Tuesday, September 27, 2005

When it rains, it pours...

Back at work this week, I am finally, after several months of not being, busy. Meetings, presentations created, phone calls made, people and projects tracked, all kinds of things.
And, with that as the background, the situation outside of my current position, vis a vis employement, is beginning to heat up: I previously mentioned speaking to two different people at my friend's company about a position, and now I also have an internal possibility in the U.K., and another request to come in for an interview with a large U.S. web merchant, based here in Japan. Interestingly, none of these things were solicited in any way, shape, or form. This is cool!
Also cool was how I spent yesterday: Working in one of my company's shops. It was called 'meet the customer', and I met not only one, but a whole bunch of them. The shop was in Roppongi, so about half the customers were non-Japanese. I sold some of our products, and felt like I contributed something to our important company goals, which is a good feeling. I.T. is sometimes a little too abstract, and it is a really great feeling to get to meet the people who we need to please in order to be successful. I would actually like to spend a few months doing that, not just a day.
My whirlwind tour of Monday culminated with a too-short trip to the gym, in which I did 21 sets of weight training in 30 minutes. It's gotta be a record.
And I realised tonight on the train home that the report that my boss will be taking into the GM meeting at 9:30 am is missing some data, so I actually need to get in there and make sure I get her the right one. (hint-that means I need to go to sleep right now in order to wake up on time)

Friday, September 23, 2005

The man of leisure...

...would be me, and so full of leisure am I that I haven't posted for five days! Shame!
In my abundance of leisure time, provided by national holidays this Monday and Friday, and paid holidays in-between, I have done the following:
  • Watched lots of DVDs of films captured by my TiVo-like device (which has a built-in DVD burner). I collected over 100 from NHK BS1 (no, not that sort of BS--it stands for 'Broadcast Satellite'), but had watched very few of them. My picks? There's Only One Jimmy Grimble, and The Wedding Singer. I am conflicted about Lulu on the Bridge: I like Paul Auster's work generally, and that includes this film, but think it was a somewhat amateurish effort by someone who has not mastered the medium. That having been said, the texture, the music, and the acting were excellent. I still want to know why an entire one minute of the film was dedicated to Celia unwrapping a CD.
  • Saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with my son. Great flick! My kid was weirdly uncommunicative for a couple of days, I think owing to the effects of some cough medicine that he was taking, but he was watching, and as soon as he was off the cough medicine he wanted to talk all about it, and to know what the English word 'violet' meant.
  • Worked out. I joined a gym located in front of Utsunomiya station, and have been working out on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. My membership is a night-time membership that only allows me to use the facilities on weekdays between 8 pm and 11 pm. That is inconvenient for a man of leisure, especially on holidays, so I am considering changing my membership type. In the mean-time, I have been there three days straight, since I couldn't go in on Monday or tomorrow, Friday.
  • Planted Kentucky bluegrass. Actually, bought it, too: I was in Joyful Honda, probably the greatest home center anywhere, and I was looking at lawn care supplies, and there was a video going, and on the video they showed how to plant a lawn. They showed rolled sod, which I have been looking for, and kindly told me that it was available from Nasu Nursery, which is about 60 km north of here. So, today I drove up there, and picked up my sod. They had just cut it, and I picked it up in the middle of the field. Very fresh. I planted half the lawn, and will finish up tomorrow.
  • Created a new resume, at the request of a friend of mine who is trying to recruit me into the company he works for. Ironically, after we had finished drinking last Friday, we met the guy who hired him into the company. I spoke to him after my friend had taken his train, which was going the opposite direction. He called me yesterday, and wanted to talk to me about job possibilities at the company. So, I have two different people from the same company trying to get to me. A reasonably happy situation, since it is a very well-known and reputable company with lots of opportunity.
That's about it. Not much to tell.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Queen's Classroom...

