Category Archives: microscopes

In the lounge again

Basel, this time.  And again I’m enjoying it (and, this time, collecting the bottle caps).  My luggage was overweight (but without anything I could reasonably take out) and I forgot my gold card, but Lufthansa gave me a printout that should help convince others that I do indeed have Senator status, so for now there have been no consequences from that other than my irritation at my own incompetence. 

For all you Carnet ATA fans out there, getting the “Stempel” worked flawlessly, even though the export form was mistakenly partly filled out by the customs official that re-imported our microscope down in Chiasso. 

Well, boarding begins in five minutes, so I’ll get back to you from Seoul. 

 

Dating Mona Lisa

Today combined work and a certain measure of pleasure as we took our microscopes to Nippon Steel Corporation where I used to work.  Again, I had another partner, and another long drive, so I found out that this man had studied marketing and accounting, but had worked at a supermarket cutting and packing meat before joining our distributor.  I’m going to have to make this my standard question with all the cool answers I’m getting. 

We took the Tokyo Bay Aqualine to Kisarazu, cutting off about one hour of driving time, and stopping at the Umihotaru parking area.  (Only by reading the Wikipedia article did I just now figure out that this is the longest tunnel for cars in the world.  I took it for just another Japanese tunnel.  The German Wikipedia article adds a comment on how the Tokyo Bay Aqualine is symptomatic of the Japanese policy of economic stimulation via huge government projects and old-boy cartels cashing in.)  The satellite view is pretty weird, but the view from the Umihotaru restaurants such as the food court commands most of the bay on clear days and even on a dreary, overcast one as today provides plenty of distraction with all the ships passing by.  I didn’t so much watch them as watch my overstuffed Sasebo Burger, named after the Kyushu town of Sasebo and a descendant of US marines stationed there. 

We arrived a bit ahead of time, which gave me a few minutes to surprise Ms Tsuri and Ms Sato, whom I hadn’t told about my visit.  I hadn’t told anyone but Suzuki-san, because I didn’t know how much time I was to have to visit friends.  At two o’clock we set up the microscope in a meeting room on a wobbly table and hooked the laptop to a projector.  I’ll spare you a blow-by-blow description of the demonstration, but it went better than I expected (I was working with a prototype today) and it measured all the samples we threw at it as easily and quickly as hoped for.  It was well past five when we finished; six o’clock when we got all our gear in the car and were ready for departure.  Toward the end, when we’d already packed up most of the gear, a few other guys from the electron microscope group I used to work with stopped by to say hello.  These are the guys (and Suzuki-san belongs to them) who tease me because of my bald spot and because my Japanese has deteriorated, but they’re also the guys who insist I stop by on pleasure instead of work sometime and that I make sure it’s a Wednesday, when their section leader has everyone over to his flat for drinks.  When Suzuki-san told them I was engaged they suggested Japan as a honeymoon destination and wanted to see a picture.  I obliged, and had the picture up on the canvas before they dimmed the lights again.  “It’s the Mona Lisa!” said Sasaki-san.  Judge for yourself…

Janet and the Mona Lisa

Back home I had some excellent sushi in the restaurant in the ground floor of my hotel.  Not to make anyone envious, but it was eel and scallop and several tuna varieties and salmon roe and other tender bits, along with tamagoyaki and miso soup.  Aah…

 

Let’s Go desu!

I almost used “Stick Creap will give you a splendid time!” as my blog title, but I think I wouldn’t have been able to link to a photo of the powder creamer. 

In short: another longish drive, this time north into Ibaraki, home of natto (straight! senbei! hello kitty senbei! dried! rounded!), to give another demonstration, this time a near impossible feat of finding a tiny sample (smaller than the video resolution) on a large substrate and measuring a step height that, if found, would barely be visible through the inherent noise of the large scan instrument.  Of course we failed, but the customer understood; the measurements we made were actually very good (except for electrical noise, which this university seems to suffer from, I had that same problem at another customer at the same university; and except for not finding the step he wanted to see) and we gained enough confidence that he should send us a sample that we can measure in more controlled conditions back in Switzerland.  I used the image gallery on our homepage for the first time, and once I know which samples are where it’ll be invaluable. 

On the way there we stopped for “shogayaki,” thin pork strips fried in a ginger sauce, which apparently belongs to the routine of driving north.  I enjoyed it; my partner thought it a bit greasy.  As you can imagine, we again talked about all manner of things, how he and his brother never got along, how Janet and I met at church and that to him sounded romantic – a godsend – which I didn’t deny, but I did add that hanging out and drinking coffee is an integral part of church and what makes it a community (and more likely for a girl to meet a guy). 

When we were all done with our tasks at the university, he turned the ignition with a lusty “Let’s Go desu!” which I find neat because roughly translated that means “It’s Let’s Go!”  And go we did, a return drive mercifully without rain, and with me getting drowsy again.  Is it the car, or is late afternoon drowsiness simply the most persistent feature of jetlag when flying east?  I have no trouble getting up, but plenty of trouble staying awake around 16:00…

After some prepping for tomorrow I walked home from the office and got a good Japanese dinner of amaebi (ah-mah-ay-bee, sweet shrimp) sashimi, scallops with one half of the shell removed and baked in a mushroom-and-mayonaise covering (yes, it’s greasy, but good), baked tuna vertebra (or some such part), and potato baked in cheese, my backup in case my Japanese had led me to order something undesirable.  I decided to have my first ever gin and tonic in this Japanese restaurant, to good effect.  Stuffed, I repaired to my room, talked with Janet for about an hour, took care of work e-mails, and cranked out this blog.  Time for bed. 

