Funny how life happens.
Above is a roughly 2 x 2 km (1.25 x 1.25 mi) area in Kyoto, Japan, my hometown. Within this 4 sq. km area are:
- The hospital where I was born
- The first house I lived in (literally 30 seconds by foot from the hospital)
- The second house I lived in
- The business that my dad ran
- The okonomiyaki restaurant we went to when my parents had to work late
- The supermarket that pretty much provided most of my nourishment
- The kindergarten I attended
- The church where my parents got married
- My grandparents’ condo
- The home of my aunt, uncle, and cousins’ family
- Where my other aunt lives
This is pretty much where my life happened for the first ten years of my life. The only thing not inside this map is my elementary school which was few kilometers east.
Then in 1993, I moved to Hawaii to go to middle school, then to Connecticut for high school, Texas for university, and California for graduate school plus a year stint at DaimlerChrysler. After that I spent almost two years in Paris and three and a half years in Germany, which takes us to present day where I am now living in this box again, having completed a full circle around the globe.
Of the people that know me, many of you knew (especially those in Frankfurt), some of you might have figured out from Facebook, and some of you probably had no idea that I moved to Kyoto at the end of February. I’ve been saying “move” because after 22 years, it doesn’t feel like “moving back.” My family is quite surprised as I’ve been gone for so long, and quite frankly, I’m surprised too.
Already in the short time I’ve been here, there have been many many discoveries. Even though I can speak Japanese fluently and understand the culture, there are still plenty of things that can surprise me here. That is wonderful.
So I’m starting a new chapter in my life. I don’t know if I’m going to be here for the next four year, forty years, or four hundred, but I’m excited that I can see my own country with a fresh new lens and be in a country where I can understand the language.
Still learning, still moving, and still living the adventure. I can’t wait to see what’s around the corner.
(I’ll post what I’m doing in another post)
In Japan, other people’s time is valuable. In Germany your own time is valuable.
This may sound like two ways of saying the same thing, but there are significant differences.
The other day at the doctor’s office in Germany, I was picking up some documents. When I first arrived at the reception, the receptionist informed me that I needed to talk to the doctor before receiving the document that was sitting right in front of her. I then waited for an hour, only to be called by the same receptionist who then told me that the doctor doesn’t have too see me. She gave me the documents… An hour of time, wasted, for nothing.
Ask expats from US and Japan in Germany and they will tell you that waiting is a way of life here. Public offices can easily suck up half a day (though sometimes they can be really fast), waiters and waitresses are never there when you want to pay the bill, even buying a train ticket from a human being can be a thirty minute wait. When I have an appointment with my dentist, I still usually have to wait 15-30 minutes. While people like to stereotype German efficiency with on-time trains, they are not that punctual. The S-bahn I take to Ultimate Frisbee practice on Mondays have been on-time once in the last three months. Germans believe that if you want or need something, you are willing to wait. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone in Germany say “Thank you for waiting.”
On the other hand, Germans are very precious with their own time. They draw clear boundaries between working hours and non-working hours and meticulously count the working hours. Overtime must be paid out or converted into vacation days (common for lots of professionals). Germany is the only country where my boss told me I should be taking more vacation days. Germans work hard and play hard, really well.
Japan is the exact opposite. There is an unhealthy overtime culture where people stay at work far too late to look like they are working hard. I read a story once where the office had to shut down in the evening because of some maintenance work but it was announced only thirty minutes prior to closure. As soon as the announcement was made, everyone quickly finished up what they had to do and left the building on time. Japan also has a terrible track record of people not taking their vacation days. There is talk that the government is now trying to solve the problem by making everyone use all their vacation days, by law. I have no idea how that would work.
Punctuality and services, on the other hand, are Japan’s strong suit. Other people’s time are valuable, and one should make sure they don’t take up too much of it. Waiters and waitresses are incredibly attentive (many restaurants have buzzers you can use to call them), queues, if any, move rapidly, and you would never have to wait more than five minutes if you have an appointment. In 2012, the average delay for the bullet train, amongst the 120,000 that ran, was 36 six seconds. To make up for the Paris-Frankfurt ICE that I rode on the other day that was delayed for 30 minutes, Deutsche Bahn would have to run 50 trains on time. No way that is happening.
There is a Japanese phrase “お待たせしました” which translates to somewhere between “Thank you for waiting” and “I’m sorry for making you wait” that is a way of greeting anyone who has waited. You go to a restaurant, the waitress has to check which tables are open, you wait ten seconds, she will say this. Even if you are EARLY to an appointment and waited in the lobby, you will here this.
In an ideal world, people would value both their own and other people’s time. I would love to live in a country where personal time was protected as Germany and service was as punctual as Japan, but that’s probably Narnia right now.
If I were to place these two countries in a cultural spectrum, I would put the United States in the middle but slightly closer to Japan and France in between but much closer to Germany. How about your culture? How is time valued?
This is second of a two-part series looking at our current world from a future perspective. Part I looked at the present as the greatest age in the history of mankind. Part II looks at the present as the darkest age in the history of mankind.
