Thursday, August 31, 2006

Current Events

These days I've gotten into the swing of things at my new job, developing a web based system for a big shipping company.
Thinking "big shipping company" excited me at first. "woah, am I going to work in a warehouse?" I thought, imagining a costco-sized area and trucks scuttling back and forth in front of my desk.
Well, no such luck, it's in a normal office. But it IS in a factory neighborhood, right by the Tokyo bay, pretty much under the rainbow bridge. I almost have a nice view of boats scuttling back and forth in front of my desk, but alas, it's blocked by the big warehouse across the street. Grr.

I like the place I'm working, and it has some very unusual traits for a programming job:

1) 50% of my fellow developers are female
2), I guess that's pretty much it.

I'm not used to being around other girls. It's weird, I tell you! But also nice. I can finally talk about girly things and not cause eyes to glaze over, pondering other subjects while I talk about this cute shirt I bought on sale. But there are downsides.

My Fellow Females (hereon referred to as the FF) here eat together, apparently as a rule. Being unaware of this fact the first week I started working at my new place, I wandered around, exploring various lunchtime options (not many in the factory neighborhood). There is a "conbini" (AM/PM) nearby, which sells a lot of boxed lunches but gets crowded around 12, and a cafeteria on the first floor. That's IT. (oh, or bring your own lunch).

Getting sick of conbini food, on the third day or so, I took my book to the cafeteria and ate alone, amused by the honor system set in place there. Here's how you buy lunch at the cafe: (tangent alert...)

1.You buy a prepaid card.
2. Next to the food platters, there is a little machine you put your card into that charges you for the food.
3. It's not automatic. You're supposed to type in the amount posted on the sign next to that plate.

Being the "honest type" (aka a chicken), I dilligently punched in the \400 for my curry plate, and watched as my card came back with less money on it. But D00D! so not funny how easy it would be to rip off the cafeteria and never get caught!! anyways. achem.
The next day, I got a rather embarrased email from my boss.

"Dear Kyra-san", he wrote in Japanese,
" This may be a delicate subject, but I heard you had lunch all by yourself in the cafeteria yesterday. Are you "communicating" with the other people in the office?" (he literally said "communica-sion shiteimasu ka?")
The letter went on with a not-so-subtle hint.
"Y.-san and the others usually have lunch on the second floor. Why don't you join them tomorrow?"

Hm. Come to think of it, I was wondering where they went. I'd see the guys eating instant noodles in front of their computer monitors, reading comics, and then taking a twenty minute nap pretty much as a routine... but the ladies would vanish.

That lunch, I was invited by Y-san to break bread with the FF.
Nearing the second-floor meeting room, I heard giggles and the promise of scandalous stories told in low voices. This was a sound... I haven't heard since high school! I like telling anecdotes, so I fit in pretty well with the 7-8 other ladies, and actually enjoy eating with them. But eating lunch with the FF isn't all fun and games, there are rules to follow. It is not a relaxed environment.

Some of the rules of the FF lunch time (I found out by breaking them)

1) Only one person talks at once. No side conversation allowed. If you have a funny story, tell it, otherwise shut up.
this makes for times when no one is doing anything but looking down at their food and quietly munching for up to ten minutes at a time. A~kwarrrrd!

2) Once you sit down, no leaving the table until the whole group is out.
after one of the afore-mentioned events of no talk, I left the table about 15 minutes before the end of lunch. "there's something I have to do.." I said demurely, sneaking out. As soon as I left the room, a peal of laughter/snickering followed, obviously because of something I did. (what did I DO?!)

3) No bringing other things to do allowed. (book, laptop, etc) That would constitute anti-social behaviour, apparently.
once I tried bringing my sketchbook to work on Gemini, but couldn't actually bring myself to pull it out with many incessant pairs of eyes roaming the room for something to talk about.

