer from quite early in the day.

Two of her friends are still single and after a few hours some exciting squealing about "girl's talk! girl's talk!" erupted and the questioning turned to how the single girls were doing on the boy's front. The first single girl quickly dodged it with a "well, you should ask Chieko, she's meeting an interesting man...". Chieko blushed as all the girl's eyes turned to her and questions as to what's going on hailed down on her. "Yes, I've met someone, but there's a catch and my parent's might not approve...". Again a hailstorm of questions from the girls "Is it a foreigner?", "is he black?", "is he unemployed or really low income?", "is he a lot younger?" etc.

When the questions finally calmed down she looked a bit anxious as she answered "yes, most of the things...". It turned out that her new boyfriend is an illegal alien from a very poor African country, works with garbage sorting (being an illegal alien sort of limits the career opportunities), is 12 years her junior (she's closing in on the big 40) and of course black... 

For once, the whole group of girls fell silent for a few seconds while this sank in and the atmosphere became a little awkward as it became apparent that Chieko had expected a little more enthusiasm to the news that she now had a boyfriend.

But after a few seconds they started to recover and it seemed like the consensus was to sort out the "easy" stuff first and the comments started with "well, of course it's perfectly ok that your boyfriend is black" and moved forward to "but how black is he exactly? Like really black black, Obama black or Eddie Murphy black?" and "is the penis really huge?".

As it was girl's talk and I don't know the girls that well I kept a pretty low profile during this inquisition but I found the frame of reference in regards to blackness to be quite amusing. As it turned out, he was said to be more "Eddie Murphy black" and be moderately well equipped.

(The whole thing was quite interesting and as my time is a bit limited now, I'll follow up the second half of this interesting discussion in a separate post

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hey, how about that MacDonalds?

5 out of 5
There’s a number of helpful sites in Japanese reviewing and recommending restaurants. They are usually quite helpful since they allow the user to search by budget, cuisine, review score etc. in addition to location. Based on the number of reviews available it seems like a lot of Japanese are quite active on these and quite the quantity of reviews available for even the smallest restaurants.

...but some of these seems almost a little too eager... By chance, I happened to come by the review of the local MacDonalds joint located in our office building and noticed that it had gotten a total rating of 2.5 out of 5 and quite a number of written reviews going into depth on the ambience, staff and food quality. Ok, I’m all for people sharing experiences and reviews on actual restaurants, but why take the time and effort to do this for a stupid MacDonalds restaurant?! Who does actually spend the time to write a detailed review on a MacDonalds and who in his/hers right mind would check out reviews before deciding whether to go there for a BigMac set? Puzzling indeed...

(Ok, as you all know, I hate it when this blog becomes educational, but if you are able to read some Japanese and don't know these sites that well you can try your hand at Tabelog and GurumeNavi, they cover most of Japan)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

*THIS* is what's wrong with this country...

Vote for this one?
That Japan is in a pretty bad shape at the moment should not come as any surprise. I'm not only talking about the obvious impact of the recent earthquake and disaster, even before that the Japanese economy has been in a pretty bad state of affairs with the national debt growing out of control.

The political parties are in a complete state of dissaray, and post-Koizumi it seems like it is impossible to have a prime minister stay in office for longer than a year... Post Prime Minister Koizumi, Japan has worked it's way through five prime ministers in as many years and now Kan has vaguely commited to step down from the office in the near term future. Other posts in the cabinet also seem to change about the same pace as I change underwear.

Then, on top of this we now have the additional financial impact of the recovery of Japan as well as energy converservation efforts that might be lasting for a pretty long time.

So yeah, what do the people of Japan seem to care about? Well, one of the biggest news lately was about the "general election" to select the most popular AKB48 girls... Apparently one "vote" was included in each physical copy of their latest single, which subsequently ended up with record sales of a little over a million copies sold.

On the news they interviewed some really sad people who had bought hundreds of copies to be able to boost the vote for their favorite girl. One guy in particular mentioned how he had bought a large number of singles to support his favorite, and when asked if he had a girlfriend he answered "no, that would be really bad, what if I met (his favorite AKB girl) her and then couldn't hook up with her because I had a girlfriend?"...