 

Burgers and Macs

Yep, a Freshness Burger for lunch is how I started my work day.  We only had an afternoon appointment so I indulged and slept until 9, then slowly got going, and suddenly found myself with too little time for a real lunch.  I liked the burger and the service way better than the one at KINTEX (see here and here), but disliked that everyone else in there seemed to smoke and I couldn’t flee outside because of the rain.  Maybe next time the bright yellow ashtrays should tip me off… 

We drove out to a university still in Tokyo but a good 30 kilometers from our distributor’s office, in the hilly countryside.  This gave us plenty of time to talk – and proved to me they have a pretty good grapevine going.  He already knew Janet’s age from someone I hadn’t even told, and he asked a bit about our plans.  Later I asked how long he’d been with his current company and he said only since last August – he’d been a riding instructor at a horseback riding club before.  I commented that there must have been plenty of girls to meet there.  He asked me about my hobbies and I included church in my list, which I don’t usually because it seems weird to call it a hobby, but it made him remark that his girlfriend was a Christian, which is rather rare in Japan.  He’d met her at his former job as a riding instructor at a horse riding club, which he said without any reference to my previous comment, but it explained his chuckle then.  I asked him if he ate horse sashimi, which he affirmed, pronouncing it tasty; his girlfriend, he said, refused to eat it.  He put that down to their different approach to horses: for him, part of the job, for her, a cute pet. 

The customer visit went well in the sense that I was able to solve a number of problems, although reading the funky manual would have solved the worst of them (i.e. not calibrating the system) and trying the advice we’d sent by e-mail would have eliminated another.  At any rate, I think they now know a bit more, though I don’t know for sure that they ever change the feedback loop settings, which means that a) the default settings aren’t too bad, b) they’re not liable to experiment with the system, and c) I’m still not sure they completely understand the basics of the system.  What I’m learning on this job is that if I ever end up operating complex instrumentation I’ll be willing to pay for a training course.  And that I’ll use the computer suited to the job, not a MacBook running two operating systems at once. 

Something – I’m not sure what – reminded me again of an ad I saw yesterday on the train.  It was for a fitness studio and showed a slender woman playing darts, except that instead of throwing the usual way – sideways, two-legged stance – she extended one leg back and upwards, counterbalancing her torso which she leaned forward until her torso and arm bridged about half the distance between the distance marker and the board.  Of course her throw from five feet hit the bull’s eye.  All I know is that even with fitness training I’d rather not balance about precariously with a pointy object in my hand…

On my way home today I noticed a white, low-slung Porsche Carrera coming my way and was surprised by the driver being a young woman.  I always thought that all the reasons for young people going into debt to purchase a fast, expensive, good-looking car favored males: going fast, crazy acceleration, curvy design, petrolhead mystique, impressing girls… and I have a hard time imagining that emancipation has caught up with Japanese girls enough that they’re already trying to pick up jocks with fast cars.  (Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate a beautiful car, very much so, but I also keenly appreciate the price tag.) 

I finished my day with a avocado-and-egg Subway sandwich – the vendor insisted on giving me the point card even when I said I lived in Switzerland – and a salty chocolate I found at the convenience store.  If their idea was making a person thirsty for more, I can’t say it worked. 

Straight into Summer Part II

February 12: We set up the booth, which was exciting only because a lot of things came together at the last moment and it took little time to get our stuff ready.  Otherwise we mostly spent a lot of time waiting in the cold draft – they only heat the halls when the visitors come.  To warm up, the Nanosurf crew went to the Oedo Onsen Monogatari baths two train stops from Tokyo Big Sight.  It’s a hot spring that strives to re-create the storybook Edo of bygone days: everyone in yukata, little wooden foodstalls, tatami rooms, indoor and outdoor baths, but with all the modern conveniences.  On this cold day, I cared less about authenticity and more about the water temperature.  We left a little dazed, but better prepared for a long day. 

February 13-15: What to say: the nano tech spans 4 halls and draws close to 50’000 visitors over three days.  We had planned to run setup demos, where we’d show that an AFM could be set up in less than five minutes.  I was the one setting the system up and narrating in English, while one of our Japanese partners translated.  This worked quite well the first day, but it became clear that we needed a mike, which Björn organized for Thursday.  We only did two or three demos that first day, which is why I had time to take a few pictures. 

The Nanosurf booth at the nano tech Tokyo 2008
Our booth.

Booth lady
I had to fill out a questionnaire to take this picture.  On Thursday I popped briefly into the HVAC&R exhibition to visit Dad’s former business acquaintances at PS Group and noted a change to shorter skirts and colors that seemed straight out of sci-fi comics on the Hisaka Works booth (silver boots! bright pink skirts!).  If you look closely, you can tell this one here works for Toshiba.  The ensuing conversation brought out that she’s “kuootaa.”  One of her grandparents is American. 

