Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sensory Overload

Acted the tourist in Hong Kong on Thursday, going out to the beach town of Stanley after walking all over HK Island, loving nearly every minute of the energy and place.

Got drunk with very my first boss in this printing racket in Lan Kwai Fong, and was offered a job back with his company if I ever want to be live in Hong Kong. Hmmm. Noted.

Toured a bunch of sobering factories in Dongguang, China on Friday, seeing people who live and work only on the factory grounds, and are glad to have the opportunity. Starting getting humbled.

Left my one of new favorite cities, and came to Vietnam on Saturday morning.

Got harrassed by innummerable people in Saigon wanting anything from me related to money. Non-stop.

Felt really rich by how far a dollar goes here while throwing cash around in front of people who make $100 a month (dinner $2; cabs $6 from airport; pedicure $3), and was even more humbled.

Went to the War Remnants (cough atrocieties) Museum and was really humbled and saddened by how little things change with US policies and "enemy" countries.

Ate lots of weird food and made myself sick for the second time on this trip. Laid around and read "The World of Suzie Wong," sort of the "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" on 1950s Hong Kong.

Met some cool people, including yet another Ohioan, this one originally from Cincinnati...of course.

There's so much information and unfamiliar language rattling around in my brain combined with the CHAOS of Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon, I can't seem to sit down long enough to write much of anything.

Tomorrow morning, I leave to go on a tour-guided boat trip through the Mekong River Delta to see floating markets, and stay a night each in the towns of Can Tho and Rach Gia before continuing on to a promised respite on Phu Quoc Island (off southwest coast) through Saturday. I can't imagine there's much internet on the river but you never know. I probably will be able to use my BlackBerry.

Incense cones at Man Mo Temple in Tai Ping Shan, HK

These greens at Ben Thanh market in Saigon made me drool

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

New Day, New Country and a Memorial Note.

I've been in Hong Kong 12 hours, and I already am a hundred times more comfortable than in Japan. God bless the British for colonizing remote Asian areas so everything is more familiar. I never would have guessed it would be so apparent right off. Hong Kong is maybe more New York-like?? I dunno, but I feel way more at home here. Tokyo was off-putting and formal in a lot of ways - a very tough nut to crack. I like all the water here, the ferries and the islands. (I am always drawn to islands for some reason, but please, let's not read psychological mumbo-jumbo into that for today.) Hong Kong is almost pretty, in a slick, modern way combined right next to the old Chinese ways. Very cool. I think I will sleep well for the first time in awhile.

Someone asked me today on the Peak Tram what country I was from and I said BROOKLYN, without even thinking. Cracked myself right up, although this Indian guy full of the questions didn't really get it.

Also reminiscing about my Pops, who passed away 3 years ago today. Same day as Elvis (and Babe Ruth). I'm thinking about him a lot as I trot through this foreign land, and about how different this day is from the one a few years back. So raise a glass to him if you can, coz he was a good one and a King in his own right.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


I am DONE DONE DONE printing, and would be doing high kicks, except that I need to pack and haul my ass up at 5:30 am tomorrow to go to Hong Kong. Best part of finishing was when the 9 pressman who rotated around on my job came in after the last sheet was signed to give me a huge group bow and hearty "DOMO ARIGATO!" It was the cutest. I do love the proud hardworking pressmen every where I go, even after I make their lives annoying for 16 days. Sure couldn't do it without 'em.

