Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

So the festive season sort of came early here in Tokyo.* Merry Christmas in advance!

The girls and their Santa outfits... (this was one of the more appropriate photos haha)

*there was a public holiday on the 23rd of Dec for the Emperor's Birthday, so we had a Christmas Eve Eve party at Daisuke's place

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

A short trip home

Being back in Melbourne a bit over a week ago was nice - and made me realise again how fast time flies. Two months away hardly felt like any time at all. The conclusion from lunch with an old friend the other day is that time goes faster once you start working, because only the weekends really count towards (most of) your memories.

Anyway, highlights from the last few weeks in no particular order:

- Alex and Grace's wedding, and catching up with a whole lot of people from uni
- Stumbling upon, and having lunch at, Tian Tian Chicken Rice while wondering around Singapore with Romain
- Brunches, lunches and dinners with friends back in Australia while I was back
- Having the "This is an emergency, oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling above you" announcement turn on (by mistake) on a flight to Canberra, after we had landed and were waiting at the gate
- Finally having a night out with (almost) everyone from the Tokyo office
- Enjoying a few too many drinks with a friend via What's App (cyber-drinking?)
- Having a week at work where I left before 9pm every day

And of course, some pictures to round the post out.

Friday munchies @ L.E.K. Tokyo. Don't ask me why the salmon is that colour...

Some of the L.E.K. Tokyo crew enjoying above munchies

Romain. Ignoring me.

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice. This stuff is awesome.

Supper with Aileen @ a funky little cafe place in Melbourne. I learnt that cheese fondue is awesome until you try to eat that much of it.

Melbourne coffee. If only it was easier to get here in Tokyo.

A funky cocktail (left) and even funkier water glass (right) with Amy after dinner one night

Steamboat @ home

Sam enjoying a mega sized Hoegarden (yes, the angle is a little deceptive... the glass nearer to the camera is the same size)

The end (for now).

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Training in Boston

So after three days in Boston I am now back in Tokyo, and I'm pretty sure my body clock has no idea what the time is anymore. Three days, I've realised, is just long enough to start adjusting to a new time zone...

Anyway so enough complaining and a bit about what's been going on. Training was fun. I had a good time catching up with quite a few different people: attendees included people from the Sydney and Melbourne offices (who I obviously don't get to see so often now I am in Tokyo), and it was good catching up with a few others in Boston as well (who I got to know last year while I was there).

The training itself was actually pretty well structured and thought out - I guess the advantage of having a bit more scale in the US means there are more resources to dedicate to training. It was interesting to see how the different business cultures influenced a few of the sessions though - particularly when it came to the ethics stuff.

Boston itself was pretty much the same as last year, although a little colder. But it was amazing to see how many new faces there were in the office (and how many old ones had departed) just 12 months since being there.

And to save myself trying to entertain with plain words, here are some pictures too.

Tess, Jono and I enjoying some late night Chinese food (and beer)

The beer tap at Boston's 'Hard Rock Cafe' (the closest suitable place Jono and I could find for a quick beer late on Friday evening)

Dan and Tiff at 'the Tap' (the name of a popular pub with the LEK Boston crowd)

Tian trying to show everybody the rather small size he expected for the seafood hotpot (the actual thing is that huge bowl sitting between the beer bottles). Tanya listening but not looking impressed.

Piotr (working in Chicago, from the Paris office, Polish), Tess (working in the New York office, originally from the Sydney office, Kiwi) and Richard (working in the Boston office, Chinese-Taiwanese roots, American)

Boston lobster. Enough said.

This is what I got when I ordered vodka on the rocks (yes that is all vodka...)

Monday, November 07, 2011

November already

Having a second weekend to relax has been good. And has also made me realise how quickly the last few weeks here have gone by. I am finally starting to feel like I have settled in a bit more, but at the same time there are still quite a few things I haven't got round to doing (like setting up a local bank account!).

This week, though, I finally got myself a commuter pass (i.e. a half-yearly train ticket) - which in hindsight I should have got a long time ago (buying train tickets every day actually adds up quite quickly here). I'd been assuming I needed to go to this office place within opening hours to buy it - but I should have known that I'd be able to buy the thing from a vending machine at whatever time I went by...

I'm off to Boston for training on Tuesday so that is going to break things up a bit - but looking forward to seeing some old friends there (and hopefully making some new ones too). Downside is tomorrow is probably going to be quite busy making sure that the project I am allocated to here in Tokyo is on track and does not fall apart while I am away.

