Precarious

1088651402truck3_001.jpgYou never know what you may find strapped haphazardly to overloaded big rigs on the Kobe expressway. This was fairly scary, but even scarier was the truck in front of it carrying a reinforced stainless steel tank labeled TOXIC that was weaving between lanes like an Indy driver. Idiots.

Set-tripping and the Art of Parts Procurement

Mondays. I fucking hate Mondays. I am muttering this weekly mantra as I walk into a meeting with a problematic vendor yesterday morning. After greetings, bowing, and the compulsory 30 seconds of silence, I open with a blunt: “Your parts suck, Suzuki-san. One in every twenty are failing incoming testing. This is unacceptable.”
“But Yoshida-san, you asked for them to be made as cheaply as possible…” he offers, weakly.
It is time to unload with both barrels: “Never at the expense of quality. Never. Did we ask you to make shitty parts, or inexpensive parts? Because if the last ten years of recession has taught us anything, it is that these two qualities are not mutually exclusive. We have 50 million Chinese vendors knocking on the door, just begging to take over any work you can’t handle.”
“But Yoshida-san, any such parts could not be stamped MADE IN JAPAN,” he replies weakly. This is set-trip number one. He may still actually be under the illusion that sub-component origin makes any difference to anybody at all. Since the part he makes is at no point visible to the consumer this tactic is doubly weak. Plus, he obviously has not looked at his parts under a microscope like we have.
“You have raised another point we need to discuss, Suzuki-san. You are cold-stamping the MADE IN JAPAN on the parts after the molding process, which is causing hairline fractures in the underlying structure and possibly even resulting in part failure. This stamping, which we silently allowed but never gave initial approval for, must stop immediately.” It is Monday and I am tired of educating these spoiled sons of rich industrialists that have never truly been weaned from the bubble days of decades ago. I find that the local mom and pop operations, lean and hungry from scrounging for any jobs for years on end in a demanding marketplace, often work out better in the long run.
“Just who do you think you are? You just happen to be handling this account on a temporary basis! I’m not used to working with people like you, I work with top procurement officers at Sony, Matsushita, Canon…” Thus begins set-trip number two, and I’m in no mood. The “people like you” remark is a thinly-veiled insult. He’s calling me a dirty foreigner, the cultural equivalent of landing on Go To Jail in today’s business world. His sales partner, silent until now, immediately switches into damage control mode with deep bowing and apologies, trying to over-volume his boss, who’s still verbally recounting Major Corporations and Deals of Days Past. I am still in a kind of shock from the racial slap-in-the-face and find it hard to stay in the room. It is Monday, and I am within swinging distance of somebody I truly despise, close enough to smell his halitosis and watch beads of frothy spittle erupt from his lips as the bout of verbal diarrhea sputters to a violent, yet inevitable end.
If I were in a different type of organization, this is around where I would demand a finger. But this is mere fantasy. Instead, I walk out and go to Procurement, and ask the manager in charge of the account to go down and negotiate.
Later, the manager reports he was surprised to find the vendor agreeable to all of our requests. He asks what happened in the meeting before he went down, as Suzuki-san was atypically silent and his underling took control of the whole meeting. I explain what happened, including the gaijin insult. “Well,” he replies without missing a beat, “maybe you should try that more often. Sure makes my job easier!” He winks and punches me on the arm. Bastard.
I fucking hate Mondays.

Korea Blocks Blog Access

Hot from the inbox:

