Saturday, October 22, 2005

Day 6, 7 Seoul, Day 8 Beijing

Seoul came and went very quickly. Our two full days there were spent working. The Autodesk office in Seoul was very nice, but short of my first night there, and my last night there, I did not really get to see too much of Korea itself. Last night, I went with Shawn and Doug to a more "authentic" part of Seoul. By the time we got there most of the shops had closed down, but this part of the city definitely did feel a little different. I was starving by this time and could only think about food. Every meal in Seoul had so far been great, with the one exception of a Chinese lunch (that are hosts took us to) that did not sit well with me.

Anyhow, little too much info there, we went to a restaurant that one of the ladies at Autodesk Korea told us to try. I asked a nice couple where it was (we had the korean name printed on a napkin) and we happened to be standing right in front of it. So much for being the experienced traveler.

As we get inside I go to the bathroom to wash my hands. I get out and Doug and Shawn go, "So Matt did you suddenly start to speak Korean or something". I thought the joke was kind of lame till I realized that they were blankly staring at a menu without a word of English. Rather than tuck our tails as I did in Japan we decided to make the most of it and try new things. After about a 5 minute straight interpretation of the menu through our waiter's broken english I settled on seafood and rice in a stone pot and a skewer of some sort of beef ... I think it was pork (Isaac, your email got to be a few hours too late, but thanks for the food suggestions anyhow).

The dinner ended up being great. After eating we took the subway back to the hotel and I packed up my bags in preparation for the last leg of my trip: Beijing.

So far all I can say about Beijing isn't very positive. The smog here is thick. My hotel is pretty grand, so that is good. The people here drive like fucking maniacs (and the use of the f-bomb there is definitely warranted). I have actually noticed that in Korea the same was true but to a much lesser extent. I am off now to explore and take pics. Tomorrow it is either the Great Wall or the Forbidden City. Everyone is telling me to do the wall, so that is probably what it will be.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Day 4: Tokyo and Day 5: Seoul

Last Tokyo Day

The last few days have been mostly work, but it has still be an experience being in Japan and Korea respectively.

Our actual session with our Japanese customers was on Tuesday and it went very well. That night we went to a restaurant called Tofu-ie had a tapas style Japanese dinner of mostly tofu cooked and served in a variety of different ways. I had to load up on two extra plates of sashimi to tide me over, but all in all it was a very fun, different meal. The next day we had to get up very early to catch the flight to Seoul.

It was kind of sad leaving Tokyo - there is so much else to see and do there. One of the members of our group (who was not going on to Seoul and Beijing) was going to stay at a Japanese inn for the remainder of the week. I kind of envied her, but was looking forward to Seould and Beijing.

Before leaving the Narita Tokyo airport I made it a point to spend all of the loose change Yen I had accumulated. So I bought a bunch of wasabi peas and this really good chocolate called "Dars". Next thing we knew the plane took off and it was time for Seoul.

Travelling to Seoul and my Adventures in the Market

My first impression of Seoul was that is was a very modern, futuristic type city. The buidings all have their own distinct look with weird angles, sculptures, and facades adorning them. I took some pics if anyone is interested. Like Tokyo everything is big. The highway from the airport to the hotel borders a river and as a far as the eye can see are buildings, row after row.

We arrived at the hotel about an hour after leaving the airport. I am staying at COEX Intercontinental. Underneath the hotel is a mall that stretches undergound for a whole city block (at least it feels like that).

Rather than shop and eat there our first night a group of us decided to go see one of the larger markets in Seoul: Namdaemun Market. Here is where I would learn that my negotiating skills could still be a little better.

The market itself was pretty crazy. Everyone pretty much sells the same things: leather products, random toys, t-shirts belts, nice hand and garmet bags ,etc. All of the stores also have the same exact layout and setup. Intermixed between all of these little stores are food vendors who are also selling the exact same things in the exact same layout: live octopus, skinned snake, squid, silk-worm larvae ... all stuff that you don't readily find at home - there was also chicken and beef too, but thats not as exciting. I steered clear of all of these goodies, but it was great just seeing this sort of stuff up close.