Closing time
Closing time.  Once we came to the line at the train ticket machine, we decided to eat near the exhibition site and wait out the crowd. 

Fuji and industry
All three exhibition days the sun shone bright, at least in the morning, and the air was clear enough to see Mount Fuji from the Yurikamome line.  Of course, we spent our time under artificial lighting, only to emerge after sundown.  Thursday we got our mike, and started running the show every hour, with a bit of a break at lunchtime. 

Set up an AFM in under five minutes!
This was our biggest crowd.  Starting was always hardest: I’d shout “If you want to see a suitcase turned into an AFM in under five minutes, here’s your chance!” which usually got translated as “Soon, the set-up of an AFM out of a suitcase will occur here.”  People passing by would look at me and take evasive action, but as soon as things got moving a bit and one or two people stopped to look, everyone stopped to look.  It was fun trying to come up with new lines and turning passersby into sales leads, and I often had to smile at how the translations got toned down.  My “easy to set up, easy to use, and easy to buy!” (inspired by Björn) got turned into “easy to set up, easy to use, and of economically advantageous nature” or something similar. 

Stephan hawking AFM
My main point in posting this picture is to show the extent of the hall.  If you started at the back wall you see, you’d get to our booth about 60% down the way.  This photo also shows the Nespresso coffee machine we had, which makes just under two coffees in the time it takes to set up the AFM (with the computer already running).  With no tea makers on our booth, I relented and had a couple coffees (two sugars, 50% milk).  In general, I drank far too little, especially on Friday, when we decided to step up the demos to every half hours. 

On Thursday evening, our Japanese partners took us out to a shabu-shabu restaurant near Shimbashi station, in a building full of game halls and massage salons manned by Chinese women.  Our waitresses were also Chinese, and I was proud to have recognized that by their accent.  Our partners had told me that my idea of walking a bit farther to get on the train a station before everyone else was a very Japanese ploy – but I think that’s the extent of my thinking like a Japanese, unfortunately. 

Friday the show ended an hour earlier to give us more time to pack up.  I had a motivation to leave as soon as possible because I wanted to meet up with Dean, one of my classmates from my Japanese class from last July, to go hear Quadra at the Rooster jazz club.  I prepared as much as possible Friday morning and also had made the packing invoice ready, and both Björn and Ola started shutting systems down a bit early and prepping everything, so once take-down began it took us about 45 minutes to pack everything up.  The only thing I forgot were the keys to the meeting room and store room – same forgetfulness as last year! 

I made good time out to Ogikubo and met Dean at the station.  Last year, I got to see Kazuhiro Takeda play in the Dodekachordon formation; this time, it was back to the formation I’d originally heard – my third Quadra concert by now – and this time they were joined by another saxophone quartet, Saxophobia (perhaps named after Rudy Wiedoeft’s tune?). 

Quadra at Rooster
Quadra in performance in front of a sell-out crowd.  It was only thanks to Mr. Takeda that we even got seats. 

Quadra and Saxophobia at Rooster
Eight saxophones on stage.  I remember my first shawm concert when they let loose just because of the sheer sound volume.  I don’t remember what they played at the end of the first set when they joined forces, but for the second they played what I had thought all along they should play, Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy, mercy, mercy.”  Now all they need to do for the next show is come up with an arrangement for eight saxophones of “Everybody needs somebody to love” from the Blues Brothers movie… 

Both Dean and I agreed we preferred Quadra, though I don’t think either band saw it as a contest.  Quadra plays with more edge, groove, and tempo, whereas Saxophobia plays a more mellow sound, sometimes incorporating flutes and traditional Japanese woodwinds.  It was late by the time I got home, but I was glad I’d gotten to hear these guys again, and experience the atmosphere of a small club crammed with enthusiasts. 

February 16: I met up at 7:30 at Shimbashi station with Chiharu, whom Cornelia knows from her time in Vancouver and travels in Kenya after Sophy’s wedding, and we took the subway to the Tsukiji market.  It opens much earlier than we arrived and apparently hosts a daily fish auction.  As a result of long-term promotion, tourists these days are too plentiful and restricted from entering some areas, though we either didn’t approach those areas or just simply didn’t notice. 

Transportation at Tsukiji
The typical transportation cart, which I’d never seen before.  Quick to mount, easy to steer, stripped to the bare essentials. 

Pepper
Some of the produce. 

Vegetable market
Veggies, as far as the eye can see. 

Cart driver
He said he was embarrassed, but taking a picture was okay, as long as I didn’t sell it.  He said nothing about posting it on my blog. 

Sawing tuna
The fish is frozen, then processed with a band saw. 

Before sawing
Before the sawing process. 

Fish scraps
Scraps left over after sawing. 

Sashimi preparation
Pre-cutting fish blocks for sashimi. 

Sea cucumbers
Sea cucumbers, namako in Japanese.  I have no idea where they end up, but I bet they’d make a fun prank assault weapon. 

Seafood for sale
One of the prettier seafood stalls.  The grossest had to be the whalemeat stall, with dark red chunks of meat oozing blood onto the colorless, transparent plastic sheet beneath. 

shellfish
Shellfish. 


