Friday, June 29, 2007

June 29, 2007 Excursion to KICT

Grr, I died about a thousand deaths today. Actually I wouldn't want to know how many social rules I stumbled over, but I was definitely blushing very hard when my hashi (chop sticks/Essstaebchen) went flying...

Scene of the crime: my first official business lunch. Three people of the logistics department and me went to Kobe today to visit the local (well, international) Logistics Port, "Kobe International Container Terminal" (KICT). Before we went there, we met with two officials from the freight company, both of which didn't speak English. It seems that they hadn't expected that I would be there, so uncomfortable looks were exchanged when I told them that I only spoke very little Japanese. Next act: the exchange of meishi... Meishi are the Japanese business cards that are of very high value in Japan - they show the status of the "owner" and are used to introduce yourself. I don't have meishi. I asked Eric to talk to Mr. Amling, but the President didn't think it was necessary for an intern to have them. I could print private ones, but then I don't think officials would appreciate being handed a meishi with a giant ice cream on it...
Anyways, there have been numerous occasions where I felt uncomfortable not having meishi, so I usually use the Japanese gesture "laughing and scratching head" to get out of the situation.
Then there was, of course, the lunch. Great food (I was glad that I had tried some of it in advance, otherwise I might have committed even more faux-pas eating them). Some of it was new though (for example the exquisite desert, sweet bean mousse wrapped with "rice squash" which was a real treat) and I had no clue how to eat it. My usual strategy of "watching the locals" worked quite well, but of course, people noticed my hesitation. Nishikida-san was my giant help at the dinner! He is one of the members of the logistics meeting I was in all week long. He has come a long way in my view of/ respect for him. On Monday, he didn't show up at work because he apparently takes sleeping pills against something, so depending on the weather, they work better or worse - Monday's weather must have been a 100% match, as he didn't show up at all. Tuesday and Wednesday he didn't seem very reliable and confused many things (maybe due to the sleeping pills?). Yesterday, however, I joined the team at lunch and he heard that I do speak a bit of Japanese (he doesn't speak English very well) and that I am interested in learning - so yesterday he started pointing out things to me, recommending me food (eel/Aal, which was delicious!) and teaching me kanji. Today he totally saved me because he gave me lots of hints on where to put my arms, how to separate bigger chunks of food (here you always have to make up your mind whether it is worth to spent a lot of time wrapping a big chunk into an edible (essbar) size, or whether you take the risk of having to bite off a bit of it - which, with me, often ends in the other half falling back onto the plate...). He secretly gestured, in what order to eat things, which parts to eat and which to put aside and just generally helped me with a big smile. When I sent my hashi flying, he said "It's ok, happens to Japanese as well", which was a big relieve.

So. Lots of situations where I felt somewhat uncomfortable today, but I guess that was mostly due to my expectations to myself. The others were amused, I guess, and didn't mind too much, given that I'm a foreigner... So now reason to moan, I was treated perfectly as always.

The rest of the day was very interesting though as I had never seen a giant container terminal before - dominated by gigantic cranes to load and unload the containers (which are between 20 and 40 feet long/6-12 Meter). I asked a million questions which apparently is very uncommon, but they could answer all of them, so I guess I didn't humiliate anybody by asking them something they didn't know the answer to. Des would have been proud of me =)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

June 28, 2007 I'm getting old! :oP

Wow. It's only been two days that I didn't stop at the internet cafe and I've been flooded by an amazing 68 emails! (Noo, no Spam involved, only about 4 news mails) - thank you very much, guys, I appreciate it a lot that you stay in touch so amazingly!

Recapitulating the past two days will be anything but easy! Loads happened, and almost everything involved vast amounts of FOOD!!! Some years ago, around Thailand, I made a deal with myself that I will try any type of food that other cultures eat on a regular basis - and that I will take the choice of food that I haven't eaten before, if I get the chance! So in the past 48 hours, I guess I tried about 24 new dishes which makes it impossible for me to tell you all about them!

The highlights: Raw fish isn't at all bad; whitish sauce on shrimp doesn't necessarily mean cream sauce (it was a LEMON dressing, totally unexpected taste!); and you should avoid eating the flower deco, they taste like soap...