I had a meeting yesterday with the sponsors of the issue, Isetan (sort of like Japanese Bloomingdale's). This issue commemorates their 120th (hence: 13 decades) anniversary and as part of the contract, they aren't allowed to see artwork, sheets, nothing. I hid the JAP scenario pages. Fumi insisted one guy who couldn't speak English would come by and wave. Turns out 3 guys from Isetan come, all in suits including the big boss man who's pretty hot and charming. As i hold court and say stupid stuff that makes them laugh (a no-no in Japanese business), five Toppan sales guys flank me in their suits like my own personal secret service, milling around nervously, hoping I don't blow their account. Isetan is a HUGE account for them, so it was entertaining to know that their fate partially rested in my hands. But I didn't have any real complaints that weren't day-to-day for us and resolved, so I laid the compliments on thick for everyone. I also managed to get Fumi back for not being there for the meeting by insisting that the GM of Promotion MUST come to NYC in the fall with him - it would be SUCH a great trip, and we'd love to him there! ha ha. Yeah, don't skip my meeting to go on vacation...

Poor Japan. I have never been so happy to see the backside of a country. We'll meet again at a better time for both of us! Kiss Kiss!!

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Day Off

On Saturday, my much-needed and demanded day off, I did a few fun things. I rode on the Arakawa line, the last streetcar route in Tokyo, running 12 miles through a bunch of Northern neighborhoods you'd never see otherwise. Kind of the Queens of Tokyo, the tram travels through the areas where regular folks live day-to-day. After I getting hopelessly lost trying to find the subway stop that was 600 feet away (happens at least twice a day -- there are no street names, only numbers indicating which one of 25-odd sections you are in in one of the 23 wards of Tokyo, and what number building it is in that section i.e. 8-2-9's impossible for everyone, so maps are everywhere), I went to Asakusa.

Asakusa is supposed to be the section of Tokyo most like the ye olde Edo era (1603-1867 AD), when people lived on top of each other on twisty streets jammed full of wooden housing and temples. Nowadays, these streets are full of covered walkways, lined with trinket shops hawking every kind of plastic crap-o-la and street food you can imagine. These stores surround the biggest Buddhist temple of them all, Senso-ji. The temple was founded on this site in 628, and the street that leads up to its entrance has been a place for vendors to sell their wares/food/whatever to people coming to pay respects for over 1,000 years, but it reminded me of Canal Street in NYC. So I went and had McDonald's for lunch in order to make me feel really at home (tastes the same, btw). The restaurant supply stores are in this area, too -- I can't imagine trying to takes knives on planes is a good idea with worldwide chaos at airports, so no dice on the cleaver. Dropped into the 'galleries' that only sell huge arrays of the plastic foods you see out in front of restaurants, showing what deliciousness lies inside. A nice quality fake bento box of sushi or tempura will set you back about $70. Who knew?

Next, over near the Tokyo Dome to check out the LaQua Spa, a schmancy modern onsen that, as they all do, makes use of the traditional hot springs that run underground throughout Japan. Basically, here's what went down: I muddled my through the check in/rules/locker room via no Japanese and pigeon English, and then got naked with like 300 Japanese women. It was a bit odd but excellent, especially when I closed my eyes and thought of Greenpoint. Before soaking in the variety of pools (5 at various temperatures + 2 outside in an enclosed area away from the mens) or using the 3 kinds of saunas, you scrub yourself completely clean sitting in these individual shower stalls of all soap, perfumes, anything that would contaminate the group water. You are good to go and can get in the tubs/sauna but you NEVER dunk your head under. The place is huge, really clean and not skeevy like the weird on-the-on-the-sly lesbian onsen I went to in SF many years ago, and it got better after everyone cleared out around dinner time. I was the only gaijin there, and the only person with tattoos and a tan. Again, I don't understand any Japanese (nor will I ever, I doubt), but you sure as hell KNOW when people are talking about you!! Ah well, so it goes. I did get to check out a lot of Japanese women's bodies in the flesh while trying not to be pervy, and it was pretty darn interesting to see all types. We'll call it a sociological immersion. You can spend hours here for about 2800 yen ($25). In the co-ed section, there's restaurants, relaxation lounges with super-recliney seats with your own private TV, spa treatments, the whole works. I'm told that when people miss their train, they'll go here to sleep and chill until the trains start running again at 6:30 am. The place is open 22 hours a day (closed between 9-11 am).