Weird shellfish. 

Octopus flowers
Octopus ikebana. 

silver fish
Fish. 

We headed north to Utsunomiya from Tokyo, after a short coffee-and-donut breakfast, where we met up with Tomo and Eunsook for lunch.  Tomo I’d never met, but kept in touch with irregularly via e-mail after having been introduced by possibly Sophie – neither Tomo nor I remember, but it had something to do with the Navigators.  Eunsook had just moved to Utsunomiya from Basel a few months ago for her job, and had to learn how to drive because she was going to be unable to commute by public transport.  (Eunsook says hi to all the BCF folks.)  Because Utsunomiya is known for its gyoza, we ignored the current Chinese gyoza scare and filled up at a gyoza place near the train station. 

Gyoza
Yaki-gyoza – also know as potstickers or Chinese dumplings.  (That recalls a vague memory of a kids’ story where dumplings keep growing and growing until they overflow from the pot and fill the house – made all the more mysterious because at the time I had no idea of what dumplings were.) 

Chiharu, Tomo, Stephan, Eunsook
A much too dark picture of Chiharu, Tomo, myself, and Eunsook, that I had to lighten up to grainy poster quality just so our faces would be visible. 

After saying goodbye to Tomo and Eunsook, who both had plans that afternoon, Chiharu and I headed out to Nikko.  We both slept on the train, and she had to wake me up when we’d arrived.  From the town of Nikko we took a bus up to Chuzenji lake, where we got off and, bracing ourselves against the frigid wind, walked to the Kegon waterfall.  We didn’t stay long, due to the merciless wind that whipped through our clothes and needle-pricked our faces, but walked to the lake to see it before the sun set.  If anything, the wind was stronger coming off the lake, and as soon as the sun had set we set out to find the Chuzenji onsen.  It felt great to soak in hot water, but the bus departure time limited me to just about five minutes, because I’d wasted a lot of time trying to get my coin locker to work. 

Kegon falls Nikko
Kegon Falls.

Chuzenji lake
Lake Chuzenji.

Lake Chuzenji, Nikko
Lake Chuzenji. 

It took a long time to get back to Tokyo, but we did, sleeping most the way. 

February 17: I went to Honda chapel again, but this time left pretty soon after the service, because there were a few things I needed to do in Tokyo, though I ended up forgetting to purchase toe socks.  I wasn’t done sleeping in trains, and I have yet to learn how to get up on time to get off.  Fortunately for me, Tokyo main station was the final stop, so other than getting to experience the odd feeling of waking up in an empty train car, no harm befell me.  I was under some time pressure to make it back to the hotel on time to skype Switzerland, but although I expressed it poorly at the time, that’s the kind of pressure I don’t mind. 

February 18: I just barely made the Narita Express from Tokyo, having gotten off to a late start from Shiodome and having underestimated the time it took to lug two suitcases to the train station, but got to relax on the train and then, after check-in, in the lounge.  The only surprise for me was that I wasn’t able to check my baggage through to Melbourne: I would have to pick it up in Shanghai and then check it in again.  In retrospect, I should have simply taken all luggage through the nothing to declare line and checked in without any regard to my Carnet A.T.A, but I thought I’d play it by the book, or at least by what I thought the book asked of me, which would be to get a transit paper stamped.  This confused the customs employee, who had just arrived, and after I had told her I didn’t want to have the importation form stamped she said “wait a moment” and went into her office and ate dinner.  I paced outside, waiting for a sign of activity that didn’t involve mastication.  Just as I was about to take off again a guy appeared who had a better command of the English language.  Things were happening.  After a few discussions back and forth he suggested I just ignore the whole Carnet thing and go through customs without a stamp, which I would at that point have loved to do, but I’d already filled out the blue transit form, thinking that was the right thing to do.  It turned out the customs official had never come across the blue transit form, which including me made two clueless people on either side of the transaction.  They took the form I’d filled out, stamped the thing somehow, and told me to explain the incident to their Australian colleagues.  While the incident proved to me that I still need a good helping of patience, it may have proved beneficial in the end, because I ended up being upgraded to business class, further corroborating my suspicion that tardiness at check-in gets rewarded by a better seat.  With the business class seat I managed to sleep pretty well, waking up just in time for breakfast – the smell always wakes me up despite eye covers and earplugs. 

February 19: Melbourne customs handled the Carnet well.  Janelle, the girl handling my case, had just started her shift and I think had never done a Carnet, but she had a number of experienced colleagues to walk her through the procedure.  I asked about the transit sheet, where I thought I was missing a stamp, and the Australian guy said that as long as I got home with all the stuff on the list, it didn’t matter which stamps I did or didn’t have.  That said, Melbourne airport does not handle customs well.  It takes at least an hour to get through, and that was only because I was in the shorter “difficult” lane because of my Carnet.  I don’t know if the length of the line correlates with the presence of the filming crews, or if it’s always that long and only coincidence that both times I’ve arrived internationally at Melbourne Tullamarine filming crews have been present.  They generally slouch with their equipment on chairs near the customs exit, looking bored, waiting for the opportunity to shove a microphone into the face of some poor long-distance traveller who ideally struggles with English. 