Japanese television is in general an even worse wasteland than television in many parts of the world. The variety shows seem to dominate, with very little differentiating one from another. Japanese television in general does not have any long-run dramas and very few comedies, short or long-run. Most dramas last less than a year, even highly rated ones.
A fairly unusual show has been airing for about 6 months now, called JoOu No Kyoushitsu, which translates to Queen's Classroom. The drama stars Amami Yuki as Maya Akutsu, a sixth-grade homeroom teacher in a primary school. And it attacks just about every problem that the writers had with the current state of Japanese education. I don't know that I agree with the analysis of what all of those problems are 100%, but I respect the hell out of the producers and writers for coming up with a really gutsy effort to address some real issues in an entertaining way. The show, unusual for a drama, aired on Saturday night, which allowed parents and kids to watch the show together. It has had good ratings, but sponsors are apparently loathe to be associated with the program.
Maya, not Maya-san, is what the students call their teacher, and this absence of an honorific is indicative of the ambivalence with which they hold her--calling someone by their first name is a casual thing in Japan, especially towards a teacher, and calling her that without an honorific is worse. Of course, they don't call her that to her face. Her demeanor is what gives the show it's name: That of a queen. She challenges students by saying incredibly arrogant things like "only three out the forty of you will be successes in life," pointing to real statistics that show that is the number who end up in first-class schools and first-class companies. At first we don't know that this is a stretegic way to get the kids to open their eyes, it is just her being a bitch. As it goes on, we see the method in her adopted personae. For there is more than one: The queen, the bully, the guardian angel, the devil. The above photo asks the question well, which is she an angel or a devil. She is good at everything, from dancing, singing, fighting, drawing, whatever. One of the hallmarks of her queen persona is what she says--"Iikagen ni mezamenasai", which I would translate as "open your eyes to mediocrity", but which might also legitimately be translated as "stop being so stupid." It is said in an extremely haughty and arrogant way that is hard to love. And yet love is what we, and Kanda, finally have for her.
Tonight's special last episode lasted for 90 minutes, was where we discovered this, and from my point of view, the weakest episode in the series in some ways, owing to it's overly sentimental parting of students and teachers at graduation time. It was, however, very necessary, and even in it's formulaic sappiness was able to make a point that needs to get made.
It is hard to explain the whole series in one posting, and I hope for any of you that are interested in Japan, that it gets subtitled and shown outside of Japan. You might try this site, as I heard rumours that from here you might find independently subtitled versions on Bit Torrent.
Some of the topics covered during the run of the program were:
  • Bullying. This theme actually came up in different forms in different episodes, but Maya makes it clear that it is up to both the person being bullied to stand up for themselves, and for those people around to stand with them. It is not her role as a teacher, she seems to be clearly saying, to save anyone. That is up to the students to do for themselves (though actually she does save them).
  • Forgiveness. Even after being bullied, the main female student character, Kanda, forgives her tormenters. And she convinces other students to forgive a girl who stole from a classmate.
  • Setting an example. One of the other female teachers tries too hard to be friends with all of the students, forgetting what her role was--a teacher--and making her less effective.
  • Excellence. Maya stands for nothing less than perfection when students train to do something. Interestingly, she also teaches the lesson that it is up to those who are better at something to help those who aren't as good, through encouragement, teaching, or whatever. Excellence is not about someone else's standard, but about everyone working together to be as good as they possibly can.
  • Consistency. Even at the sappy ending, Maya could only say 'cut out your nonsense blubbering.' For her to have broken down and joined the students in their crying would not have been consistent. Students need to have teachers who don't get caught up in the moment, but who are consistent. They learned to trust Maya because she was totally consistent.
As a former junior high school teacher here in Japan, I can say that it is a mess. The way that teachers are trained, mentored, evaluated, promoted, and paid is a farce. The way that those teachers then teach, mentor, caution, scold, dicipline, coach, console, and prod is, as one would expect, also a mess. The public education system is definitely broken in some fundamental ways. I have a world of frustration that built up in my few years in that system, and some hurt to go with that.
This show made a strong statement, which is heard because of the medium--a fairly entertaining TV drama--in a way that I couldn't, especially as an outsider. This is important stuff, and I hope that this drama gets people talking, as it has, I believe.
I will end with my own observation, one that I made several times in my career as a teacher, both of junior high students, trade school students, and university students: With no possibility of failure, there is no possible way to measure and reward success. Students are not allowed to fail tests. If they get 0 points, that is just a hiccup. Because of the risk-averse, failure-averse, nature of the Japanese society that I have previously mentioned, they take great care to prevent their young from ever experiencing risk or failure, for fear that it would scar them, or brand them as failures. What this drama pointed out is that it is necessary to accept and learn from failure. Pretending that it isn't failure is not only not helpful, it precludes those kids from being real successes.
I hope there are more shows like this, as it made for some enjoyable and important conversations in our family.