Later on, I read the English brochure, and saw that "people with tattoos will not be admitted." I'm guessing that rule is to keep the yakuza (japanese gangsters) out. It was a great way to spend a day, relax and get a taste of some Japanese-style fun.

That evening, I went to Bobby's Bar in Ikebukuro, hosted by the ubiquitous Bobby himself, a friendly Persian guy with more kinds of whisky in one place than I've seen in sometime. Hello, Maker's Mark. The small bar on the 3rd floor was quiet due to the start of Oban holidays in Japan, a Buddhist holiday that runs from August 13-15. It's the big summer holiday, where people go back to their hometowns to pay respect to their dead relations, and the whole city has emptied out. I had a nice talk with Mark Schilling, the American-born film critic for the Japan Times who has been living in Tokyo for 30 years. And Mark was, of course......originally from Zanesville, Ohio. Man, Ohio people are everywhere.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Farney leading the NL wild card race

I cannot find video online of Ryan Freel's apparently amazing catch for the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday against the Cards and Pujols, but I did find this quote in the Dayton Daily News.
"Ryan Freel said not even Farney believed that Freel made the stupendous diving catch on Albert Pujols Tuesday.

Farney? Who's Farney?

"He's a little guy who lives in my head who talks to me and I talk to him," said Freel, acting as if he finally crashed into too many walls, ran into too many catchers and dived into too many dugouts.

"That little midget in my head said, 'That was a great catch, Ryan,' I said, 'Hey, Farney, I don't know if that was you who really caught that ball, but that was pretty good if it was.' Everybody thinks I talk to myself, so I tell 'em I'm talking to Farney.' "
Wow, hard to believe the guy has TWO DUIs, huh?? Go Reds!

Nice article in the NY Times this week, too.

Book Club

David Mitchell's Ghostwritten is brilliant. I bought it a few years ago after hearing rave reviews, but never cracked it until this week. Comprised of 9 stories that intersect through random passings in eight modern cities, the tales start and end in Tokyo. Characterized by wonderfully imaginative and deeply funny writing, it's a challenging read and takes some time to fit the pieces together, but is well-worth the effort. Although I'm still not entirely sure how it ended, definitely highly recommended.

Tokyo Sucks

Okay. Admittedly, I don't think its the city that sucks, but more my work situation while here. I'm being held hostage in a printing plant in Itabashi. With my co-worker John leaving Vis so suddenly at the most crucial time, the two magazines closing and trying to get them out to the printer, plus all that I am trying to accomplish/wrap up on Decades --- it's simply been a mess. Our two biggest "fall fashion" issues of the year are coming out 5-7 days late (unheard of, and really bad) and extra costs have mounted on all sides as we all struggle to cope, pulling in help from all sides. I'm powering through with coffee and several drinks/sleeping pill a night to shut it all off so I can sleep for 6 hours before waking up already amped the instant I open my eyes, answering emails and making phone calls. Good news is: this time next week all should be relatively calm. I have to work 12 hours every day except Saturday (I told them I would cry if I didn't get a day off) before going to Hong Kong. And maybe, just maybe, I can relax then and have some fun. After all, it's only magazines we make. It's not real life. And doing all I can to keep this perspective is (barely) keeping me sane.

I threw my American-style tantrum, complete with patented slash-and-burn emails in simplified English on Monday night, and things FINALLY started moving properly. I will be able to get out of here by the morning of the 16th, my scheduled departure time, but it never would have happened if i had continued to acquiesce to the mindset of the Japanese printing business. The "sorrys" came fast and furious on Tuesday, and the gentlemen of Toppan moved themselves out of my dingy little room so i would have it all to myself while at the plant. Good. I wanted to concentrate on other things and needed a break from hearing a foreign language around me 24-7. Everything is cool now, and we are all pals etc., but I would love -- just ONCE -- to not have to be so demanding in my job. I'd like to know that a printer would be happy to see me coming instead of avoiding me in fear. I think it's the nature of what we do, though, and this is the both good and bad in what I get to work on. In order to get the quality that our publications demand, there's no other way to go about it. And when it works, it's something to be proud of, for anyone who has contributed. God knows I've never been one to avoid a confrontation, so in some ways, there's no better person suited for the job.