Steven picked me up and drove me to the hotel.  For the next three days, Steven would be my driver and accompany me on customer visits, usually to universities in the middle of orientation week.  We had a good few visits that allowed him to get a first handle on our microscopes. 

February 22: In the evening I took a train from Southern Cross station to Glen Ferrie, where Tim works, and met him at his office.  We picked up his daughters from childcare and drove to their home, picking up two pizzas on the way for their traditional weekend kick-off food (which is usually home-made, but not this time, due to Tim’s travels).  Viv was out with friends, so I didn’t get to see her until late, and then only for a few minutes, as it was time to get back to the hotel.  I have no pictures of the girls on the backyard trampoline, but here are a few pictures that are right up there with Léon’s on the kawaii scale. 

Izzie with pizza
Izzie loves pizza! 

Caitlin
Caitlin is a bit more successful in keeping it out of her hair. 

Tim and the girls
Tim and the girls. 

Isobel
Isobel playing with what I think is a bathing suit. 

That’s it for now – I’m still a week behind, but it’s 12:30 and well past bedtime. 

 

Victory – I think…

I was ready on time, because it was one of the few things I could control myself about how the day would go.  Everything operated under boundary conditions completely out of my control, starting with my suit jacket not fitting well with my pullover on. 

Once we arrived I was glad for my pullover, even if it did generate terrific static electricity every time I took off my suit jacket.  The university’s halls were unheated, and Beijing is cold in winter.  At least the room was heated, but with all the windows open, it didn’t feel like it.  I immediately closed all windows to minimize temperature effects on the measurements and asked for a sun shade, because without the sun would soon beat straight on the microscope for most of the day and distort the measurements or even make them impossible. 

The measurements ended up going as well as I could have hoped for.  Still not great, but if the tech guys back home wonder why this one thing is even on the brochures, getting a noisy signal is better than none at all.  But I couldn’t blame the customer for not yet being entirely convinced when lunchtime came around. 

For lunch, we went to the same restaurant as the last time.  We had various Chinese dishes: spinach with vinegar and peanuts, fish that we got to inspect beforehand, sliced beef, some yummy battered-fried-and-slathered-in-sauce chicken, and finally a fish soup of which I ate no more than a spoonful because in addition to being a bit spicy it was so acidic it burned the back of my throat.  The student with the best English said, “It is acid and ˈpē-kwənt.”  He was much closer to the correct pronounciation (ˈpē-kənt, –ˌkänt; ˈpi-kwənt) than most Chinese usually are, but even after two repetitions I didn’t understand that he meant piquant.  I think I simply never expected a Chinese guy to know that word, but he proved me wrong, explaining: “One can say it is the opposite of ‘bland.'” 

I had another encounter with a squatterloo at the restaurant which I won’t relate in deference to my mother not appreciating the overabundance of those incidences in my last Chinese series.  If you really want to know, you can ask.  I will say this: ever since those posts, every visit to such a toilet has the ABBA song going through my head. 

Back at the university, we got treated to a marching drill of the pilots, who study there for two years before going to Australia for their last year for flight training.  I asked why Australia, to which he answered that perhaps it was cheaper.  Cheaper than China, cradle of cheap?  I didn’t pursue the matter.  

I spent the afternoon with more measurements and answering more questions.  I know I had to hide my irritation at some, when a student who had missed the morning asked for the same instruction I’d already given.  In the end, our partner had me write down what I’d done and prepare a space for signatures, the professor came, and after quite some hesitating and asking his students signed that I’d done what I said I’d done.  Apparently that means mission accomplished, but I don’t want to celebrate too soon… 

Back near the office I took two pictures of funny English I’d mentioned before. 

Mend the Glass
Doesn’t that imply we ought to break it? 

hate Autumn
The characters to the right, 晩秋, mean “Late Autumn,” but the English reads differently. 

While we’re on Chinese characters, the characters for IKEA are 宜家, “good house” or “good home,” which brings me back to my main point: China Southern Airlines still serves peanuts.  Allergy?  Tough luck. 

(So you think this entry was posted past bedtime?  Well, I had a certain delightful young lady on skype for nearly an hour…)

 

May I take your picture?

It’s strange how numbers can tell different stories.  By brochure count, today was as bad as yesterday.  We had half the brochures left over, and two thirds of that half had gone the first day (not a surprise to alert readers with a mathematical mind).  By visitor count, although I don’t have numbers, it felt similar.  But if I count the name cards I received, today scored 50% better than the first day.  The overall count is still low and a number of things need to change for me to consider exhibiting again, but it wasn’t a total waste. 

During the dead times, I got reading and writing done, instead of just loitering about.  I also sat in some sessions, though in the one I visited today half the speakers had bailed out.  The lure of the beach must have been stronger. 

My Chinese partner talked to one of the girls that work for the conference organizers.  Apparently, the company managing the event asked a local company for cute girls that speak English, or so, and this local company sourced them from a school where they are studying to become flight attendants.  That explains a number of things: their terminal cuteness, their eagerness to speak with foreign me, and why they’re not really local.  He said they’re being paid 100 RMB per day for this job.  That makes me think I should perhaps have hired a booth girl.  You never know what draws the customer.  (Although, that said, I didn’t see many delegates hanging out at the registration counter, so if you’re boring, all the cute girls in the world don’t help squat.)  He said her study book was on Karl Marx. 

