Concentration Time Redux

In today’s interoffice memo, the official English language nomenclature was revealed: CONCENTRETION TIME.
This filled me with great joy for some truly inexplicable reason, and I was immediately tempted to stab my eyes out with a sharp pencil.
In other news, the supposed 60-year holdouts of the Japanese Imperial Army in the mountains of Mindanao are proving to be more elusive than Yamashita’s gold. (There’s a Leon Uris novel in there somewhere, I know it.)
And now, back to concentretion.


This mom and pop market is a few steps away from my apartment in Juso. Surprisingly, there are no snack bars, porn theatres, soapland related businesses, or negiyaki restaraunts nearby!
The price signs are all drawn in marker on standard A4 paper, and they sell really cheap produce that looks like it was grown in someone’s back yard.
A Lawson convenience store and the Rice Grocery are equidistant from my apartment, but in the end, the Takahashi Rice Market will end up with the larger share of my money because it’s ghetto in a cool sort of way. It’s like a store you might encounter in Gardena or Torrance, back in California.

Amagasaki Train Wreck Followup

By now, everyone is probably familiar with the theory of the rookie driver derailing the train by attempting to speed through the curve, as well as the story of several JR employees going bowling on the night of the accident, but get a load of this:

An obsession with being on time was also seen in the behavior of two JR West drivers who were aboard the derailed train. The drivers, neither of whom was hurt in the accident, left the scene without helping to rescue passengers and headed straight to work.
According to JR West officials, one of the two called his supervisor by cell phone to say he had been on the derailed train. But the supervisor did not instruct him to rescue any of the injured and instead said, “Make sure you’re not late.”
The 27-year-old driver later confessed in writing that he was sorry for doing nothing to help.
“When I think back calmly now, I was irresponsible not only as a JR employee but as a human being,” he said.

But the whole point is that he wasn’t irresponsible as a JR employee, right?
It’s a fairly interesting article, even if it does lay it on a bit thick with the “overpunctual society” line. Yes, “Japanese people should adopt a more relaxed way of living,” but even if they manage to pull this off with some mystical wand of compassion and understanding, it probably won’t magically prevent train derailments for the foreseeable future. Just to be contrary, I offer this: As long as it’s safe, there’s nothing wrong with the trains being on time, guys. Not a goddamn thing. Ah, but the poor drivers get stressed out! They have to pick weeds and greet incoming trains like common peasants! I hear you. Life’s a bitch, ain’t it? It seems that the problem is with the drivers training programs, and to allow JR to ultimately place the blame on society instead of improving their training programs is just plain wrong.
Here’s the link to the full article: Train crash reveals fatal flaw of obsession with punctuality

Adventures in Software Licensing

The girl’s PC died a couple weeks ago so I decided to piece together a new one from a mix of old parts and new, which was both fun and worrying, as always. I was mostly worried about having to buy another copy of Win XP (Professional, because I have bad luck with Home), since I kind of assumed authentication would be denied since the new PC had a new motherboard, chipset, and CPU (went from old SiS chipset/Athlon XP 1800 to Intel 865PE/Celeron 2.4). Hoping for the best, however, I built up the box with as many of the previous components as possible:
2 PC2100 DIMMS
Optical drive
GF Ti300 graphics card
Firewire PCI card
HD with WinXP still installed
I intended to switch out the memory and HD for more recent and appropriate offerings after trying authentication once just for the hell of it. Well, I slapped it all together and fired her up and…. I’ll be damned! My first surprise was that XP started right up and auto-installed a crapload of new drivers, but hasn’t experienced any trouble like I expected – it went straight from one chipset to another without a hitch, adapting to its new nervous system like some cybernetic super-being, whereas I thought it would surely cry foul and curl up like a sniveling little bitch in a corner somewhere.
The second surprise is that authentication worked! It accepted the serial I used on the previous machine and brought an OK back from Microsoft Japan – excellent! So basically, to summarize, Bill Gates made a product that worked much better than I expected -AND- I got to fuck him out of a couple hundred bucks for doing so! (because one IS obligated to purchase a new version of Win XP for every computer they install it on – when your PC dies, so does the license for the OS.)
So. The moral of this story is: The parameters of the much-vaunted “hardware hash” used for Windows XP verification are not all that hard to fool. You can switch mobo, chipset, and CPU without having to make Microsoft richer (I specifically wrote this entry because I couldn’t find one like it a couple weeks ago).