I've noticed walking around Tokyo the profusion of Anglo men with Japanese women. Obviously this would be a good place to live and work if you are so inclined to those, um, fetishes, but you simply don't see any Anglo women with Japanese men. There's not the same tradeoff between the sexes at all. I'm guessing Japanese men would only marry Japanese women, but not vice-versa. And I, myself, am one of those who said just a couple weeks ago "I'm not into Asian men." The greatest illustration I saw of this dichotomy was at the Citibank ATM last weekend. I saw two couples (young, gorgeous Japanese women w/American men), men who would never have pulled the chicks they were with if in the States. Not the best-looking guys, let's say.The main gist of these women's English seemed to be "cash" and "money" (not kidding) as the men emptied their accounts to take their girlies out for the night. I don't know why this surprised me (maybe because it was so blatant), but it was hard to stand there and not look at them with contempt. But what the hell -- I guess why not, if you can afford it? When in Rome, I mean, Tokyo....Maybe I'll go to Ireland and see if I can pull the same deal on a 25-year old hotties from Cork.

One of the Toppan guys told me Wednesday morning the typhoon was coming. It a good thing he told me - I would have had no idea that it was more than a severe, windy rainstorm. And a typhoon is simply a Pacific hurricane, from what I could gather, but it sounds MUCH more serious!....I've been frequenting every fake pub-style bar in Ikebukuro after work to wind down (there are 4 or 5 near my hotel because it's located near a huge train station). The thing about these places is that there's always another American there acting the total jackass. Loud, drunk, braying his opinions around the bar, making a general idiot of himself. I usually sit tight and read my book, trying not to speak while avoiding all eye contact so these fucking frat boys don't come over and tell me about their hometown in Connecticut or wherever. I realize why everyone hates Americans. I hate Americans (or really, anyone) who acts like this....Trying to talk to Japanese people, I realize how much slang I use. Like: I was "worked up"; we need to get this done and "out the door"; it's "no big deal"; "what's the story?"; "its not the end of the world" "I'm crabby" and any cuss word possible. I've been trying to pull this stuff out of my speech, and perhaps I'm becoming a more conscientious and formal speaker being in Asia....Interesting fact: if someone commits suicide in Tokyo on the train tracks (something like 32,000 people committed suicide in Japan last year, more than double the average in the U.S.), the family of the casualty is charged around $250,000 (or more depending on the line) for "cleanup". So not only have you suddenly lost your beloved family member, you also have to pay for the privilege....Toilets here are a trip. Heated seat, some play flushing noises to cover up sounds, bidet sprayer, butt sprayer, music, every single one with a different flushing mechanism. It's a little confusing, to be quite honest. Any button could set off anything at a moment's notice. And nobody wants to be wondering what's the hell is going on when sitting on the can. It look me a week to figure out which way to face to use the traditional squat toilets in women's room in the plant. This tells you how out of it I am....There are some elderly Japanese men and women who, seriously, come up to my elbow. Like under 4 feet tall. They stare at me and I always stare right back at them. I wonder if they are thinking what I am thinking: what would it be like if I just picked them up and swung them around?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Totally Off Topic

I never heard this band before, but this video makes me LOVE them.