Fellow blogger,
I am sending this message to the bloggers on my blogroll (and a few other folks) in the hopes that some of you will print this, or at least find it interesting enough for comment. I’m not usually the type to distribute such messages, but I felt this was important enough to risk disturbing you.
As some of you may already know, a wing of the South Korean government, the Ministry of Information and Culture (MIC), is currently clamping down on a variety of blogging service providers and other websites. The government is attempting to control access to video of the recent Kim Sun-il beheading, ostensibly because the video will have a destabilizing influence. (I haven’t seen the video.)
Many Western expat bloggers in Korea are in an uproar; others, myself included, are largely unsurprised: South Korea has not come far out of the shadow of its military dictatorship past. My own response to this censorship is not so much anger as amusement, because the situation represents an intellectual challenge as well as a chance to fight for freedom of expression. Perhaps even to fight for freedom, period.
South Korea is a rapidly evolving country, but in many ways it remains the Hermit Kingdom. Like a turtle retreating into its shell, the people are on occasion unable to deal with the harsh realities of the world around them. This country is, for example, in massive denial about the atrocities perpetrated in North Korea, and, as with many Americans, is in denial about the realities of Islamic terrorism, whose roots extend chronologically backward far beyond the lifetime of the Bush Administration. This cultural tendency toward denial (and overreaction) at least partially explains the Korean government’s move to censor so many sites.
The fact that the current administration, led by President Noh Mu-hyon, is supposedly “liberal”-leaning makes this censorship more ironic. It also fuels propagandistic conservative arguments that liberals are, at heart, closet totalitarians. I find this to be a specious caricature of the liberal position (I consider myself neither liberal nor conservative), but to the extent that Koreans are concerned about what image they project to the world, it is legitimate for them to worry over whether they are currently playing into stereotype: South Korea is going to be associated with other violators of human rights, such as China.
Of the many hypocrisies associated with the decision to censor, the central one is that no strong governmental measures were taken to suppress the distribution of the previous beheading videos (Nick Berg et al.). This, too, fuels the suspicion that Koreans are selfish or, to use their own proverbial image, “a frog in a well”– radically blinkered in perspective, collectively unable to empathize with the sufferings of non-Koreans, but overly sensitive to their own suffering.
I am writing this letter not primarily to criticize all Koreans (I’m ethnically half-Korean, and an American citizen), nor to express a generalized condemnation of Korean culture. As is true anywhere else, this culture has its merits and demerits, and overall, I’m enjoying my time here. No, my purpose is more specific: to cause the South Korean government as much embarrassment as possible, and perhaps to motivate Korean citizens to engage in some much-needed introspection.
To this end, I need the blogosphere’s help, and this letter needs wide distribution (you may receive other letters from different bloggers, so be prepared!). I hope you’ll see fit to publish this letter on your site, and/or to distribute it to concerned parties: censorship in a supposedly democratic society simply cannot stand. The best and quickest way to persuade the South Korean government to back down from its current position is to make it lose face in the eyes of the world. This can only happen through a determined (and civilized!) campaign to expose the government’s hypocrisy and to cause Korean citizens to rethink their own narrow-mindedness.
We can debate all we want about “root causes” with regard to Islamic terrorism, Muslim rage, and all the rest, but for me, it’s much more constructive to proceed empirically and with an eye to the future. Like it or not, what we see today is that Korea is inextricably linked with Iraq issues, and with issues of Islamic fundamentalism. Koreans, however, may need some persuading that this is in fact the case– that we all need to stand together as allies against a common enemy.
If you are interested in giving the South Korean Ministry of Information and Culture a piece of your mind (or if you’re a reporter who would like to contact them for further information), please email the MIC at:
webmaster@mic.go.kr
Thank you,
Kevin Kim
bighominid@gmail.com
http://bighominid.blogspot.com
(Blogspot is currently blocked in Korea, along with other providers; please go to Unipeak.com and type my URL into the search window to view my blog.)
PS: To send me an email, please type “hairy chasms” in the subject line to avoid being trashed by my custom-made spam filter.
PPS: Much better blogs than mine have been covering this issue, offering news updates and heartfelt commentary. To start you off, visit:
http://marmot.blogs.com/korea/
http://jeffinkorea.blogs.com/
http://aboutjoel.com/
http://oranckay.net/blog/
http://kimcheegi.blogs.com/
http://gopkorea.blogs.com/flyingyangban
http://rathbonepress.tblog.com/
http://blog.woojay.net/
Here as well, Unipeak is the way to go if you’re in Korea and unable to view the above blogs. People in the States should, in theory, have no problems accessing these sites, which all continue to be updated.
PPPS: This email is being cc’ed to the South Korean Ministry of Information and Culture. Please note that other bloggers are writing about the Korean government’s creation of a task force that will presumably fight internet terror. I and others have an idea that this task force will serve a different purpose. If this is what South Korea’s new “aligning with the PRC” is all about, then there’s reason to worry for the future.
PPPS: This email is being cc’ed to the South Korean Ministry of Information and Culture. Please note that other bloggers are writing about the Korean government’s creation of a task force that will presumably fight internet terror. I and others have an idea that this task force will serve a different purpose. If this is what South Korea’s new “aligning with the PRC” is all about, then there’s reason to worry for the future.

Note: I’ll be happy to post letters for any other bloggers who ask, or help out in any other way possible. Drop me a line in the comments or at:
j@DELETETHESECAPScosmicbuddha.com
I am an avid reader of many Korea-based blogs and wrote a post about it with many excellent links here:
http://www.cosmicbuddha.com/blog/archives/000257.html
Fight the power, brothas!