Concentration Time Liveblogging

Wow. Talk about killing the party vibe, dude – the old man ain’t even here today! He wussed out and went on a trip or something, so our protesting stunts are kind of pointless… Yet it’s funny to mock the lauded Concentration Time even in his absence, so the office is a flurry of activity right now.
People are talking loudly on the phones about totally nonsense shit, having group discussions from across the office, and the guy next to me is singing (softly, granted, but still…). I, myself, drank a liter of water during lunch and have gone to the head three times in the past twenty minutes. Just doing my part, you know. Because my ultimate goal is to someday be told to hold it, at which point I will whip it out and shower thee golden, I swear.
By the way, the official length of Concentration Time has already been shortened – it now runs from 1:00 to 2:40PM. It will be interesting to see if my Japanese comrades still show the same audacity tomorrow or whenever the old man gets back. All I know is that I’m having a liter of water with lunch for the foreseeable future; this is too much fun.

Americans in Japan, Rejoice!

They were selling Dr. Pepper at FamilyMart today! We have been waiting for this moment since… well, since the end of the war, I guess. This is truly a milestone in Japanese-American relations, especially since the majority of Japanese think Dr. Pepper tastes like Chinese herbal medicine.
Just in case you were wondering:
Yes, there is a cheesy Flash site to commemorate this great event.
Peppy, ex-Harajuku girl/Dr. Pepper “freak”

whereupon, I rant.

I’ve put up with the various quirks and idiosyncrasies common to westerners working in corporate Japan for quite some time now and I think I’ve done very well, overall. But today I came this close to blowing my stack, just going COMPLETELY FUCKING NUTS, in front of the whole office, because MOST JAPANESE ADULTS ARE ACTUALLY JUST (SLIGHTLY) OVERGROWN CHILDREN… Ahh, now I feel much better with that off my chest.
So what set me off? (this time)
Our senior manager, in his infinite wisdom, has decided to enstate a “concentration period” from 12:25 to 2:40 PM every day, when we will not be allowed to leave our desks except to get printouts or use the CAD room. He specifically stated we could not talk, use the phone, or go to the restroom during this period. He says this is to raise the efficiency of this office. #@!”#””$#%!(‘(&%(%@”!!#%!! (motherfucker, say what?)
This rule goes into effect tomorrow.
I have already announced to my supervisor that I will take a piss whenever I damn well please, and asked how fucking old everyone in this office is that we have to be told when we can or can’t leave our FUCKING SEATS TO GET WORK DONE. I mean, give me a fucking break (and give me a fucking KitKat), how the fuck do you fucking expect us to be fucking competetive with other fucking electronics companies when you fuck us with these fucking stupid-ass rules and meaningless fucking exercises in fucking assfuckery?
But that’s not all, there’s a punchline to this fucking joke: At the end of his announcement, our great leader proudly announced that he got this brilliant idea from a television program he saw last week.

Quick Reviews 2005/5/23

Monday, oh Monday, thou art an unwelcome punch in the face.
Some quick reviews just for the hell of it:
– AUDIOSLAVE, Out of Exile: 7.98/10 stars || awesome guitar; chris cornell remains god.
– GORILLAZ, Demon Days : 7.14/10 stars || nice beats but lost some funky cheese?
– REVENGE OF THE SITH: 5.95/10 stars || reaffirmed that papa vader is, indeed, a big raging asshole.
– HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE: 6.23/10 stars || bonus points for the “twinkie” reference (banana, anyone?) and cameo by the patron saint of bloggers, neil patrick harris
– THE WEST WING SEASON 4: 8.16/10 stars || even dems hate frogs
– THE SHIELD SEASON 4: 8.79/10 stars || not even halfway through the season but kicking serious ass
– CRAZY OLD LONELY LADY: 6.54/10 stars || makes like ZERO noise next door; makes me worry that she’s dead sometimes, but otherwise seems really nice
– LITTLE SHITS NEXT DOOR: 1.02/10 stars || learn how to say “konnichiwa” back to the nice gaijin already you spoiled little brats

