Wednesday, September 18, 2013

obedience at what cost?

One of the things I like about the Japanese is how "obedient" they are. Not just the very fact that they are obedient, but that their obedience makes this country what it is. People follow the rules, no one gets hurt, everybody lives in peace.

Well that's the general idea, of course there are the rare occurrences of crime or less desirable behaviour. So it's almost always safe, at almost any time of the day (and night), and almost everywhere.

If someone says he will do something, it will be done. If the train schedule states that it will arrive at such a time, it will definitely arrive. People know that certain things will happen because the manual states so. Again, generalisation, but I'd dare say this occurs 90% of the time. Hence, it's a great country to live in because of this.

Dependable, reliable, orderly, neat, safe. 

However, (I think you know I'm coming to this!) there are also some Japanese employees who are almost like robots. They will do what the boss says, and will hardly take any initiative. Again, good and bad. Let me share a little example from a conversation I had with a colleague this evening.

Let's call her E. She's had about 10 years of working experience (therefore, not a freshie), worked in various companies before (quite rare for a typical Japanese), and doesn't mind doing some admin work as part of other duties.

Me : Hey, can you help arrange lunch for the meeting?
E : Lunch? You mean at the cafeteria?
Me : Ya, Boss asked to arrange this for the attendees.
E : Mmm... (seemed to be thinking)
Me : Okay with you? (wondering if she's reluctant)
E : Mmm, what kind of lunch is Boss referring to?
Me : Well, can you find out what options we have?
E : What does Boss want? Just tell me.
Me : (a little stunned, but trying to help her think) Let's see, we can either do the bento set, or...
E : Bento? Hmm... (looks like thinking...)
Me : Ah, I know. You think not everyone will want to eat bento right?
E : Yes, it is set lunch. So it's fixed menu.
Me : Okay, I get it. some people may not like fish, some may not like bento right?
E : Mmm...
Me : (trying not to be impatient) Okay, so if we can't get bento, what other options do we have? Does the cafeteria allow the attendees to take whatever they like, and we charge it to the budget?
E : Is that what Boss wants?
Me : Well, can you try to find out if this option is available?
E : Mmm... but then I have to ask the cafeteria lady about this...
Me : Yes, can you do that?
E : Mmm... if that's what Boss wants, I'll do that.
Me : (sensing a headache coming on...) Look, let me explain where this idea probably came from. When we were at the Europe office, this is what they did for us. When we had the meeting, they gave us these slips of paper that we could use at their cafeteria. We just took whatever we liked, and showed the slip, so that we didn't have to pay for food. Basically they took care of our lunches so we don't have to worry about bringing cash around. Can we do the same here?
E : I know what you mean. Is that what Boss is thinking? I don't want to trouble the cafeteria lady if we're not going with this option.
Me : (trying not to roll eyes) If we want the Boss to make a decision, he needs to know what are the available options right? Not just our Boss, but the Boss' boss, etc. How can they make decisions if they don't know what are the options available to them (can't believe I had to rephrase my sentence).
E : So because of Bosses, we have to trouble the cafeteria lady?
Me : No, that's not what I'm saying. We can ask Boss if he wants to do the bento option, but then he might ask us back if everyone wants to eat the same thing, given there is no option like the cafeteria. Then he might ask us back if there are other options to provide lunch for the attendees. So, instead of going straight with one option, why don't we explore ALL options to save time? So we don't have to go back and forth...
E : Hmm... (still hesitating)
Me : Okay, don't worry about the lunch (headache getting more painful). I'll ask Boss what he wants.
E : No, no, I'm not angry. I'll email him and ask him what he wants.
Me : (I didn't think YOU were angry!) Mmm.. sure...

* The above was not a word-for-word transcript of our conversation; you might start laughing at my dumbed down English.*

Anyways, from my personal experience, this is what I've had to do if given a task that sounds like "arrange lunch" - to take initiative and provide options to enable decision-making. Sometimes the boss would give directions, sometimes not. I guess it's a little different here!

BTW just to clarify a little, Boss is currently overseas, and have left a series of comments on the workshop agenda we're organising. Lunch was the least of my worry, and thought this could be easily done by the designated admin team member. I had to think about presentation content, providing guidance to the Executives for the workshop, and overall objective of the global sessions; hence was flabbergasted I had to have this conversation >.<

Thursday, September 12, 2013

tempura : string mushrooms and green pepper / ししとうとえのき天ぷら

My room still smells oily, and I don't know how long it'll take for it to go away! I knew cooking oily food in a tiny apartment would end up like this, and yet I still went ahead. The cause : some itching for home-made tempura!

I'm really excited as this was my first time making it, and so couldn't wait to post it up.