Gun Control in Japan

There is a very interesting article regarding gun control in Japan up at GunCite. It’s a fascinating outline including the history of guns in Japan (did you know at one time Japan had more firearms than any other country on earth?), and I recommend you read the whole thing for historical value, if nothing else.
I have actually met Americans who, after hearing that I work in Japan, make remarks about how “nice it must be to live in a gun-free country”. I usually don’t answer back to stuff like that. It’s really tiring and rarely ever beneficial to either party to start a debate over. In class at Tenri University I once heard a lecture about how violence in America would simply “disappear” if Japan’s gun control laws were adopted. I bit my tongue that time, as well. The bottom line, I believe, is covered by the article very well. Japan’s gun laws (with regard to numbers of shooting incidents) work for Japan. If you want an example of a country where similar ones do not work, look at South Africa. (Ironically, the SA government’s solution to the problems caused by preventing lawful ownership of guns is more gun control legislation.
One insignificant but irritating beef:

No-one shall possess a fire-arm or fire-arms or a sword or swords

This is a ridiculously poor translation. I suspect it may have been done a long time ago by someone currently working in the field of Nigerian mail scamming.

Beef Bowl: The Game

When the ban on American beef imports rang the death knell for gyu-don (beef bowl), the most popular dish served at beloved fast food chain/icon of Japanese culture Yoshinoya, I tapped out a hasty ode to it in this post (gyu-don photos are posted here). I sure miss the emotional comfort that Yoshi-gyu provided; no matter where you were, at any hour, drunk or sober (usually the former), chances were there was a Yoshinoya within driving distance ready to serve you up a steaming bowl of tender sliced beef and onions – for a pittance. Indeed, around 3 AM the local Yoshinoya was like a beacon for night people and you could always count on hearing conversations between truckers (almost always baseball), street racers (quite often lamenting accidents or trading info about new police hotspots – very useful for avoiding random stops), or groups of people getting off the graveyard shift.
BSE and the subsequent media hype killed the Yoshi-gyu experience. Menu substitutions such as “pork bowl” and “bowl o’ curry” simply do not share the status or emotional attachment of a beef bowl, so for the most part, the Cult of Beefeaters, at present, has dropped from sight. In the minds of all, Yoshinoya has lost its unofficial designation as Temple of Beef. I feel very deeply for those who never got the chance to enrich their lives with the One True Way and achieve the higher state of being that I will simply refer to as moo.
Do you doubt claims about the emotional attachment Japanese people have to a particular chain of stores slinging cheap bowls of beef on rice? I guess I really have no way of proving it to you in person anytime soon, but if you have a PlayStation 2, you may be able to have a virtual look for yourself, from the eyes of a Yoshinoya employee:

For the unwashed masses unfamiliar with the game and the Yoshinoya Corporation, allow us to bring you up to speed. Yoshinoya is a company that was founded over a century ago in Japan and that has built an empire around the simple pleasures of a bowl of rice with some thinly sliced beef and onion on top. The chain of reasonably priced foodstuffs has expanded from a family-run store, which opened in a fish market in Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, in 1899, to more than 1,000 stores worldwide as of 2001. Having conquered the food sector over the last few decades, the chain has set its sights on the video game world with the help of Japanese developer Success and the simply titled Yoshinoya for the PlayStation 2.
So how on earth could a game even hope to capture the essence of such a company in playable form? Surprisingly easily. If you’ve ever played the classic game Root Beer Tapper, you’ll have a small sense of what Success has done. You’ll take the role of a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed trainee at a Yoshinoya store who must work his way up through the ranks of the apron-and-hat-wearing set to be the best employee to ever seat a customer, pour tea, prepare a bowl, and shout “Arigato gozaimashita!”

Read the full preview done by GameSpot.
Personally, I’d pass on this game as I have no desire to come home from my job everyday just to simulate another one (wait a minute – is being a T/CT considered a “job?”), but I think it’s an interesting concept and I hope it does well. If anybody who has played it reads this post, I’d like to hear what you think of it.
Hat tip to Joystiq, a new daily read.