This must have taken about 300 edits and a lot of scrapes, but WOW.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Wherein My Potty Mouth Comes in Handy

I taught one of my account reps at Toppan how to swear in English on Saturday. Isaka-san speaks really good English and was my daily contact in setting up this job before I came to Tokyo. Really nice guy and probably the only one here who gets it (sort of) when I am making a sarcastic joke. He asked me "What is a four-letter word? That phrase is in the book I am reading in English (John Grisham's Pelican Brief) and I don't know what it means." I start laughing nervously, and then make a list of synonyms that he cross-references in his handheld Japanese/English dictionary: cuss words, swear words, dirty words, curses, obscene words, an oath, 'bad words'. He's still not totally getting it, saying "You swear an oath before a judge, right? So how does this fit in?". So I list four-letter words: shit, hell, damn, fuck. I then explain that all four-letter words are NOT four letters (very confusing) -- he writes down "bastard". Exactly! Not four-letters. (But then he wants to know: what is a bastard, and why can't you call someone that?) I decide to leave cocksucker and motherfucker off the list coz he's only going to get himself in trouble with those ones. I give some examples of how these words are used in sentences "Shit, the color on this proof looks awful!" Or "I am really upset that I missed my goddamn train!". Then I make him promise not to use any of these words when talking to clients.

He thinks I'm a good enough teacher to teach English in Tokyo.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Dears for Heaven to Lovers Keep Inversed

At least, that's what it said on this girl's sparkly pink shirt today on the subway. Huh?? Nothing like stringing together a bunch of English words just to have a hip saying on your shirt.

So many things have happened in the past few days, I'm going to string all these impressions together because I have no idea how to make a cohesive post out of this...Working at Toppan all week has been very odd. Anytime I ask about anything (for example, an internet connection during the day so I can get work done while I'm sitting around waiting on the next page for approval), there is a fucking 20 minute discussion in Japanese around me. Then 5 OTHER people come in the room to discuss the situation. It's embarrassing and irritating, and makes me not want to ask for anything 'unusual.' Or, another examples: getting a file off the FTP site. This should take, seriously, 10 minutes. They could not get it together to do it, so I ended up downloading the files for them from the Visionaire server and copying them to a portable hard drive for use. I mean c'mon -- it's a printing house! They should KNOW how to handle files, better than me with my slow-ass laptop....There is a mandatory 5 minute exercise period at lunch time for the Toppan employees. This goofy kids show sounding piano music comes on the loudspeaker at 1:55, and a voice starts barking out instructions and counts for stretching, I'm guessing for toe touches and things.

Reading international papers every day is no fun. I realize this sounds retarded and cliche about Americans and international affairs, but unfortunately it's true in my case -- I simply don't read this much international news in NYC. I prefer trashy gossip mags and the Wednesday food section of the Times. I told someone last night that I didn't have enough time to read the Times every day, and he laughed in my face! I deserved it but still. Anyway, the whole damn world is going to hell in a handbasket, everyone hates each other, there are like 10 wars, Americans are real assholes, and reading English-language papers overseas is super-depressing....And on that note, today is the 61st anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. Reading all the coverage about the hibakusha (A-Bomb survivors) and all of the horrible after effects from being near to the blast make me proud to be an American. Yes, I know it was effective in ending WW2 and crushing the Evil Empire but still, there are people 61 years later who have serious problems on a daily basis because of it, including their own government refusing to acknowledge or compensate them for their illnesses..... But then again, the Mel Gibson "story" got 25 minutes on CNNj every night this week. Who the hell cares?? He's apparently a big anti-semetic drunkypants, and why does this affect my life as a "news" story? He's probably no different than half the anti-semetic world and I don't want to hear about them either....Two gorgeous, amazing peaches in the grocery store are "on sale" for about $7.50. They are big as softballs, and supposed to be the "best peaches ever"(according to a former Japanese co-worker) but I have yet to spring for them and find out....Hardly any Japanese wear sunglasses. So not only am I Girl Godzilla, whacking my head on the hanging grips on the subway, having to duck through and get then blindly get stuck and claw my way through the cotton curtains that line most doorways into restaurants, or ramming my knees into the underside of every table causing it to move 6 inches when I sit down, I do it with sunglasses on so I look like a bigger freak. I look cool in my shades, though.