So I have never owned a leather jacket, and my goal on the trip was to buy my mom one but I am also not a fashion expert . While looking for one for my Mom I stumbled upon a Kenneth Cole jacket that was almost identical to a real kenneth cole leather jacket I had tried on at the kenneth cole store at Union Square one day. I really wanted the jacket that day but the 400$+ price tag kept me away.

This jacket was so soft, it was calling me. I asked the guy how much and he says 280$. I kind of wince, say no, and continue to admire the leather (it really is super soft). I take it off and hand it back to him. He says how much you want to spend. I say 120$ (i have nothing to lose right). He kind of laughs, says the jacket retails for 750 (which it doesn't) and "ponders" (I put that in quotes because these guys are for sure just acting a certain role). He comes back with 230$ ... I counter with 190$ (which I really didn't want to spend) and he just rolls his eyes at me. I give him the jacket back and we leave. At this point I was kind of bummed, because I really wanted the jacket, knock off or not, the leather was real, and it was just like the one I had tried on before about a year ago.

I go to a few other vendors ( my two coworkers in tow - thanks Doug and Shawn) and I cannot find Mr. Cole's jacket anywhere. Hunger was calling us so I decided oh well and went searching for some food. We knew that we did not want to eat at one of the many stands -- we wanted to eat some good Korean food (not that the stands did not have good korean food). After walking out of the market we came upon a huge 12 story mall. The whole 10th floor was restaurants.

Only one of the restaurants was Korean food - we went in and sat down. All 3 of us ordered this prime rib dish where you cook the beef on this burner that is surrounded by a trough where a sauce/broth and the vegetables are cooked. We had three orders of this between the three of us (they said it is usually 1 order for 2 people) -- so we were hungry. Also served is an array of vegetables - Kimchi (sp?), a very spicy radish, a garlicy spinach, and a variety of mushrooms. It was very good. I also had some Korean wine which happens to be the first disappointing food item of the trip so far. It was the cheapest brand though. I was hoping it would be like sake but it wasn't.

After chowing down (and chow we did - so good) we schmoozed with our waiter and learned a little about how big brothers and little brothers talk to each other in Korean. Little brothers (or younger people) address older people by appending the word Hyong (sp?) to the name. For some reason getting us all to speak like this with the waiter around was pretty comical, but I guess you had to be there.

Dinner ended and we made our way back to the subway. Along the way I stopped back into the leather shop that had the jacket. The man immediately went to the rack it was on pulled it out, hung it up, and continued a phone conversation he was having -- I didn't have to say a word. I tried it on again waited till he got off the phone and told him I would buy it for 170$ (probably too much money, but like I said I would learn something about bargaining).

He kind of sneered at me (again an act) and said something like 190. I was a little more bold this time and kind of took it off and said I might come back tomorrow. This is where it gets interesting. I leave and he comes back out and says how much do you want to pay. I say "Ideally 140" (I felt the jacket was easily worth that). He says 160$. At this point I am thinking that he could have had me for 170 and then would have been it. I should have turned and walked away and gotten it down to the 140-125 range, but instead I accepted his offer.

So I am out 160$ bucks, learned a little about bargaining, but have a great looking Kenneth Cole (or at least ken cole knockoff) jacket.

He placed the jacket in a bag for me -- i promptly put it on and we rolled back to the hotel where we had a beer and listened to a Philipino (sp?) cover band request songs.

More updates as I explore more. Today was a work day and we met the Korean Autodesk Employees. i don't think (or I know) I will not have as much time to check out Korea as I did Japan, but will try to get some more sightseeing in.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Tokyo: Day 3

Alas, today was a work day, but I still managed to be amazed (and continually am being amazed, as I am still at work right now, but decided I needed to capture my thoughts). For one, the Autodesk office here kicks some major ass. It's on the 24th floor of this uber (that's right - uber) cool building called the Harumi Triton Square Tower. As I have alluded to before everything here is big. The lobby to this set of towers is an immense cavern of architeture. Very cool. Then you walk through these automatic sliding doors that seems to manifest out of nowhere.