So all in all, what I am missing about Japanese food is some type of sauces (I kind of had the image of Chinese sweet-and-sour dishes with vegetables when I came over here, but the Japanese usually go for water-soup...), but on the other hand, everyday I try something new totally changes my way of thinking about the way food should/can taste! Especially if you're looking at something, having a specific taste in mind, only to discover that it taste totally different!

Tuesday night, Eric had organized a dinner with 12 people for me, in a fancy restaurant, complete with taking off shoes (and extra bathroom slippers), being seated on cushions (but we were able to cheat, there was a hole under the table just as in the dormitory), and having a Kanpai (a toast/Trinkspruch), Eric officially welcomed me and the other two interns who had come along. Plus I got to know a lot of new people - so now you can enjoy the first pictures taken with my new camera! (To see a larger version of the picture, just click on it!)

The white guy is Ryan from the US, most of the Japanese people work with me.

Umezawasan (O...san), my colleague from the President's Office

The guy next to me is Eric, with his friend Noriko who is learning German - and we will do a language exchange!

That was Tuesday - and on Wednesday, the Ladies from Logistics invited me as well - totally different, great food, very different feeling to the whole thing and seriously not comparable.

They spoke Japanese with me all night long, so I learned lots (there were enough people able to speak English to translate if I had no clue what the conversation was about!). The girl to the left, Kimurasan, is also extremely good at teaching me kanji (Japanese signs) and grammar.

I also finished my week at Logistics & Procurement, at least my time at the conference meeting on the improvement of the distributions network. It was an interesting time, and I met people from Germany and HongKong as well, but I am ready to move on to the next phase - which will be excursions :o) Tomorrow around noon, Yoshikawasan, Uedasan and myself will take the train to Kobe to go to lunch with important people, visit a warehouse, and in the afternoon visit a yacht (!), although I have the feeling that they use the word in a different way than I do...

...So much more I would like to tell and to put down, but I'll let it be enough for tonight - sleep is needed these days :o) Especially to digest *g*

Monday, June 25, 2007

June 25, 2007 All these complaints... :o)

Ok, I have received numerous emails telling me that they couldn't keep up with the amount I'm writing - in Salamanca, the people complained about too little info, and now I'm overdoing it... tststs, those people... *g*

And that although I am the one who has reason to complain! Why do I always fall for the one guy who's gay?! grrr, that makes 5. And a half, but I guess the half doesn't complain about me liking him as he recently said I was a man to him anyways (hihi, sorry Mr. youknowwhoImean, that just had to be :oP)

Ok, so I will keep it short - I took part in the first real meeting in my life today *g* "We" were discussing logistical strategies on how to save costs caused by the distribution network - it was pretty interesting to hear a lot about modelization, scenarios, all the details that had to be considered and what not. This was my first day in a new department, but by now I feel pretty secure in my role as intern, everybody knows me already and people are a lot less formal in an international organization than in a traditional one. So we were laughing a lot today :o)

And tomorrow, Eric invited a whole bunch of people (12!) to a Welcome Party for me *beam* It won't be a party, but we'll all go out to dinner together and see, where the night will take us *innocent smirk*

One of my new chefs from this morning told me that "his ladies" from the logistics department wanted to invite me to dinner as well - on Wednesday! So the next two days will be prrrrretty busy!! Maybe I'll give you a break from reading :oP

Ok, short enough? Sooo much more to tell you, but I'll just save that for the days when the dreaded routine kicks in and every day will be the same :o) (Geez, am I smiley today!! I guess I'm tired LOL)

OK, letting you go now! Muuacc to those who deserve it ;o)

That isssaaa meeeee!

That's me, by the way, as seen in Salamanca, Spain at my farewell party at the end of May. Haven't figured out yet how to set it as my blog pic, but oh well.

June 24, 2007 Laaaaaaazzyyyy Weekend :o)

Hehe, as the title says, I have slept loads the past two days :o) My sleeping schedule is totally screwed up, but I guess by now I can't really blame it on jetlag anymore - it's screwed up like that most of the time anyways...