Monday, September 12, 2005

T-shirt English

One of the things that visitors to Tokyo laugh themselves silly about are some of the English that appears on t-shirts in Tokyo. As a high school student here in 1984 on a short 3-week trip, I recall a young woman in Asakusa wearing a white t-shirt, apparently oblivious, that said in huge letters "Fuck Me!" A horny (read 'male') 16 year-old, I would have been more than happy to take her up on the invitation, which was, however, apparently made unknowingly. This was a case where the English was actually correct, which is definitely not the norm for t-shirt English.
There are various theories on the origin of some of these t-shirts, but my favorite is the secret English conspiracy one: Such blatantly cynical t-shirts were actually designed by jaded native speakers, sick of the idiocy of their companies, and of the idiocy of consumers who actually purchased such inane products. There might even be money paid to them by the English school owners, who have a stake in furthering the poor English so prevalent here.
On the Marunouchi subway line this morning, I stood strap-hanging next to a guy with a t-shirt, yellow letters on a green shirt, which said "Advanced corn grown to order". He also wore a meshball cap with a foam front that would not have been out of place on a mid-western farmer, probably driving a John-Deere tractor. I was impressed with the consistency of the look: Inane English and his cap were certainly a set.
This evening, in Tokyo station, I spotted a t-shirt on a young woman that read: "Fuck juice gotten on this side". Hmm...I don't know exactly what the cynical native was thinking on this one...I think they must be working in groups, and that they are actually inside jokes for a group of sick minds.
When I become the jaded, bitter company employee that last week's fun leads me to fear, at least I know where I can turn for a second (third?) career...

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Movie Review: Fight Club...Six Years On

When it came out in 1999, Fight Club was a weird kind of cult hit, making far more money in DVD sales than it probably ever did at the box office. It was one of those guy films that struck a chord in 20-40 year old males. I didn't see it until a couple of years after it came out, and I think I was drunk at the time, because I didn't get it's central premise, that the film's main character, Tyler Durden, has a split personality.
It was on one of the free movie channels tonight, and even though I had one beer, I was hardly drunk, and I did get it this time. And I finally understood why guys of my Gen X age group, with their insecurities, their fears, and their hemmed in feeling, really liked the film. It really wasn't about fighting, except the metaphorical conflict that takes place in ourselves, and the equally metaphoric desire to destroy that which we identify as keeping us from being truly free. I say metaphorical, because there are a very few number of Gen Xers who blow up credit card companies.
Which brings me to my other observation of the film, which is that it couldn't be made now. Terrorism as a metaphor for rebellion no longer works in the same way as it did in 1999. A line in the film from Tyler--"This is it - ground zero. Would you like to say a few words to mark the occasion?"--just doesn't work for people now. The glib destruction of the current world order to allow everyone to start back at zero has consequences. In the film, the split-personality alter-ego Tyler says that "you have to break some eggs to make an omlette." These words are eerily reminiscent of some of the things Osama bin Laden said.
Seeing this film, I was reminded of the pre-9/11 innocence that allowed slacking Gen Xers to ponder the metaphysical in terms of revolution and violence. It is a great film, no doubt about it, thought provoking, with great acting, and an intelligent script that only becomes more interesting the more you watch it.
Four smilies for this winner. ☻☻☻☻☺

