Near Yellow Mountain

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Stories from a month of travel

July 23, 2011

The last four weeks were mostly plane, hotel, plane golf, plane ...... California, Montreal, Michigan, Japan, NY, NC ........

My trip to Montreal was a great culinary adventure as always. The long wait in customs made US immigration look good by comparison.  The traffic around Montreal indicated that our neighbors to the north could use some stimulus spending of their own on their roads and bridges. Leaving Canada was a testimony to needless bureaucracy. For some reason, four people at different positions checked boarding passes before we got to the gates.  All the quality of life talk we hear from our Canadian friends seemed questionable after two days up North. Perhaps I am generalizing from a small sample..... then again, maybe not.

A long term colleague in Japan who had a great opportunity to take a position with a young growing company decided to move on. I spent nine days traveling in Japan as part of  a "sayonara tour" to help him say a proper goodbye to customers. In the US, a change of job every few years is expected. In Japan, the departure of a long time employee generates questions that demand a reasonable explanation and reassurance that the relationship between the companies will remain stable. In this case, I tried to serve as a stabilizer since I have known some of our customers in Japan longer than my Japanese cohort. My friend's departure will generate more travel to Japan for me in the short term and also prompted many comments from our Japanese customers that my leaving Asia was "not a good idea".

Having a knowledgeable, trusted co-worker in Japan is a great asset that I will miss. To some extent I took all his hard work for granted - he made so many arrangements and handled so many details that an administrative assistant cannot handle as easily. On the other hand, life without a local "handler" is good challenge that will stretch me in ways I haven't been stretched in a several years.

The explanation of my friend's departure was not as difficult as the 9 days and nights of large lunches, long dinners and late nights fueled by beer, sake, mizuwari and countless stories of the past 16 years of business dealings. Saying goodbye can be hard work even when you are the one that is staying behind. Two days of golf in the intense Tokyo heat on the weekend only exacerbated the dehydrating effect of nights with too little sleep and too much of everything else.

I slept for 9 hours on the flight back to the US to prepare myself for a family wedding that took place less than 24 hours after I landed. Sometimes I marvel at how different life can seem just a couple of days apart. On Wednesday night I was in the Ginza area of Tokyo surrounded by a sea of salarymen with nary a face similar to mine in sight - 48 hours later I was in the Finger Lakes area of NY in a small church attending a wedding - I blended in perfectly with those in attendance. I felt at home in both places. Places that could not have been more different.

After the wedding, my wife and I spent a couple of nights in my hometown to attend a gathering on my side of the family. We could only stay two days because I had to be back in North Carolina to greet customers from Japan and the 4 person crew sent from Japanese TV (NHK) that is shadowing one of my customers for a few weeks for an episode of a NHK show called "The Professionals". It was a little odd explaining the 4 person camera crew filming golf and dinner but people always seems to want to cooperate when a TV show is involved. It was so hot while we were playing golf that the cameraman and sound person put on head "dress" that made them look like Al Qaeda - I thought maybe the police would be called to check out the "terrorists on the golf course". Fortunately we finished 18 holes without a visit from the local SWAT team.

Last week I spent an entire week in my North Carolina office with no guests or travel. I enjoyed the quiet - for about 3 days. I will be back in Japan in two weeks.

 A lot has changed in less than two years - my colleague in Japan moved to a new company and, a year later, I moved on too. We remain friends, see each other often, and hope for the opportunity to work together in the future.

Life goes on - change is constant but the relationships that matter endure

The Japanese TV show I mention in the post  was filmed in China, Tokyo and North Carolina. The hour show gave another friend, who was the featured "Professional" more than his "15 minutes of fame". After the show aired, I had the chance to see people notice him in train stations and on the streets in Tokyo and Osaka. Viewers sent food and snacks to his office to help him maintain his "figure". My cameo in the show as the "bad gaijin" got me noticed on the street a few times but only when I was standing next to the main character.