Thursday, March 28, 2013

spring party cum birthday celebration

I had in mind to invite the ladies on our team over for a little housewarming party. My place is so tiny I have to be mindful not only what furniture I buy, but also the number of people who can visit me.

The initial idea was mooted sometime last year when I had gotten most of the basic furniture. Still, I felt relieved a suitable schedule could not be fixed - I still didn't have a proper table for eating, and had my stacks of boxes taking up space.

So we postponed it to this year, with the tentative date early March. I had quietly hoped they would forget about it, because I still did not have my coffee table, and the boxes are still there. With all the travels, I did not have the time to catch up with these.

In the end, I decided to organise it anyway. I called it my belated housewarming, beginning of spring, and birthday party, all rolled into one!

I decided to introduce some Malaysian dishes. Made this Nyonya vegetarian curry, which turned out surprisingly nice! My first time making it, so was pleased with it. Well, not too difficult I suppose with the instant mix - just need to add the ladies fingers, brinjal, tomato, cabbage, fried bean curd and potatoes.

I also made my specialty grilled chicken wings with the oven (forgot to take picture!), and also some bulls-eye with soy sauce onion gravy. It doesn't look quite like the one I usually eat back in Malaysia, but no one will know anyway >.<

They presented me a bouquet of flowers! How lovely, they thought I love colours, so chose something really bright and cheery. I still have it on my study table, though most have wilted. The carnations surprisingly have lasted well after 3 weeks! The first week was pleasant as I came home to a naturally scented room.

They also bought a birthday cake - really delicious. Was layered with plenty of cocoa powder that we ended up coughing with the first few bites!

Since I didn't have a table, they were okay with eating on the floor. We called it Japanese style! I said it's like having an indoor picnic. We ate these with rice, salad and some naan too. I'm glad they enjoyed the food.

Some gifts - Waka said she was having too much fun shopping for various little gifts for me. It's interesting what people think you like just by observing you - and they express that through gifts.

The Japanese usually start a meal/party with drinks. And I meant the alcoholic kind. We finished the white and cherry blossom even before the dinner. The pink one had real cherry blossoms floating in it - I got to eat both of them! They got me the Tiger beer, thinking I must be missing something close to home >.<

I have yet to drink it - I don't even have a bottle opener!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

unbelievable nippon p3

The Japanese are known to be sensitive to the needs of others, and to put group harmony above everything else. They go to great lengths to please the customer.

It is common to see in (the nicer) restaurants, baskets at the side, for customers to put their bags. This will never work in Malaysia because it's like an invitation for thieves to help themselves to your personal belongings.

However, because most Japanese do not have cars, and travel around on public transportation, many times they have to carry all their belongings with them. So it's a great relief to have these baskets since you can't hold everything on your lap, or on the table.

This underground restaurant that I have been visiting even have a linen storage holder beneath the chairs for additional space.

These are some of the things that give you a pleasant experience. You'd be most inclined to think that with all these cute convenient things, they would be creative people too.

So I was a little taken aback to find that it is not the case in traditional Japanese environment.

I was still working at the corridor after the conference call with Australia had ended. Since I had my earphones on, I decided to turn on some jazz music. There's something about Parisian cafe jazz where words don't matter, the music itself helps to drown out the chatter in the office, and allows you to focus on your work.

When one of my colleagues came out, saw me on earphones, asked if he was interrupting me. I told him it was okay, it was just music. He was so surprised that he asked if I was not working. I bet he must have thought I purposely went out to the corridor to listen to music.

I still can't believe I had to explain to him that I was listening to music while working. In his broken English, he continued expressing his surprise. In my broken Japanese, I asked him what was wrong with listening to music while working.

This went on back and forth for awhile with our broken languages not too different from chicken-and-duck talk, until another colleague dropped by. She was also surprised at first, but when hearing me explain that music helped me concentrate better, eventually agreed with me. She then started questioning the reason why I should not listen to music while at work.

In the end, she was on "my side". And still, I find it unbelievable that this concept of listening to music while working seems so alien.

I had to refrain myself from asking them if there was a policy on listening to music at work! Now, that is not a route I have time to go down to. I already have a list of reasons why I have a right to listen to music while at work (I'm not disturbing anyone, I'm still responsive to emails and anyone who would like to chat with me, I'm still able to produce work, and be more productive, etc, etc, etc...)