He lives!

kuro-day1.jpg
Kevin reminded me in the comments that I left everybody hanging. Well, the kitten made it through the night. Sorry for the crappy photo, I’m not used to the new phone’s focus. But you can see that he looks a lot better, right? And I have dubbed him, alternatively, Yoda, Gollum, and Kurozuke, or kuro-chan for short. Why did I give him horrible names? Well, he’s completely adorable until you look him in the face. His eyes are rolled up and outward, with a protective pink sheath still covering the lower hemisphere of his eyeballs. The effect this creates is hard to describe, but let’s just say this cat could be a movie star if I taught him how to say, “my preeeeecioooouus…” I have no idea why his eyes are messed up like that; the night we found him I thought it was because the raging waters had blinded him. Later, after drying him, his eyes opened a little bit but were covered with this mucousy eye-milk (I’m pretty sure that’s the technical term for eye-crap), which I wiped off.
I hope his eyes heal. If it’s just a minor injury or temporary affliction (could he be so young that his eyes haven’t fully opened?), I think there might be a chance for his eyes to heal, because kuro-chan is a scrapper. Remember how I said he might die on the night we rescued him? He was basically in a coma all night interrupted periodically by little coughing fits. When he woke, we fed him and made him nurse water from a dish towel, and within an hour he was stretching his legs and walking around – clumsily, but with surprising vigor. His unsure footing made me realize, again, that this kitten is probably less than a month old, and some living piece of shit threw him in a storm drain… But even thinking about that just gets to me, so I’ll switch gears.
I ended up calling him kuro-chan (English equivalent: Blackie?) because he’s black and small and… Black. Go figure. Actually, I don’t have the official naming rights. After much thinking about what to do with him, my sister decided care for him until she goes back to the states in August. We were worried about what to do with him after that, but it turns out that another teacher who lives near my sister might take him for us.
Finding this little creature has spurred a lot of thinking about what is right in the context of being a foreigner with a different set of values. For instance, if Japan were a land where cats were raised on farms as livestock, delivered to slaughterhouses in cages, and ultimately, their flesh sliced neatly and eaten raw over slabs of vinegared rice, would it be any less wrong to throw an unwanted kitten in the storm drain?
Hey, I didn’t say it was coherent thinking, did I?
It was pretty goddamn sad to remember for the hundredth time that there is really nowhere to take abandoned pets in Japan. I know. I’ve asked policemen, animal shelter workers, and many many pet owners about this problem. They say there is usually no solution in the short-run if you find abandoned pets (which I do alost every year), but they almost all have one common observation: People need to be educated much better than they are now. When I went off on my “spay and neuter” rant the other day it was partially because I have talked with many pet owners in Japan who don’t know what these terms mean; the concept of de-sexing is totally strange to them. I find this sad because it’s a glaring fault in a society that is so modern and decent in many ways. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that people don’t kill unwanted pets in other coutries. I’m just saying that I don’t see so much evidence of it every year in densely populated and relatively affluent areas of any other countries I’ve gone.
It seems I can’t write about the kitten without getting worked up. I’m putting myself on time out. In the meantime, I ask that you pray to your god for the kitten’s eyes to heal. Quickly. I feel guilty for being a human every time I look at his face.

To the 5 Boroughs

This new Beasties album sounds really great playing softly in the background right now – the beats are funky and I can’t hear the lyrics. As far as I’m concerned that’s the best of both worlds. A dog that doesn’t shit, so to speak.

Fragalicious

My aussie pal John is getting serious about Counter-strike; I think he’s hooked. Last time he came over to the house he played for five hours straight and ignored everyone around him, totally absorbed in the game. Yeah, I think I hooked him good. He bought a new PC and a new video card just so he could play… Next thing you know, he’ll stop eating “in real life” and be mean to his wife for trying to talk to him “when he’s defusing.”
I’ll get some screen shots of me owning him and post later.

Belated Thanks

Well, maybe the time difference can count for something. Happy Father’s Day, dad, and thank you for not selling us all to gypsies continued support throughout the years. You are a good father and I only hope I can do as well (the time is coming pretty soon I think).

Nary a Chance

I am sitting in the dark well aware that I have brought this upon myself and yet cursing fate for having been put in this position again. I haven’t slept because someone is keeping me awake:
kurochan-wet.jpg
Let’s not kid anybody, this is one of the un-cutest kittens I have ever seen. Skanky, weak, and noisy. My sister and I fished him out of a rain gutter last night, where he nearly drowned in the torrent of rainwater flowing down the hill. He was shivering and weak with exhaustion. I wish I could be more positive but I don’t know if he’s old enough to make it without his mother, and he mewls when I let him go… So if he dies tonight, he will die in my arms and he will not die alone.
I made a joke about stir-frying a kitten the other day because it was a make believe kitten and anybody who knows me knows I really love animals and say that shit without meaning it. But I still feel guilty for writing those words now that I hold this sick ball of fur against my chest.
So now I am sitting in the dark fantasizing about somehow finding out who threw this kitten in the gutter and doing painful things to them. And I can honestly say, after having seen this kitten half-drowned, that I would enjoy it to some extent.
The way that Japanese treat their pets, overall, is fucking wrong. Knowledge is pitifully low, yet the numbers of pet owners seems to be ever-increasing. YO. ASSHOLES. IT IS FUCKING WRONG TO THROW UNWANTED PETS IN THE GUTTERS. SPAY AND NEUTER, SPAY AND NEUTER, WORDS TO LIVE BY, SPAY AND NEUTER.