Things are much better here in general after a rough first week. I went out Friday night in Harajuku with Fumiaki, the guy who handles the Japanese distribution for Visionaire. (We are popular here, as evidenced by a graphic designer I met randomly at Toppan this week. I gave him my card, and he almost fell over with graciousness and compliments) We had yakitori (grilled chicken of all kinds) while chilling, talking and having some much-needed beers. Fumi worked in NYC for Visionaire over 10 ago, and has lots to say and much insight into the people we work with. He's trying to score baseball tickets this week, so I can take in a Japanese baseball game, and see the Yomuiri Giants (aka the Yankees of Tokyo).

Yesterday, Saturday, I was SICK of being nice, bowing, trying to talk slooooooow and simply wanted to be myself again. I needed an AMERICAN day. So I spent the day at my hotel pool (its about 90 degrees with 70% humidity), then went to a proper meal of steak/mashed potatoes/pinot noir at the Oak Door in the Grand Hyatt in Roppongi Hills. The steak was only okay (a little tough), but I was so happy to sit there, and listen to other loud, ugly American voices and have something to eat that really stuck to my ribs. I thought I could eat Japanese food for days, but I was REALLY craving some solid meat. Truly made me happy beyond belief.

Then it was off to the Irish/ ex-pat bar, as is always my M.O. when in foreign countries when the isolation caused by difficult communication gets to be too much. You know there's going to be other people who can speak English, sports on the TV and a place where you can semi-relax and feel like you are at home. As I pretended to watch cricket and talked to the bartender from Texas, I started chatting with Jonathan, a former rugby player with a PhD in Biochemistry, now-turned financier from London via 17 years of previous residence in Tokyo (how's that for a list! I was impressed.). He was all smarts, very funny, generous with the drink buying and made the rest of my evening loads of fun. Although after 17 years of only dating Japanese girls, he thought it was okay to tell me that I had "the biggest hands for a woman" and, after gaping at my feet, to not lose my shoes, as I wouldn't be able to get any replacements. (Why I would start suddenly losing my shoes, I don't know...) While we shared a bottle of wine at this swanky bar called Maduro, a woman serenaded the room with a piano bar version of "The Way We Were". In Japanese. Hands down my best night in Tokyo.

One of the more interesting things I got from both Fumiaki and Jonathan is that I'm should be more aggressive with the printers. Based on everything I had read before coming, I was trying to be respectful of their culture, and not TOO obnoxious and demanding (while still getting everything I need done.) It's a slippery slope and has been difficult to walk, especially with the language barriers. Both of these guys who have worked in Japan for years told me I should go balls out, and even throw a tantrum (Fumi's suggestion being: kick the table, then go out and get lunch alone, coming back in with a Big Mac in hand) so that I don't get taken advantage of. I guess Japanese clients expect 120% from their vendors but they think Americans are 'easy' and thus they won't work as hard for an American client. Hmmm... tomorrow should be interesting. I'm gonna give this a try and see if get better results.

Drums at the Meiji Shrine

Prayers and wishes at the Shrine.

Finally did a little sightseeing today after trying to shake off my hangover. I walked up to see the Meiji Shrine in Yoyogi park, a quiet place full of songbirds and dense underbrush. Stopped to stare at the teenage hipsters hanging out on the bridge to the park in their cosu-purei (costume play) outfits. And made a stop in Kiddyland, a 5 story department store only devoted to toys and cuteness of all sorts before having a ridiculously cheap dinner at the kaitenzushi (conveyor-belt sushi) place next door.

Even the police station sign is cute.

