Archive for July, 2011

Japan wrap up

Monday, July 25th, 2011

The train trip from Yokkaichi to Hiroshima went very smoothly, mostly because one of the people from the Yokkaichi office was kind enough to walk to the train station with me and help me buy the tickets. I think I know how to do it now for next time. I did figure out how to get out to Saijo (where the local office is) on the local train, with the help of some hotel staff, and luckily the train stations did have their names in English on the signs. The taxi trip to the Hiroshima Airport hotel was easy too.

I wasn’t too impressed witht he food options around the hotel and train station, but it turns out I vastly underestimated Hiroshima. Right before I left the office on Friday, someone gave me a tourist map that shows all the things to do and lots of restaurants with English menus (I suppose my hotel must have had the same brochures, but I didn’t see them, and I never saw the tourist office that is apparently in the train station). The station itself apparently has 6 floors (I saw only two) including a bunch more restaurants with English menus. There are also all of the big Japanese department stores I’m familiar with from Taiwan, like Sogo and Mitsukoshi. Next time I can do a lot more exploring, and hopefully get out to the Peace Park.

The area around the airport hotel (and the airport) is a park, the first really pretty place I’d seen in Japan. It is a tiny airport though, without too many food choices, so I took a walk into the park and to the airport but just ended up eating back at the hotel. (By the way, it turns out that an “egg roll” in Japan is not a spring roll but rather more like an omelet rolled into a cylinder. Oops.) I was a bit worried about the flight back because I couldn’t check in all the way through, since I was on two different unallied airlines, but they were able to check my bags through to Amsterdam so I didn’t have to go through security. Checking myself in at Seoul Incheon was easy – there’s a transfer desk in each terminal and there was no line.

All in all, the trip home was much easier, with only one more unpleasant surprse to finish off this trip. While standing around in the Hiroshima airport waiting for boarding to begin, I wasreading my Kindle – just standing there, not doing anything reckless – when somehow I managed to drop it and it went splat on the floor. Now I have only something that looks like a Kindle, with a screen that never changes. (It is an ex-Kindle, you might say.) 🙁 The flight attendants on the first flight (only an hour and forty minutes) found me a copy of Time to read, and fortunately the Incheon airport had a bookstore with a small English section. I felt much better after buying a couple of books! (I did have one with me for just such emergencies but I have an unreasoning fear of being stranded with no reading material. I did also have my iPhone with some books on the Kindle app, but I wasn’t sure the batteries could last the flight out.) The replaceent is already ordered.

There was someone from my company in my row on the airplane, so we got to talk a bit when the person between us was out of his seat. It turns out his wife works here as well and I know here – she is Dutch and he is Indian and they lived in the US for 17 years, so I feel like we have things in common. (Professional couple, expatriate-hood) He was also taking the train back and introduced me to some other people from his group traveling back too, and then it turned out there was another group from our company on the train, so there was only one person in the first-class section not from our company. It was actually a fun ride.

Now I have to go back to Hiroshima in a few weeks, but this time I’m actually looking forward to it a bit, after finding out how much I missed there. But I’m hioping not so many things go wrong this time!

arrived in Hiroshima

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

The train ride from Yokkaichi to Hiroshima was surprisingly unscenic; there were mountains but there were also buildings everywhere, either drab housing or industrial ones. On the other hand, if you ever ind yourself in Hiroshima, the Sheraton by the train station is gorgeous. Also, it’s pleasantly cool here this evening, a welcome relief from the sticky heat in Yokkaichi. I should have gone to see the Peace Park, but instead I am hanging out being lazy. Stressful week. (I even tried to book a pedicure at the hotel spa, but there were openings and I’m only here one night.) I think I’ll try to find sushi for dinner, since I’ve only had that once. (A lot of the food I’ve had is has been the sort of assortment you see in Taiwan food courts, for those who have been there.) One night I went out with people from work and had something like a hotpot, but you just had the assortment of things that came in it instead of getting to choose your own.

I think I’ve figured out the train for tomorrow; the Kintetsu train from Yokkaichi to Nagoya was a simple system rather like the Dutch trains, where you select day, destination, class, and number of tickets. The one here also has an option for English, as the Kintetsu did, but despite being even simpler still managed to confuse me. I have confirmed my guess with English-speaking hotel people, though; I guess you just buy the ticket for the right amount and then go wherever you want, as long as you’ve paid enough fare for it. I have no idea how you’d know how much, but it must be written in Japanese somewhere. Luckily I have still another presentation from work that tells me the amount!