For lunch I had a local specialty, Dongshan goat.  It was deep fried with cardamom.  I tasted of my partner’s local specialty, Wenchang chicken, and regretted my choice.  Although not bad, the goat didn’t hold a candle to the chicken and its sweet lemon sauce, perfect for a warm day.  We shared rice and stewed veggies with papaya along with our meats.  They seem to like papaya a lot here. 

One Russian researcher stopped at the booth when I talked to him about his shape memory alloy talk from yesterday.  He showed me another material he was working on that was interesting and could have potential for use with an AFM, but it looked like a lot of work is still needed to get the idea to cheap series production. 

After the afternoon coffee break I took everything down as quickly as possible, so that I’d get some time in the water.  The ocean was warm enough to swim in, but far from exciting, with waves rarely exceeding twenty centimeters in height.  I soon got out and switched to the pool with the water slides.  It’s been a while since I’ve been down one, and I enjoyed it, although I wasn’t able to dam some water for a quicker ride as I would have liked to because the rides were being watched. 

On the way back to my room I met a family of five that looked Chinese.  I asked one of the little boys if he was Chinese, and when he didn’t answer right away, I said Nihao.  I thought that was the end of it and walked out of the elevator before them and down the hall, when I heard from behind me: “We are from New Zealand.”  It took me half a second to realize I’d really heard that, and then I turned around and waited for them.  They were Chinese, originally, living in Auckland, and on their summer vacation, though I don’t quite understand taking a long flight to flee your summer for what is essentially also summer. 

I dried off, changed, and headed over to the farewell celebration.  My food intake was limited to a little snack sandwich and a baby pizza, along with a Hainan beer (ordinary) and a coke (coke), because I spent most my time chatting with Vishnu, Ayse, and Birgit, when we could hear each other over the resident band.  Soon everyone wanted to take a picture of the band, so I joined in. 

Photo Mania
Look at that band!

Smooooooth operator
I forgot to ask if they could use an oboist.

With the cameras out, there was no stopping: all the reception desk girls and other helpers wanted to have their picture taken with me and other foreigners.  I had none taken with my camera, because I alread take too many pictures, but if they make good on their promises my work e-mail should soon be overflowing with the ones they took. 

Vishnu and I got to talking to Wendy, and Vishnu asked who picks the English names the Chinese have.  Wendy said she’d picked hers herself at the beginning of college, when her teacher said they all needed to have one, and she picked hers because of Peter Pan, even though (to her regret) Wendy and Peter don’t end up together.  We told her now all she had to do was find herself a Peter, to which she replied she already had one, but his name wasn’t Peter.  It turned out he had no English name, so we urged her to give him the name of Peter. 

Vishnu turned away for something, and Wendy said to me: “You are human!”  I must have looked puzzled, because she repeated it: “You are human!”  I must still have looked puzzled, because she rephrased it: “You are humorous.  At the booth you are very serious.  Now I get to know real you.”  I thanked her and told her selling microscopes was serious business, but now I wonder if I would have had more people at my booth with a juggling act…

I have a note that says “important information,” but I can’t remember what I wanted myself to remember to write.  I guess it was less important than I thought. 

I also have next to me the laundry bill.  I’d given my pyjamas to be laundered, but they didn’t recognize them as such and split them into a T-shirt and underpants, which actually saved me 2 RMB.  Now that’s serving the customer! 

 

You know you should stop when you can’t think of titles

Three long days – I’ll keep it short. 

Up early on Monday to pack and leave the hotel by about 6:15.  The trick was packing so that the suitcase could be sent to my next hotel in Tokyo while I went to Osaka for a night.  I met my colleague on the shinkansen platform; we bought breakfast and boarded.  The window seat did me little good, because I was more interested in sleeping than in catching the early morning sun.  In about three hours that thanks to a lack of consciousness seemed like a lot less we had arrived; two changes later we were rumbling on a local train to the Osaka main office. 

At the office we discussed the upcoming demonstration, then after a lunch at a family restaurant where I surprised everyone by having no more than a salad but then following it up with a large helping of ice cream we drove to the customer site.  The visit proved frustrating and there were moments where I had to struggle to contain my impatience and anger.  I can’t understand the reasoning behind giving an unknown sample that has never been characterised to a vendor for a demo measurement.  Whatever the results, you can’t compare them; you don’t know what to expect; it almost always turns out to be a colossal waste of time.  In our case it would have been a total waste of time had I not decided in a moment of irritation to measure a standard sample I’d brought along which allowed us to demonstrate that even in an environment acoustically dominated by pumps and fans we were able to measure a 1.8 nm high step with the system that’s not designed for high resolution.  The customer samples indicated more about their level of knowledge of those samples than anything else, with almost all of them exhibiting characteristics an order of magnitude different from what had been indicated.  It was about eight when we returned to the office. 