Friday, August 04, 2006

I work for racists

More to come on what I'm have been experiencing once I get out of the weeds. It's been all work all week, working both New York and Tokyo hours (i.e. 5am-11pm), trying to deal with overwhelming amounts of things to do, as we close the two magazines by August 14 and try to get them off to the printer. My great assistant (and friend) suddenly had leave our company after having personal issues render him unable to work, at pretty much the worst time it could have happened. It couldn't be helped but really caused some serious problems. As my brother said "You working like Japanese businessman." Today, Saturday, is starting to look brighter although I have to go the plant AGAIN for 4 hours and get a few things done before I am free until Monday. So for now, a story.

The issue I am in Japan printing is called DECADES, and it's 13- 13 x 17 booklets in a fancy foil box, with each booklet covering a different decade from 1880-2000. The one for the 1940s is photographer Bruce Weber's collage art, and its WW2-ish, but with some pretty gay looking soldiers straight out of a Calvin Klein shoot, and newspaper clippings with phrases that illustrate the same idea. One of the clips is from Norman Mailer's "Naked and the Dead". After a daydream is described by a man at war and he starts to get jealous, wondering what his girlfriend is up to back at home, he screams (In 16 point type, assumingly to rid himself of stress) "GET THE JAP!".

Today, while printing at the Japanese printer for the Japanese department store/sponsor, the English-speaking head of the foreign rights department asked me just what it meant...Of course, I had never read the text (the image was looking blue, however) so I have no idea what he's talking about.

Anyway, when I get back, you can buy me a drink, and I will reenact me explaining "well, it's artwork based on the feeling during the 40s. It's not meant to be a translation of what Americans think NOW, but during WW2...when we were enemies. You know, its ART, creative license???..." I stopped there before I did more damage.

And then I laughed and laughed and laughed in my delirium of this week, WAY more than I needed to -- half in embarrassment and half in horror. I am making friends.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Tokyo: Day 2

It took me two days to figure out that cars drive on the opposite side of the road here (look both ways when crossing the street or you could get clobbered from the left) and that when you are walking in the trains VERY fast, you should keep to the LEFT, not the right, as in the case for stairwells/passageways/sidewalks in NYC. I was like a salmon swimming upstream with no luck. And I may be semi-retarded.

The airport buses and commuter trains run with shocking efficiency. People get in a proper line and wait for people to exit before boarding. There are workers to assist and make everything run on schedule. Things run on schedule. And they are clean, clean, clean beyond belief. It's all very novel. Since I am going out of the center of the city each day, I have yet to see the infamous white-gloved attendents shoving people into subway cars or any opportunties for the even more infamous Japanese gropers (chikan) in packed subway cars. The train lines are a bewildering spaghetti of colors, with routes going off in every direction you can imagine, each of them owned by a different company and and with separate types of fares. Fortunately, all the announcements and signs are in English as well as Japanese, although that didn't prevent me from losing 1450 yen (US$12.60) buying a ticket that should have cost 210 yen (US$2.00). Ah well.

I think the best meals I'm going to get are going to be when the guys at the printer take me out to lunch to places I would never be allowed in if I wasn't with them. Traditional seating, no English spoken, don't even know the names of the places. Yesterday, Mr. Kai (a 60-year old color specialist who lived in NJ working for Toppan for 25 years and who knows his printing in and out...I love these kind of guys, and always want to find one at every printer I work at. My "father-figure" at plants, if you will) took me to a place that only did unagi teishoku i.e. freshwater eel grilled on sticks on a tiny grill fed by small bundles of hardwood . Tiny, amazing and so delicious. Eel is traditionally eaten during the hottest days of the summer to provide strength for the rest of the year. Kai claimed the owners said that I used chopsticks better than some of the young Japanese. I doubt it, but thanks for buttering me up! You get a mention on the Know-All: Go to the grilled eel place in Itabashi.... That one with the name written in Japanese.

My favorite moment of yesterday was when the printer was talking to me about schedule (we have 3 final forms printing on the 16th, the day I am leaving for Hong Kong) and I said "Can't we be flexible? We'll see how it goes and make up a day as the schedule goes along". "Flexible" does not seem to be a word used in Japanese.