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Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Once upon a time in the Middle Kingdom...

Once upon a time there lived a man called Barry the Wise.  Barry the Wise was from the Great Southern Land and travelled the world teaching people about a magic box he called radio.  The box was magic because it allowed people to speak to millions of other people all at once, serenade them with music, and tell them where they could pick up icy cold cans of Coke from the back of the Black Thunder.

In the year 2012 AD, Barry the Wise travelled to the Middle Kingdom to share his wisdom with its people.  Barry was employed by Lord Ken to travel the land, and teach the people about the magic box called radio.   Barry the Wise visited many great cities in the kingdom, none greater than the city of Hefei.

One evening, Lord Ken called on Barry the Wise and requested that he accompany Lord Ken to the great city of Hefei to meet with the rulers of Hefei's magic box called radio.  The meeting would include Lord Ken, Barry the Wise, Prince Luca (second in command), and Allan the Master of Coin.  Like all meetings in the great city of Hefei, it would be followed by a great feast which would include the dreaded poison elixir called Baijiu.

Barry the Wise knew much about the language of the Middle Kingdom and he knew that Baijiu in the common tongue meant white wine.  But Barry the Wise did not think it tasted like white wine at all.  Barry the Wise knew one day man would build a ship that would take to the stars.  These ships would no doubt be propelled by Baijiu.

Upon arriving in the great city of Hefei, they were summoned to the tower of Hefei's magic box called radio.  There they met with the Lord of the tower, and spent an enjoyable 30 minutes conversing with the Lord about the magic box called radio, and how much they enjoyed working together.  Everyone rejoiced at how profitable the relationship had become, and Lord Ken was very keen on continuing the relationship.

The meeting concluded, and everyone was ushered into the dining room where the great feast would begin, and the dreaded poison elixir Baijiu would be served.

The great dining room was beautifully furnished with elegant furniture from the city of Hefei.  Barry the Wise, Lord Ken, Prince Luca, and Allan the Master of Coin were joined by several members of the high council of the magic box called radio.  After the introductions were made, everyone took their seats around the great table and the feast commenced.  There were many delicious dishes served, and like most cities in the Middle Kingdom, there was always plenty of food to go around.










After the feast commenced, the poison elixir known as Baijiu was brought out by the servers, and small serving jugs were filled in front of each guest.  It is customary for all who feast to drink the poison elixir, but to the surprise of everyone, Lord Ken refused.  "No matter", said a member of the high council, "more for everyone else."  Barry the Wise watched as each jug was filled with the poison elixir, recalling the ill effects he received from the last meeting in the great city of Hefei


In every city of the Middle Kingdom, it is again a custom for everyone who attends a great feast to propose a toast.  At this great feast, there were 12 people so Barry the Wise prepared to drink 12 times - at least.  Even though the poison elixir known as Baijiu is consumed at every important feast in the Middle Kingdom, Barry the Wise is still to meet someone who actually enjoys it.

The leader of the high council proposed the first toast, and everyone drained their
glasses, and the toasting began.  Everyone refilled their glasses from their jugs, and continued to toast each other.  The only saving grace for Barry the Wise and his colleagues was the glass was only small.  On the other hand, the poison elixir known as Baijiu was very strong so the fact the glasses were small probably didn't help.


The feast continued, and so did the drinking of the dreaded  elixir called Baijiu.  Barry the Wise had consumed 2/3 of his jug, when a member of the high council proposed that he dispense with the glass, and drink from the jug instead.  Barry the Wise thought this a foolish idea, but remembered that this was the great city of Hefei, and they make the rules.  So, after a little encouragement from Lord Ken, Barry the Wise drained what was left of the dreaded elixir called Baijiu.





Barry the Wise sat back down, thinking that his adventure was over and that he would consume no more poison elixir called Baijiu.  However, there was evil seated at the table this day.  For one of the high council called for more Baijiu, and for the jugs to be filled again with the poison elixir, and for the toasting to continue.  Barry the Wise turned to Allan the Master of Coin and whispered two simple words.  "Help me!".



So, much to the disappointment of Barry the Wise and his colleagues, more of the poison elixir called Baijiu was consumed.  Barry the Wise began to feel the effects of the poison elixir called Baijiu.  He started to feel dizzy, he giggled to himself and laughed at Lord Kens jokes, and wanted to tell everyone at the great feast how much he loved them.  No really, he loved them all.  He also felt inclined to jump on the table and sing, a popular form of entertainment in the Middle Kingdom.  Maybe not for the people who had to listen to Barry the Wise sing, but definitely for him.