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Low Moral Character

I sat in my bosses place today for the General Managers meeting of the IT division. Our CIO always has some whoppers, at least at this one, and the last one I attended in my bosses place. At that one, he said that employees who were five minutes early leaving for lunch should be fired, for having low morals. He has, it should be noted, also unilaterally decided that flex time doesn't apply to IT, (who is he kidding? IT is who flex time was meant for!) and that those who used it at their own discretion should also be fired.
Today it was concerning working from home. The discussion was around encrypting employee PCs, and he brought up the example of an employee who worked from home and (shame!) dared to declare it on his time sheet. He used the phrase 'low moral character,' for that behavior. Telecommuting, it should be noted, is a behavior that our company is attempting to encourage in our customers. As my direct boss always says, we need to eat our own dog food.
I should note that I occasionally take off early for lunch--it is the only way to get a seat in either of the decent restaurants in our building--and I have, twice in the last 2 1/2 years, worked from home and declared it on my timesheet. I and my boss agreed that my starting time would be 10 at latest, because dealing with Europe leaves a very narrow window if I worked 9 to 6, the 'moral' work hours. The fact that I commute 1 1/2 hours each way every day, and often work on the train notwithstanding, it seems odd as a manager, who doesn't get paid overtime, that I would even think about needing to justify my working hours. I always put in an 8+ hour day at the office, generally logging between 9 and 10 hours, and on a project sometimes as many as 18 hours, for several weeks at a time.
I bit my tongue at the comment, but this sort of BS thinking does wear one down. I generally like and respect the CIO, but in some ways he is bass ackwards.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Hiding the Vision

