Friday, August 21, 2009

Notre Dame Football - undefeated in Japan!!!

Continuing my homework assignments...

So the weekend after we went to Seoul was American football - Notre Dame Alumni vs. the Japan National Team in the Tokyo Dome.  Notable on the ND team was Tim Rice.  Notable on the JP team were guys who play American football.  I think the ND team out-weighed the JP team on average by like 60 pounds.   They probably out-aged them by about 20 years as well... there were guys on the ND team well over 50 years old.

Unfortunately, the JP team seemed to forget this fact.  Or it could have been that they were simply intimidated by the coaching legend on the other side of the field - Lou Holtz and his national championship 22 years ago.  I have to admit that my favorite teams are the University of Texas, whoever is playing a&m and whoever is playing ND.  But having said that...
  1. Who is Charlie Weiss?  How great would ND be if they had kept Lou?
  2. ND is #1 right now... what other team is 1-0?
  3. ND fans came out of the woodwork for this game.  
  4. They trounced JP 19-3.  Don't let anybody tell you ND isn't back.
If I was going to a football game, I felt like I had to wear UT garb.  I ran into quite a few people from Texas because of it.  

All in all, a nice little slice of Americana with tastes of Japan mixed in.

Happy Anniversary to Me.

So my one year anniversary in Japan was this week.  Pretty amazing how quickly it has gone by.  I certainly (still) miss all of our friends back home, but it's been an incredible experience.


Okay... this has been a long time coming.  Jenn assigned this homework to me before she went back to the US and I simply failed.  So here you go.

I feel like we need to go back to Korea.  

First, we had a very Malaysia like experience - it rained a lot.  So we dealt with that from pretty much the day we got there (Friday afternoon).  Second, there was really one thing that I wanted to do in Korea - visit the Demilitarized Zone (the DMZ).  We had our reservation for the USO tour where you get to go to Panmunjeom and straddle the border of North and South Korea, go into the tunnels that the North Koreans have built into South Korea, and stare across the most heavily defended border in the world.  You actually have to sign a waiver saying that you acknowledge that military action could break out at any time and that you won't hold the United Nations responsible if you are killed during your tour - how great is that?

But the heavy hand of swine flu swatted those plans aside.  A soldier at one of the military bases on the border contracted this glorified flu and, as a result, the bases were sealed and the tours cancelled.  We found this out when we showed up for our tour.

So we walked around Seoul and saw some markets and a bunch of palaces (in the rain).  Lots of Japanese regularly go to Korea, primarily to shop.  It's a combination of a lack of duties in Korea (as opposed to Japan) and a very strong Yen that makes stuff much cheaper in Korea as compared to Japan.

One highlight for Korea - the food.  We didn't have a bad meal in Korea.  Koreans in the restaurants we went to seemed surprised that we liked the kimchi, but it was really good and there are lots of varieties (not just burn your face off hot).  The soup you see that I had in the pics below was really hot if you ate it alone, but was really good with the noodles in the soup.  We also got to experience true Korean barbeque thanks to our friends Michael and Lee... really good stuff.  

One unique thing about Korea (compared to Japan) - the chopsticks are often metal... a little difficult to eat noodles with.  

Monday, August 17, 2009

Here Comes the Bride....

So, I just get home from a lovely trip home.  I hate to report (yeah right), that I missed all the little earthquake craziness, but thankfully everything was fine and John wasn't too scared without me...ha.  For those of you that didn't know, my dear friend Marcia got married and I was honored to be a part of it.  

The wedding was in Savannah, which is a great little city.  My mom and my old friend Karrie decided to join me in my exploration of the city before the wedding festivities began.  We had the best time sifting through antique shops and touring historic homes.  After they left all the whirlwind that accompanies any wedding began.  It was a wonderful southern wedding and I got to catch up with some great people that I hadn't seen in a long time.  Here are a few pics of my time home.  

Until next time...Jenn

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Tokyo... back on top baby!

So Mercer (didn't Jenn used to work for them?) came out with their annual cost of living study and Tokyo is the most expensive city in the world for expats.  Wahoo!!! Take that Moscow.

New York serves as the basis (with a score of 100) and Tokyo came in at 143.7  Most of the change is due to currency movements, not actual increases in prices.  The yen/USD has gone from well over 110 to around 93 since we've been here.  I think it even dipped below 90 for a while last fall.  That's not a bad thing when you get paid in yen... it's like US dollars go on sale.

The flip side (for Japan that is) is that its exports become relatively more expensive.  We get a lot of questions about how the economy is here... unemployment is projected to go over 6% (which would be the highest since WWII), but is not nearly as bad as the 10% projected in the US.  But that number is probably lower than it should be.  There was a story last weekend (can't find a link now) indicating that nearly the same number of people were "over-employed" - meaning their employers would terminate/RIF/fire them if they could, but they are legally prohibited from doing so.

It is really hard to layoff/fire someone here.  As a result it is a big deal when it happens.  I need to catch some photos of this, but there are guys standing around doing a jobs that no one would ever do in the US.  For example, around construction sites there are usually 2 guys at each construction entrance to 1) make sure you don't go into the site, or 2) make sure you don't get run over by a truck.  Road patching crews have at least 2-3 guys at each end of the patch to direct traffic (I've never seen a bad road or a bad patch in Japan).  Pedestrian crossings of roads around the hotels have 2 guys (one on each side) telling you when it is safe to cross (as if you couldn't see the cars coming).  I have even seen a guy who's job it is to clean the phone booths.

It really is amazing and I think it (partially) explains why prices are higher here... there is a lot of extra labor cost being passed on to consumers.  I'm not sure it's always worth it, but it's the way it is here.  

I'm working on this...