Headlight & Horn Etiquette

I must limit the scope of this rant because the full breadth of the topic would require too much thinking.
In Japan, drivers use their horns and headlights in ways that [A] baffle visiting Americans and [B] are extremely dangerous. The retardedest element of this usage is its foundation in etiquette. The Japanese use car horns and headlights to be courteous.
In Japan, drivers that stop at a red light will often dim their headlights so as not to shine at oncoming traffic at the other side of the intersection (or at the car stopped directly in front of them). This is the single most dangerous practice covered here, and can be observed at night anywhere in Japan. As stated above, this is considered a common courtesy by what I would judge to be around half of all Japanese drivers. In fact, this practice is so widespread that a lot of people think it’s required by law, and a lot of drivers fail to think that dimming headlights at night is a dangerous practice at all (BTW, if you can’t tell by now, I fucking disagree).
Last year an oncoming Celsior-weenie flashed me from the other side of the intersection with high beams a few times after I refused to dim my headlights (he signaled desire for me to do so by flipping low beams on and off a few times). In fact, after the signal turned, he chased me down the street, continuously flipping high beams, until I pulled the parking brake and spun hard right to block the whole street at 90 degrees, hopped out, and offered to show him why I prefer a field hockey stick to a baseball bat in the trunk (lighter, faster, longer, weighted at front, sharper edge, curved end for hooking moves, hardwood only where it counts – on the tip). But you digress.
Ironically, one of the new driving safety campaigns launched this year pushes to have headlights on at all times of the day for better visibility. I think you can see the punch line coming: Even the domo-arigato robot mindslaves who now drive with their headlights on all day TURN OFF THEIR HEADLIGHTS WHEN WAITING FOR A SIGNAL. I see them doing this during the day, and can only assume they do it at night as well. During the day I don’t see any functional purpose to this at all, it’s kind of like watching a salaryman bow during a phone conversation with a customer. Man, I should film a documentary on this. I’d call it “Road Etiquette in Motion: Blood on the Asphault Part II”.
I?m finishing this post today (Monday); I started writing it last week but stopped because thinking of all the assholes on the road made me grimace at my desk and my co-workers probably thought I was about to go postal. I think they must have told my manager, who asked me if I was OK at the end of the week. Grrrrrrr. (People always ask about the things I miss most about home: Cocktail lunches and bargain bins of birdshot at Ammo Barn.)
Anyway, a few points about common horn usage in Japan:
– Courtesy soundings of the horn are short, long soundings bear the universal meanings of, in order of importance, ?oh shit, I?m gonna crush you but perhaps this beep will soften the impact somewhat!,? ?move your arse, pops!,? ?if I didn?t know any better, I?d think red-green color blindness had jumped the gender gap, bitch, thanks for running the signal so carelessly!,? and ?fuck you, asshole!?
(Digressively Amusing: The middle finger is understood somewhat by Japanese somewhat because of exposure through western movies although the meaning of ?Fuck You? is never properly translated [Note to subtitlists: ?Zama miro!,? ?chikusho!, and ?kutabare!,? are not good translations. ?Kuso!? is ?shit!? which is sometimes interchangeable depending on situation but sometimes bears another meaning entirely. If you want to hear a proper translation, try cutting me off sometime, but beware that I gave away my hockey stick as my handmade scythe from Kumamoto {In Swahili, this Japanese city name means ?burning vuhjaina? – no lie} fends off evil spirits much quicker]. Most of the times you flip people off, they bow in apology, although once the Jeep I was borrowing came under Yak Attack and the aviator-sunglassed 893 [Ya-ku-za, get it?] basically broke his Gucci-soled foot kicking my solid steel bumper, but that?s another story and my digression is now longer than the original point.)
– In standard Hornspeak, one short sounding means ?Thank you!,? or ?Be aware that I am here!?. Two short soundings in reply is ?You?re welcome!,? or ?OK, I see you!?
– ?Thank you!? is sounded in any variety of situations where Japanese feel the need to be polite (in other words, everywhere, all the time). Some of the more common usages include: When you let somebody into your lane on the highway or pull in front of you from somewhere. When you stop at the mouth of a narrow street or chokepoint to let incoming cars pass through first (this may be the most common usage because of the sheer number of narrow roads in Japan). When you want to freak people out by saying ?Thank you!? in random and completely inappropriate situations (that?s my primary usage, anyway).
A Typical Example of COMBINED Horn & Headlight Usage I Saw This Very Day:
Black Civic (Note: As is the case in southern California, drivers of this car in Japan are also usually Asian, although not so many of them are named Phuong or Vinh) in front of me slows down and >>flips headlight on and off twice< < to signal an oncoming bimbobox (yes, I am Hiroprotagonist) it is OK to cross our lane and enter a book store?s parking lot. Bimbobox performs said maneuver and in mid-arc >>double-taps horn< < to say ?Thank you!?. Black Civic answers with obligatory >>single honk< < as the oncoming car completes the turn, ?You?re welcome!?. Black Civic resumes forward motion, but stops at the intersection 20 meters ahead because the light has turned red during this elaborate show of courtesy. I >>lean on horn< <, roll down the window, and >>shower great sentiments<< of hate, despise, and homicidal wonderfulness at the idiot for making me even later to work. Of course, the moral of this story is, I ended up following the Black Civic into the parking lot at work and received an angry stare from the driver, a.k.a. personnel section manager who works down the hall from me. Moral Summary: Mondays Bite Ass.