But I did manage to spend today's afternoon in Osaka! Last night I finally read a little bit in my travel guide, and it turned out that Osaka is closer to Amagasaki (where I work) than Ashiya (where I sleep) is to Amagasaki! And just reading the descriptions of all kinds of festivals all over the island made me want to travel soooooo much :o) I'm already considering hopping around Japan for some of the weekends, and actually, there will be quite a bunch of festivals and celebrations close by, so I wouldn't even need to calculate a lot of money and time. *happy*

Anyhow, I went to Osaka today! I'm such a big city kid! How I love to look at subway lines, train charts, street maps and all that good stuff *g* But the truth is that I spent the entire afternoon in one shop - Yodobashi Kamera! That's a giant department store specializing in technology *beam* I entered under the pretense of buying an electronic dictionary (which I didn't buy) and made my way to the camera section (one of which I did buy *g*). I actively avoided entering the laptop section as I first want to talk to SBU's IT-department whether I can borrow one of their machines before falling in love with a laptop I see on the road...

So I have a camera now! A Caplio R6, not tiny tiny, but small enough to carry around, lighter than she looks, super fast, with a great flash and easy access to ISO adjustment. I'm happy :o) Only downside: The instructions (on paper) come exclusively in Japanese, but I'll get to know that baby in no time, I'm sure :o)

Japanese are funny people. They build giant ferris wheels (Riesenraeder) on top of buildings, change the taste of McSundays to Mango and Strawberry instead of Chocolate and Caramel and hire people to put your wet umbrella inside a condom to not drip all over the store - I should start filing ideas to implement in Germany!

I'm getting a bit excited as my travel guide said something about a bar in Osaka close to the station where I get off, where PEOPLE DANCE SALSA!!! At least on Monday nights. So I can feel the itchy butt arriving :o) (Ok, this might be a German expression, I meant to say that I'm getting excited to maybe be dancing Salsa again soon!)

Which reminds me that my hero of the Spanish language Germ`an has introduced me to my new objective in Japan - dancing Salsa in one of the subways of Japan! (well, in his version it should be with a Bayer executive in the subway of Tokyo - I'll see what I can do about that *g*) The only reason that I didn't go looking for that bar today was the hectoliters of water pouring down without stopping - this must be the rain for all of the rest of the year!

Alrighty, let's see whether I can remember to take my shoes off when I get home! (One of the things that I definitely don't have internalized yet! Here, you're asked to take off your shoes at almost any occasion - entering a room, going to the bathroom, trying on clothes, stepping onto tatami mats... It sounds very logical and I actually like the idea, it's just that I keep finding myself stepping on things, or putting on my shoes and then realizing that I need to get my stuff from across the room... and my Vans are very much a bad choice to be putting on and taking them off all the time. But it's only been a week, so I'm not giving up on me yet :o))

Good night guys, hope you're all well!!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

June 23, 2007 Last night

So this will be my first weekend in Japan! Lots of people asked me what I will do these 2 days. I'm guessing mainly sleeping to finally get over the jetlag, and on Sunday, I might go to Osaka. Yesterday I learned that in Japan, shops are all opened on Sundays! What a pleasant surprise!

Eric went to Tokyo for the weekend to see friends, but asked me whether I was available on Tuesday night - he was going to ask a bunch of colleagues to go out for dinner or a drink together! He himself has only been at SBU for about 2 months, so for him as well it'll be an opportunity to integrate himself more.

Last night, I spent almost 5 hours in the internet caf`e, writing emails, posting stuff in the blog... and everything that I would normally use my laptop for... It has become routine that I sleep a while after work, so after two hours of sleeping, I was bright awake!

I'm not sure though whether it is especially healthy to be in the internet caf`e long stretches at one time... I read an article about the "social layer internet caf`e". Apparently, in Japan it's a lot cheaper to spend the night in an internet caf`e rather than to pay regular rent for a room. So some caf`es have started offering showers as well... And actually, I'm regularly surrounded by snoaring when I'm here. The article also said something about the risk of getting infected with tuberculosis. I don't know, I'm just hoping that the sniffing noises I hear from other cabins are not from people sniffing a line of crack or whatever. Hmpf. I don't find the caf`e especially cheap either. For about 5 hours, I spent around 12EUR... So my daily pay will get consumed almost exclusively for being on the internet...great.