I wrote a book a few years ago, directly related to DoCoMo, the largest mobile phone company in the country. I remember calling their PR office to request help in getting interviews with the people who could best answer my questions. I had a publishing contract in-hand at the time, so it was a pretty-near certainty that the book was going to get written with or without their help. It turns out that it was written without their help. It was a lot more work for me to do it that way, but I didn't have any other choice: I had a book to write, and only three months to do it. I simply didn't have time for them to sort out their BS issues.
Fast forward to the present. We received an internal memo yesterday from our head of corporate communications, saying that there had been a leak to the media, and, it was strongly implied, whoever was responsible would be punished. Fine. Whatever. The irony, though, is that what was leaked was a clear, numeric, vision expressed by the president of the company, of where he thinks we should be headed. In the same way that the head of the Japan Football League set out a vision of Japan hosting the 2050 World Cup and winning it, this vision was clear, unambiguous, and, with a helluva lot of work, achievable.
The PR head's issue seems to be the leak, but that is absolutely insane: How are you supposed to have a vision if you cannot share it? The president must have known, should have known, that if people got really excited about what he was talking about, that they would share that with their spouses or talk about it with their co-workers. The news organisation that reported on this has their offices just up the street from us. In fact, on the same day that the story was reported last week, I bumped into a former colleague who now works in the IT department of this news organisation at the tonkatsu restaurant in our building. I also bumped into him on the train on the way over to the place where the president originally announced his vision. Add that proximity to people talking, like the visiting global IT chief, who mentioned the vision in a speech he gave, and to e-mails addressed to employees and non-employee (contractors) that make reference to it, and I don't see how you can keep this secret. Going on a witch hunt for the person responsible for the leak is probably a waste of energy.
But it highlights something that I really noticed about DoCoMo, too, when I was writing the book: Good communications and PR people would be wise to adopt the attitude of a very good friend, and the HR director at my last company: "Anything you write, you should do it as though everyone will read it. Maker sure that you won't be sorry when they do." That includes e-mails, blog posts, stories, and yes, even statements of vision. If you assume, correctly, that anything that is known by more than 10 people in the company is therefore public information, the trick then becomes to manage the communication of that information in the most advantageous way for the company. 'No comment,' and threats to employees simply means that you screwed up on that job.
I remember, writing my book, when the vice president of a company with close connections to DoCoMo, and who was acting as the technical editor, just about blew a fuse because of some technical information about NTT DoCoMo's network architecture that I had included. "Where did you get this information," he demanded, "this is covered by an NDA." Actually, I had gotten it off of their R&D web site, and didn't have and NDA with DoCoMo, one of the bright spots about them not giving me the time of day. This guy was so concerned that I was somehow illicitly using information, that he quit as technical editor, and I ended up with a somewhat silly French guy who didn't know much about the technical aspects, or about editing. c'est la vie. I had a book to write, and information to find.
I finished the book with my opinion of DoCoMo somewhat less than when I started, and that was reflected in the book. DoCoMo's PR department, and the paranoia that their corporate culture engendered in both their own people and their vendors hurt them. I have to be honest about that: I was under incredible pressure, internal and external, to finish the book on the schedule that we had set. I did. But when you work from 8 am to 10 pm every day, without break, through 9/11, through weekends, through everything, George Bush's phrase "if you aren't with me, you are against me," holds especially true. And DoCoMo was against me. Certainly it was passive, but by not giving even a minimal amount of help they impeded me. Having people know and admire their wonderful technology, a seemingly desirable thing to a company looking to achieve a worldwide customer base, did not happen nearly as effectively as if they had provided me the information I needed.
The reporter who wrote the story, my guess is, is a female reporter whose coverage in the past has hardly been flattering. This was actually our chance to talk about our vision, on our terms, and possibly get positive PR for a change. Instead, the vision was hidden, and when inevitably revealed, framed in someone else's words. A shame, and a missed opportunity.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Katrina vs. 11