Ketchup vs. BBQ Sauce

First on my hit list: Ketchup vs. BBQ Sauce (I’ve always thought that “catsup” sounds like what a starving family in Pyongyang does to celebrate Our Great Leader Day.
Official notice to all employees of McDonalds (Would you like that Oppression Value Set Super-Sized?) located in Japan: KETCHUP IS NOT THE SAME AS MCNUGGET BBQ SAUCE, NOR CAN YOU CONVINCE ME OTHERWISE. EVER. PERIOD.
In retrospect, I wish I had written this rant years ago, because although I have educated hundreds of drive-through females (I say this, interestingly enough, because none have been males.) verbally or with “this stuff’s made in NYC!” type gesticulations, I have never been formally recognized as the man who brought Heinz Awareness to tha Land o’ RizinSunz (not Tatooine). Let me tell you, I NEED THE RECOGNITION. When ah pimp-strolls my fly ass into Da Place Ta Be I wants All Eyes On Me sos I can gets tha Repsect (t’all ya unedjucated beeg: tha’s short for “representacional sectapularae”) I Gots Comin for bein the Ketchupundit. [Note: I will never let you think I am crazier than I think I am]]< --//redundant bracket added for effect.//<--double slashes r tha shiznit, too// //// //////<--not hubris, just boredom. //ENUF! Back to ketchup: Up until a few years ago it was a 50/50 proposition of being able to get ketchup for your fries at a Mickey D's in Japan, or at any fast food joint, for that matter (exceptions: The sole Carl's Jr. (not JR) in Osaka that eventually went bust, the Wendy's chain, and possibly RaRiRuReRo Burger in Saga Prefecture, although this last one was not confirmed because the staff was too busy talking to their stylistic-hickster friends visiting the shop, so we walked out before ordering.). The prepackaged individual serving ketchup packets, later to be replaced by plastic minicups, were not widely available at MC Donarudo's (yo why you frontin', GriMase?) until Y2K, if memory serves me correctly (and hasn't been corrupted by the millennium bug). However, packets of BBQ sauce have been distributed freely since the advent of McNuggets (I will not stoop down to McNugget joke levels.), and when ketchup was asked for, the BBQ sauce packets would often appear instead. The first time this happened to me I was sure it was because the girl (obviously not Employee of the Month material) didn't read the writing on the packet (which is an alternative lyric for junkies/haxxors singing that Simon & Funkgargle tune) and slipped me the Bullzeye 'stead a the Hinez. It took a few repetitions of this type of "mistake" to figure out that: A. McDonalds had no packs of ketchup B. When I asked for ketchup the staff couldn't figure out why I wanted it C. When I explained it was for the fries (incidentally called "fried potato" in Japan, always singular even in reference to multiple fries), I was educating AMERICAN BURGER CHAIN EMPLOYEES about American (and thus, proper) fast food condiments. Wow, isn't that cool? Did you have any idea that JAPANESE WERE IGNORANT ABOUT THE FACT THAT FRENCH AKA "FREE-DUMB" FRIES ARE EATEN WITH KETCHUP IN EVERYWHERE EXCEPT THE PLACES STATED BY JOHN TRAVOLTA IN THE MOVIE PULP FICTION UNTIL I SPREAD THE WORD (and saved them from becoming EUroweenies)? OK, so maybe it was not just me. But I hope to KKKapitalize on the documentation of this as much as I have capitalized above. with my deepest apologies, there will be no more big letters