Anyway, when I was ready to go home around 4 am, I was a little worried about walking alone at night as many people had warned me about that. Arima-san and Mutsuko-san had even shown me a tiny park where they told me not to go as there sometimes was passing a "crazy uncle" who was looking for sex. But when I left the building at 4:11am, THE SUN WAS COMING UP!! By the time I got home (about 5 minutes walking), it was bright daylight - unbelievable :o)
Re-reading what I wrote, I think this doesn't really sound like me. I'm not really worried about either the internet caf`e nor the infection nor the walking at night time. There were just things crossing my mind, so mother: Don't worry :o)

June 22, 2007 TGIF

Today I feel much better. I haven't slept too much, but I'm doing more or less interesting stuff at work that keeps me busy and entertained, and Eric and our other female colleague (whose name I still can't memorize... O...-san) are a lot of fun working with. I mentioned that I'm thinking about going to Osaka this weekend, and immediately I had an email from Eric listing interesting stuff to see and a map from O...-san.

The weather is quite stormy today and it seems like an entire ocean pours down on the soil of Amagasaki - fortunately, Arima-san lent me an umbrella! I've been talking so much about the rain season, but as I don't really like walking with an umbrella, I didn't bother bringing or buying one - until I realized this morning that it probably wouldn't be the best of ideas to get to the office totally soaked...

I met the last missing member of senior staff today, the one I will work with next week, in Procurement & Logistics. And he told me that we will be going on an excursion to see an SBU warehouse on Friday! I'm not sure whether I've mentioned it, but I will go on another excursion to see the production facilities in Ehime, a couple of hours West from here - Eric and I will take off the afternoon before, have dinner with the production manager, and the next day, we will visit the facilities! On our way there, we'll cross the world's formerly largest suspension bridge (Haengebruecke) by train - that's bound to be interesting! In general, I'm very happy what SBU (well, Eric) came up with to occupy me these coming weeks! In total, I will spend about 2 weeks in the President's office (where I was these past 3 days), almost 2 weeks in Procurement & Logistics, a week in Marketing, a week in Business Development, one day in Finance, and I'll be seeing a bunch of other sections which I don't remember at the moment. So lots to learn =)

My plan to eat at my desk today failed because the president of SBU, Mr. Amling, asked me whether I wanted to join him and Eric for lunch - and I didn't want to tell him no :o) This way, I also got to know the canteen, or shokudou.

I'm not quite sure whether I like Amling-san. He's very nice and friendly, but very matter-of-fact and he conducted half a job interview with me. Especially about that gap in my CV (Lebenslauf) between mechanical engineering and CBS... But it seems that in the end he was more or less satisfied. I don't know whether he was the one who picked me as an intern, but he definitely knew my CV very well...

Food-wise, I had curry (curry sauce with veggies, meat) and rice for lunch, and a kind of Frikadelle (meatball) for dinner - the meat and veggies almost always taste good, but I'm already getting sick of eating rice... it just tastes like nothing without salt, onions or garlic! In general, I don't think that Japanese people ever use garlic (Knoblauch) in their meals... *sniff*

Oh, and O...san introduced me to "smoked cheese" today! It's quite perverse actually, a tiny cheese ball in the shape of a sausage ("mini winnie") and tastes like a sausage as well! I don't think that'll become one of my favourites =)

June 21, 2007 In the Office

My second day of work. Arima-san and Mutsuko-san write me little notes and letters to meet for the next day =) Arima-san also printed out a map for me and marked the important spots - dormitory, internet caf`e, supermarket, convenience store, train station.

We arrived at work around 9:30am. The good thing is that we have flex time, so we can arrive somewhere between 8 and 10am. The streets we take to get there are very narrow, so the cars adapted to that =) So far, I haven't really seen foreign cars, and the Japanese cars seem to be half as wide as European ones =). I guess, US cars would just block the entire street *g*

I also saw bikes that have a special clip to attach umbrellas! So you can ride the bike and that "hand clip" holds the umbrella for you to protect you from sun and rain. I mention both because the weather is quite volatile here - it's constantly warm and pretty humid, but so far I can live well with that. Last night when we went home, there was half a typhoon blowing and today the sky is very cloudy. That's the rain season, they say.

I worked a lot with Powerpoint today and did some internet research. Eric introduced me to more senior staff and I keep scribbeling down comments next to the list of names I received to not forget all of them immediately!! So far, I met like 10 or 15... I've always been bad with names, but with Japanese names, I'm even worse!