I mentioned the typhoon that hit the main island of Japan about 10 days ago, typhoon number 11. I think that it might be interesting to compare how disasters are dealt with in Japan and the U.S. I will admit that until last week my money was fully on the ability of the U.S. to deal with disasters. The shameful, slow, un-coordinated, and fully inadequate response to the Hanshin Earthquake in Kobe, where thousands died in the earthquake, and at least hundreds died afterwards because of the poor response, made me happy to be from a country where they took things a little more seriously. Even in 9/11, horrific though it was, both citizens and emergency workers from a variety of organisations worked together in a way that made me proud.
First off--The preparations made beforehand:
In Japan, way more money than it seems prudent to spend is spent on fortifying the coastline with large concrete jacks called tetrapods, which mean that when a storm hits it is rarely slamming directly into houses or communities. Even if a ship is unlucky and gets thrown into the air and inland, it probably won't kill anyone (except perhaps any poor sailor who happens to be on it). I have, in the past, commented to friends that I wondered if there were any part of the Japanese coast line that wasn't fortified in this way. It is not a leisure-friendly approach to use of the coast.
In the U.S., even in places like Florida, you don't tend to see much fortification of coastlines, nor even zoning regulations that prohibit beachfront property from being used residentially. The coastline is obviously quite long, but actually so is the Japanese one. Considering the proclivity of hurricanes to hit Florida, it is surprising that more work is not done there. Louisiana may be another matter, I don't know. There is clear evidence that work on the levees that would have prevented this disaster, however, was neglected.
There are obviously a lot of factors at work, and a direct comparison isn't really possible, but in the case of disaster prevention, I think Japan clearly does a better job.
We next go to the time when people knew that there was a storm coming.
In Japan, for typhoon number 11, for example, there was extensive coverage for the couple of days prior to it hitting, and people were warned to stay indoors. Flood warnings were issued for Kyushu, which tends to flood when typhoons hit. On the day that it hit Tokyo, people were asked to go home early, and most major companies let workers go around two or three, prior to the worst of the storm. The train schedules were disrupted after that, but because the news of when the storm would hit and how strong it was, people had time to prepare, and get home prior to it hitting. Most people don't use cars to commute in Tokyo, and so getting home is not always easy in a disaster.
In New Orleans, from what I understand, there was also prior warning. The problem appears to be that the unexpected--a levee bursting--happened. People were expecting a very bad storm to hit, which it did, though it appears that the worst didn't hit New Orleans directly. While they may have had experience with bad storms, and covered windows with boards, etc., there aren't a lot of people who thought to prepare for a levee breaking. It was not expected. In this way, the storm actually served to take peoples attention from the much quieter, but as it turns out much more lethal, danger of flooding. Why FEMA would have been fooled is another question.
Again, the circumstances are not really comparable. But it should be noted that flood warnings were issued, along with specific instructions on what to do, in Japan. In New Orleans there wasn't someone, it seems, putting two and two together and saying to people that there was this other danger besides being blown away. I don't know who this should have been, but that fact alone means that I have to score this one for Japan.
During the onslaught of the disaster. People were given warnings in both places to get out of those places expected to most be affected. In the case of typhoon 11, this was Izu, and in the case of Katrina the gulf coast. The ability of people to do that turns out to have been a major factor in the real devastation Katrina wrought: New Orleans has a lot of people, many black, living at poverty level, and without a lot of means to pick up and go. Japan does not have a large poverty problem. There is a problem, however with an aging population, and older folks have a harder time getting up and going. In Japan almost everyone knows exactly where they should go in case of an emergency. Mostly it is elementary schools, though in my neighbourhood we are asked to stay in our own homes. So, in Izu many older folks made their way to the local elementary school. The resident of New Orleans didn't apparently have any sort of disaster plans or instructions on where they needed to go. I think I need to score this one, too, for Japan.
Then there is the emergency response:
In Japan there are unlikely to be rumours of gunfire and lawlessness that prevent rescue workers, who may fear for their lives, to go quickly to areas where they are needed. Sure, in the Kobe earthquake the response was far from adequate. The situation, however, even in the city with the highest concentration of yakuza gang members, did not devolve into lawlessness: People had enough faith in their leaders ability to pull through before it was too late, and did not, for the most part, take the law into their own hands, or panic. I would say that you saw this in New York after 9/11, too. You did not see this in New Orleans last week. I don't know that this is an issue of disaster relief so much as the poverty of the people hardest hit, and the level of trust they put in their leaders. As the week wore on, it was clear why that trust was at such a low level: A callous disregard for the poor was nothing if not self-evident. Nearby and wealthy Jefferson parish refused to act as a staging area for evacuation and relief efforts. The classist, racist, when-are-you-ever-going-to-learn-to-live-together-South. Shame! Hotel guests were evacuated quickly by bus, while those too poor to have their own transportation, or whose transportation was underwater, were left to sit on a highway for 4 days. Shame!
Though much more could have been done leading up to the disaster, none of that is any guarantee the severity of the disaster would not have been just as bad as it was. But once that disaster hit, the inability of government and the community to work together in a trusting way to attempt to meet the needs of all residents is apalling. The continuing failure of government to do it's job is criminal.
Maureen Dowd has a good opinion piece in today's New York Times. I think that she is right on.
No matter how much I might bitch about Japan, I trust the government to do whatever it can in a disaster. It is a horrible thing to not be able to say the same about the U.S., but that is what one takes away from the experience of Katrina: If you live in the right place, you will be o.k., but if you don't, well, sorry, that's your problem. When people are suffering, it is all of our problem. Please think about contributing to the Red Cross.