today, sir. some assorted facts related to this ketchup rant: - i was also solely responsible for the size of the ketchup minicups doubling after mcd's initially replaced the packets with these peelable foil-topped minicups that were too shallow to dip into and in fact forced americans all over japan to roll fries individually in the cup, and contained only enough ketchup for exactly 8.72 normal-length fries. i complained really loudly about the miniscule size of the minicups to my sister when she visited from the states a couple of years ago, to which she replied "it's good to see you are concerned about important issues". ouch, wench. that smote. well the joke is on you, because obviously #somebody# heard me bitching, cause the new improved double size version of ketchup packaging came out a few months later. you see, it pays to be vigilant and outspoken (although people often want to knock your teeth out). - there are still mcdonalds branches in japan that do not stock individually packaged ketchup. i don't mean they are out of stock, wither, i mean it is a standard practice not to stock ketchup for fries (are the savings passed on to us?). - some branches that do not stock individually packaged ketchup will instead fill a plastic dipping cup used for in-store mcnugget dipping (or sometimes even a paper cup!) with ketchup and cover it with saran wrap (if it's a take home order). can you spell "wetawded"? this being japan, they will of course place the contingency conveyance contraption (tm) in a separate bag and fold the bag neatly with an upwards pleat on one corner, taking up another precious ten seconds as sweat drips down your face and the nonexistence of your car's ac has you in the mood to throttle the pimply headphone-donner (even if only to stop her unbefuckinglievably high-pitched squeal-like-a-pig voice). - nugget bbq sauce tastes like ass. (mustard is the only other sauce available as a standard in japan, though they originally had sweet 'n sour as well and occasionally come out with new flavors during limited times.) - for some reason i went through a tabasco and mayonnaise craze and would carry these two condiments on me on fast food foraging forays during college - kimchee and mayonnaise liberally applied between the patties and top bun of a double cheesburger are the signs of a true connoisseur. this particular combination could vanquish any iron chef (ground beef theme) contender, sakamoto included. - i have honestly felt the need to write this rant for the past 7-8 years. obviously,7-8 years ago its entirety could have been summed up with "japanese do not use ketchup on fries", but damn am i glad i got this enormous burden off my chest. as an end note, i would like to state my intention to reinstate capitalization with my next post i would also like to give props to the man, james lileks, who has prevented me from turning out any substantial work whatsoever for the past several months as i caught up with several years of his web journal (www.lileks.com/bleats/). he inspired me to write this ketchup rant mainly by being so prolific, but also by being logically opinionated in ways i can agree with (or at least understand) most of the time. i just felt that he never gave japan’s ketchup problem the attention it deserves so i stepped up to fill his clogs.
he is also the main reason i must reinstate capitalization (bifocals for beeg’s sake!).