Eric and I went to lunch to a different place today and I ordered (well, he ordered) a bowl of noodles for me. In the future, I will try either to bring food for lunch or to eat only a little bit as I have the free dinner at home.
In Japan, you're supposed to slurp noodles and soup very noisily to tell the cook that you enjoy the food, so today I made a lot of noise eating :o) Hopefully, I don't forget how to eat silently when I go back to Europe *hihi*

Going back home was a pain - my feet hurt (I'm wearing high heels, I guess most of you know me in sneakers!) and I felt a bit lonely. I really regret not having brought my laptop or at least more music!! Should have listened to my brother, with music everything's better... I miss my friends, my family, I miss Spain! The other day, I bought oranges and they are about 4 times as expensive as they are in Spain, and taste quite dreadfully... I guess what annoys me most of all is the fact that I can hardly talk to anyone and express myself and that I don't understand anything that is going on around me... I love to be informed and to gather information, but here I'm just drifting around. That's why I talk to Eric so much. Menos mal que toda la gente se ocupa mucho de m`i. I'm glad that everyone is so eager to help me! But right now I have that typical "surrounded by people, feeling alone" feeling - Natsumi-san even took me to a tech store today after work so that I could buy an electronic dictionary - but they were all made for Japanese people (I know, very surprising), so I wouldn't have been able to understand anything... There must be versions for foreigners, though...

Anyways, I guess I'll end this strange day now. Good night!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

June 20, 2007 First Day of Work!

Phew, estoy hecha polvo...what a day! I already feel like I've been here for weeks and with all the stuff I want to do, I start running out of weekends =)

About work I won't tell you everything in detail, but just the highlights are quite enough for one day :o) And I want to go to bed SOON!

I met Mutsuko-san and Arima-san in the lobby at 8:30am. Eric had told me to wear something like business casual, but as I didn't bring a "normal" jacket, I decided to throw on the business jacket - which proved to be a bad choice as it was a lot warmer outside than the air-condition inside made me believe!

We take about 40 minutes to get to work - 10 walking, 10 on the train, and another 20 walking - Arima-san had brought me a train ticket from HR (Human Resources, Personalwesen), so I didn't have to pay anything in advance.

The head of HR, Ozeki-san, welcomed me to the company and gave me a brief explanation. We firmed the contracts and now I am officially a trainee at Sumika Bayer Urethane, Amagasaki =) He then handed over to (Ms.) Okada-san, whom I had gotten to know on Monday already. She'll be in charge of me, HR-wise. I listened to her presentation about SBU and Bayer in general, she gave me a tour of the building and introduced me to all the senior staff members she could find *g* The proper words to say when you meet someone for the first time ("Hajimemashite. Peters desu. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.") mean something along the lines of "We meet for the first time. I am Peters. Please be good to me". Okada-san also gave me the money for the first 1,5 weeks, until the end of June - all of this is way less complicated than I thought it would be!

For lunch, she handed me over to Eric, the Dutch coordinator of my internship. The two of us joined a group of Japanese girls/young women and we went to typical Japanese place. Eric translated a lot for me and ordered rice with fried chicken, salad and noodles for me - delicious! Only the tofu that came along with it isn't quite my thing.

I didn't understand very much of the conversation, but every now and then, Eric would translate for me, and one of the women who has lived in Dubai and studied in England, speaks fluent English, so I was integrated alright.

For the afternoon, Eric gave me a more detailed intro to the chemical side of the company. He also helped me to access the blogspot website to see how to switch languages - so you owe him thanks =)

And I have my own laptop now. I'll have to memorize about a million passwords, which also means that I won't be allowed to do any private work with it. I guess this doesn't really come as a surprise.

AND: Eric gave me his old cell phone to use for this summer! I had briefly asked him whether he thought it would be necessary for me to buy a cell phone when we met on Monday, and he remembered! So now I have a cell phone. The number is ***************. In case you want to call, just remember that I am 7 hours (Germany/Spain), 8 hours (UK), 12 hours (Michigan) ahead of you, so the best time for calling would be between:

Germany/Spain: during the week 12 to 16h, 23 to 1h; on weekends 3am to 5pm/17h
UK: week 11-15, 22-0; weekend 2am to 4/5pm
US: week 5 -9am; weekend 9pm to 11am

Be warned though, I don't really know how to use the phone yet, as it is in Japanese =)