I'm not sure if this is symptom of the problem or the problem itself... But hey, maybe this is the key to actually get more younger Japanese people interested in politics? Have the AKB48 girls take over the government, at least people would vote and they could hardly do a worse job than the people there now!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Ethnicities I have been mistaken for

How can you defeat such a man?
One of the questions that always gets difficult for me when overseas (particularly outside Europe) is "where are you from?" as it always gets really convoluted with explaining that "I come from Japan now, but I'm also kinda Swedish". Over the years, I've been mistaken for a lot of ethnicities and though I should give you a quick roundup here:

1. Hispanic Mexican
In a taxi in Florida.
Taxi Driver: Where ya from bro?
Salaryman: I came from Japan now since I live there, but I'm from Sweden
Taxi Driver: (surprised) No shit? You look Mexican man!
Salaryman: (surprised in turn and not sure on how to take that) Huh? Mexican? Never heard that before, really?
Taxi Driver: (enthusiastic) Yeah, for real, you should go there, you'd fit right in!
Salaryman: Well, maybe I will, maybe I will...
(Note: I've never been to Mexico but if I do, I am curious as to whether I will "fit just in" or not)

2. Arab
In Japan many years ago my Japanese Aunt told me that I should shave the beard of because "It makes you look Turkish and there's been a string of robberies recently by Turks so you should shave it off!". I laughed it off and said that I've never been mistaken for Turkish or Arab ever so I won't.
Two days later at the airport terminal, waiting for the bus back home, in Sweden when I just had returned.
Elderly Arab man looking at me: (...)
Salaryman: (wondering why the man is looking at me but not really caring that much)
Arab Man: (walking towards me and stopping right by me, in broken Swedish) Excuse me young man, do you speak Arabic?
Salaryman: (surprised) Eh... No?
Arab Man: (disappointed, before walking away) I see, sorry.

3. Italian
During a business dinner with an senior Italian colleague in France, discussing people from our Swedish office with a group of people
Italian VP: (loudly) These Swedes are so dull and slow, they never show any emotion!
Salaryman: (focusing on the food)
Italian VP: (pointing at me) But you! Not you! You are like Italian, you look Italian!
Salaryman: (wakes up) Huh? I do?
Italian VP: (excitedly) Yes! You do! And you have body language like Italian (flailing wildly with arms) most Swedes are so dull (mimics someone sitting with the arms tight to the body and laughing heavily at his own imitation of a dull Swede), you are ok!
Salaryman: (having trouble coming to terms with the double insult of insulting Swedes and the labelling of me as "Italian like") Oh, ok, thanks I guess
Italian VP: (throwing arms up in the air) Yes, haha! (feeling like he's given me the best compliment in the world)

4. Chinese
In an otherwise empty beach bar in Khao Lak, Thailand with my brother during a family vacation. Sitting having drinks with big bro, catching up on stuff as we haven't seen each other in a long time. Very bored looking Thai bar girl comes over.
Bar Girl: Hi! Where ya from?
Big Bro: (very casually as to signal that we're not really interested in making conversation) We're from Sweden
Bar Girl: (aggressively sounding) No!
Big Bro&Me: (bemused) No?
Bar Girl: (pointing at me and my brothers face) You look like Chinaman!
Big Bro: (tiredly) Yeah, ok, we're half-Japanese, if you don't mind we'd like to talk alone?
Bar Girl: (looking triumphant as she walks away) Ok! Sure!

5. White
Japanese Colleague: So you're mom is Japanese?
Salaryman: Yep
Japanese Colleague: (confused) That's so strange, I can't see it at all, you look just like a typical Swede to me...
Salaryman: (slightly amused) Really? You think so? You know, most Swedes don't have black hair like me?
Japanese Colleague: (still confused) yeah, I dunno, I just don't see it at all

...this is of course discounting all the guesses me and Mrs. Salaryman has received when we've travelled together. Most common guess we get is Singapore or Hong Kong (probably because our combined Asian looks and our speaking English).

Now, if I just can find a way to be mistaken for Black, Indian and Native American I think I've covered it all!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ikebukuro – Where the Saitama farmers go to get drunk

Watch out for the Saitama rednecks!
Mother Salaryman left Japan for Sweden over 40 years ago now and has not looked back much.

Before I moved over to Japan and gave her a bridgehead to launch further advances into the country, she visited only a handful of times over the years. Also, before the age of the Internet, staying in touch with Japan was not particularly easy and getting her hands on a few used old Japanese magazines from the only Japanese goods shop in Sweden took considerable effort and cost a fortune.

So, in many ways, Mother Salaryman’s image of Japan is frozen to the 1960’s. I remember once when we were walking somewhere in Tokyo and we asked a policeman for directions which he very friendly gave us and Mother was quite shocked since “when I grew up here, all the policemen were so mean, how strange that this one was friendly”.