Book Review: Ten Big Ones

I was in Tokyo station on Tuesday, flush with a little cash in my pocket, and wanted something to read. I stopped in at the Book Garden, which is right in the station. Their selection sucks! Unlike the book store in the Kamiyacho station, this one had only one spinning rack, and most of the books on it were 1.) Harry Potter, which I have read all of already; or 2.) Books about Japan and why things are the way they are here. I don't need books for that. At the very bottom of the rack, which I had to bend over and stick my big butt into someone to actually get at, was a book by Janet Evanovich called Ten Big Ones. It was, no doubt about it, the only real choice I had, and probably wouldn't have been my first choice. I am not that picky, though, and just wanted something to read that entertained me. Ten Big Ones certainly did that.
I have never heard of Ms. Evanovich, but she is apparently writing bestsellers at a fair clip. This book is in the Stephanie Plumb series, and the number in the title is an indicator that it is the tenth in the series. Each book title contains it's number in the series.
Stephanie Plumb is a bond enforcement agent (BEA), otherwise known as a bounty hunter. She is a smartass from Trenton, New Joisey, and tells the story in first-person, New Jersey accent and all coming through on the page. The book is half comic and half crime novel, and thoroughly entertaining. In many ways the female protagonist's fairly funny exploits, remind me of a sort of Bridget Jones character: She is able to make fun of herself, clearly define wants and needs, and tell the story in a way that let's us laugh both with her and at her. The originality of the voice that Helen Fielding brought to Bridget Jones derives at least partially from the novelty of female characters talking without inhibition about sex, food, and men. While the novelty may have worn off, Evanovich still makes it funny.
The other thing about this novel is the characters: The transvestite bus driver cum wedding planner; the sassy grandmother who is like a little kid the way that she tags along and picks up lingo that she then dishes out only partially correctly; the former 'ho' sidekick to Stephanie who carries a gun but disables two bad guys by sitting on them; and a host of characters who Stephanie comes into contact with as she picks people up who missed court dates and need to be 're-bonded'.
It is true, as one reader commented on amazon.com, that the bad guys arn't as well defined as characters. In one way this helps blunt the impact of when the bus driver runs over a bunch of them and then uses his Uzi to gun down a whole host more: There is no one that you care about or even really understand as a character well enough to be sorry in the least. But this is forgiveable for a book written in first person: We end up caring about the people that the narrator cares about, and not so much about a bunch of drug-dealing gang members who plan to first gang-rape her and then murder her.
I thoroughly enjoyed the telling of the story and the characters, and would probably have been reasonably happy to have read it for those two things alone. And that is good: The plot was reasonably thin, and really had only one conclusion if Stephanie Plumb were to stay in Trenton and continue on to book 12. In this, too, this book reminds me slightly of Bridget Jones: Do you remember the plot? I don't, but I do remember the characters. There definitely is a plot, it is just not what keeps you reading: That is achieved by the pure entertainment value of the telling of the story and of the descriptions of the characters.
I give this book three smilies. It is entertaining, and worth reading if you want to be entertained. It is not great literature nor is it a particularly finely-honed piece of narrative fiction. There are flaws in the character development and in the plot. It is definitely not at the bottom of my list of books I would reccomend, somewhere closer to the middle. ☻☻☻☺☺

