October 12, 4:30pm. Airplane somewhere between Tokyo and Shanghai.
Looking out my window at the clouds below, I am trying to collect my thoughts for this entry. I am returning from my first business trip for PMI – four days in Tokyo. Before we moved to Asia, cities like Shanghai or Tokyo were mystical metropolises, their existence felt only through scenes in films and news reports about economic booms and crashes respectively. I would never have imagined that one day I would be presenting to an audience of Japanese businessmen accompanied by my Chinese boss and Japanese distribution partner. How would I be received? What if I would say something wrong? In order to sell, one has to understand how to tap the needs of the counterpart, but the Japanese are even more opaque than the Chinese – smiling, polite, and gracious regardless of age, gender, status, situation. On the way there, I asked my boss what I should do, and he responded that I best put on my “lamb face,” which then became our inside joke for the rest of the trip. Not too aggressive, outspoken or direct. In the art of being indirect (and I am really starting to believe this is an art form), I am still a novice. During a dinner invitation with our distributor, we were asked if we could eat horse meat. I reacted with a hasty “no!” and firm shake of my head. I saw my boss looking at me, and I immediately understood my reaction was too “Western.” I asked him if I should have declined more kindly, such as thank-you-but-I-do-not-eat-horse-meat-etc-etc. And he said better yet would have been, “I really enjoy eating fish and vegetables.” Lesson 2: instead of contradiction, add phrases like “probably (not), maybe (not), I am not so sure, I do not think so…” – I have experienced this done in China as well, so I believe I have reached decent proficiency (at least in interpreting).
Other impressions in stream of consciousness (due to lack of ability to write comprehensive story at current time): lights, high-tech everything, dark suits, women with make-up, brightly-colored tights, warm toilet seats, sparkling white garbage trucks, taxi drivers with suits and gloves, bowing with arms planted at sides, adding “san” at the end of a name to show respect, long procedure of exchanging business cards, most tender sushi, rice balls, oolong tea, subway maps that look like something out of “Matrix,” boots, sake, tempura, Japanese breakfast, offices with workers packed in like sardines, seating in an office (long rows of connecting desks per department with the supervisor at a separate desk at a 90 degree to the others), smoking everywhere, expensive stores and restaurants, insanely long and tedious negotiations, relationship-building, details, clean streets, brightly marked crosswalks, coffee chains at every corner, aesthetics, beautiful packaging for everything, old women with PDAs, kimonos, sense of tradition, island culture.Tokyo is a place I probably could keep coming back to and never get tired of. I am fascinated by the people and the culture. So much so that Patrick and I are planning on celebrating New Year’s seeing other parts of Japan with my cousin Ece, who is teaching English in a small village there.