When I first moved to Japan and announced to her that I would be living in Ikebukuro her reaction was a despiteful “Ikebukuro? That’s where the farmers from Saitama go to get drunk and spend the money they get on booze and women! You should not live there, it's not a nice place!”. I laughed at her and told her that things have changed and it’s no longer the 1960’s…

This time though, I was proven wrong… Some things never change. Although I still like Ikebukuro and it’s sleazy “Shinjuku’s little brother without the sights” vibe, it does serve as the final outpost of Tokyo towards the wasteland that is called Saitama… It is of course annoying that Mother turned out to be right in the end, but it also taught me a lesson about the Saitama farmers... 

(So yeah, I changed my font from Arial to Trebutchet... Does anyone care or notice?)

Monday, June 6, 2011

I think you called the *wrong* guy Pt. 2

How many did it sell?

It's been a while now since I've had any particularly annoying and/or amusing phone calls at work (ones that come to mind are the old man with the piano and the Sneaky Lying Bastard Indian guy pretending to be Swedish). But today I received an interesting phone call to my direct line. The conversation went something like this:

Salaryman: (reasonable friendly in Japanese) This is the company, Salaryman speaking
Dr. Fraud: (English with american accent, sounding pretty normal) Yes, hello, my name is Dr. Clark calling from Cairns hospital, is this customer service?
Salaryman: (getting a bit suspicious since we don't do sales outside Japan) No, this is marketing, but maybe I can help you?
Dr. Fraud: (seems nervous) Well, it's about an order, so if you could please put me through to customer service?
Salaryman: (smelling blood in the water and turning up the assholishness, deceptively friendly) Well, I'm sure that I can help you, what is the inquiry? What product?
Dr. Fraud: (very nervous, stuttering) Well... I-I-I don't have the order number now, I must check with my secretary, I'll just call back
Salaryman: (even more friendly) No worries, we don't carry that many products, surely you must know what type of product this is about?
Dr. Fraud: (even more nervous) Well, yes.... I-I-I it's... uh... Can I call back? 
Salaryman: (devious) Hey, do you even know what company this is and what type of products we sell?!
Dr. Fraud: (on the verge of panic) You sell... medical devices, right...?
Salaryman: (calling the bluff) Well, if you're a doctor calling about an order, surely you must know what field we're in?!
Dr. Fraud: (Hanging up)

Obviously it was a headhunter trying to get the contact details for our customer service manager. I know how hard and nasty it is to do cold-calling from my consultant days and am usually relatively nice to companies doing cold-calling as long as they're honest about why they're calling and what they want, but these headhunters calling and lying to get personal information are pretty bad.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Vroom Vroom. Bitches better watch out!

Vroom Vroom
We recently got Baby Sunshine a really cool pimped out trike for her to roll around in the neighborhood and maintain order. The decision was between a pink Hello Kitty, a pink Minny Mouse, a red Anpanman or this unisex Pooh trike. I was initially in favor of the Hello Kitty one, but as it turned out that some fancy features were missing, we settled for the Pooh one.

I think we might have a future little 1%:er biker on our hands here and I'm sure that you can agree that the picture is both intimidating and cute at the same time?

(The title of the post I took from an old post I read over at Green Eyed-Geisha's blog at some point, thought was funny and then completely forgot about it until it popped back in my head when I saw this picture...)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Don’t pray for Japan !

I want one of these
I’m an atheist and have always been. It’s really no big deal for me and since I grew up in Sweden where you would be considered more or less odd if you were strongly religious, it’s quite natural. I do still remember with shivers the horrible boredom I suffered when my old childhood pal Martin made me come to church with him on a Sunday since his mom is Christian and forced their kids to go and I joined in to keep him company… I did it once, but after that I preferred to stay at home and fight with my brother over who could use the C64 to play games (discounting the rare occasions when we actually played together…).

Other than that, the only time the family went to church was mostly on Christmas to keep grandma happy when she was visiting and more out of tradition than actual religious reasons. Apart from a relatively recent Christian wedding I felt obliged to attend here in Japan (mercifully short though) I haven’t attended any form of religious service for almost 20 years and feel good about that.

Then moving to Japan where religion seems to be replaced with a more general institutionalized superstition, it’s really nothing that particularly sets me apart. So being an atheist is not any particular dramatic statement or carries with it any form of controversy for me. On rare occasions some Japanese person might ask me if I’m Christian because I’m from Europe , but a “No, not really” is usually enough to end that topic. I’m generally not particularly outspoken about it either, as long as religious beliefs can be put aside I don’t particularly mind if anyone has (moderate) religious faith in any direction (hey, no one likes the extremists anyway).