Even the bathrooms are fun (but I won't get into that). There are just so many small things here in Tokyo (and Japan) that add up to making life a little simpler, and a little more pleasant - the bathrooms, the cleanliness, a subway that I could have figured out when I was 5, the little umbrella holders inside of the doorways (we have a lot of rain in SF, why don't we have those??) - just a lot of cool stuff.

One thing I have not talked about much yet is the nightlife here and that is partly because the jetlag has been killing me. I hear all of my highschool and college friends groaning and saying to sack up. Well, I haven't really. Last night in bed at 9:30, up at 5:30. Should make it easy to catch my flight to Seoul, Korea later this week.

Anyhow, tonight more of the crew from Autodesk is here and we are going out for dinner for sure. Last night we went to a great noodle place where I had some beef noodle dish. Also shared a large mug (I'm serious they gave us a mug of hot sake - I was stoked - hey Sean - definitely wasn't like in Waikiki where we were cut off :)).

Last night's dinner was also in a new district I had yet to see, Roppinggi Hills. This is a very moderm, up and coming, fun, youthful place. I actually want to go back tonight to check it out some more.

Okay, off to do some more work - more updates later.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Tokyo: Day 2

First things first a 5.1 tremor rocked Tokyo today. When it happened I actually didn't realize it happened. I was in the subway listening to my iPod Shuffle (by the way Japan is fricken iPod crazy -- it is everywhere - walking down the street in th Akihabara district today vendors were hawking the new Nano left and right) and all of a sudden the train just stopped in the tunnel. I paused the shuffle because the operator began speaking -- then I realized I have no idea what on Earth he is saying so i flipped the shuffle back on. Linkin Park's Numb/Encore remix continued and shortly thereafter the train moved on to the next stop. After I got back from my day of adventuring I found this excerpt in an online news article:

"Subway services in Tokyo were halted briefly, but have now resumed at lower speeds, NHK said." here is the whole article:

So as exciting as that probably was I missed it.

Anyhow, had another breakfast buffet and then I was off and running to the Akihabara district. This district is known for being an electronics store haven. That phrase really has no American counterpart. There is no one part of San Francisco or LA where you go to buy and browse electronics. We have Best Buy and Circuity City. The Good Guys and Frys. Well Tokyo has a whole damn district and its a sight to behold.

As you start walking through the district you pass identical shops (almost), one after another all hawking the same goods: laptops, cameras, dvds, ps2 games, xbox games, anime, anime porn, computers, monitors, you get the point. Pretty much anything you can imagine. Whereas a Best Buy may have one or two models of a certain camera or mp3 player on display these stores have them all and every possible accessory you can buy. I found a whole rack of little sleeves I could put my iPod shuffle in-- try finding that in the states, even at the Apple store. Now you might be saying, "Sweet Stein, you traveled half way around the world to go look at some electronics stores", but once you realize that a large part of the Japanese culture is revolving around this constant need to upgrade, be connected, play, and interact you see why this area of Tokyo exists in the first place. Japan is at the forefront of technology and it really shows.

After perusing a few of these stores I happened on an arcade. These things are a trip. I always liked going to the arcade as a kid, but they were few and far between. There was a Scandia that had mini-golf and an arcade. At the local mall there was a place called Aladdin's castle. To me a big arcade met a trip to Reno. I am convinced that America has no arcades (i have never been to a Dave and Busters though, and I hear those are kind of cool - cause you can drink AND play games ;) - yeah I'm a dork) after seeing the arcades in Japan. Within the Akihabara district alone I must have passed 10 arcades - and I bet I missed 10 more. And these are not just single level arcades, these are 5 story monstrosities. You know how in an arcade you will find those machines where you have to put money in and you get to move the little claw around and try to grab a prize. Okay, well the first 2 floors of the Arcade I went to was run by Sega (or at least sponsored) and was filled with these machines ... wall to wall. By the way, in case anyone gives a shit, over here Sonic the Hedgehog is more than just a little fuzzy character, he is on a bunch of gambling machines too ... (okay so I totally geeked out today). As you go up more levels you find yourself in these smoky rooms that are filled with the sound of tens of machines all chattering at you. Although I didn't play any, just being in the room made you feel excited -- like a little kid.