Future Subjects

Today as I walked back to my desk from the musty pisstrap hell for overgrown boys down the hall, I neatly outlined four rants that have been steadily chipping away at my sanity slightly after my arrival in Japan. I?m sure I can think of another one, too, in case I want to list five. Today our subjects include:
– Ketchup vs. BBQ Sauce
– Headlight & Horn Etiquette
– Seasonal Vending Machine Coffee Temperature
– Effluvious Packaging
I had originally wanted to cover these as feature pages for this site, and may still do so, but permalinks to an MT blog might work just as well, I suppose. Gotta get my site hosting shit together soon so I can use PHP (or for that matter, FTP) again. Liketh not the 1337 4cR0Nym4G3, d00d? SMD.
Well, I said today but I have temporarily lost the will to write after using those mad haxxor skillz in the last sentence.

Tatoo Blues

I want to relay a story about a bad day I had two Saturdays ago. Actually, I’ll skip over the really bad parts and jump right into the fray (and that’s a good definition of my life in general). I ended up that day with a friend who was going to get a tattoo. We went to the tattoo dude’s apartment in separate cars (completely unnecessary detail), and to make a really long story short, I ended up waiting for 3 hours in the living room with 3 guys, friends of the tattoo dude, who were hard at work. Their profession of choice was of the “Receptionist/Driver for Escort Service” category. All I can say is, I am damn proud of my gutter Japanese skills.
These guys knew I was a foreigner and were consciously/unconsciously shrouding the content of their conversations concerning shady/sleazy deeds by using the absolutely most Kansai-inflected dialect and verbiage… And I understood every word of it. I’m a big fan of yakuza flicks and have always loved studying the Kansai dialect, and probably know more underground/sleazeball slang than any Japanese not sniffing thinner or missing fingers. These guys were talking about the craziest shit right in front of me.
Some gems:
– I heard them consulting each other if they had girls in the stable that were anorexic, for some client with a thin-fetish they were had on hold
– One more than one occasion, I saw the old customer service trick where they say “please hold”, cover the mouthpiece and wait 30 seconds, then smugly tell the caller that whatever they wanted wasn’t possible (ad-libbing the reasons for why, as well)
– They referred to one of the girls as “the one who likes coke bottles”
– There was also apparently another girl who looks like a young Seiko Matsuda, with a third nipple
– In an academic bout between calls, I heard the most (sorry about this, Corky) retarded summation of the war in Iraq to date. I am an avid peacenik bloghunter, so this means a lot. Pre-war economic sanctions were described as “the UN not buying oil from Baghdad because Bush’s father said it was of poorer quality than Saudi Arabia’s oil”. (Actually, I kind of like that explanation)
– One of them shared a business revelation: If you drove around in a van and stole all the satellite antennaes attached to people’s balconies in Nara, you could ship them AND the van to Baghdad and make a fortune selling them on the street. I almost encouraged him to do it, because all I could imagine was the Iraqi headline in six months, “Jap’s Imported Loot Ganked by Local Entrepeneurs”.
Well, I think Net Nanny will officially bust a nut with this post.