We went straight for dinner at Namba station, picking initially a restaurant called Watami but after being informed of a 20-minute wait decided to pick the restaurant a floor higher instead, called En.  There we had all manner of tasty food, after moving to another room because the head of the Osaka office didn’t like the noisy neighbors.  The restaurant had some trouble with delivering the food quickly, and the tuna cheek in the end never appeared, but after tofu skin and spinach salad, natto and ground meat on cabbage leaves, fried mozzarella in tofu skin, tofu boiled in soy milk with tororo kombu and ponzu, grilled onigiri, salmon and avocado sushi, hot sake, Perrier, and walnut ice cream I left stuffed and happy.  I have to admit that liking the natto while one of the Japanese almost spat it out made me feel a winner, but if it was indeed his second time ever then he deserves praise for his courage.  He got extra tamagoyaki to make up for it. 

My colleague from Tokyo and I stayed at the Toyoko Inn at Namba station.  I was tired, hence the lack of blogging activity.  As always, this Toyoko Inn resembled any Toyoko Inn, except that they served croissants and cinnamon rolls for breakfast. 

We visited an existing customer on Tuesday, who I was afraid had bought the instrument without really knowing anything, but it turned out that he had a good grasp of the technology and the theory and simply hadn’t ever gotten around to using the system.  I hope the meeting with him gets him kick-started.  He did say that seeing the system he thought he’d manage with the more complex measuring modes, which is a change from the questions we’d received.  Sometimes I wonder how much gets lost in transmission when a customer writes in Japanese and I end up getting a translated message – it’s like Chinese whispers with translation issues thrown in.  Even so, with the meeting beginning at 2pm in Kobe, a three-hour meeting meant leaving on a seven o’clock train from Shin-Osaka and arriving in Tokyo main station at 10pm.  I only bought a small dinner at the train station because I’d had a large miso “here” (filet) tonkatsu (pork cut, batter-fried) set menu for lunch.  Again, I dozed for quite a bit, though I also read from David Malouf’s short story collection “Antipodes,” which I don’t know how to pronounce, so I’ll go look it up now.  Be right back. 

It’s what I feared it might be, another example of English pronounciation gone haywire.  Learners of the German language get frustrated with the vowel changes from singular to plural, but at least one can still recognize the connection between the two. 

On both the visits recounted above there were the same four of us: my Tokyo colleague, an Osaka salesman relatively new to the company but who looks the part and seems sharp enough to pick up on the instrument skills, and the assistant who lived in Canada in her youth and translates for me when necessary.  It sounds like a lot of manpower, but I welcome any exposure to our systems.  I noticed that the assistant sat up right at all meals, so I asked her if she did sports.  I thought she might have had ballet or other dance lessons, and I wasn’t far off: she does yoga.  Another thing I noticed was how the corners of her mouth are always turned slightly upward as if her lips were spring-loaded to smile, and she does smile a lot, so it’s hard to tell whether her disposition influenced her features or if they were created to suit her disposition. 

Anyway, after the ride home and the antipodes I got to my hotel in Ikebukuro, which turned out to be located on a pedestrian zone in a movie district, with – at that hour – terminally fashionable guys guiding their equally fashionable girls by the buttocks while a few hundred meters away in the Ikebukuro train station homeless guys hunker down along the walls for the night, dotted lines of misery in a sea of neon prosperity.  Connect the dots and they spell out a larger story of many more dots around the world in even worse situations; a larger story of how the twentieth century has made humanism an untenable belief system for all but the blinkered and bunkered.  But who am I to speak?  I sell microscopes that cost more than a car… 

Today I had a discussion with another partner and then headed to Hamamatsu with him for a local show.  It was very small but surprisingly interesting for me.  I finished Malouf’s collection, enjoying at least two stories enough to recommend the book which I think starts with the weaker half and then ends with some pieces of real insight.  One story talks about how telling a true story means giving one’s life to back it up: “The Bloody Sergeant comes on, announces that a battle has been won, bleeds a little, and after twenty rugged lines retires into oblivion.  But what he has been called upon to tell has to be lived with and carried through a lifetime, out there in the dark.”  That’s why telling about independently verifiable facts is easy, almost cowardly: it requires no personal commitment.  But telling someone about your faith – now that’s a story! 

I started into Graham Greene’s “Travels With My Aunt” after that and can already tell I’ll enjoy this one too.  Greene manages to be both entertaining and deep at once.  Pearls in slop, perhaps, but obviously there and there for the sifting. 

With a stop at a T-shirt store near the train station I took care of the last item on my shopping list.  And yes, I walked there blinkered.  I don’t know what else to do. 

 

A Day in the Food

We were scheduled to visit a customer today to explain the possibilities of a Nanosurf AFM.  Fortunately, we left early.  We got on the Odakyu line in Shinjuku (unfortunately not on the Romance Car, whatever that was) and thought we were on the express headed to Hon-Atsugi (who names places Genuine Thick Tree?).  I recognized some of the scenery from a previous trip to Komae, but we soon passed that.  We also passed the point where we should have changed cars because we we headed for Enoshima instead, and it wasn’t until three stops later that I noticed.  The advantage of that was getting to see a truck with the blog title posted on it and a far away sign that said “Feel Wood.”  It reminded me of nothing but the Häring company (and wasn’t posted in Genuine Thick Tree).  We caught a train in the other direction that left a few minutes after we got off and after changing where we ought to have changed we were soon in Hon-Atsugi, with still enough time to spare to have a quick lunch. 