Friday, September 02, 2005

Company Man

Today on the shinkansen home, I started, with the help of someone who annoyed me considerably, to think about life, work, and loyalty. This annoying person was a 45-55 year old man. He got on the train, dragging about three bags, none actually held in the way they were meant, this guy sort of dragging them on the floor. He got on just as the train left, so, ok, I thought, he had maybe been in a rush. He then spent all the way to Omiya--about 18 minutes--fussing with his damned bags, putting them on the luggage rack, and then taking them down and messing with them, and then putting them back, on and on, all the while standing in the aisle and not sitting down, which I realised is rather annoying to those around the person doing this. He, unfortunately, did not seem to realise this.
I had passed the same guy on the escalator, because he was so damned slow. He was still, even after getting on the train, exactly that slow. I noticed that his hands shook slightly, and that he had frizzy hair sticking out from his normal salaryman hairstyle, indicating that he might have been through chemo therapy or something, which made me feel slightly guilty about my annoyance: I was just being petty. He finally sat down.
About 15 minutes later, as a conductor was passing through the carriage, the geezer flagged him. I couldn't hear what was being said, except that the geezer stood up and rushed to the end of the car, while the conductor stood in front of his seat, glancing every 30 seconds at his watch, and looking annoyed. I was annoyed just looking at the conductor.
When the geezer came back, he said "thanks alot. I used to be a kokutetsu man myself, for 20-odd years," and then went on to have a whispered conversation with the conductor, who looked happy to move on.
And I thought to myself, 'aha! A kokutetsu man! That explains it!' Explains what, you may ask, and I will explain precisely what it did explain: This relatively (45-55 year-old) youn man acted like he was 90; he was obviously coherent, saying some apologies to the over whose head he kept putting up and taking down his bag; and he was grey and his spirit apparently dead. Add that to the eccentricity of not trusting the guy in the seat next to him to watch his bag (or actively distrusting him enough to ask the conductor to watch his bags), and you have a kokutetsu man through and through. They are a bunch of intelligent people working at a mind-numbing bureaucracy, whose lives revolve around rules. They are salarymen.
Salaryman. A self defined by one's earning power. Horrible.
Today I got into it again with one of my least favorite people in the company. He started it, sending a mail to me and everyone else in his own department including his boss, that had an offensive tone and content.
One of the things he complained about was that I hadn't shown him a pamphlet that I had had translated and which involved his department. I had tried to meet him two or three times, and he had blown me off, and since his input was not required, I said to myself 'whatever--if he wants to blow me off, fine.' To tell the truth I hate the man. I used to think that I just didn't like him, or that we were different and there was something I just wasn't getting.
I went to his desk to apologise for any misunderstanding--I still need to work with him after all--and give him copies of the pamphlets. I had a couple of other things I needed to speak to him about, and addressed those things, and went back to my desk. About 30 minutes later, he came to my desk and threw pamphlets on my desk, and said 'what do I need these for.'
I was flustered, and stuttered a bit in Japanese, and said 'you said in your e-mail that your people hadn't heard of some of the applications in the pamphlets, so I..."
"I don't understand what you are saying, is that supposed to be Japanese," he said, turning his back on me.
Luckily my co-worker who sits next to me rescued the situation, since it would have definitely devolved. After talking to me through her for 10 minutes or so, he comes out with 'I don't need the pamphlets, I already received them before.' As*hole! Bakayaro!
I sat there, though, a plastic smile on my face, and nodded, thinking to myself I wish you a slow and painful death, but revealing nothing in my face. This is the Japanese way. It is also, one should note, the Japanese way to blow up occasionally, and if I have to deal with this joker again, it will definitely happen. I hate to deal with this guy so much, and I hate dealing with one of his subordinates even more, so that I avoid them when possible. This avoidance makes me feel weak, and when I do go to him, he somehow manages to render me invisible, small. This total lack of respect--turning his back on me--is the thing that really gets me about both him and his rabid subordinate. Sure, there is history. No doubt. Sure, there have been problems. But I have never gone out of my way to hurt him or her.
Sitting on the shinkansen tonight, at the end of a long day, when I did some really good work, but also felt the full might of a frustration and an anger building in me, I wondered to myself what I would be after 20 years. Would I be like the man annoying me so much, feeble, grey, slow, all the life sucked out of him by who knows what job? Would I be a beaten man? I am getting there. If I had seen him on the train tonight, my rage would have pushed me almost to the point of garroting him. But what about in five years? Will I just be a maké inu, a beaten dog? What about in 20 years? Like the annoying geezer?
This is, as my wife tells me after one of these days, and which is very little comfort, the life of a company man...