About a Girl

On Saturday, I was awakened by Kohei (the guy who gave me a Devo hat when I was like ten) who had the nerve to call me at ONE THIRTY in the afternoon. As I groped to find the ringing cellmonster around the gap between futon and tatami, my arm brushed against the wet spot on my pillow (I admit, sometimes the whole pillow is a giant wet spot. That’s when it’s time to flip it over.). Somehow, the saliva rub woke me up almost instantly, and it was act-like-you-weren’t-sleeping talkfest time. You know that feeling, when your tongue moves two steps faster than your brain…. But I Digress Heinously.
Kohei was coming down to Kobe from Nagoya with New Companion in Tow. Still dazed, I said let’s meet up, so Nam and I got in the car after a 30 min. cosmetic application sesh… Actually I played CS while brushing my teeth (although I had applied to Asahi-net for the switch from A to B Flets the night before, I didn’t try Hikari out until Sunday night because It Takes Time for the change to be noted – and I was too lazy to take the end of the Cat 5 cable from the ADSL modem to the ONU and try it out right then.) and was on a roll with 15 kills and no deaths but got distracted because the toothpasty foam in my mouth started getting too minty; it felt like the Doublemint twins were grinding stiletto heels into my tongue…. Sorry, digression problems.
In short, we met up in Kobe. I proposed Harborland as a meeting place, as the flowerbusheep at Canal Gardens are my favorite Kobe meeting point (will explain flowerbusheep later – Maybe). It’s really funny when people get up close to look at the flowers on the face and it suddenly starts baaaaing (Willow, you iiidiiiiiot!). That’s exactly what Pat, Ko’s new girl, did. Heh heh. We walked around looking for signs of the Kobe Matsuri which was supposed to run on Friday through Sunday, but found that the middle day was the odd one out and there were no signs of festivities either at Harborland or Motomachi (There were live parade broadcasts on TV the next day, though – it looks more like the Rose Parade Without Floats and Just a Marching Samba Team than a matsuri, though). So we walked around and shopped. Ko went aggro and got the look I’ve seen in my dad’s eyes before when he wants to buy a specific thing for my mom that she doesn’t really want to buy (at the time, at least – no woman can suppress the urge to buy – anything – for very long) but will concede to buying just to get the crazed “buying fever” out of his brains. Well, that day Kohei was for some reason convinced that Pat needed walking shoes. I know this sounds innocent, but it breaks one of the basic tenets by which all men should lead their lives and that is, Never Choose Shoes for Women. Yes, he chose to walk the dangerous route and basically steamrolled her to buy a pair of shoes, which I must say, were pretty darned Fugly (explanation necessary?). In fact they were Beeg, but that’s another story and I’m starting to scare you with my new language (New Sandovenese subvariant). Digressing you say? Me?
We had a nice day. Tonkatsu moundage for dinner after finding that all restaurants on the second and third floor were overflowing with people and/or yakiniku smoke. On the way home, Nam and I decided to go on an impromptu trip and I went straight instead of turning left for the 4Km suspension bridge (2600 yen toll one way!) for the island. We went to Himeiji. I had left Baby (Vaio U3 and Air ‘H PHS card) at home since I’d not charged her (bought another car cig lighter inverter at Autobacs on lunch break today to avoid this problem in future), and because of this, discovered the secret Himeiji night culture.
It seems that people in Himeiji do not sleep. This became evident after finding video rental stores, clothing shops, liquor stores (that sold imported cigarettes – Marlboro Mediums! – by the carton, something I’ve never seen here), and a big-name electronics store open at midnight, with signs indicating they were open until “26:00” (the electronics store was only open util 25:00). Weird. But Cool. After the semi-long but pleasant drive, I was on cruise control. I browsed through used rental videos and CDs that were for sale, and spent a few thousand yennage. Cool. Someone please tell me why the hell I felt compelled to purchase “Number one with a Bullet” for 300 yen. Got a soft spot for Lando Dee Williams, I guess (props to Lileks for that one).
I had intended to fold down all the seats in the van to make a bed (cool loaner car, Kataoka san!). The van model by the way, is a Bongo Friendee (Mazda). I have an uncle of Chinese descent who we call Uncle Bongie, so this car is of special interest to me, but perhaps not to you, but this is my blog, so I can rant incessantly and all you can do is close your browser window, LOSER! (sorry! -Ed). Anyway, I wanted to sleep in the car and in fact had – by myself – the day after I took my Silvia in for shaken after getting loaded at Bill’s. However, I soon remembered that girls like sheets and blankets and stuff, so we stayed at a hotel after driving by the local Kenkoland (got directions at the video store; “turn right at the JA building intersection” – but went a totally different route and found both the JA building and Kenkoland by accident) and pronouncing it even less desirable than roughing it in the van. Oh, I forgot. We had ramen somewhere along the way, and found out Himeiji has kick ass ramen at 2 in the morning. Nam got a regular sized chashu-men and it had more pork than any chashu-men I have ever seen, I mean like 20 slices (albeit the thin stuff, not fatbelly). We ordered it with the tonkotsu (there was also shoyu and miso or something like that) stock, ichiban koi (of four levels of richness for the soup, nam ordered Thick and I ordered Mud). But heavenly mud this was. It was the best ramen I had since we were down in Kyushu visiting Japan Noobie Adam. I might add that I ordered extra garlic and it was chunky, funky, and there was a good heaping tablespoon of it in a mound on my noodles. Ambrosia.
We came home yesterday after going to Himeiji Castle. On the way home, we saw a large warehouse type building that looked possibly like a Costco, so I took the exit (Kakogawa). It was pachinko. Pretty damn big, too. The parking lot was so huge, there were guys on motorized carts that would ferry you from your car to the entrance of Gaia Pachinko Heaven or whatever the hell it was. I will make the next part quick and to the point: I lost a lot, and Nam won wnough to buy one or two tickets back to Thailand, depending on the season. On the way home, she bought me dinner (Awaji Beef). Good Weekend it was.