Around 6pm, Eric and I took off from work and said goodbye at the train station, He lives in Osaka and therefore takes the train into the opposite direction. Arima-san had told me which line to take, so I got home without any problems, was greeted by a happy "o-kaerinasai" (welcome!) from ryoubo (the owner's wife), and went straight to bed to sleep for an hour :o) So now, I'm back from dinner, a kind of gulasch, thick, brown, with meat and onions and rice! "Totemo oishii desu"!! And when I was about to go to the internet caf`e, two girls that live right next to me, invited me into their room and we talked a lot - in English, Japanese, French and German ;o) Natsumi-san speaks English quite well, is 20 years old and studies cross-sultural studies, so I already like her a lot *g* I forgot the other girl's name, but both are very cute little Japanese girls, and both play the piano amazingly! (Natsumi-san has a keyboard in her room that is bigger than she is *g*)

And now, I'll be dropping stone dead and won't move until the alarm clock bugs me!!!

June 20, 2007 The morning before work

Yuhuu!! I managed my first conversation in Japanese! After waking up around 4.30am (hail thee, jetlag), I got ready for the day - we can choose between private showers (which are wonderful, you have a basket to put your clothes into, and a strong beam of water whose temperature you can freely adjust - from 25 to 50 degrees! Sara wuerde es freuen :0P) and the public bath. The bath is typically Japanese where you sit down on a stool in front of a mirror, with a shower next to each mirror. There are 10-15 stools like that where you're supposed to foam yourself. There's also a giant bathtub to soak, but you're neither supposed to swim in it, nor to enter it with foam. (I learned the "no swimming" part from the expression on the face of my HR manageress when I said "great, we have a pool!" ooops...)
So far, I haven't tried the bath yet as I don't really know how to use it, but if I find someone who will show me, I would like to try.

Last night, I was surprised to see that the sun went down around 6pm already, but this morning I was equally surprised to see it come up around 4.30am!! If the sun schedule is like that all year long, I'm not surprised that you always see people doing TaiChi or ChiGong or whatever kind of meditation on television in the morning - half the day passes before you enter work! I guess that also makes it easier for the commuters who have to go into Tokyo by train about 2 hours each day...

But getting back to my first conversation this morning! Today, I had my first Japanese breakfast: I was greeted very friendly by the dormitory's owner's wife (ryou bo) with a happy "Erena-chan, o-haayou gazaimasu" (good morning, little (honorable) Elena). Then I could choose between a sweet breadroll with noodle and veggies, or fish (I guess it was salmon) and tofu. This morning, I wasn't brave enough to try the fish, so in addition to the breadroll, I ate a bowl of rice and had a probiotic yoghurt which we get for free as well =) I also could have eaten a slice of bread with cheese or jam (well, ok, I admit it, I also ate one of those *g*)

The dining room is made up of the kitchen apart where 3 sweet ladies work who are obsessed with greeting me *smile*, a bunch of tables in front of a TV set, and two tables on tatami mats (the typical Japanese-style mat to sit on kneeling). Well, one of the tables is for cheaters as it stands on a hole so that you can put your legs underneath the table. I chose that one as my favorite spot.

This morning, a girl with disshevelled hair (out-of-bed look :oP) was already sitting there, so I approached her asking: "Sumimasen, ii desuka?" - Do you mind if I sit here? (well, actually the literal translation would be "Sorry, is it good/ok?"). She didn't mind and asked me "dokode desuka?" [to those who speak Japanese, if my Japanese phrases and grammar are incorrect, please forgive me, I'm still learning *g*] and luckily I know that that meant "Where are you from?". "Doitsu de" "Aaaah, doitsu de!" I told her, that I speak very little Japanese - "Nihongowa chotto hanasemasu", but asked her for her name anyways: "O-namae-wa nandesuka?"

Her name is Hanako and she introduce me to her friends Mai and Makoko (I think). If you're wondering why most of the names end in -ko, that's because ko means child. Hana-ko, for example, means Flower-Child.