After what seemed like an eternity, but was in fact only 2 hours, the feast ended and the members of the high council retired to their quarters.  Lord Ken and Allan the Master of Coin returned to their homes, Prince Luca retired to his chambers, and Barry the Wise went back to work.  He did not do much teaching of the magic box called radio that afternoon as his head was spinning, but he still had the urge to tell everyone he loved them.  However, he did spend alot of time sharing the story of the great feast, and his dislike for the poison elixir called Baijiu.

If you do decide to travel to the Middle Kingdom, remember the story of Barry the Wise and his colleagues, and of the poison elixir they call Baijiu.  Whether you drink it or not, that is up to you.  But if you do drink it, and you like the poison elixir called Baijiu, please tell Barry the Wise.  He would so love to meet an actual person who enjoys it.

Oh, and everyone lived happily ever after.

The End.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Kill a chicken to scare the monkeys - My 2 years in China

Nihao!

First, let me explain the title of my blog post.  "Kill a chicken to scare the monkeys" is a Chinese proverb that  I heard and somehow has stuck in my head, and I thought I could use it as the title of my blog (to get your attention), and then segue from this into my latest entry celebrating my 2 years in China!!!

Yep, it's been 2 years (9th June 2012) since I arrived at Beijing Capital airport with damaged luggage,  a driver who was 20 minutes late leaving me in a mild panic, a hotel room where I still don't know what the smell was, and my first thought being "what the hell have I done?!"

But 2 years on, I can now say that I feel very much at home amongst the countries 1.3 billion people, except of course for the silver hair which makes me stand out like a chicken in a troop of monkeys.

If this is the first time you've read my blog, let me fill you in (and also ask why is it the first time you're reading my blog?)

- I'm an Australian radio executive living and working in China, teaching the locals how to create great radio content specialising in music, research, and talent coaching
- I live in Beijing, but travel to our radio stations in 10 cities within China
- After 2 years, I still haven't been to the Great Wall! (but I have seen it from a bus)

Living and working in China was never a part of my career plan (neither was getting married for a radio promotion, but that's another story), but I'm so glad I decided to take on this role because it has been an awesome adventure.  And to celebrate my 2 years in China, I have chosen a selection of photos that I want to share with you so you can hopefully get a feel for what life has been like in China.  They are in no particular order except the first photo is, well, the first photo.

When I left Perth, I flew to Malaysia for 2 weeks for an induction into our company, then onto Beijing.  As you can see from this photo taken at KL airport, I flew to Beijing on  flight MH370.  In fact, when I have returned from Australia a number of times, I have flown into Beijing on this same flight.  When I first heard about the missing MH370, I'm sure you can understand a little shiver went down my spine.


OK, sorry to start with such a serious photo.  Let's move onto something more festive, literally.  This is our Beijing office Chinese New Year family photo.  Because I travel alot to our stations, I am usually only in the office 1 week out of each month.  But it's always nice to see everyone in the office.  Most of the staff don't speak English, so it also gives me an opportunity to practice my 96 hours of Chinese lessons.


As I mentioned, I do spend alot of time on the road travelling between our 10 cities (if you have a map - Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi'an, Nanjing, Nanchang, Hefei, Tianjin, Shijiazhuang, Urumqi and Changchun).  Most of my travel is by plane, but every now and then I take the fast train.  A great way to see China go past at 300 km/h, plus get some work done without having to "turn off all electrical appliances for takeoff and landing".  Only problem is I don't get any frequent flyer points.

Hefei is the capital of Anhui province, and is relatively small (7.4 million people).  My first visit to Hefei was in August 2012, and it was also my first visit to a KTV (karaoke).  The one thing you quickly learn in China is that most Chinese would not look or sound out of place on "The Voice".  They can all bloody sing!  After watching all the staff sing a song or two, I realised I was never going to compete.  So I just picked a song (Billy Joel of course), and hammed it up as much as I could to hopefully detract from my lack of singing ability.  I did get a round of applause, but I think that was more to do with the fact I had finished and not on my performance.


Being the only ex-pat in the company, and having a shock of silver hair, I tend to attract a reasonable amount of attention.  It's OK in day to day life, but not when you are sitting in the front row of a magic show in Changchun.  Our station put on a party for clients, which included said magic show.  I was front row, direct centre, and an obvious choice for his assistant.  One small problem.  I didn't understand what he was saying.  Thank god I could understand his body language, so I just followed what he was doing, which worked.  I still don't know the Chinese word for "abracadabra".