Hidden Costs

As I blogged a few weeks ago, my faithful refrigerator suddenly died, and I have since been experimenting on living without one. You see, a dead refrigerator, TV, A/C, or washing machine has become a major pain in the ass to get rid of in Japan. Since last March or so, new legislation prohibits us putting out such major appliances on Big Trash day. There isn’t even a junkyard or recycle center we can dump such items off at (in my city, at least). The main thing preventing me from getting a new refrigerator was, in fact, figuring out what to do with the old one.
As it turns out, this particular problem is solved like almost any other serious one encountered in Japan:
A. The proper way, with lots of paperwork and money, or
B. The sneaky way, AKA The Gaijin Way, which usually entails bending or flagrantly shitting all over the law
So those that know me well may be surprised to learn that I filled out all the forms for the privilege of paying more than 7,000 yen ($70) in pick-up and recycling fees for my dead refrigerator, and it’s not even a full-sized model! The fees don’t take size or weight into account, only the manufacturer (the sign at the electronics store where I went to fill out the forms said that models made by certain manufacturers cost 1,000+ yen more to recycle). Of course, my only other option to actually ponying up the cash to “recycle” my broken chilly fucker was to illegally dump it, which never would have bothered me in, say, the Osaka slums or in back of my old university, where it would have rusted into oblivion without ever bothering anybody. Back home in SoCal, a single phone call would have summoned a crew of orange-vested immigrants on a beat up truck with county tags to take away any old appliance for free. Hell, in Bangkok I could put it out on the curb and it would be gone (for real recycling) in less than an hour, I’m sure. But I live on a beautiful island right now, and somehow, it made me think twice before loading it up to deep six somewhere.
So basically, the cost entailed with my act of environmental responsibility was around $70. I’m still trying to figure out if it was worth it… In a way, I feel fucking played by the government again, I tell you. I want to know exactly how this fridge is going to be “recycled.” Maybe it was a stupid decision – by the number of appliances I see dumped up in the hills around here, I can tell you that many of my neighbors sure think so… In a truly just world, my children would grow up around dolphins and wildflowers, and my neighbors would live in a polluted world of nighmarish leaked-biotoxin nuclear winterlike suffocation, but be $70 richer.

Magical Beaches, Whole Roast Chicken, and a Girl Named Magnum

As time passes and the memories of the vacation I just came back from slowly fade away, it gets harder and harder to write about it. Well, there’s nothing like paper pushing to stifle one’s creativity, as I always say. Still, I have a few more thoughts and photos to share on the matter, so I shall push on…
In a previous post, I wrote about mucking about in the temple ruins at Buri Ram. We finished there early in the afternoon and had lunch with Nam’s family at a nearby outdoor restaurant.

It was pretty hot and I was in meltdown mode after running around like an idiot in the midday sun (or maybe it was more like an Englishman; must consult w/Ben). I wasn’t the only one, either: T started going aggro at Nutty (did I mention that they used to date when she was living in Japan and BOTH thought it a really good idea to go on this road trip – before it started, of course – together as FRIENDS) partway down the road, mainly do to the fact that we couldn’t find a roadmap to buy ALL DAY. As a consolation, we did find many other things…

As I was saying, we stopped at many, many roadside stores and gas stations throughout the drive and couldn’t find a single map for sale. We eventually came to the conclusion that Thai people are either:
(A) Born with a good sense of direction, or
(B) Wont to ask those along the road “which way is the road to [INSERT DESTINATION]”
Since we were personally witness to Nutty getting lost in her current hometown of Bangkok on multiple occasions, we figured (A) perhaps was not the correct choice, and decided to go native and try (B) out for a while. This resulted in me nearly getting gored by, respectively, a water buffalo, and a decidedly non-Holstein dairy cow.

But where was I? Oh, yes, I would be amiss to allow this post to be published without listing a couple of the things T felt it pertinent Nutty should know, while she was driving:
– When driving someone to Bangkok airport during rush hour, the highway is preferable to surface streets (a reference to his last trip here)
– Passing on a two-lane highway (in a two-ton turbodiesel king cab) is dangerous
* (especially at night)
** (unless you turn off the A/C first)
*** (turning off the OD is not the same as turning off the A/C)
– High beams can be a nuisance to incoming traffic, so use them carefully
High beams? He’s lecturing about headlights? Nam and I giggled about this in the backseat. Finally, Nutty reached her limit after a couple hours, pulled over to the side of the road, and asked me to drive.
I drove.