And now for some pictures.

Good wine, good food and good company: dinner with Sayaka at Marugo (in the Maru Park Building)

Kamameshi (the rice thing) and anmitsu (the japanese sweets on the right) with Sohei, Joon and Chihiro in Ginza. Was delicious and is yet another great place to eat near my apartment - need to go back again sometime.

A simple dinner: eggs, veges and rice (and a copy of the Wall Street Journal)

One of the new grads having some fun with the old phones that have just been replaced - if only they were actually connected...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Some time to relax at last

So with MBA applications out of the way for the moment, and my last project finishing up, this weekend has been really nice and laid back. Was planning to spend most of it just reading and catching up on sleep but ended up spending a fair chunk of it out and about, which was good too of course.

Not having something at the back of my mind that I have to finish is quite refreshing. Although I think I am already starting to miss the discipline: just this afternoon I went walking around Ginza and ended up in Zara, where I ended up buying a jacket I probably don't need (but I guess when the temperature drops it will come in handy).

One thing I did manage though was going to bed early on Friday night and getting up at 6am on Saturday to go for a run. Only problem was that I managed to snooze my alarm until about 8am, and didn't end up going running until closer to 10. But that said, I ran today as well so that's a lot more than I've run on any other weekend here so far.

Other highlights were:
- finding a reasonably priced hairdresser, who speaks English AND is only 5 minutes from my place
- drinking Yamazaki whiskey with a Yamazaki
- catching up with some old Keio friends: Satomi, Yuki and Akiko

And a few pictures to finish ...

Some nice whiskey to keep things nice and warm as winter comes round

Yakitori bento - delicious but a little lacking on the greens side :)

This is how the dinner delivery came the other night at work. Sure beats those plastic / foil trays back home. Downside is you need to rinse the stuff so that the restaurant can come back to pick it up later.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Another weekend in Tokyo

Today I managed to beat my record from last weekend. Not only did I not leave Ginza, I didn't even go out of my room. I did manage to get most of my last MBA application done though so that sort of makes it feel like it was worth it. But to balance that I actually went off to Ikebukuro on Saturday evening so I can't say the whole weekend was in Ginza this time.

Bit drained from the day of writing though so this is going to be short (with lots of pictures haha).

Highlights from the week include:
- A great dinner with Mum, Dad and Grandma in Nishi-Azabu on Monday night
- Wine party with Sohei and Hide in Ginza on Friday night
- Finding out Don Quiyote (discount department store chain) sells even more random stuff than I thought, such as AC power adapters for my wireless router
- Learning how not to get lost walking to my office in the mass of people that is Shibuya station in the morning

- Working past 1am and finding out a taxi ride home at that hour might actually be slower than a peak hour train
- Not being able to finish work early enough to take Mum/Dad/Grandma around Tokyo a bit more
- Spending Saturday morning wondering why I drank so much wine the night before instead of writing my MBA applications.

Some of the wine responsible for my ordinary Saturday morning. That said, it was really good wine.

A high-tech anti-earthquake device (my latest piece of kit from the Tokyo office - the Melbourne office found this relatively amusing)

Dinner from one of the nights working late - カルビ弁当 (short rib bento box)

Some of the really nice sushi at Gonpachi

The first course at Gonpachi - I have no idea what half of the stuff is, but it was awesome

Monday, October 17, 2011

A weekend in Ginza

After not actually leaving Ginza the entire weekend I can't believe Monday is just around the corner again. So just a short post with some of my thoughts from my first week on swap to Tokyo.

The good:
- meeting everyone in the office and finding them all fun, friendly and welcoming
- hanging out with old friends over the weekend
- finding out the trip to work is faster than I thought (about 40 minutes door to door)
- realising I have a grocery store and a discount department store basically next door
- discovering a great running track in Tokyo is about 1 km from my apartment (the Imperial Gardens)

The bad:
- getting rained on half way through my Saturday morning run, and coming back drenched
- being staffed on a relatively busy project from day 1 (and already having to work on a public holiday!)
- trying unsuccessfully to write MBA applications all weekend
- not having enough time to set up a bank account or proper mobile account

A couple of pictures to keep things interesting too.

Home cooked pasta, salad and beer ( 萌ちゃん、ありがとう )

Dinner in the office. Not ideal, but on the bright side definitely better than the Japanese food we get back in Melbourne when we work late.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Japan. Again.