After getting my fill of games, electronics, and just people watching in this hi-tech little neighborhood I made my way to Shinjuku. This district is supposed to really pop off an night. I came during the day around 2:30. It was similar to Ginza (from my previous mail) but not nearly as big. Whereas Ginza had a huge main drag with big buildings and then really ritzy places in the offstreets, Shinkuju was a mix of both, but overall a smaller scale. To tell you the truth I was kind of tired at this point (already) and needed a little fuel. I went and had sushi (for the 3rd time since coming here) and at a small little hole in the wall place. Took me awhile to build the "courage" to walk in (last night my coworker and I went inside a place, they said "we don't speak english", kind of warning us, so we left -- mostly out of awkwardness). Well they didn't speak English here either, but I knew exactly what I wanted and I even knew how to say the word "bill" now, in addition to some other more common phrases. After polishing off some hot sake, and some salmon and tuna nigiri I bounced and strolled around the Shinjuku district some more.

Some things I have noticed about the Japanese (and Japan) since arriving:

-They name their stores random names ... i wish I could think of some examples off the top of my head, but just weird stuff - i've decided to photograph such places for kicks
-Eye contact is rarely given, someone probably told me this, but I have confirmed it, they must not people watch, because they are always looking straight ahead, men, women, doesn't matter - I have had some kids give me some weird looks though
-very clean city
-all the men wear suits to work - even for jobs where you would think a suit is not necessary
-no one is in the least bit confrontational

Well I had more observations but they escape me now, must be the jet lag ...

Anyways its time for more sushi, although I am still quite full - another member of the party has arrived. Tomorrow is our first day of work, although I have been on email early in the morning and throughout the day off and on (like right now). Right me back and tell me how home (or wherever you happen to be) is going.


Saturday, October 15, 2005

Tokyo: Day 1

I am in Tokyo for work, but managed to get a little sight seeing in ... today especially was eventful: After a Japanese buffet breakfast at the hotel, Jose (another Adesker) and I went and traveled around to 3 different Tokyo districts: Omotesando road that borders Shibuya, Shibuya itself, and Ginza. In between Ometosando and Shibuya we went to the Harajuku where we saw a shrine.

Each of the three areas was very distinct from each other. Ometosando was filled with many young people each expressing themselves, mostly through their clothing, in a variety of different ways. Some of the attire and looks here would most closely resemble what you see on Haight-Ashbury. After circling this block a few times and pretty much people watching for an hour, we decided to move on. On the way to Shibuya we stopped and wound our way through Yoyogi Park where we eventually came to the shrine. The temple itself was pretty impressive. A picture is attached. The most interesting aspect of it all is that plopped in the middle of this sprawling, loud area of the city with so much youth and vibrance, is this peaceful temple surrounded by huge trees -- the foliage is so dense in fact that you can barely here the subway system that borders it.

Shibuya was much different -- although omotesando had many ritzy, upscale shops, Shibuya had many upscale, shops and malls that just loomed over your head. Huge malls, one after the other. Everything was just big. And the hordes of people were neverending. Whether they were walking with you or against you, there was always a mass of people. The most interesting thing here was seeing the food market. It was lots of fun to be in - there is nothing really like it stateside and its definitely not the Marina safeway ;). After getting some free samples of food and almost purchasing what would have been dirt cheap yet high grade maguro tuna we left to go to Ginza, which Jose told me was one of the places we would want to see at night.

Now, I have never been to New York, but you always hear about how large it is and Times Square and yada yada yada. The main area of the Ginza district is simply huge. It was in a word awesome to see-I still want to go to NY someday, but I cannot imagine anything being more impressive and large (although Jose told me that the Shinjuku district is comparable). So many people, a huge boulevard that was open to walk on, and building after building, all with their own colorful signage. Every shop imaginable was there, including an Abercrombie and Fitch (why!!). Anyhow, the people here looked like they could have fit in in California; definitely not nearly as expressive as the hipper teen crowd over at Omotesando. Jose and I walked up and down the large road a few times and some of the many sidestreets. The stores on these sidestreets are uber-expensive. My only purchase thus far was a waffle from a corner store (it was good).

Anyhow, now time to hit up some sushi for dinner.

Zune Card