What if we live in the darkest age in the history of mankind?
The early 21st century is considered to be the darkest age in the history of mankind.
At no other time in history did people exploit the resources on Earth at such a grand scale. For the first time, people were able to ecologically impact their world but did not fully understand the damage being delivered at a global scale. Instead, people were too busy wasting limited resources for individual gains in the name of capitalism. Government and political action simply did not have enough power against the capitalistic dogma that dominated the generation, and the future was disregarded for the present.
To make things worse, most of the resources were being spent for the benefit of a select few in what people called “the developed world.” For once there were enough food in the world to feed everyone but people starved in the millions while others wasted food. Life expectancy and child mortality varied drastically around the world while many people suffered and died from diseases that were considered curable at this point.
Even within the developed countries the chasm between the rich and poor grew as massive complex financial systems were built to ensure that the wealthy collected more wealth. Despite becoming a much more efficient society, many people worked too much while those less capable weren’t able to find jobs, and cutthroat behavior dominated professional culture. This became so endemic in some countries that generations of unemployed and underemployed people left a lasting scar on its culture.
On the other side, rampant commercialism dominated economic activities as companies competed to access and control the minds of the consumers. More money were spent communicating and promoting products and services rather than improving and manufacturing them. The cost of products and services rarely matched the actual (and not perceived) value, and yet this was seen as normal. The unquenchable thirst for the new was instilled in the minds of consumers while ideas like planned obsolescence and celebrity endorsements thrived.
Culture was also heavily dominated by commercialism as those challenging the status quo simply could not compete against the exposure of those putting forth easily digestible and forgettable content. Personal image and branding of “artists” were heavily controlled by the companies that backed them, and this was not considered mass deception.
Ultimately the early 21st century became known as the age of modern slavery. While traditional slavery of bonds and shackles were mostly eradicated, a new form of economic and commercial slavery arose. Those with power and wealth built and used financial and political tools to contain those below them, and corporations spent incredible resources to manage the mind of consumers.
Compared to part I, writing part II felt darker but more optimistic for the future. Hopefully we can question the world we live in and radically redesign it for something more in line with our innate values.
This is first of a two-part series looking at our current world from a future perspective. Part I looks at the present as the greatest age in the history of mankind. Part II looks at the present as the darkest age in the history of mankind.
What if we live in the greatest age in the history of mankind?
The early 21st century is considered to be the greatest age in the history of mankind.
At no other time in history did technology evolve so fast. New communications technologies brought the world together at an unprecedented pace and rapidly increased the collaboration between people, nations, and cultures. These communication technologies also connected industries and other technologies to bring forth exponential growth in efficiency and capability. Data and algorithms replaced people’s unreliable experiences and intuitions so that better decisions could be made faster.
The early 21st century was also the golden age of culture. The abundant resources available meant that not only did people have the time to create, they also had the means to do so. This coupled with the interconnecting world meant that everyone and anyone could be a cultural center, free to project out into the world. With the abundance of leisure time and resources, industries for entertainment flourished, further spreading culture around the globe.
The interconnectedness of the world also lead to increased international travel, both for leisure and work. Increased competition in the travel industry and disappearing borders meant that more and more people were traveling, learning about and understanding each other. This lead to one of the most peaceful times in the history of mankind with no major wars and minimal deaths from human conflict.
The connection between people brought forth the great age of philanthropy. The richest people of this age gave generously to improving the lives of those less fortunate. There were more foundations and NPOs than people can keep track of, each trying to improve the world in their own ways. Even those without money contributed their time and expertise. The internet was full of people providing help and advice to those whom people never met.
Not surprisingly, writing this paints a dark view of the future, as we all like to believe that the best is still ahead of us. Stay tuned for part II coming soon.
This is a follow up post on “Taking the road not drawn.”
Our perception of the world as nodes and links is not only in the physical domain but also in the metaphorical way we live our lives. By our use of phrases such as “career path,” we’ve come to believe that there is a way forward in our lives to get somewhere.
The first stages of our lives are structured like climbing a ladder with grades in schools (as in “1st grade”) leading to degrees. Many people keep this way of thinking as they start working and climbing the “corporate ladder.”
In reality the world isn’t one ladder we are trying to climb or a path that leads us somewhere. It’s a place where you can head in any direction you want, any time you want. The paths we lay down are only our perception of how life should proceed, biased by the ways millions have traveled before.
You can go wherever you want. The question is, where do you want to go?
The internet can be a challenging place for creative people. While it provides a global audience, with one or few search queries, one can find out if his or her idea is truly unique or not.
For the last few years, I’ve been getting into experimental cooking and coming up with new recipes of my own. However, every time I try something new, it turns out that someone has already tried it and put it online.
Now I’ve found something no one has tried: Mettwurst Sushi.
Mettwurst is a type of German raw/cured/smoked pork sausage that is readily available in supermarkets. In Frankfurt, I’ve seen mettwursts spread on bread as open face sandwiches, usually mixed with onions and some spices.
