Monday, October 23, 2006

The Tokyo Chronicles: Money Walk or "One For The Money..." 

What do you do in a new city if you have 3 holidays back-to-back and don't know a soul? Why, you walk. You get your ass off the hotel and head out in no particular direction. The trick here (especialy if you are in a city where you are a certified illiterate) is to look back at the road you came by and picture how it would look in the dark. Note the signsboards and the shops in the corners. Of course, it helps if your hotel has a nameplate right on top of the 18th floor, but still, you never lose the basics.
Walked left from the hotel, down a bridge over the metro rail and again turned left. Walked a kilometer and reached Meguro station. So far so good. Saw a bunch of hotels nearby including 2 or 3 Indian food joints. Hmm...info stored for later.

I had run out of money in the first 3 days itself. Had only converted about 100$ into yen and it was time to withdraw more from a nearby ATM. Nearby? They were EVERYWHERE! I had noticed the ATMS during my previous walks and it was now time to put the info to good use. So I go up to the first ATM I see, check to see if it accepts Amex and slot it in. Around here is where I hit the first roadblock, namely the lack of an English option on the screen. Now, punching randomly on the screen with your ATM card safely ensconced within the machine is not a good idea, right? Right. I decide to take the card out. Which button exactly, again? Err...hmmm. At this point I am conjuring up images of all the ATM screens I have seen and collecting data for a huge leap of faith based on the fact that software engineers everywhere will code in similar fashion. Not quite scientific but it bore me out when I touched the bottom left menu item. The card came right out with a polite voice telling me to "Domm Arigato Gojaimas"...which I learnt later that day meant "Thank you very much".
Onto the next machine. Same problem with the language option which I checked before even taking the card out of my wallet. Ditto with the next 3. Sigh..this was getting to be frustrating. I decide to take the ultimate leap of faith and go over to the counter and ask for help from the attendant. she takes me to the ATM machine, slots the card in, punches the right buttons and up comes the PIN screen. She moves aside and I enter in the PIN. Now its easy sailing because the next screen asks me for the amount to be withdrawn. I enter in a judicious amount and wait to get rich. Well, not today! The machine spits out my card (politely, of course) and murmurs "Domm Ari.." like it means it. The preplexed lady calls for help from her colleagues and they crowd around trying to make sense of the gaijin's gibberish. Long story short, I return to the hotel empty handed and enquire at the front desk about forex. Turns out the ATMs in the shopping centers were meant only for Japanese cards and all foreign cards had to use the Post-Office ATMs to withdraw cash.
Ka-Tching! Next morning 20,000 yen richer and a whole lot wiser.



Monday, October 09, 2006

The Tokyo Chronicles: Getting into Japan 

Relatively eventless flight..for me at least since my last 2 flights out of India had been delayed over 12-24 hrs. This one was on time and absolutely boring. There were a couple of other guys from my office I had never run into before. Still, it was reassuring since they had been in Japan before. At least, I woud'nt have to figure out a way to get to my hotel on my own...like that first time in Chicago.

Shopping in Singapore airport: well, it's more expensive than WalMart, that's for sure. The listed price on a Creative Vision W 30 GB was about 700 S$ which is about 440USD. The price of this product in US is about 399 USD!!
Also, they did'nt have the Shure E2c in any electronic shop in the entire airport. Sigh...

Landing in Narita was a nightmare because of the storm in Tokyo..it was one of the roughest landings I've had in the recent past. Mid-air is something totally else (was in a Delhi-Mumbai flight in Nov last year and got into turbulence because of air pockets over Jaipur. Literally lifted a foot off the seat. And then put my foot on the floor just as all the passengers were lifted about half a foot into the air! )

Got to the immigration counter and realised a little belatedly that all my documents were in my checked in baggage. This happened because we were allowed only 1 carry-on baggage at Bangalore. I was forced to pack in my laptop bag...and all the documents + visiting cards with it. So there I was smiling sheepishly at the lady in the visa counter who was looking at me incredulously. No invitation letter. No visiting card. No proof of employment documents. Luckily, I pointed to the other 2 guys from my office who were in the next 2 counters. That smoothed things a little. Also, I fished out my identity card and she broke into a smile. Phew! Of course, I got a strict admonishment to carry all documents on person. Lesson learnt.

The bus ride to the Westin Tokyo was interesting....I saw all these cars pass by and EVERY ONE of those cars had a GPS receiver. Hmm...some insight here...don't know what.



The Tokyo Chronicles:Holiday fest 

Am in Tokyo since last Friday.
Got in via Narita on Singapore Airlines...let me start at the top.

Our client needs a presence from our team in Tokyo even though most of our issues are resolved. Its much easier to get things done in Bangalore except for the issues that absolutely need FOMA phones. Oh well, time to tackle those issues. Also, I have to look for a replacement for my wrecked M1000 (ya, dropped it once too often and the touchscreen cracked...sigh)
Aanyways, got the Japan visa in 4 days even with the holidays in between. Ah, the holidays...let me count the ones I had in the past 2 weeks: Sept 29th is the last working day I remember. 30th Sep and 1st Oct were weekends, 2nd Oct(Monday) was a holday in India on account of Gandhi Jayanti. So the attendance on Tuesday (3rd Oct) was minimal. Add to this the fact that Wed(4th Oct) was a holiday in Bangalore because of a bandh in support of the Belgaum issue. I was supposed to travel on the 4th but (wisely) got it shifted to 5th Oct. Not much work done on a day you travel. I was on travel on 6th (Friday) landing in Tokyo late on Friday night. 7th and 8th, well, weekend again. Now the icing: 9th (Monday) is a holiday in Japan (Health and Sports Day (Taiiku-no-hi)). I'll trudge into a new office tomorrow morning.

So in effect, got 3 days on my own in Japan. Haven't met any of the ppl in the other teams yet since they are all staying in other hotels.

I'll blog my experiences in Tokyo over the next month in a more or less regular fashion.



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