I've been dreaming about making tempura for a long time. So much so the other night I couldn't sleep; I must've gotten hungry just thinking about food. So I decided to search the internet for recipes that could make good the ingredients I already had.

Note my tiny kitchen with the ingredients :
1) 150ml chilled water (can be water with ice cubes too)
2) 100gm tempura flour
3) pepper/ししとう*, string mushrooms/えのき*, seaweed/のり* (can be lotus root, pumpkin, bitter gourd, fish or eel)

Looks very minimal right?

Add the tempura flour to the chilled water into a bowl and mix it. The mixture doesn't have to be smooth.

Prepare the ingredients : For the pepper, remember to pierce the middle with a toothpick (to release the air when frying?!). I decided to separate the clump of enoki into tiny bunches and wrapped them with seaweed (so that it would hold well when fried).

Get ready the pot filled with oil. I decided to use a pot because it had more depth - hence less oil used. Wait till it reaches about 170-180degC. You can dip a chopstick into the oil; if there are bubbles arising from the base, that should be hot enough.

Cover the ingredients with the tempura mix, and put into the boiling oil - not too many at one time so they don't clump together. Wait for a few minutes until it gets crispy, then take it out and place them on a plate lined with paper towels.

Note that, if the oil is not hot enough, the tempura will end up soft and lumpy. Sufficient heat will ensure a crispy texture.

I like my tempura a little crunchy on the outside, soft in the inside. To preserve the crispness, I recommend sprinkling with flavoured salt (try the yuzu lemon or the ume plum). You can dip into the usual tempura dip/tsuyu too.

Not wanting to waste the remaining oil, I decided to chop some onions and fry them. Now I also have home-made onion oil! It may look a bit dark here; but that's because there's a lot of onions in there! Plus it smelt really good! Can't wait to sprinkle some onto stir-fry vege or mihun soup (^.^)V

* 獅子唐 【ししとう】 (n) green pepper
*えのきたけ; えのきだけ; エノキタケ; エノキダケ 《えのき茸; 榎茸》 (n) (uk) enoki mushroom (long, thin and white); Flammulina velutipes; winter mushroom
*海苔 【のり(gikun)】 (n) nori (edible seaweed, esp. species Porphyra tenera and others of genus Porphyra, usu. dried and pressed into sheets); laver; (P)

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

japan goes live

Today, my boss dropped me some congratulatory messages through BBM after our Japan site went live :

Just wanted to say...
Great job on AJP
This is yours...
End to end
I'm so glad to have you as part of this team
Take a moment to be proud
Then start getting ready for the next goal
Great job Sarah

Being so exhausted after this last phase, I could not feel any happiness at all. To reply diplomatically, I said it was teamwork, and credited good team members. Then he replied :

As I said
Take a moment
I know you're not a proud person
But today, briefly, allow yourself a small indulgence

Another colleague shared a picture she took while on the train. It had been raining the whole day :

Some have called the Japan project "beast", and "monster";  referring to the complexities involved, on all levels - competency, understanding, project management, culture, language. I have lots of personal stories to share, and probably similar ones from my colleagues.

Lots of anguish, frustration, disappointment amidst a steep learning curve and numerous learnings on this project. There were also mini highs, enough humour and plenty of His wisdom along the way.

After many long hours, late nights and more white hair; I'm really relieved we launched the site today.

Now if you will excuse me, I think I'll go chill with some music and ofuro.

Monday, September 02, 2013

another gigi story

Continuing on my medical-related posts, thought I'd just share this one last one. Promise it won't be as gross as white poop!

One of the additional test I opted after the medical check was a dental check. Paying only JPY500, I didn't think too much about it, except that I was already due for scaling.

It was quite an interesting experience as the dentist (seemed more like an intern from the way she handled the equipment!) asked me to bite on to a syringe-like apparatus for a few minutes. Later when she came back with the results I found out that the syringe actually collected the "gas" in my mouth. Not understanding too much of dental terms in Japanese, I only understood the part about 3 different types of gas being present!

I made another appointment to do my scaling after that.

Looking at my personal experience with dentists here, here is what I gather :
1) It's quite normal to take dental x-rays - I've never had to do it in Malaysia, except when I went back to do my crown
2) Even though the original appointment is for scaling, everything else will be additional charge - my usual dentist in USJ only charged me RM150 for scaling, even though we spent half an hour talking about teeth and life. Here I got charged what seemed like registration, admin, consultation and whatever else, making a grand total of JPY10,000+!
3) Brushing technique is rather different here, hence the shape, size and texture of toothbrush too. Seems to be more focused than flossing, which was the advice of my regular dentist.

Takeaway from this particular visit :
1) I should have gone to dental school instead
2) Brushing gently but longer, rather than vigorously even if I'm in a hurry