Mai and Makoko knew a little bit of English, so with a mix of Japanese and English, we talked about how difficult German is (a lot of Japanese have studied German in school, but don't speak a word), how long I have been here for and what I am doing. So there, that was my first Japanese conversation and I haven't even started working yet =)

June 19, 2007

After thinking the past events over, I wanted to add some things - I have a kernel pillow! (Kirschkernkissen)! ^_^

But there are also two downsides to this paradise - I have to keep the balcony door shut at night and visitors aren't exactly welcome here - female visitors have to leave until 22pm, and men aren't allowed to enter the building at all. This is kind of a bummer as I thought people could actually visit me. So, you travel folks out there, I'm very sorry, but I won't be able to host you!
Hmpf. I just spent almost 2 hours trying to get all kinds of stuff done on the internet, but failed miserably. "Surprisingly", the websites show everything in Japanese... for some deluded reason, I thought they would show in English, although that seems a silly idea now. I guess I just haven`t given it any thought before...

Another thing is that small button on the keyboard for changing the letters you type from Roman (Western style) letters to hiragana/katakana (Japanese). That button is right next to the very short space bar, so whenever I type, I keep hitting that button and can't figure out how to get back to roma-ji!! Grrr. This has been very pointless. I need to find an English laptop that's set to English all the way!! And I thought myself to be a genius with languages...

Besides that, I slept an incredible 13 hours and still fought hard during the whole day not to fall asleep! I ate dinner very early because I had skipped breakfast (sleeping) - we had rice with Japanese vegetables, squid (Tintenfisch), shrimp, salad, a spring roll and soup - and in the evening, Mutsuko and Yukiko, 2 future coworkers of SBU who live in the same dormitory, showed me where to find the internet cafe, a supermarket and a convenience store. I haven't entered the convenience store yet, but it seems to be very convenient indeed as you apparently can buy anything in there, plus it's open all night long.

So tomorrow's my first day of work - I meet Mutsuko and Yukiko at 8:30am in the lobby to take me with them!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

June 18, 2007 - Japan

Wow, once again I am surprised at just how quickly 13 hours can go by when flying!
I arrived in Japan! And it's a lot less alien at first sight than I thought it would be - the past half year of intensive Kanji studies now help a lot in recognizing signs, but everything is transcribed in English as well. There were only two things that caught my attention - the "French" toilets (look like little bathtubs in the ground) and the emptiness of this giant airport - we arrived in plain daytime, but the airport reminded me a lot of Stephen King's "Langoliers" - no one there besides the people from our flight! And airport staff of course, who spoke English very well. I had no trouble finding the travel info to get to Osaka and buying the tickets.

And now I am marvelling at the green scenery that's passing by outside, making up the outskirts of the 25-million people-molloch called Tokyo.
I probably shouldn't render any judgments just yet, but so far I have the feeling that - at least by the looks - westeners are quite acostumed to the sight of the Japanese style - houses, plants, people look very familiar. Can't wait to learn more about the culture though, that's bound to be something to boggle your mind!

There are differences though - while looking out of the train window at the 13-story powerline (I don't think I've ever seen more than 5 or 6 lines above one another), a waitress came by pushing a cart with sweets to sell - I feel like on the Japanese Hogwart's Express :o)

Krass, aber ich kann's noch gar nicht fassen, dass ich jetzt 2(!) Monate hier sein werde! Two months!!!!!!! When I think back to the past summer in Barcelona and how much I learned in those 2 months... I can't wait! =)
... I am absolutely flattened! I just shut the door of my about 15sqm room with balcony and sat down to think about what happened during the past 2 hours. Shinkansen, local train and taxi weren't a problem, there were always people that understood what I wanted from them with my crude mix of English and that handful of Japanese words that I know. So when the taxi guy dropped me off (complete with white gloves and a construction to open the passenger door "semi-automatically"), I was standing in front of Sumika Bayer, my working place for the next 2 months. Eric van Rijn, my contact person, came down immediately to salute me - and it turned out that he isn't in his 40s as I thought, but roughly my age, only with 7 years in total of living in Japan!

The whole team I got to know so far is exceptionally young, nice and smiley (and it seems like a real smile), and today I have already collected 6 business cards and bowed aroun't 150 times!

So during the past 2 hours, a group of 6 people ran around the apartment house with me, showing me around and absolutely taking my breath for what Bayer is offering me! I knew that they would pay me 5000 YEN per day, weekends and holidays inluded :o) And that they would arrange for accomodation for me. Furthermore they wanted to cover my commuting expenses.