It still feels a bit surreal to be back in Tokyo. Maybe the difference this time is I am actually going to be here for half a year. Or maybe the difference is because it is for work, and not a holiday.

Anyway whatever it is, I don't think I've quite settled in yet. My place is thankfully a fully furnished one, so my biggest issue so far has probably been what sort of rice to buy for the rice cooker. Well, maybe that and trying to work out where the closest supermarket actually was (it's only five minutes away if I actually walk in the right direction).

A few pictures to keep things interesting too (in reverse chronological order, just because that's how it uploaded for some reason).

The LEK connection: had dinner last night with Royston and Graham who have been holidaying in Japan. Being their last night we went out after to enjoy a few more drinks, and had good fun in some random bar/club in Roppongi (when we eventually managed to find it)

My kitchen for the next 6 months. The hot plate is actually quite good - but given I'm in a studio I'm not sure how adventurous I will get trying to cook things; there is a real risk of infusing everything in my room with some dangerously pungent odours (as I discovered stir-frying vegetables tonight)

The back of a seat on the Narita Express (train), which I took to get from the airport into the city yesterday.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

SG-KR-JP: not quite the end

I should really be studying for my GMAT, but I really can't seem to find the motivation. So I thought I would post a short blog instead.

My travels in Tokyo thus far have been fantastic. It definitely felt a little strange when I first arrived, but it really did not take long to get used to how everything works here again (it's still so damn organised!). And I think especially coming from Seoul where the language barrier was quite difficult at times, being able to speak and understand the people around you is a great feeling :)

Everytime I come to Japan, I always manage to find myself impressed by the level of service that is just considered "normal". It's so refreshing to have people who genuinely want to help you, even if they are selling you stuff. I mean, I think I fell in love with a clothing store assistant the other day... and ended up buying 3 more shirts than I need (or have space to fit into my luggage) - but hey when they super helpful and cute it's a bit hard to say no right...

Anyway, it's time for some photos. I've realised that I have a massive shortage of photos from Japan (compared to my effort in Korea) - so these unfortunately don't capture a lot of the best parts of my trip (e.g. I seem to have forgotten to actually take photos with people a lot of the time which is a shame). But still, some pictures is better than no pictures right?

My good friend Yuki from the Keio Badminton Club at Ueno Station, after a nice meal at a local izakaya.

A shot of the illuminated trees on top of Yebisu Garden Place (kind of a shopping / restaurant building). I took this shot after a great dinner with Sohei at the Yebisu beer garden. I am still not 100% sure if they actually brew Yebisu and Sapporo beer there, but they definitely serve plenty of it. Dinner was an interesting mix of international food which ranged from German fried potatoes to Korean dolsot bibimbap.

My cousin, Bernard, and I at HUB (a "British Pub" chain that seems to have become extremely popular around Tokyo). And you are probably thinking "why would you two go to a British Pub chain in Tokyo?" It was the only place we could find serving drinks that was nearby. And we did at least drink Japanese beer there :P

This was an Okinawa sashimi moriawase platter (basically just assorted sashimi) I had with my other good friend Yuki (different Yuki from above) at a cool little izakaya in the Shinmaru building. The most interesting part for me was the stuff on the left which are called umebudou (literally sea grapes). They are some sort of seaweed variety but they do look a lot like tiny grapes. Really nice but no, they don't taste at all like the stuff you make wine out of haha

And finally, I did end up managing to see some sakura in Tokyo! Really big thanks to Sohei for being as helpful a guide as ever. We had to trudge through wind, rain and mud in the Hamarikyu Gardens to find these (the cherry blossom trees have already bloomed and wilted in most other parts of the city). But it was definitely worth it. In the picture below are (I think) yaezakura, which are a slightly different variety from the smaller more common type.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

SG-KR-JP: the middle

Sorry. My intentions to update this thing frequently were obviously over-ambitious, given that I have now left Seoul and only posted once.

Anyway, my overall conclusion from a few days there is: Seoul is awesome.

If you take fantastic food, a great selection of drinks and fun company from all over the world, you've got yourself a great trip. Seoul had all of that, plus a lot of really interesting local people / culture / ambience.