Speaking of Changchun, it is one of the coldest cities in China during winter, getting down to -35 degrees.  The above client party was held late December (winter), and the temperature got down to -30 degrees.  It was the coldest I have ever been in my life.  As you can see from this photo (rugged up in many layers), I was excited to be travelling to Changchun.  And yes, I now own a pair of long underwear!


I've written many times about the pollution, especially in Beijing. So I could not write about my 2 years in China without mentioning it again.  Pollution is measured on a scale of 1 to 500, measuring the particles 2.5 microns in size, small enough to get into your lungs.  Sydney, on average, has a pollution level of 7.  Beijing has an average of 120.  In January 2013 we had one of the worst days at 728.  The narratives accompanying the number usually range from "lightly polluted" to "heavy pollution" to "hazardous".  I think the day it got to 728 it simply  said "buried or cremated?".

My role with Adrep China is General Manager of Content (for those in radio, a fancy title for Group Content Director).  A large part of my job is teaching our local team of Program Managers about radio, and how to create great content.  They are a great bunch of people, and I'm sure they teach me more about China than I teach them about radio.  This photo is from our group training session in Beijing, October 2012.



One of the first blogs I wrote was centred around how things get "lost in translation".  I would have to say at least once a week I snap a photo of a sign or notice that has got lost in translation.  I'm sure it makes perfect sense in Chinese, but loses something when translated.  This is one of the first I snapped, found in my hotel in Nanchang.  The famous "Background Music Regulating Cock".  I was a little scared to turn it, because I didn't know what to expect.



The expat community in Beijing is growing every year, and Internations Bejing (a company establish to provide social gatherings for expats in various countries) is now one of the biggest in the world.  Because of this, there are now many magazines in English aimed at the expat - including restaurant reviews, accommodation services, travel advice etc.  One such magazine, Agenda Beijing, ran a regular feature called "Beijing's Brainiest Boss" and I was invited to appear.  They take some photos, then ask you 12 business related questions.  The result?  A respectable 7 out of 12.  I mean, who knows that the worlds richest man is a Mexican?! (You can check out my results here )

Our company is growing every year, and in February we launched our newest stations in Guangzhou (see below), and Shijiazhuang.  As mentioned, part of what I do is training the Chinese DJ's on what makes great content, and how to deliver it everyday.  It's one of the most rewarding parts of the job.  That, and actually being able to say "Shijiazhuang".



At midnight on December 31, 2013 most people were celebrating the New Year.  I was in a radio studio in Guangzhou, pressing "play" on the newest MyFM in China.  As I sat there, I realised that not many radio programmers in Australia (or even the world) would ever have the chance to launch a new station in a market of over 16 million people!  At 12:01am on January 1st 2014, the only thing I could think of was "just don't fuck it up!"
As you can see, the party was in full swing after we launched the new MYFM Guangzhou.  Janssen (Nanchang Program Manager), myself, and Director of Guangzhou Radio Director He posed for the official photo (which will no doubt appear in some Communist Party Newsletter somewhere), then went off for a celebratory beer at 2am.  Hey, it was New Years Eve after all.



I know I mentioned at the start that I did feel at home amongst the 1.3 billion Chinese, but sometimes it does get a little overwhelming.  At times I remember that I'm a foreigner, I don't speak the language, I live in a different country, and our cultures are very different.  The thing that keeps me sane is the fantastic group of friends that I have made along the way.  Most of the people I have met have all been here the same length of time, we are all away from our family and friends experiencing a very different way of life.  So, it's great to get together, share experiences, share a laugh, and share plenty of alcohol!  Here are some of my favourite moments....



One of the first social events I went to was tenpin bowling (July 2012), and have been to pretty much every monthly bowling event since.  A great opportunity to meet up with old and new friends, share a beer and have a bowl.  This photo was from May 2014.




As I mentioned, China is attracting more and more expats every year, which makes it a great place to meet people from all over the world.  We hired a bus to get to the British Polo event (Nov 2013) outside Beijing, and we had a great day/night.  If I'm counting correctly, this group includes 11 nationalities.  Great, I'll have somewhere to stay in 10 different countries!!