Oh neighbor, forgive me…

Oh, I took off from work early on Friday because I couldn’t stand the excitement. Rushed home and saw a telephone line crane-truck parked next to my parking lot (on a street close to my house). Got a sick feeling in my stomach because I somehow knew this was used to bring the princess Hikari to my home, and remembered asking for my landlord’s permission a month ago, before going to Thailand. I passed on the explanation I got from the NTT rep, that FTTH installation is not a big deal, and existing holes in the walls are used so that there is a minimum of impact. Well, it was not exactly a lie, as the fiber optic cable enters the house via a hole made for the air conditioning unit hose (fixed in place with white silly putty-like stuff), but the sun glinted off the newly attached mounting plate screwed to the outside wall (used to protect the fiber optic line) as I realized there must have been a five man work crew stringing lines from the power poles, drilling holes in my wall, and annoying the neighbor’s neurotic pomeranian (redundant, I know – i had a Pom). I am so glad my landlord wasn’t there, I’ll have to paint the cables and mounting plate outside to match the house.

happyhappyjoyjoy

First of all, the Hikari works. It rocks. Last night I heard the lonely scream of a 56k on some lame hackeresque TV movie, and it made me cringe. I watched the green LINK lamp on the ONU (FTTH “modem”) flicker as I downloaded files off some puny T1 server in Sweden, and was reminded about the Salaryman post I wrote a few years ago about hacking into the company LAN. About bandwidth: Out of the box, I have measured 23 Mbps in both directions. Average speed for this type of Hikari (B Flets Family 100 plan) is around 17, so I have a decent connection to begin with, which makes me happy. What makes me unhappy is that I have to find all the registry hacks I made to accomodate ADSL on all four of my windoze boxes in order to optimize for FTTH. For 8M ADSL, I managed to bring average speed up double where I started at and at the end, the speed measurement site I was using throughout started claiming I was breaking theoretical speeds, spiking up to 8.1M. Average speed was around 4.5M for DL/750K for UL.

Just Chill, foo!

Twenty-seven full minutes have passed since my last mail update from Nam. What is that girl thinking? I give her the benefit of the doubt and check for new mail actively instead of letting the system update my phone – it’s faster that way and the auto update is spotty in these concrete buidings sometimes. Goddamn it, why do factories have to be so utilitarian? I’d trade the third story metal doors (for moving big equipment directly in by crane) for wide-open (packet-friendly) gaping holes any day.
Thirty-one minutes now. I could really piss her off by calling for an update again, but before I get home she will be there all alone with the Precious so I’d better be a nice little hobittses until I can wring her filthy lying little neckses, Smeagol. (Raving sicko alert!) ………… Can’t wait… Must call… Must have Preeeeeeeeciouuuuuus…
(Doctor’s note: No more cookies for this patient until further notice.)
OK. Must Call. Must Find Out. Stay Tuned.