My time there worked out so well mainly by luck I think, which once again seems to confirm my "planning is usually over-rated" outlook on life haha. The short version of a long story is that I went to Seoul because I was too disorganised to get myself to Shanghai. But funnily enough everything seemed pretty much to fall into place when I got there (despite having only planned for a grand total of about 50 minutes prior to landing).

A few words of thanks before we get on to pictures
Jihee and JJ: incredibly grateful for helping to bridge the language barrier and also just generally for helping work out where to go / what to do.
May and Henry: the trip would not have been the same, or anywhere near as fun without you both there.

More Korean BBQ in Korea (think this is Wednesday). The round pieces of meat were my favourite, which was translated into English as "Boston Butt" on the menu (that was, incidentally, the only reason we actually ordered it).

After eating all that meat in the picture above, we went in search of some makgeolli (pronounced muk-gol-lee, or "Milky Soju" as Henry insisted on calling it). After a bit of aimless wondering around, we finally found some in a small-ish restaurant. It was worth the walk though. If there is one drink I will remember Seoul by, this is it. The best I can do to describe it is a semi-sweet, cloudy looking rice wine, that's about 5% alcohol. I think you are actually meant to drink it from a small bowl normally too.

May and JJ enjoying some makgeolli (using cups, not bowls - that comes later haha):

Met up with Jihee! First time in ... 5 years?? ... It's hard to describe how good it is catching up with old friends. Definitely has to be one of my favourite things about travelling.

Jihee was kind enough to take us for some traditional Korean food, the names of which I have no hope of remembering but included an range of vegetables / fish / kimchee / and other small side dishes. Was delicious, not to mention a good change from the Korean BBQ I'd been having.

We followed dinner up with a much more recent invention: cocktail soju (really just soju mixed with fruit juice I think). I was warned multiple times by a few people that it is "dangerous" because you don't realise how much alcohol you are drinking - it is very sweet. Needless to say, that night did turn a bit crazy later on - but I am still going to blame it on the whole bottle of Greygoose that 4 of us managed to finished.

I am pleased to say I do not have many pictures as evidence of what went on after. But here is a nice shot of some apple cocktail soju - served in a cup made out of an apple:

This is from the next day, where we got a bit hungry while we were out and randomly ordered this awesome kimchi + pork platter thing. Like really awesome. I say that because you shouldn't assume it was awesome by the fact both Henry and May are taking photos of it in this shot. That happened pretty much with every single dish I saw them eat. I know I am one of the last people who should be making fun of photographing food - but it was still amusing.

As everyone knows the best cure for binge drinking is binge eating. And that is exactly what we did on Saturday at lunch :P

May's colleage, Haejung, was kind enough to take us around the Insadong area (famous apparently for sort of "traditional / old Korea") where we found a nice restaurant and ordered a set menu that had 16 dishes for the 3 of us. If you are wondering, we didn't quite finish but we got pretty close.

Henry's friends clowning around in Insadong: Raj and Kristy. It is a bit hard to appreciate how out of place this looked at the time. But trust me, it got plenty of amused looks from the people walking past

Lanterns (which apparently get lit up at night) put up in preparation for the birthday of Buddha in few weeks time. At least, that's what I think they were for. Pretty though:

Just near those lanterns, we also found what we decided must have been a cartoon version of Buddha in statue form:

This is a shot from a night market place we went to for dinner. We found this lovely store owner who was super warm and welcoming to the bunch of crazy looking tourists like ourselves. Her stall mainly served a variety of egg-battered items (e.g. fish cakes, tofu, fish, chillis). She also served makgeolli :P

There was also a really nice local Korean couple who happened to be sitting next to us at the stall. They were probably amused at the start at seeing the bunch of us turn up there, but a few bowls of makgeolli later, I think they felt like uncle and aunty. I am pretty sure Henry was trying to get them to adopt him for a decent part of the meal.

The food was good, and the company here made dinner at that stall probably the highlight of my time in Seoul:

And finally, I also paid a visit to Gyonbokgung Palace.

Big thanks to May here for organising this. Importantly, organising this before we decided to get ourselves massively sleep deprived for a third night in a row haha. There is no way it would have happened otherwise.

Even though in the end I couldn't get my little digital guide / headset working (to tell me about the historical significance of everything), it was a really nice place for a stroll and the weather was beautiful too.

It reminded me a lot of Japan though...

Especially given there was sakura (cherry-blossoms) there as well!

And I just realised how damn late it is here now so will leave it there. Till next time!