With these three unspoken rules in place, I can't quite look forward to lunch. Don't get me wrong, though, I often enjoy myself, and get to hear funny stories in non-manly japanese, which is fun. Especially when I'M telling them. ^_~ Since we're still at work, they all use the standard version of japanese (nothing really "girly" about it), but unlike men, they speak quickly and animatedly without throwing in a bunch of bad words all over the place. ^^;

I think the rules just feel particularly constricting because right now I'm the lowest one on the totem pole. Y-san is obviously the alpha female of the group. I used to be pretty good at Judo... maybe if I challenge her to a duel I can be promoted to the upper strata of the clique and break some of the Rules when I want. ^_^

Updates on the lunch situation to come. But first, here is a really cool video of guys dancing on treadmills (stolen from Viet's blog.)

Here It Goes Again - Okgo:

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Mystery of Japanese Toilets

Weddings are fun enough, but it's time to move back to something more interesting. Like potty humour! Hence my entry about toilets here... (prepare yourself)^_^

True to "eastern flair" form, there are many things about the toilets here that are covered in a layer of mystery.
I first realized this when I came here the first time with my friend Eriko and had the unfortunate experience of needing to utilize the facilities in a train station. The porcelain recepticle facing me was, in fact, a glorified hole in the ground. Picture a urinal placed horizontally at ground level and you'll get the idea. (At least they flush!)

At first I didn't understand. The standard household toilet is western style. If they have experienced a standard western toilet, who would ever want to go back?! The thing is, some people prefer this style. You see, to you or me it may seem disgusting to squat over a hole, especially since this nominally increases the chances of missing the toilet altogether, leaving the next person to have to step in it. (No WONDER no shoes are allowed in the house!) I have seen horrors, my friends, horrors.

This also assumes you are *able* to squat in the first place. I have come to believe that there is a toilet conspiracy against foreigners with inflexible achelies' tendons. All of Japan can do the Toilet Crouch, but not me!! When I was studying abroad here, I took a sports class. When the other kids got tired, they would squat with the *whole* of their feet touching the ground, looking comfortable. I'm a pretty flexible girl, I used to take gymnastics and ballet and was able to do the splits at one point, but for the LIFE of me I cannot do that trick. Which led my classmates to try to get me to squat, so they can watch me tottering on the balls of my toes for a few seconds, then inevitably fall onto my back like an expired beetle.

"Are you SURE you can't do this? Look, we can all do it. You're just doing it wrong. Try it again, like THIS!" they would shout.
me: "..but but..."
me* "okay, I'll try...." *wobble wobble FLOP*
classmates: "woah... she really can't do it! hen-na gaijin!"

At first it was inconceivable to me that anyone would prefer a hole in the ground over a safe, clean, sturdy, weight-supporting standard toilet. But after living here for over a year, I have come to realize there are two possible reasons for preferring the japanese style...

1) there is no butt contact with the seat, eliminating the whole seat-sanitizers/covers issue. So if you're good at squatting, you're in good shape.
2) every western style toilet here is made by a different manufacturer. No two are alike.

This means there are different models with different intimidating functions (you can get a hot bottom wash if you're brave enough), but the most annoying consequence of this fact is that *every toilet* has a different location and shape for the flushing handle...sometimes it's a silver handle behind the lid, sometimes it's a green button on the function panel. It is often just automatic, but when that part doesn't work, it's even harder to find the manual override: once it was cleverly hidden under a sign that said "hand sanitizer". Sneaky sneaky toilets.

But weirder yet are the combinations of new and old that seem to be everywhere.... once I was looking in vain for the flusher on a hole-in-the ground potty, when I realized.. it was an automatic flush model.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Wedding pictures

And without firther ado, here are the cream of the crop: (click on them to make them bigger)

...finally. Sorry about the wait, we finally got the professional ones back. Unfortunately since they're not digital I had to scan them, so the quality isn't that great, but there's a lot of them, so hopefully you'll get the general idea.

These are pictures of the ceremony itself. For pictures of the trip and the "adventure day" and of friends and such, check my flickr site:

phew! All right, I have officially done my duty. Now I can get back to more interesting things, like the mysteries of Japanese toilets! ^_^
See you next time...