We reached our destination, a resort at Chao Lao Beach, and decided to have dinner at a beachside cafe . Having been subjected to popsy Thai music for the duration of the trip, we were aghast when the German owner of the cafe turned on a huge karaoke machine that happened to be pointed directly at our table. It rattled our teeth and made my beer glass dance even more seductively than the token ladyboy at the bar, until T decided to speak up and asked them to turn it down. Awesome! Usually, I have to be the bad one and tell people to do shit they don’t like, so it was fun watching T use his irritation, to achieve the desired effect, this time. And it worked! German owner guy turned off the Karaoke Deathbox and flipped on a boombox behind the bar instead, much to the consternation of aforementioned ladyboy.
We finished eating and went searching for a place to stay, only to find that most of the rooms at the various resorts had filled and front offices for the most part, had closed. In the end, we resorted to an ancient Jedi mind control technique, and, at the most promising place, made the guard at the (barred) front gate find the manager, open the office, and rent us a room. There was only one left, but it was large, so all four of us fit into it. While the girls took showers, T and I drank beers on the front porch and swatted at fat mosquitoes lazily cruising through the humid air. Our two-day beach respite had begun.

The next morning we rushed to the beach, which was fairly decent sand-, water-, and wave-wise, only to find that they were building a new swimming pool along our stretch. Ogling workcrews and the cacophony of jackhammers do not a relaxing beach day make, so we immediately decided to try our luck at our next resort destination, Rayong.
I knew nothing of Rayong to this point, except that it was more popular with Thais and less so with farang (foreigners), which seemed as good a reason to go than any after being absolutely turned off to the Obnoxiously Hip World Traveller crowd in Pattaya and the Pedophile-in-Lederhosen Heaven that is Phuket on past trips. This single piece of hearsay turned out to be completely true – all the foreigners I saw in Rayong were holed up in the lobby of the single touristy hotel on the strip, playing cards next to the minibar and watching CNN on the poolside TV! The irony killed me, even before the sunburn. But I am getting ahead of myself.
One of the coolest things about travelling Thailand by car is the roadside foodstands. Let me state this simply: I am a chowhound of the first order (gold fruit clusters). I have had very few bad foodstand experiences (one involved fried cockroaches because I felt adventurous, and the other involved something my memory doesn’t allow me to remember as far as taste, smell, or appearance goes) in Thailand; for the most part, I think most foodstands, regardless of location and assuming they are serving something you want to eat, rock. I know this is an overly Japanese/American view of things, but where else can you eat a delicious bowl of steaming hot ramen with full garnishes at three in the morning for a measly 30-50 cents?

The really cool thing about roadside stands is that the food they sell changes from region to region. The road to Rayong was lined on both sides with stands that looked just like this:

That, my friends, is the most delicious roast chicken I have ever eaten, bar none, and I might add that my roast chicken credentials include growing up on authentic Huli Huli chicken and having tasted the delectable Volailles at La Tupina. The entire roast chicken as well as a bag of sticky Isan rice cost only 110 baht (chicken: 90, rice: 20), around three dollars at the current exchange rate. I couldn’t even do the math to figure out how little a chicken’s life is worth in Thailand, since it must cost something to roast them on a spit all day, etc. The old lady at the stand pulled out a seriously well-used butcher’s knife and chop-chop-chopped the bird into manageable pieces, and included a couple different sauces in baggies for us. The smell of roast chicken, in the hot confines of Nutty’s truck, were overpowering. It made me so happy to be in the car with that smell, I started singing! In Spanish! And I don’t even speak Spanish anymore!
I must warn you that from this point on, I took no more photos. I was too happy and sandy to screw around with a camera.
We drove down the entire length of Mae Ramphueng Beach (which may not sound too impressive unless you can imagine 12 whole kilometers of continuous sand and a narrow band of shade trees on one side of the road, and resorts, shops, and condominiums on the other) before finding the hotel which caught our fancy. It had very reasonable prices posted and looked very new and clean, which in sand-encrusted buttcrack speak means “probably has decent showers,” and that is what I look for in beachside accomodations. It also had a guarded parking lot, which would allow us to leave Nutty’s truck for a day if we decided to go to Koh Samet (visible in the distance and less than an hour by boat) without her having to worry about it. Haven’t you ever wanted to walk into a decent hotel and ask for their best room? That’s what we did, and after hearing the cost of the UberPoshDeluxe suite (about $55), we sprung for it. It was huge. It had industrial size air condititioners. We were happy, and then we fell upon the helpless chicken.
Note: I will attempt to describe the chicken in a subjective manner so as not to start drooling upon the workstation I now sit before. Oops.. too late. This is one powerful memory.
Imagine two plastic baggies, each containing a delicious sauce, and each sealed at the end with a red rubber band. One sauce is the traditional Thai sweet & spicy “orange with red chili flecks” sauce used for roast chicken and fish (Mae Pranom is the most common brand). The other is a Hoisin-based sauce with large clumps of herbs and long green chilies marinating in it. Both baggies are opened and each sauce is poured over lateral halves of the chicken, which is resting peacefully in its glistening styrofoam container home. It may only be your imagination when the sauce sizzles as it hits the crispy skin, and this does not bar you from grabbing the nearest piece… The tender parts of the chicken literally melt in your mouth, and even areas with dense meat that are usually quite dry and tasteless – are moist and flavorful, a product of skillful marination and slow roasting over charcoal. The sweet stickiness of the orange sauce runs down your face and coats your fingers, then is burned off by the fiery following of the Hoisin. Paradise.
Appetites sated, we spent the remainder of the day and a good part of the night, as well, at the beach. Going to the beach consisted of leaving the hotel, passing by the outdoor bar (the Bob Marley Bar, complete with scanned and enlarged Legend cd jacket on the signpost), and crossing to the other side of the street. Outdoor foodstands lined the road on the other side, and we dealt with the one directly opposite our hotel. We ordered drinks and used their beach chairs, and the proprietor’s little sister, a girl of about 11 or 12, took an instant liking to Nam. There was something instantly likeable about this girl, who told us her name was Magnum, but didn’t really explain the reason behind it (I strongly suspected her dad was some kind of asshole, as opposed to a harmless Clint Eastwood fan).
She was like, Nature Girl, and she had befriended a pack of stray dogs who patrolled the area, and knew every little fact about her surroundings there was to know – Nam was really tripped out anytime she started chatting about this and that, like what creature had dug this little hole in the sand, and when the rising tide would cover those rocks, and what constellation that one is, and….. Sometime after it got dark and I had tired of swimming in the surprisingly warm yet refreshing ocean, I collapsed out on the beach and fell asleep.
I awoke to a sky full of stars, and an earful of water since the tide had come up. Nam, practicing for future roles as professor and mother, was sitting in the sand close by and asking Magnum about her life, her future, her dreams. In answer, the little girl pointed at the long streak of a shooting star…

Dumb? Retarded? You, too, can become an Immigration Officer!

I picked up Nam at Kansai Airport after work on Friday and she told me of her plight coming through immigration. Apparently trying to crack down on the number of overseas students completing doctoral studies at Japanese universities, Immigration decided to single her out for questioning.
Considering the number of drug smugglers and Thai nationals about to enter Japan as sex slaves on tourist visas, on the same flight, it is remarkable that Immigration can single out one of the few with legit credentials, like Nam.
Even more amazing is the intelligence of the questions asked:

Immigration Officer (leafing though Nam’s passport): I see that your student visa has expired…
Nam: Yeah, you see, they stamp “EXPIRED” on the old one when you renew it. The current one is on the next page.
Immigration Officer: Oh.


Immigration Officer (noticing that Nam lived in Nara prefecture last year, as evidenced by her student ID): So, is Osaka University located in Nara?
Nam: Uh, no. Osaka University is located in Osaka.
Immigration Officer: Oh. OK, you’re free to go.

I don’t know about you, but I:
A. Feel safer already, and
B. Am sure happy to see my tax yennage being spent to keep geographically-challenged fucktards employed by the government instead of, say, McDonalds, where they might screw up my order of large fries and a shake.