A Hairy Encounter

My day started at home on monster island (Awajishima). Woke up at nine. Picked up my new cellphone at the nearby AU shop with Nam (will write review later – it’s a Sony/Ericsson A1402S, an upgrade from my trusty old Hitachi). Went to the high-speed boat terminal down the street and caught the hydrofoil to KIX. Met up with none other than deep thinking shitblogger extraordinaire, Kevin Kim, on a day trip from Big Hominid’s Hairy Chasms in the “sea of Korean tourists lugging many tape-patched boxes around” scenario alluded to in my previous post (link).
Hopped on the very Nemo-esque Nankai rapi:t train to downtown Osaka. Feeling hungry, we homed in on a forgettably-named okonomiyaki shop across from Namba Parks and I dutifully snapped the obligatory nerd blogger photos with new phone.
From the heavens, a seed crystal fell into my bowl. As structure took instant form from the nether edges of velvety nothingness, I watched the world exist apart from myself and stole a glimpse of the Path. This is how I achieved x-ray vision.
In my heightened state and unfettered by the bonds of sanity, I instantly realized that Kevin is indeed an alien construct like I suspected all along. However, also as predicted, we got along very well since my girlfriend and I as well as the entirety of the Asian continent (and for that matter any lines of text appearing on your screen) are merely figments of my blog’s imagination. There was way too much ice in our cokes.
Walked up the shotengai (covered arcade) to nanpabashi (pick-up bridge), where they have drained the stinky canal quite a bit and apparently plan to beautify the river… It just warms my heart to see my taxes spent in this purely symbolic effort, I mean, remind me again, how do you turn mercury into gold? But I won’t go into that today. A bald, scary-looking man dressed in shorts/white t-shirt approaches us after hearing us talking in English, and turning to me, loudly asks, What do you think takoyaki? I find myself strangely unable to answer, but I smile and the guy half-grins back in such a way that raises the hair on the back of my neck. Something is not right in there, behind his eyes, which would usually put me on guard. But today I am dwelling on a different plane and feel a strange need to help this guy in some way. So I have a brief conversation with madness and in a short time have confirmed that there is no answer to his riddle, it is a genetically modified logic bomb. Yet I must give some sort of answer. I stall by talking about the hot weather, then throw a loop back at him by teaching him the phrase, How about some hot takoyaki?, which seems to please him immensely. After practicing his pronunciation on me a couple times, he wanders off into the crowd chanting this new incantation over and over and over again. The crowd parts to let him through, this man with a new mission in life. (Note: If homeboy ends up stabbing someone important while yelling about hot takoyaki tomorrow, I’m really very sorry.)
We had dessert in Kirin Plaza at the far end of the bridge, on the 4th floor. Nice place. They have a brewery on the first floor, so I had a pint of their ale – yum. We saw an art exhibition on the 6th floor, which started out interesting but kinda fizzled out for me at the end. Too many neon fish-headed creatures. Plus, I hate galleries that ban photography outright. Many of the paintings were labeled as digital proofs, so I found the photo ban a bit ironic. But it was cool inside and hot on the street, and too many neon fish-headed creatures is, by definition, preceded by just enough neon fish-headed creatures, so I had my moment of equilibrium – which is definitely redeemable for an Hour or Two of Thornless Respite come Armageddon.
Nam took off for a dinner meeting with friends, and I walked with Kev back to Nankai Namba station. We parted ways there and I presume he is now locked in a room at the Korean customs office for trying to smuggle Japanese centipedes into the country so he could make them publicly surrender and admit that his centipede really kicks ass
DVD Bonus: The toilets on a Nankai rapi:t train look like this.
UPDATE: If Kevin’s always going to let the Japanese version of history stand, I hereby declare the official spelling of his name everafter as “Cevin”. Also, I predict he may appeal (in vain) with minor technicalities (i.e., “it’s just a bug”), when he hears his pet centipede is now officially classified as a Japanese territory.

Quick Airport Tip

If you are picking up someone with the last name “Lee” whose flight from Korea disembarks at the exact same time as three others, it might not be terribly helpful to hold up a sign with only “Mr. Lee” written on it. I’m partly saying this for the benefit of the tour guide who did so and got bumrushed by fifty different Lees today, although he eventually learned from his mistake and scribbled in a first name and flight number as well.