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 =)


Des said...

eyescreammy, las preguntas son como la comida. Debes keep asking hasta que est├ęs lleno (!!!) Always!!

Michael said...

> meishi with a giant ice cream on it

Oooh! Just think you could print them on wafers, so that when people read them they could eat them. That would be ace. Maybe you could have Godzilla, eating an ice cream that looked like Hello Kitty on them. The possibilities are endless.

As for container dockyards, I used to occasionally work at them when I was working for Channel Tunnel and they were so mean, they would never let me drive one of the huge gantry cranes. Grumble.

You may like this page though, it amused me no end last week when I was looking to buy a couple of 40ft containers.


Anonymous said...

hi, new to the site, thanks.