I hope I don't get a heart attack one of these days...

Maybe I just need to look at more Hello Kitty and the stress would go away...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

unbelievable nippon p2

Last Monday, I had decided to go into the office a bit later. The previous week had been really intense for the team with long discussions and workshops that went over the initial schedule. Needless to say, it had been a mentally, physically and a rather emotionally tiring week. Lots of effort had been put into the project, and last week was one milestone we were able to go through.

Even the weekend was not enough to recuperate. So it was with much hesitance that I woke up Monday morning. I had in mind to run some errands too, plus there were a few late evening calls I had to take. So it made sense to go in a bit later.

In principal I had already gotten approval from my boss about me managing my own working hours. Dealing with various regions concurrently means we'd have 7am calls with US, 11pm calls with the UK and many others in between.

I don't think the rest of the IT dept is aware what kind of work we do, so they tend to be surprised when I go in late. They are so punctual that most come in before 9am. On the days when I have my early morning calls or the night before for late night calls, I would go in a bit later.

However, because Kansai people are more straightforward with their comments compared to Tokyo-ites, I have managed to get some direct feedback more easily here. Like when I came in during lunch time Monday, one of the IT managers asked if I was late.

I had to explain to him about the work I did, and the hours it entailed. Now, I personally don't think I need to explain my flexi working hours to everyone who gives me a look for coming "late", or even making a comment about my "tardiness".

In Malaysia, people would think that you're trying to boast about your work, but here, there is a common perception that work starts and ends at a certain time, and you are supposed to be where you are for work. which is your designated seating place.

If flexi hours are alien to them, imagine the work-from-home concept. No wonder I'm taking more tea these days. This pack of calming tea from Ms Barbie has been most helpful on occasions like this!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

unbelievable nippon p1

There are many cute things in Japan that foreigners fall in love with, and are the reason why they want to visit this country. One of them is Hello Kitty, the mouthless cat with a big bow pinned on her left ear. Everything can be made cute, like this pack of tissue paper given out free to pedestrians.

Anything that can be made cute and adorable, will be made cute and adorable in Japan. Even serious matters like bank account books and ATM cards and seemingly fleeting items such as toilet paper.

Those who have lived here as a non-tourist will tell you there's the other side of the country that not many foreigners know. They might have read it in forwarded emails, and laugh about it. But those who can truly nod their heads in empathy are those who have experienced it themselves.

One of my first "heart attack" experience happened sometime last year. I had long known that Japanese prefer to use a scheduler to record their appointments. It's something they carry in their bags, and refer to all the time. These come in all designs and cuteness that most Japanese grrls have one, Japanese men would have the men version, not cute but functions the same.

I would have expected them to use the Office calendar for work purposes, or in our case the Lotus Notes Calendar. To cut the long story short, I was trying to help organise a week of workshops for the Japan team, and had reminded the organiser to send everyone meeting invites to book time. I found out that the organiser had sent an Excel table of schedule to everyone in an email, not in individual meeting invites with specific time slots to relevant people.

And this was after I had promised our UK-based vendors that yes, they would get their calendar invites too. Imagine my embarrassment having to explain to them that Japanese would transfer that information from an Excel table to their hand held scheduler (not even PDA/tablet) one by one.

Imagine my frustration when I have to organise meetings with them, and not having visibility of their availability. It's bad enough that Lotus Notes Calendar do not show multiple availability like MS Outlook, now there's no point in even looking at their calendar as there is nothing to look at!

They go around asking each person what their available time slots are. I cannot imagine having to do this with the senior management, nor with large groups of people who are not available in the same location, whatmore in a foreign language.

I'm really glad our CIO who comes from an MNC background has started to implement the calendar meeting invites in the IT dept since he joined the company. Even then, some of the staff here still send out "email invitation", which I have to manually create my own invitation in my own calendar.

Yes, I have lots of self-invited meetings if you care to look at my calendar.

Friday, March 08, 2013

birthday doodle

When i first saw this, I thought Google did a doodle in conjunction with International Women's Day.

So I excitedly share the link with my colleagues, asking them to celebrate Women's Day together. When I opened another browser with the same URL, I was a little puzzled it didn't appear there.

That's when I realised, my Mozilla browser was opened with my Google login, and somehow I had set my birthday in the profile. Upon mouseover only did I realise the doodle was for me. ME! Kinda neat eh?