The social scene in Beijing is growing every year, and one of the biggest events is the St Patricks Day Irish Ball.  Last year (2013) I was recovering from food poisoning so wasn't in much of a party mood - but I made up for it this year.  We managed to get everyone in one spot for this photo, including our very own Irish representatives (thanks Jules and Susie).


Of course, one of the disadvantages of people coming to Beijing for short term contract work is that they then have to leave.  In my 2 years, I think I have said goodbye to over 10 people who have become good friends.  It sounds weird, but it's almost like you're away at camp.  You are meeting new people, away from your family,  having fun, playing volleyball on the sand (OK, maybe not playing volleyball), then it ends and you all have to go home.  This photo was from a leaving party for Camilla and Stefan.  Camilla is from Sweden, Stefan from Spain, and they now live in South Africa.  What an adventure!  And you can see we were all so sad to see them go! :)

I could write alot more, and show you more photos, but that would spoil the slide nights I have planned for when I come back to Australia.  I feel like I have achieved alot in 2 years - launched 2 new radio stations, trained alot of staff, eaten my body weight in rice, and finally learned my second Chinese swear word.

Thanks to everyone who has read my blog and shown interest in my adventure.   Yes, it is hard being away from family and friends, but it's also been an amazing experience and something I will cherish for a very long time.  It's been a great 2 years......maybe a song to celebrate!

Zaijian!




Wednesday, 9 April 2014

8 things about China I now consider normal

Nihao!

I'm sure most of you had thought I had left China considering it's been 6 months since my last blog entry.  And I know some of you have been waiting patiently for the next chapter of my incredible Chinese adventure. OK, maybe just mum and dad have been waiting.

Well, wait no longer. Here it is!

Like any good story, for those of you who have just joined, let me fill you in.

1.  I am an Australian radio executive living and working for the last 2 years in China
2.  I'm responsible for programming 9 radio stations in the MyFM China network
3.  I once played the role of Jimmy Olsen in the Picton High School version of "Man of Steel", and sang a love song to Lois Lane.  Not directly related to my job, but it has helped my karaoke skills in China.

I recently read an article titled "20 things that change after living in China", and it got me thinking.  This thinking then led me to creating my new blog entry, "8 things about China I now consider normal".

1. Carrying your girlfriends handbag


Even though I'm currently single, I have had enough exposure to the female species to understand their obsession with the handbag.   And, like most loving boyfriends/husbands/partners, I have been more than willing to "hold" said handbag on occasion.  But, the Chinese have taken it to a new level.  Not only do Chinese men hold the handbag, but they also carry it around for their partner. And it's not like the girl is weighed down with other items.  No, I think it's just a task that has been gradually handed over to the man, whether he likes it or not.

It could also be the reason why Chinese men have adopted the "man bag" as an accessory.

2. Chinese girls and the "selfie"

The "selfie" is one of the biggest trends in the world, and not because of Ellen Degeneres and her celebrity selfie from the Oscars, but because of the Chinese.  I believe they can lay claim to the "selfie".  My first few months here, I was amazed at how much time Chinese girls spend taking photos of themselves in different poses.  Smiling, pouting, moody, broody, fingers up, cheeks blown out, glasses on, glasses off etc etc.  It is so popular and so trendy, that there is even a website in China that shows you 100 different "selfie" face expressions to try.  Really?  100?  I could only think of 7.  A few weeks ago, I was on a train from Shijiazhuang to Beijing, a journey of approximately 1 hour.  The entire journey, the girl in the seat opposite me spent it taking a range of selfies.  God bless the digital camera. (Note, the photo attached is from Google)

3. Eating dessert first


I know, it sounds crazy right? On my first trip to Xi'an, my colleagues took me out to dinner and ordered the dessert on the right as part of the meal.  They explained it was from Hong Kong, and it's baked warm honey bread with ice cream which melts and it tastes awesome.  What they didn't explain was that it was served first.  What?  I'm sorry, but after spending the last 40 years eating dessert last, I can only go from savoury to sweet. I cannot go from sweet to savoury.  My taste buds would freak out!  For some reason, the Chinese like to eat dessert first, and most times will finish the meal with rice or noodles, or maybe soup.  My taste buds have adjusted, but it took a long time.  But I have a sweet tooth, so there is NO way I am missing dessert, even if it is served first.