But it had to be quick, so we grabbed a bite at the incredibly cheap Sakura Sansui, where we got full meals with all-you-can-eat rice and raw eggs – obviously not a place catering to foreigners.  I’ve gotten used to it, so I had my cholesterol for the week there: one egg on the rice and one in the miso soup.  Along with that I had saba (mackerel, not the island). 

A short taxi drive later we were at the customer site.  One of the guys we spoke with had a pencil that looked like a regular wooden pencil with a hexagonal cross-section, but was fitted with a tip that gave it away as a push pencil.  I give him as many style points as one can give a uniformed Japanese engineer. 

The taxi driver’s first name on the way back was Luna, fueling suspicions among us that there might have been something odd about him.  Guys in Japan aren’t called Luna.  We took a brief break in a coffee shop, where I had a large hot cocoa and astonished my colleagues by emptying ten little cream containers into it.  I wouldn’t have to do that if they went easy on the chocolate and used more milk.  Across the table sat a young woman in a pink coat with a pink purse obviously trying to read a research paper of some sort and not managing because apparently watching ducks molting would have been more exciting. 

The pit stop may have been our downfall, because the train we caught ended up being delayed because of an accident.  It appears my week was framed in accidents, Tuesday seeing one on the Saikyo line that delayed the Narita Express and today one on the Odakyu line that ended up blocking traffic between Sagami-Ono and Shinjuku.  Usually, “accident” is a euphemism for a suicide jump; Monday and Friday see the highest number of jumpers, those who can’t bear another week or those sucked dry by a bad one.  We got off at Ebina and took the Sotetsu line to Yokohama, then the Shonan-Shinjuku line to Shinjuku.  This ticket would have cost about twice the ticket we had, but we got a free pass from the Odakyu line.  They’ll somehow figure out how much they gave out in free passes and invoice it to the family of the jumper.  It sounds nauseatingly cynical, but implementing this rule led to a decline in suicides by jumping in front of a train in Japan. 

During the extra time we had, I don’t remember how we got onto that topic, but someone mentioned that NOVA had gone bankrupt.  This will, I suppose, lead to a lot of English teachers looking for work or hiring on with less centralized setups like Smith’s or just going private, as intimated in the blog I already quoted above

On the way back from the office, I took a slightly different route and happened past a store that sold men’s underwear.  I thought I might perhaps find a pair of boxer shorts with a quirky design as a stocking stuffer, but instead of that the store boasted a wall of DVDs with titles like Bareback Mountain.  Then I remembered I’d been warned about this part of town.  Sure enough, the next store offered a similar combination of merchandise.  I continued on and was glad when I reached the Yasukuni road.  There I stopped in a men’s clothing store and found out that I can find a suit in Japan, if I’m willing to accept that I’m the second largest size in height and largest size in waist. 

Through a maze of love hotels I made my way to the hotel, stopping on the way at Lee’s gyoza restaurant for a small dinner.  I had mushroom gyoza (potstickers), but this joint has all sorts, so maybe I’ll stop by again tomorrow. 

 

Return of the Children’s Menu

We checked out today, Ola to catch a flight back and I to check in to the Toyoko Inn that I originally had intended to stay in.  By nine o’clock we arrived at our partners’ office, where we stopped in for a quick coffee and tea before I took Ola to the Tokyo station.  As it turned out, he could have managed on his own, but it doesn’t hurt to provide a safety net.  We were already later than the worst rush hour, so the subway was not too crowded, and again emptied at Akasaka-Mitsuke.  At the Tokyo JR station I was a bit peeved that just in order to get on the platform I had to buy a ticket and couldn’t get a refund, which is something they manage to do at the Metro station.  A corollary of that I suppose to be that if your loved one (your darling, your joe) boards a bullet train (shinkansen), you get to wave goodbye at the wicket gate.  Romantic, eh? 

After I got back, we soon headed out to visit a customer who had recently bought our instrument.  He had some suggestions and questions but was satisfied with the results he was getting.  I improvised a scan protector with the top of a steel vessel for a specialty coating system, which might get him better results, but (a) he can’t measure with it and coat at the same time and (b) the Scan Protector we make is five times lighter and easier to handle. 

On the ride there I’d dozed on the back seat, but on the ride back I sat in the passenger seat and stayed awake and alert the whole time and discussed music promotion in Japan with Mitch.  He used to do that before he joined our partners. 

We’d had lunch at the Gusto family restaurant and I’d eaten too much despite having ordered a small meal, so I decided to eat less tonight and got myself some combini food.  Ground pork on a stick, beef on a stick, bread with mochi and mushroom paste in it, a vitamin C drink, and buckwheat tea made a balanced meal except that the fourth food group, ice cream, was missing.  Back at the hotel I discovered that this brand sold their little ice cream without the spoons that more expensive brands secret away in the lid.  I was about to cut up the lid to fashion a spoon when I remembered I’d just tossed away the contents of the Swiss International Air Lines Children’s Menu shoulder bag: plasticware and a napkin.  So it was thanks to the children’s menu that I could eat my ice cream in a civilized manner. 

I’m a bit tired and not feeling too great, so I’ll quit here.