When I first tasted mettwurst, I thought the texture was very similar to minced tuna, which is where the idea came from.
How to make mettwurst sushi
- Sushi Rice – You could use regular rice if you want, but sushi rice will definitely make it better
- Mettwurst – 200g goes with about 2 cups of rice
- Seaweed – Standard sushi seaweed cut in half to make thin rolls, 4 full sheets
- Green onions
I used a standard sushi mix to make the sushi rice, but you could easily make your own.
Preparing the filling
Chop the green onions finely:
Mix the mettwurst, green onion, and sesame as evenly as possible:
That’s it for making the filling.
Making the Sushi
There are many guides to rolling sushi online. I suggest this one for making thin rolls.
More than ten people have tried the mettwurst sushi and reception has been positive. Non-Germans, however, seem more receptive, possibly because they don’t have any biases on how mettwurst is supposed to be used. Imagine how Japanese people would react if raw tuna is served on toast.
In a country where edible raw seafood is hard to find, this has become one of my favorite recipes.
Fascinating story about a man who fell into a coma and woke up speaking fluent Mandarin.
If you ended up in a comma but could wake up with one extra skill, what would that be?
Fluency in a language?
Fine motor skills for some complicated tasks? (Like instantaneously throw a frisbee perfectly)
The ability to operate new vehicles?
Perfect understanding of human desires, behaviors, and dysfunctions?
While it’s probably beyond our lifetime, this means that someday we may be able to rewire/reprogram our brain to learn new skills much faster than we do now. Yes, like “The Matrix.”
I spent Christmas on Fuerteventura, an island in the Canaries off the coast of Africa. Most of my friends went home, and I did not want to stay in Frankfurt so I booked a last minute ticket. I’d rather be a stranger in a strange land than a stranger in a familiar land.
Fuerteventura is a barren volcanic island without much vegetation. One can stand on high ground and see miles and miles away, something that is lacking for many of us who live in cities. Also, with the lack of plants, steep cliffs, and urban areas, one can walk pretty much anywhere on the island.
There are of course hiking paths, but Fuerteventura is not known for it’s hiking. The draw of the island is the ocean, white sandy beaches, and the surf. Most of the fellow travelers I met came for the surfing, may it be kite, wind, or the original. I did take a class one day only to be reminded that I’m really bad at it. Instead, I spent most of my time trekking around the island.
I’m not an avid hiker. I don’t mind spending time in nature but I’d get bored rather quickly and I’d rather be doing something intense like running or playing Ultimate. However, on Fuerteventura, I got enchanted by the freedom to walk anywhere I want.
We see the world mostly as points on a map with paths in between. The points could be home, work, school, gym, a restaurant or cafe, etc. The paths could be roads, subways, train lines, bus lines, or even flights. Our perspective is that of nodes and links, a collection of one-dimensional paths overlaid on a two-dimensional surface.
When the opportunity presented itself to break out of this paradigm and walk the land like the original explorers, I couldn’t pass. It’s exhilarating to not be bound or not knowing where you are going. I looked around for the tallest peak I could find and walked straight for it. At the top I looked around and picked my next destination without worrying about what’s in between.
Needless to say, there were plenty of discoveries in between.
The same caught on satellite imagery:
The world is a beautiful place.
Best shopping area
Zeil (map), a pedestrian street synonymous with shopping in Frankfurt, is packed with independent retailers, departments stores, and malls. Very lively… a little too much so on sunny Saturday afternoons.
Best Ikea alternative
Ikea in Frankfurt is a trek without a car and it will inevitably make your apartment look like one of their catalog pages. Mömax (map) is a German rip-off of Ikea, equally cheap but tackier and with horrible customer service. While not as big or well stocked, Yellow Möbel (map) is competitive on price and has some interesting offerings.
Best farmer’s market
There are few around town but the Thursday and Saturday market at Konstablerwache (map) is the biggest and most lively. On a sunny day you’ll find many locals chatting over a glass of wine. Not Wednesday or Saturday? No problem, just head to the Kleinmarkthalle (map) nearby. Sunday? You’re screwed.
Best local expat online discussion board
Frankfurt-N-Motion has thousands of members both on its Yahoo Groups mailing list and Facebook group, and most of the other expat groups advertise through there as well. Ignore the MeetUp group, it’s not used anymore.
Best music venue
This of course depends on your taste in music, but the Jazzkeller (map) has a fantastically cozy ambiance with a very nice staff. There is cover some evenings. Frankfurt Art Bar has some nice music evenings, but as of writing, they got kicked out and are looking for a new home.
Best running area
While there are few nice parks around town, the river side is by far the best place to go running in Frankfurt with plenty of other people running, biking, roller blading, etc. For a challenge, you could race some of the boats going up or down the river.
Eiserner Steg (map), the pedestrian bridge in the center of town is very lively in the summer with music and tourists. There are also good cafes on either end. The Deutscherrenbrücke (map) at the end of town is mainly a train bridge with a pedestrian part but it provides a fantastic view of the Frankfurt Skyline, the only one in Germany with Skyscrapers.