4. Smelling like I've just walked out of a night club from 1991


Let me start by saying I have nothing against people who smoke, or smoking in general.  I have good friends who smoke.  But what I found hard getting used to is going home after a night out in China, and smelling like I'd just left Waves night club in 1991 (Waves, was and still is a nightclub in Wollongong Australia.  A popular hangout back in the early 90's.  Ah the memories.).  The reason of course is that smoking is legal everywhere.  And even where "no smoking" signs are displayed, people still smoke. Someone needs to invent a machine that you walk through when you leave a bar or nightclub that instantly removes the smell of smoke. Now there is a Chinese money making idea!

5. Chinese Fashion

I am not one to comment on fashion.  Hey, I still wear jeans and sneakers together.  But something I do respect is the Chinese sense of fashion, or lack thereof.  Overall, I have stopped doing the double takes at what I see, but every now and then I will get surprised.  As part of my job, I do airchecks with the DJ's.  This is where we sit down together, and listen to their talk breaks and discuss the content and give advice.  My first aircheck with Maggie (30yo married DJ from Nanjing), she was wearing this hat.  It was like doing an aircheck with Yogi bear.  I am thinking to borrow the hat for the next board meeting.  How do you think that will go down with the board?


6. Hot water fixes everything


Like most restaurants in most countries, in China when you sit at your table they serve you a glass of water.  The only difference is, it's usually boiling hot! The first time I went out, I didn't even think, and just picked up the boiling hot glass it was served in.  If I had known how to say f*** in Chinese, I would have screamed it.  The reason apparently is that hot water cures everything.  You are sick, your colleagues will tell you to drink more hot water.  Headache?  Hot water.  It's 40 degrees outside and your thirsty.  Hot water.  Bad back? Oh, drink some hot water.  No matter where you are in China, you can always get a cup of hot water.  They even have it at the airport.  But it's hard to drink boiling water served in glass.

7. It's normal to hire attractive DJ's


I'll make it clear now, I do not hire the DJ's for our stations.  That job is left up to the local program managers.  But it's a fact in Chinese radio they tend to hire DJ's that are good looking.  I know what you're saying, "but it's radio?".  However they think of the benefits of good looking staff when they need to advertise them, or hosting events in public etc.  Many times the local stations tell me they have hired a new DJ.  My first question is "are they any good", at which they reply "they are very pretty/handsome". If that was a criteria in Australian radio, I (and many others) would not have got a foot in the door.  (Have you ever heard of the saying "a face for radio" ?).  Attached picture is our female DJ's in Tianjin, and a rather happy/smug looking General Manager of Content!

8.  It's not just OK for batman to wear a mask


Finally, the last thing on my list of what I now consider to be normal is wearing a face mask.  As I write this blog from my office in Beijing, the pollution count is 154 (out of 500) which is considered "unhealthy".  That is probably about an average day for Beijing.  Our newest station in Shijiazhuang (south west of Beijing) is China's most polluted city where it consistently gets above 500, which is "hazardous".  I never thought I would need/wear a mask, but when it gets above 300, the mask comes on.  Provided you change the filters regularly, you'll probably be reasonably safe - or at the very least, live to see NSW win a State of Origin series (Sorry to the non-Australians for that reference).
Oh, and notice from this photo I have matched my mask with my shirt? (See No.5 about fashion)

I know what you're saying.  6 months wait and that's all I could come up with?  Well, I have been pretty busy launching 2 new radio stations.  You haven't heard?  Go and have a read of this:

http://www.radioinfo.com.au/news/aussie-leads-ratings-surge-chinese-station

That's all for now.  If I get the urge, I might even write another blog in the next few weeks about the launch of our new stations.

And thank god winter is over! Aussies should not be subjecedt to cold, dry Beijing winters!

Zaijian!






Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Domo Arigato Mr.Roboto

Welcome back sports fans!

This blog is another slight diversion from my life in China.  The week before last week was "Golden Week" - 6 days of holidays for National Day, and one of the largest movement of people in the world.  The government estimates that during that week, 610 million Chinese travel.  Extra trains and planes are put on to cover the holidays.  Let's just say that's alot of extra inflight meals.

Being in Asia, I had a lot of options available for the week.  I could stay in Beijing and enjoy the less people/less traffic week, or I could travel somewhere else in China.  I could go to Vietnam, Cambodia or even go and lie on the beach in Thailand.  All very tempting. But I decided to go and visit Tokyo.

It was a mad, hectic and very enjoyable 5 days in Tokyo, so I have decided to dedicate this blog to my time in Tokyo, and write about the top 5 things I did (or in one case didn't do) in Tokyo.

