Near Yellow Mountain

Saturday, May 21, 2011

"trashing" in - the ex-pat garage sale

When we left on our ex-pat assignment, we expected to be gone three years. We returned eleven years later. During that time, my company paid an annual fee for many of our things to be stored in the US. The girls were young. Not knowing they would be adults when we moved back - we kept everything. Over the years the company paid approximately $50,000 to store TVs and electrical items that wouldn't work without power adaptors in Japan, the Barbie Jeep, basketball hoop, skis, Beany Babies (we had dozens and took only the favorites), clothes we didn't feel had to go with us, etc etc. In 2011, instead of a Barbie jeep, my elder daughter drives a Toyota Rav 4...... Nobody wants to pay much for an oversized stereo TV that was state of the art in the 90s when the world has moved to flat screen high definition.

Every year when I would see the storage bill on my ex-pat cost statement; I thought I would gladly have gotten rid of all that stuff for what it cost to store for one year, let alone eleven years. About five years into my time overseas as I was agreeing to "another three years", I seriously thought of negotiating to end the storage madness by accepting one years storage cost in exchange for allowing the company to move our goods to the dump or the nearest Goodwill store. Could have.... would have .... should have......

As I write this, most of our "junk" is sitting in our driveway. My wife and daughters are trying to sell it by having a classic Southern "garage sale". For non American readers - the concept of a garage sale is to clean out old stuff from your garage by selling it cheap - usually on a Saturday morning. Garage sales are popular in North Carolina. My wife, a natural marketing expert, had great success in the 1990s convincing people to pay "just a little" more for things we would have donated to Goodwill or had to pay to dispose of if a buyer couldn't be found.

Now that we are settled in our new house; today was the appointed day to sell the stuff from the storage unit that filled our unfinished basement for the last several months.

From first light, cars would drive up and people who had forgone showers, combing their hair or eating breakfast so they could have the first opportunity to turn our trash into their treasures - scanned our driveway full of potential bargains. The American girl doll and accessories went first. We got less than $20 for something we spent about $200 on in the 1990s. A typical garage sale return ratio for something still desirable and in good condition. The basketball hoop went for $10. A dollar here and a dollar there and the driveway began to reappear as the "inventory" went to a new home.

At the end the day, the girls may net $400 from what the company paid $50,000 to store.

Another lesson in ex-pat economics...........

Friday, May 13, 2011

All Quiet on the Eastern Front

I just ended a thirteen day trip to Asia with five days in Tokyo. Over the past 15 years, I have spent at least 30 days each year in the "eastern capital". Based on my experience, I consider myself qualified to judge how the city is operating. It has been 60+ days since "3/11". The aftershocks are detectable but for the most part not felt. Tokyo seems like its normal self.

Typical of the country, individuals and companies are trying to show solidarity with the need to reduce power use in the wake of the nuclear plant shutdown. Company lobbies are much darker than normal; escalators are not running, and certain businesses are running at modestly reduced hours. Beyond the office lobbies - the meeting rooms are bright and the reduced hours at some businesses are more of an excuse to operate more efficiently than anything else.

In the streets and restaurants, things seemed normal. Traffic to and from the golf course on Sunday was normal. Restaurants are full. While Japanese car companies are not producing at normal levels yet - they can see the day when they will be.

It was a pleasure to spend five nights in my favorite Tokyo hotel - the Peninsula. The service was great as usual. Perhaps the occupany was a little less than normal but after the images the world saw after "3/11"; it was hard to imagine the recovery would happen this fast.

One of my customers has a plant less than 15 miles from the Fukushima nuclear plant. Just a  few weeks ago it was doubtful when or even if the factory would reopen. It is operating as I write this.

It was great to see Japan on the mend.

Friday, May 6, 2011

"Squatter's Rights?"

My current trip found me in several small cities in western China. Despite a long tenure in Asia; I never came to grips with one of the major differences between east and west. Warning to the reader - this post may be too much information for some......

My family adapted quickly to the high end toilets of Japan. I think each of us probably pushed the wrong button  and got soaked at least once but we all liked the heated seats and other pleasant functions of a typical Japanese improvment on western culture.

It is best to approach a Japanese toilet with respect
After returning to the US, there was more than one cold winter day in North Carolina when I harkened back to the warmth of the Japanese toilet. One of the selling points of our house in Shanghai was that the landlord had the foresight to buy a full featured Japanese toilet which even had a "purity indicator" for the water in the bowl. Not sure why......

On the other end of the spectrum, we also encountered the dreaded "hole in the floor" aka squatter toilet on many occassions. Over time, I developed a sixth sense for where I might encounter the "squatter" and tried to manage my bodily functions accordingly. One of my traveling mantras in rural areas became "never pass a western toilet without a stop".

It seems like such a simple thing. As a marathoner, I often had to duck in an alley or in a wooded area when "nature called" on a long run. This never bothered me but I just never got comfortable with the "one eyed" toilet staring up at me from the floor. I felt like a young sumo wrestler awkwardly trying to learn how to engage the opponent at the center of the dohyo. I found the positioning needed bothersome and the lack of relaxation afforded by the hole a blight on the wisdom of the east. Did Confucious really use a squatter? It is also very hard to read and "take care of business" at the same time. Nobody calls a squatter toilet the "reading room" for good reason.

Later today after a week where I was forced to squat several times, I look forward to flying to Tokyo where the Peninsula Hotel provides the top of the line warm seat, adjustable spray toilet. Yes, simple pleasures are sometimes are the best.