Once I get to the office (I actually have pictorial illustrations of the walk there from the station!), the rest should be easy – do a day’s work, have someone call me a taxi to my hotel at the airport, walk over in time to catch my plane Saturday morning. Here’s hoping for a more mundane trip home!

more about Japan

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

As of this morning morning, my first workday (Tuesday, because Monday was a holiday), and my luggage still had not arrived. Fortunately it’s a fairly casual office – though I would still feel better not to be wearing the same pair of cargo pants I’ve had on since Saturday morning. Luckily I did bring a spare plain black T-shirt and extra underwear in my carry-on. I went back and checked after lunch, and my suitcase was finally there. Loud rejoicings! But I still couldn’t change out of the cargoes because it would be too weird to walk back into the office in different trousers after lunch. Offices here are much more casual than they used to be, anyway; due to the hot summer and the electricity shortfall due to the nuclear plants that have been shut-down, there’s a governmen initiatice called Cool-Biz that’s dedicated to allowing more casual clothing at work. There was even a newspaper article yesterday (the hotel Yesterday was drizzly, but today’s weather is truly foul, thanks to Typhoon Ma-on; it’s only a Category 1 and it’s just skirting Japan, so there’s no danger, just lots of rain and wind. Of course my umbrella is in my missing luggage, but the hotel was able to lend me one.

The hotel room is not fancy, but comfortable; the hotel itself seems to specialize in weddings, with several floors devoted to banquet rooms, a beauty salon, and “costuming” (I’m guessing that it’s like Taiwan, where a bride wears three rented dresses during the course of her wedding reception). There are also a Chinese and a Japanese restaurant, which is handy given the weather. Last night I wasn’t very hungry, having had some dumplings earlier, but I thought I ought to eat something at dinnertime so I went to the sushi bar. There was a menu with pictures but it only showed pre-chosen sushi assortments, that were more than I wanted. I was very pleased to learn that apparently US Japanese restaurants use the correct terms for types of sushi; I was able to order ebi nigiri (shrimp) and kappa maki (cucumber rolls) and though he didn’t have tobiko (flying fish eggs) he knew what I meant and offered me ikura instead. So far my few words of Japanese are working surprisingly well; it helps that many words are borrowed from Englishwith some predictable changes, so receipt is re-shi-to, credit (card) is ku-re-ji-to, and sizes S, M, and L are respectively e-su, e-mu, e-ru. (‘S’ and ‘sh’ seem to be pretty interchangeable;’t’, ‘d’, and ‘j’ can switch (which makes sense – you say them all with a tongue flap to the ridge behind your teeth); and of course ‘r’ and ‘l’ get mixed).

Not that I’ve had much occasion for asking for S or M! Yesterday I tried to see if I could find an inexpensive skirt, but that didn’t work so well. The stores went up to size 11; apparently I can wear 11 in some things but really need a 13. (For comparison, I wear size 6 US, about 38 NL.) The expensive section had some items that fit better, but was, well, expensive. Shirts weren’t a problem because apparently oversized ones are in fashion; I considered buying one just because I liked it, though I did bring an extra shirt, until I realized it wasn’t supposed to be washed or dry-cleaned. (Don’t ask me. Maybe there’s a cleansing spell? Molly Weasley would know.) I did finally end up buying a sort of tribal-printed black and white loose cotton dress. It will be a lot cooler to wear walking around, and was only about 20 euros.

The thing that makes me least happy at the hotel is the sign on the dresser that says, in Japanese and English, “Thank you for staying at our hotel. We take every precaution to provide you with accomodation of highest hygienic standards. Infectious gastroenteritis caused by Noro virus is a common occurrence during this period of the year. By any chance, if you are not feeling well and happened to vomit in the room, we kindly request you to contact the Front Desk. We will take care to clean it up in accordance to the guidelines available to us. Your kind cooperation is very much appreciated.”

I guess I’m glad they use proper containment procedures to avoid the spread of the virus (after all, I touch those surfaces) but I do keep wondering if the Japanese version actually says, “Hey, check this out. Lets see how nervous we can make the foreigners.” Probably not.

For the record, my colleagues here say there is no particular outbreak of Norovirus at the moment.

Recycling appears to be good here; the office has a row of bins for bottles, cans, PET bottles, incombustible waste, and burnable waste, all of which left me with no idea where to drop my banana peel. It was claimed people used to smoke them in the 1960s, so I figured that made it burnable….