1.  Eating

What better place to start my Tokyo blog than to talk about the food. I know when I think of Japanese food, I think of Sushi, Tempura, Ramen and my favourite Teriyaki Chicken (with the additional sake of course), and of course it was everywhere.  One of the things I did love about Tokyo is that the food was convenient, fast, and relatively cheap.  And if you can operate a vending machine, life is good.

One of the places I found in Tokyo (actually I didn't find it, I followed my guidebook) was called "Ichiron", a restaurant chain that specialises in ramen.  I managed to find one near the Tokyo National Museum (even though there was no English signage.  I had to ask someone where it was).  The way it worked at Ichiron was this - you entered the store and bought your ramen ticket from a vending machine.  The waitress then gives you a form which you complete to let them know how you want your ramen (it's specially prepared for you).  You then sit in a cubicle, fill out your form, and hand it to the staff.  Within about 5 minutes, your ramen appears, prepared exactly the way you want.  Brilliant!

Left:  The vending machine, which includes pictures AND English menu.

Right: The form (in English) asking how you like the flavour, how much garlic, texture of noodles, and whether you would like fries with that (OK, maybe not the last bit)

Below Left: The cubicles.  It reminded me of the voting cubicles in Australia

                                                      Right: The final product, all delivered through a bamboo curtain which is then lowered so you can sit in your cubicle, and enjoy your ramen.




2. Kabuki Theatre

Never let the weather spoil a good holiday, so even though it was raining on my first full day in Tokyo, I hit the streets.  The night before I discovered that near Ginza shopping mall was a Kabuki theatre (traditional Japanese dance/drama), so I went for a look.  The show was due to start at 11am, and I arrived about 10am.  I found an English speaking staff member who said that I could line up and buy a ticket for one act, for just 1000 Yen (About AUD$10).  The first act was 40 minutes.  After he told me that the whole show was 4 hours, I decided to take his advice.  I took my place in the line and waited to buy my ticket.  The first 90 people in the line get a seat.  Anyone after can stand at the back of the theatre.  I was sitting next to a girl and her mother who were Japanese, but actually lived in Perth (what are the chances?!). They told me we were very lucky to get near the front of the line as it gets very popular.

So, what can I say about Kabuki theatre?  The costumes were colourful, the show was very dramatic, and the females roles were played by men (which I discovered was part of the tradition).  And the language they use is so old, that most Japanese find it hard to understand.  It is something you have to try, but I recommend buying the English audio translation, as I understood nothing!

          

             

3.  Tsukiji Fish Market

According to my guide book, one of the things you must do in Tokyo is visit the tuna auctions at the Tsukiji Fish Market.  The fish market is the biggest wholesale fish market in the world, and the auction takes place at 5:30am each morning (except Sunday).  It is recommended that you arrive at 5am and register, as they only take 120 people.  Let's do it!

I did the right thing - early dinner, back at the hotel, and in bed by 9pm.  Had the worst night sleep, and ended up getting about 2-3 hours sleep.  When the alarm went off at 4am, I did think about sleeping in and skipping the fish market.  But hey, I'm on holidays! So,I dragged myself out of bed, hit the shower, and was in the taxi at 4:30 for the short 10 minute drive.

Now let me paint the scene.  The guidebook (and the hotel staff, the website, every forum I read) all said that you need to be there at 5am to register, and they let the first group in (60 people) around 5:20.  I had 3 hours sleep, it was raining (again), it was dark, and I was heading to a fish market.  The taxi driver spoke English, so he knew where I wanted to go.  I arrived at 4:45am to be greeted with the sign "Registration for Today Finished".  Finished?  Finished?  Is Finished Japanese for "Come in an enjoy our fish market"? How could it be finished?  I went up to the security staff and asked for an explanation.  They said (in very broken English) that I was too late, I need to come at 4am!

4am?!  Where did it say that in the guidebook ? I knew I should have bought the Lonely Planet guide instead of the brand I bought.  I bet Lonely Planet says 4am.  But what was there to argue about.  There was nothing I could do.  I walked around the outer markets, tried to find the courage to try sushi at 5am in the morning (it didn't happen), then pulled up stumps and went back to the hotel for bacon and eggs.

