Saturday, March 31, 2012

Currying favor

You don`t need me to tell you Tokyo is an expensive place. If I do come to live here, keeping down costs will be imperative, and one kind of spending that will bear minding is my curry habit.

I am nothing if not a curry fiend. Any excuse to have curry is a good one, so while wandering around Minato after the Temple info session last night, it only made sense I would stop at a place calling itself an Indian curry restaurant and cafe. Eating at GaNapati was almost a zen-like experience ... in that the main fare tasted like nothing.

I ordered a vegetable curry with a medium level of spice and a serving of butter rice. After initially sampling each and then mixing the two, I still failed to find any discernable flavor. Visually I could tell I was eating curry, but if you had blindfolded me and then put what I ate in front of me, I might as well have been eating porridge. The two gentlemen of South Asian persuasion in the kitchen were very nice, but going back to GaNapati is not high on my Tokyo to-do list. The bowl of curry rice I got at Tokyo Dome was more enjoyable and about half the price.

Otherwise, the TUJ info session did little to move me from my stance that this is the place to go -- provided I can sort out the whole financial issue. The professors I spoke to and e-mailed with were great, the staff I met yesterday were very helpful and the whole TUJ community seems fairly tight despite having the students spread throughout Tokyo and the main campus taking up six floors of an office tower. Now I just have to convince Uncle Sugar to lend me some money to finance this new adventure.

Back in the Big Durian, it looks like little has changed. The government still cannot get its act together, even when it has the right idea, and now FIFA has joined the Indonesian Football Association (or PSSI, its acronym in Indonesian) in kicking the ongoing problems further down the road. If the warring factions in Indonesian football are still at odds after almost two years, what makes FIFA think another three months will make a difference? Also, what could the PSSI possibly have shown FIFA to convince it that there was progress to be made? From what I have seen and heard, fans in Indonesia are coming around to my initial position that nothing is going to meaningfully change until FIFA brings the hammer down on the PSSI and bans the country from international play. Only then will the money men behind this whole fiasco be forced to own up to their bad behavior and work in the best interests of the game rather than their pockets.

That was all expected, though. What bugs me most is that I was out of town and unable to give my friend, whom I recruited to Globe Towers, a proper send-off. She deserved better treatment than what she received from the higher-ups, but they have clearly shown where their primary concern lies and it sure as hell is not with the people.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Repeat engagement

I am back in Tokyo, taking a break from the Big Durian (which apparently has not burned down just yet). I try to avoid repeat visits when going overseas, but this trip is as much business as pleasure. The weather is cool, breezy and overcast -- in other words, tailor-made for me.

After sleeping for 12 hours to shake off the jet lag, yesterday was spent talking to professors at the local campus of Temple University. That only took until 3 p.m., though, so I had the evening free. My plans were few and the folks I wanted to meet were busy, so I tried to weasel my way into the Yomiuri Giants season-opener against the Yakult Swallows. The Tokyo Dome was pretty packed, but for 1,000 yen I got a standing-room only ticket.

I had to peer around a pillar at times, but I was able to watch a gem of a pitching performance. Masanori Ishikawa was dealing all night for the Swallows, throwing 8 1/3 innings of hitless ball and allowing just one guy to reach first on an error. Two one-out singles in the bottom of the ninth chased Ishikawa and spoiled his no-hitter, but someone named Tony Barnette came out of the pen to finish the job.

Like my previous NPB outings (Seibu Lions vs. Rakuten Golden Eagles, Hiroshima Carp vs. Chunichi Dragons), I had no rooting interest between the teams. Instead, I took to pulling for the gaijin on the field. There were a couple Americans in the starting lineup, one I had heard of (Lastings Milledge) and one I had not (John Bowker). Milledge did little of note at the plate while hitting third for the Swallows, while Bowker got the second of the home team`s two hits in the ninth.

This evening will also be free-form after the info session at TUJ. Yokohama F Marinos are playing Kashima Antlers just south of Tokyo, so I could rush down there after the meeting provided I can get to the shinkansen in time. I also have a bit of shopping to do, but that can wait. Most importantly, though, I have to restock my supply of these beauties:

500 milliliters of Coke Zero for just 100 yen -- basically two cans for the price of one. How great is that?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Gutless wonders

The Centers for Disease Control has started a new anti-smoking campaign that relies heavily on shock value. Apparently there's still 20 percent of the American population that either doesn't know smoking is bad for them or just doesn't care.

Why is the CDC apparently pushing the bounds of good taste with its new campaign? Evidently, it works.
The idea behind such ads is to create an image so striking that smokers and would-be smokers will think of it whenever they have an urge to buy a pack of cigarettes, said Glenn Leshner, a University of Missouri researcher who has studied the effectiveness of anti-smoking ads.
Leshner and his colleagues found that some ads are so disturbing that people reacted by turning away from the message rather than listening. So while spots can shock viewers into paying attention, they also have to encourage people that quitting is possible, he said.
This seemed like a great story to run here. After all, 37 percent of high school and university students smoke in Indonesia, and apparently there is no minimum age to buy cigarettes.

Of course, if you're going to run a story about the CDC starting an ad campaign featuring gruesome images of the effects of smoking, it would be best to include one of those images, right? That was my thinking. The decision-making types in the office tonight did like the story, but my chosen image was just too much for them.

Startling, isn't it? That's kind of the point. We ended up using an image of a guy who lost his legs because of Buerger's disease, which was brought on by smoking. Not quite as jarring, or at least if you don't read the print underneath the image.

Would it be churlish of me to point out that every person in the pod tonight was a smoker? Surely not.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

It's been fun

Really, it has -- except when it hasn't, which has been fairly frequently these past few weeks. Several recent developments have cemented my stance that this year will be my last in Jakarta.

The Head Swede is gone and the Head Geordie looks set to follow him in December, if not earlier. The newsroom's leading redhead isn't having her contract renewed next month, so that's another pair of hands we'll be short. Is anyone coming in to replace her? No one can say. That's three out of the four people I like who are regularly in the office who are confirmed to be gone at some point this year. We'll also be losing 75 percent of our copy desk in August and have to coach up a whole new bunch ... assuming said bunch actually arrives.

Then there's the paper itself. Fearless Leader is more determined than ever to shoehorn in more of God's Pet Projects into the print product, and his malign influence is spilling over into other sections. Knuckles were rapped after we dared to run an investigative piece as our Sunday cover story rather than yet another day of Charmin-soft coverage of the local jazz festival (which just happens to have one of our publishers on its board of directors). Any pretense of independence is long gone; we're a Parent Company mouthpiece, same as everyone else. I don't care if other outlets in Indonesia have it worse -- that doesn't make our situation any less bad. What's worse, it's hard to care about the product when quality is so clearly secondary to those running this joint.

Oh, and did I mention the bump in my housing allowance I was promised is now off the table? Supposedly there's still a pay increase coming my way ... assuming HR ever puts a contract in front of me to sign. I, not surprisingly, am not hopeful.

I'm not of a mind to deal with this anymore -- not that I can't, but I won't. I've given this place twice as long as I've given any other full-time employer, but enough is enough. Anyone who's paying attention knows we're being stripped down and turned into a slightly more colorful version of our main competitor (and it's not because they're wildly successful -- it's because they're cheap). That's as good a signal as any that it's time to move on. I'll miss a handful of people here, but I definitely won't miss Jakarta, our management or having the rest of the organization actively working against us. I need to look out for myself, and that starts with removing myself from a bad situation.