But I hadn't expected this! In my new dormitory, I have a big room with balcony, a bed, a desk, a bunch of drawers, a washbasin, a giant wardrobe (begehbarer Kleiderschrank!) and an additional cupboard for about 20 pairs of shoes! Then I have a TV, a water boiler, a telephone line, air condition. There is a public washroom with a giant bathtub (you're not supposed to swim in it though) and also separate private showers. I think there are about 80 girls living here on 5 floors. We have a living room with television, a stepper to keep in shape, a vending machine for drinks, a code to get inside the dormitory, (for me there is no curfew as I am officially working), washing mashines, and the best of all - the canteen! They put breakfast in quite a human schedule, and guess what: all of it for me is freeeee (for me at least hehe)! I can eat as much as I want and Sumika is paying me 30EUR/day for that =)

Have I mentioned the shower gel, laundry powder, garbage bag, tea cup, slipers, toothbrush, soap, sponch, hairbrush and razor that came with the room as well? hihi

To finish this surprisingly wonderful day, Eric introduced me to 2 girls from Sumika who live in the same residence ~ Arima-san und Doro-san - and Doro-san knocked at my door an hour ago and invited me to come to eat dinner with her in the hall! Mizu soup (watersoup with eggs, veggies), rice with kaviar (or whatever kind of fish eggs), sardines, lotus roots, cellery, muschrooms, algae - extremely delicious!
And great chopsticks they have, too :o)

So what a day! Tomorrow I will check out the convenience store and the internet caf`e which Doro showed me on the map.

That's it for today! Goodnight to you all, I will collapse into a coma now and I know I will sleep veeeeeery well!!!! =)

June 17, 2007 A new experience ahead of me

I don't think I have ever eaten a sandwich that tastes quite as much like parsley and red onions. How odd, I haven't even left the continent yet!
We're approaching England, and 45 minutes into the flight, Cambridge appears on the screen =) Greetings, Michael! I am waving crazily at you, in good old John "The Chicken" Colden fashion :o)

OK, so far, everything has been business as usual: very little sleep, packing the bags "a 'ultima hora", driving my mom crazy, sending off final instructions to the family before surrendering the cell to be left alone in Germany.
Yupp, that's right, won't be bringing a cell phone! I'll be checking my mail every couple of days though in case you guys want to contact me. Depends a bit on how I find things, but I'll keep you posted!
Got to London in a second, spending most of the flight sleeping, the rest of the time being equally split between reading Douglas Adams' "The long dark teatime of the soul" and eating :o)

If you're surprised that it's already the second time I'm mentioning food, you've probably never seen me eating - I worship food :o)
By now, I'm definitely a minority at the airport - I've entered the gate to "the Asia section" ~ about 85% of the people waiting here are Japanese *content smile*. I can already practice a bit: "sumimasen" (excuse me), "gomenazai" (I'm sorry), "arigatou" (thanks) and "dou itashimashite" (you're welcome/keine Ursache) - very basic Japanese, but already working :o)
(In the plane) Geez, I'm surrounded by... well, Japanese people, but what gets me more is the amount of tech gadgets they drop off into a bag that their travelguide is passing around - cell phones, I-Pod-style things and yo qu`e s`e! That makes me very aware once again, that this time, I'm traveling very lightly tech-wise:

I was going to bring a new laptop that didn't get to me in time. I wanted to bring a camera which got stolen on my way to Mallorca some weeks back (I'm apparently having a talent to have cameras robbed from me...). I could have bought a new cell phone, but as Japan uses a 3G standard for cell phones (which apparently is used very litlle in all the rest of the globe), that would have been pretty pointless.

I do bring a pair of pendrives (USB-sticks) with Portable Applications ( installed - first time using it, and I must say I'm quite intrigued! Maybe I won't need to get a subnotebook after all... =)
Have I mentioned that I'm loving the headrests!?! I quite like British Airways - their homepage and pre-flight services have impressed the hell out of me, now I can add "online check-in", "freight allowance adjustment" and "unlimited weight of carry-on luggage (Handgepaeck) to the list (sole condition, you have to be able to lift up the carry-on luggage into the overhead compartment yourself).

I was going to comment on just how big and heavy this birdy is as it had "trouble" getting up into the air - but I'm already getting annoyed with myself for babbling constantly - so you must either be horrified or asleep by now! This past week I just couldn't stop talking! Sorry to everyone - I'll be good now and shut up :o)