 Left: What I look like at 5am in Tokyo after 3 hours sleep and being refused entry to the fish market (I believe I had just consumed a Red Bull)

Below:  My only proof I was at the fish market (apart from a slight fishy smell which I carried around with me all day)















4.  Akihabara and the Maid Cafes (AKA "Nerd Central")

The day I went to Akihabara was a day where I experienced both ends of the cultural spectrum.  In the morning I went to the Tokyo National Museum - looked at the art, the swords, the fashion, the history- you know, everything you do at a museum.  Always nice to get a bit of culture.  Then 3 hours later, I was being offered coffee and cake (including singing and dancing) by a young Japanese girl dressed as a maid!

Akihabara is also known as "Electric Town" - you can buy everything electronic.  From cameras, and TV's to spy cameras, games, comics, costumes, DVD's.  For me, it was nerd central.  I was home!  But one of the other things that this area is known for is the "maid cafes".  I read about these in the guide book (who am I to say no to a pretty girl dressed as a maid), so I wanted to discover them for myself.

The whole idea behind the maid cafe is they are designed to target the nerds (Ie. Me!) who frequent the area.  The girls are dressed as maids, they serve you tea/coffee/beer/cake/desserts etc, plus they will sing and dance for you.  I approached a "maid" on the streets, and got a brochure.  She explained that there was a 1000 Yen cover charge, and they have many kinds of drinks.  OK, sure.  Let's give it a try.  If anything else, I could get some nice photos.

"No photos! No photos!". the girl explained as she was leading me up the stairs.  OK, so I am going to pay 1000 Yen (plus) for a beer and a biscuit, served by a pretty girl, and I won't be able to show photos to my friends?  Forget it....And I have to say, the girls looked very young. Or maybe it's just me getting old.


















5.  Skytree

From my hotel room I could see the "Skytree" - Tokyo's newest tower, and now officially the tallest tower in the world.  It has only been opened for about a year, and gives you a great view of Tokyo.  On the Wednesday after my visit to the Imperial Palace Gardens (that didn't make my top 5.  Hey, it's a garden!) I decided to go and check out the "Skytree" - along with 8 million other people.

Lining up for a ticket to the Skytree reminded me of lining up for the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios.  You join the end of the line, which you see has about 100 people in it.  You slowly move forward, then you get to the front (or what you thought was the front), turn a corner then move into the "second" waiting area, which has about 500 people in it!  At this stage you have already waited 20 minutes, and probably have another 30 minutes.  You are committed now, so you just keep inching forward.

Because it was a clear day (the only clear day when I was there), it was busy.  Line up to get a ticket.  Line up to get in the lift.  Line up to get in the second lift (to the very top).  Line up to get the lift down. Line up to get your photo taken.  Line up to join the line up to the toilet.  You get the idea.

 But the view was spectacular.  Being the tallest tower in the world (and only 12 months old) it was pretty cool.  A few quick snaps from the top.


(I can't remember anything in these photos, except taking the pic of me in front of the mirrored elevator doors - below)
 
5 days is not long, but I managed to get in a whole lot more, including a visit to the Imperial Gardens, Ginza Shopping Mall, Harajuku (just like the Gwen Stefani song), and the Tokyo Dome where they play indoor baseball.  As I wrote on my Facebook page when I came back to Beijing, Tokyo is now one of my favourite cities in the world.  

Oh, and let me leave you with a few quick observations

- Thanks to the Shangri La hotel and their heated toilet seat, I get a shock (and a cold bum) using normal toilets.
- Japanese are very friendly and polite.  They stand to the left on an escalator, they wait for you to get out of the train before you get on, and they don't talk on their mobile phones on the train
- I travelled on the subway everyday for 5 days, and I still don't understand it.
- The "Super Drama" TV channel on Japanese TV has the Big Bang Theory.  How is that drama?
- In Akihabara (see above) they sell photos of young girls for 100 Yen.  I am still not quite sure what for - maybe for fashion tips for the girls, or maybe they are superstars.  Maybe just to show the nerds photos of girls they will "never" get.
- Did I mention the warm toilet seats? Oh yeah, I did.
- I spent the whole time singing lines from "Turning Japanese" and "Domo Arigato Mr Roboto".  Probably not a good thing to do in Japan.
- Japanese can't make pizzas (one night, to have a break from the cuisine, I went to a bar for a beer and a pizza.  Let's just say that I have tasted better pizzas from a microwave).

There you have it blog fans.  My quick trip to Tokyo.  Next time I am going to hike up Mt Fuji, and I might even go back to the fish market.  Let's hope they don't change the time to 3am.

Sayonara!