Chinese characters are used in signs – even to tell you which way to turn the lever for a “big” or “little” flush of the toilet – so it’s been useful to be able to recognize a few. Actually, my experience in Taiwan has been handy in a number of ways here. The toilet is definitely one of those, since they have both squat toilets and the fancy bidet seats here. Even the office has one of the latter. (Though I think the one at my hotel is misaimed!) But in addition, I understand how department stores work, so I didn’t worry when the salesperson took both my dress and my money and went rushing off to a central cashier. I knew to be careful walking in the rain because the sidewalk tiles are slippery when wet. I have some clue of how to speak so I can be understood by people who speak just a little English, though I am probably not as good at that as I like to think. I’m used to bowing a little when I greet or thank someone, though in Taiwan it’s vestigial (just a nod). Being able to use chopsticks without embarassing myself is handy, though I do hold them lower than you’re supposed to. And having practice buying train tickets in Europe, Asia, the US and Australia is likely to come in handy when I have to do that on Thursday. At lesat, I hope so!!

safe in Japan, sans bags

Monday, July 18th, 2011

That was a bit tricky! My flight from Amsterdam to Seoul was delayed three hours, meaning there was no chance of catching my 12:45 flight from Soul to Nagoya. Thanks to a very nice lady at the KLM office in Schiphol, I was able to switch to a 3:00 flight on a different airline. The plane did make up a bit of time in transit; however, you will have noticed that 3:00 is *not* three hours later than 12:45. I was able to make the flight by running, but despite a lot of phone calls by KLM ground staff, my luggage didn’t quite make it onto the flight. (The next flights out were at 6:30 and 7PM; since I still had to catch an hour-and-a-half bus ride from Nagoya to Yokkaichi, I didn’t want to risk one of those – didn’t want to either miss the last buss or catch it and be wadering around Yokkaichi at midnight after all that traveling.)

If I’m really, really lucky, my luggage will be delivered today. If not …. well, there are a lot of shops near my hotel. FOrtunately the hotel supplies are very comprehensive; they include a toothbrush, toothpaste, and razor. There are also a couple of items I’ve never seen before: a hairbrush (which I don’t use anyway because my hair is curly) and a bath sponge (which is nice, because they only have bath gel, no soap).

I suppose one of these days I should break down and start just taking a carry-on. I could have this trip, if I’d had a suitcase small enough (I did, but the wheels broke last trip). The suitcase I have is only a bit too large and had plenty of room in it, with only summer clothing for a week. I hate people who take lots of bags on airplanes and clog up the aisles, but it may be time to become one of them.

More on Yokkaichi later; it feels a lot like Taiwan, with some of the same chain stores (like the Happy Family convenience store) and a few US chains too – there’s a Baskin-Robbins and I saw something called the “Bronco Billy Steakhouse”. But now I’d better get back to my room – I’m in the hotel lounge to use the wifi and forgot to bring my cellphone with me.

Paris Air Show

Monday, July 4th, 2011

Poor Ted arrived in Taiwan today just about 48 hours after he left home. His plane was postponed for 28 hours – there was some problem with a part that had to be brought from elsewhere. He’s so used to the routine flights to Taiwan that apparently this really threw him off, because he called me at 3PM my time and said “Are you at work yet?” (We generally get in to work around 7:30 AM, for reference.)

My weekend was very calm, but one thing I didn’t do was to write about our previous weekend at the Paris Airshow. (Hey, with the Paris trip on the heels of the Budapest one combined with two frantic weeks at work, I needed to rest!)

Airshow photos first, since they were the best part:

We were actually a little disappointed. The think about the Paris Airshow is that it’s predominantly aimed at the aerospace industry; the public part of the show on the weekend is a bit of an afterthought. Most of the booths were deserted, not that most people there on the weekend were interested in buying landing gears or machined slabs of honeycomb anyway. (We did have an interesting discussion with a Snap-On rep; they now have a toolchest that tracks what tools you’ve taken out via a high-speed camera and image recognition software. You probably can’t afford one for your garage this year, though – but technology has a way of trickling down.)

The flying ran from about 12 to 5, but the first several routines were just fly-bys, not a real show. There was a good routine in an Extra 300 by the woman who runs the museum there, and we enjoyed the F-16, a Eurofighter, and a Dassault Raffaele. The three Eurocopters were also interesting, just because you so rarely see heli-batics (and look closely at that photo below, for the vortices off the prop tips), and I have to admit it’s impressive seeing an A380 lumber by at low altitude. But most of the flights were repeated twice in the day, and we were told that Sunday’s flights would be a repeat of Saturday’s. There also wasn’t much room to sit or stand at the flightline, because you couldn’t go in front of the buildings there, and no one was allowed in or in front of the industry “chalets” with an invitation. So it really wasn’t well-designed for watching.

We did get in close to some of the planes on static display, simply by asking to see them, and if they wanted to know why, telling them we were pilots. We stuck to ones we had a reasonable case for being interested in, like the Cirrus or a Euro equivalent of a Cessna Caravan.

We’d gotten the impression from the museum brochure that it was small, so we decided to just breeze through on our way out then leave Sunday morning, not bothering to come back despite our pre-purchased tickets. That was our mistake; the museum was huge and amazing, but by then we were too tired to see it well. We should have just stayed as close as we could get to the flightline, watched the flying on Saturday, then come back Sunday just to do the museum. Next tim we’ll know – or better yet, we’ll find a friend in the industry to invite us to the good parts.