...however, sometimes it can hit a nerve… After the big earthquake and the resulting disaster (I refuse to write “311”) Japan received a lot of support and sympathy from all over the world. That is something that was/is both needed and appreciated, as the disaster will leave a mark for many many years to come; personal for those who lost family and friends, economically for Japan as a nation (already before the disaster in quite dire straits…) and environmentally for the Fukushima area. But I also started to see a lot of messages saying “Pray for Japan ” and this really rubs me the wrong way… To me, as an atheist, “praying” is about as productive and helpful as picking your nose and borderline offensive to me. Probably something like telling a person of Christian, Muslim or Jewish faith “may Odin watch over you”.

Ok, I know that the people who said/wrote “pray for Japan ” did it out of the goodness of their hearts with nothing but good intentions and I waited to post this until the dust had settled a bit. I also realize that some people in the US use “pray” as a more general well-wish without any deep rooted religious intent, but still I much would have preferred a message like “I give cash for Japan” which is actually really helpful, or hey, if that fails why not just a simple "support Japan"…?

Whew! That felt good, I rant way too little, don't I? 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Under Maintenance - Going back to blogger comments

Didn't work out either
Nothing important really, I just removed the "Intense Debate" widget from the site to go back to the old fashioned built in boring blogger version. The whole thing took a bit longer to load and I just felt more comfortable about the old fashioned way here on my blog. I think it works great on some other blogs (thinking particularly about Badboy since more debate usually is done there). Just in case anyone wonders...

I just noticed that I also now killed all the previous comments that were done when I had the widget in place... That's a bit annoying and my apologies to everyone who commented before and now got deleted into oblivion, didn't think of that and I'm probably more annoyed than you about it...

Normal programming will resume shortly. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Let's dispense with the formalities

You might not see it, but this picture illustrates the post perfectly

Earlier in the week I was in a quite late meeting in the company with Cpt. Awkward and his peons to discuss the result of an inspection from the authorities and how to handle some of the follow up actions we had been given to show how we adhered to the environmental regulations of the Tokyo City. As our little situation was a bit special with no clear precedence, we came to the conclusion that we needed to talk with the authorities to get some better guidance on how to do this.

Now, me, late in the evening and a meeting with Cpt. Awkward and his peons is generally not a very good combination since my tolerance for confusion, discussing around topics and their changing opinions just when we seem to be getting close to a conclusion, can make my mask of sanity temporarily come off... At this point, I was so tired of the whole discussion that I decided to try to see if I could up the confusion to levels beyond Cpt. Awkward.The discussion went something like this.

Cpt. Awkward: So we should request an informal meeting with the authorities since having a formal meeting takes too long to set up...
Salaryman: (Still holding on to sanity) Ok, sounds good, can you book that informal meeting quickly?
Cpt. Awkward: (thinking) Yes... We probably should book it informally...
Salaryman: (starting to come loose a little in the seams) Yeah, ok, so you don't want to book the informal meeting formally?
Cpt. Awkward: (confident) Yes, we should do it informally, that's best (stopping to think) ... but they might come back to us and ask us to do it formally...
Salaryman: (starting to break down inside) Ok, but then we just have to book the informal meeting formally then, won't we?
Cpt. Awkward: (thinking hard for a few seconds) Yes, but then they might also ask us to have a formal meeting instead of an informal one...
Salaryman: (facade is cracking and decides to throw fuel on the fire) Ok, then why don't you try to ask informally if it's ok to informally book the informal meeting?
Cpt. Awkward: (like it's the most natural thing) Yes, I think that's the best way
Salaryman: (decides to throw some more gasoline on the fire just for the hell of it) Otherwise I guess you can formally ask if it's ok to ask informally for an informal meeting, and then if they want to have it formally we can informally follow up on that, through formal channels if needed?
Peon of Cpt. Awkward: (looks confused and seem to be catching on, looks at cpt. Awkward but seem to decide to keep her mouth shut so the meeting can end)
Cpt. Awkward: (silent, thinking hard, opens his mouth as to talk a few times after finally making up his mind) Yes... I think so...
Salaryman: (had enough) Ok, then we have a plan, if we need to discuss more internally we can have a formal meeting to follow up, but we can also talk informally too, (just to be mean) you guys will make the minutes of this meeting right, best to have the decisions down formally
Cpt. Awkward: (relieved that it's over) Yes, Peon, please do the minutes
Peon: (looks like she's just been handed a death sentence) Yes...

On the way out of the meeting room I do my good deed of the day and tell her to ignore the last part and just make it simple. Sometimes I feel that the only way to keep my sanity is to just let it go for a bit...
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