filipino girl

I was talking to this Filipino girl at a bar…

She’s 28 years old, she lives with her family, and there are 20 people in her house. She dropped out of college to make money for her family, but wants to go back. Her English is fantastic.  She takes a bus 2 hours each way to work in Manila. I didn’t catch the name of her hometown, but this commute is obviously worth it for her.  She told me the average person makes 10,000 Philippine pesos a month, about $230.  I had already spent more than that in the last few days in Manila.  She asked if I made more money than $230/month, and she raised her hand a little, indicating a higher amount. I raised my hand to the ceiling. She’s never been outside the Philippians. I asked her if there was one place in the world she wanted to go, where would it be.  She said Rome to see the Basilica and the Pope.  The Philippians are a very Catholic nation.  She asked me where I would go and I said Nepal and Tibet to see the center of Buddhism. She was a very happy person. The last thing I told her before I left was that I hope she makes it to Rome one day.

We live in very different worlds.

macau ‘aint no vegas

If Vegas is sin city, Macau is sinless city.  If Vegas is an R rated movie, Macau is PG.  If Vegas what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, you can tell everyone what happened in Macau.  If the Mormons decided to open up a gambling resort, well… you get the idea.  Are the casinos in Macau beautiful?  Yes.  They are some of the most grandiose buildings I’ve ever seen.  Does Macau have magnificent shopping?  Yes.  There are Louis Vuitton stores next to Dolce & Gabbana next to Prada.  Does Macau have gambling?  Yes.  Obviously.  So what’s the problem?  The feel.  It’s too nice and clean!  Vegas has a certain grime to it, the clash of everything from Christian Dior boutique with illegal immigrants selling call girls outside.  I love walking the strip in Vegas.  Going from one casino to the next, eating and drinking all the way, never being more than 50 ft. from a place to gamble.  Macau is very sprawled out.  You can walk from one hotel to the next, but between them is… nothing.  Just everyday city streets with a few open shops.  And the absolute strangest part of Macau is the noise level on the gambling floors.  It’s too silent.  When I walk into a Vegas casino, my senses are overloaded.  The sounds of coins hitting the slot machine tray, the low roar of people winning and losing their life savings, the flashing lights, the random group of obnoxious strangers getting back from a club at 8am.  These are the sounds of Vegas.  Not Macau, it’s silent on the gambling floor.  The other mind blowing aspect of Macau is that you can’t drink alcohol on the gambling floor.  There are bars at the casinos, of course, but you can’t bring your drink with you to play blackjack.  The casinos in Macau have carts that bring around all you can drink water, milk, tea, orange juice and tomato juice, but no alcohol, and I think that’s the fundamental problem.  Alcohol lowers people’s inhibitions, causing them to take greater risks, winning and losing bigger and bigger amounts, creating a rising level of excitement.  Without the drinks and noise, it’s just not the same.


Galaxy Hotel

Next stop, Monte Carlo.

Casual Dining

I love the casual dining experience in Japan.  And by casual, I mean something between fast food and high-end sit down restaurants.  The closest thing I can think of in the States are places that people sit down for a quick bite during lunch, Thai food, Applebees, diners, but it’s different here, and that’s why I like it.  My favorite restaurants so far are the ones with the vending machines to order from before you sit down:


In the US, eating is an experience. An event.  In Japan, it’s a necessity of life.  You eat and move on.  In Japan, you order your food, sit down at long tables next to strangers, have some green tea (free), the server brings you your food, and when you’re done, you walk away.  If you’re at a place with a menu, you sit down, with or without a friend, they take your order, the check comes before the meal is over, and always separate checks if there are multiple people, and when you’re done, you walk to the cash register, pay, and leave.  All prices include tax, there is no tip, so you know exactly how much things cost.  It’s simple and straightforward.  In the US, casual dining is a big production.  You walk into a restaurant, there is a hostess that greets you and she looks at her magical seating chart.  If you’re lucky, she seats you immediately, and then you look over the menu as you wait for the waiter.  Then the waiter does the little spiel about who he/she is, how they’re going to take care of you, what the specials are that their trying to figure out whether or not to put on the menu permanently, etc.  They take your order, the drinks come, some sort of bus boy actually brings you the food and you eat.  But have to find the waiter again before getting the check.  If you spot him/her, you do the little “writing of the check” hand gesture, they bring you the bill, sometimes with a little mint, tell you what a wonderful time it was to serve you in hopes that you leave a bigger tip.  If your party has multiple people, there’s a bunch of confusion about the bill.  How much is the tax?  In Virginia, it’s only 5%, but in California, it’s 10%.  If people don’t know the tax, the bill is short and the situation get’s worse.  But, that’s generally how American dining is.  I prefer the Japanese way.

In all seriousness, I think the main reason for the difference in dining techniques, is the amount of people in Japan, which is a fundamental reason why a lot of things are the way they are here.  If the restaurants don’t move people through the restaurants as fast as they can, there will be too many hungry people waiting in line, and chaos will ensue.

Learning Japanese: Part 1 of Many

I had a couple of language breakthroughs this week.  First of all, I’ve been learning, very slowly, one of the three Japanese character sets, Hiragana.  Hiragana has about 71 characters, and each character is a sound: し (shi), こ (ko), き (ki), etc.  Pretty much every word in Japanese can be constructed from these basic sounds.  Japanese has 110 sounds in total.  English has… 7890 sounds!  So native English speakers have it easy.  The second character set is Katakana.  It has the same number of characters as Hiragana with the same sounds, but they are written differently and are used exclusively for foreign originating words, such as the word computer, コンピュータ.  The third character set is Kanji, which are Chinese characters, where each character represents something, like 川 (river), or 学校, (school).  There are tens of thousands of those, so I’m putting off learning those for a while.   Anyway, the breakthroughs.

One night this week I went to a sushi place that has a little computer screen at each table to order from and a conveyor belt that brings your order to your table (it’s awesome).  The computer screen is entirely in Japanese.  You select the sushi you want and another screen pops up with two options, one with a green check and one without.  What does this mean??  By recognizing the Hiragana characters, I was able to read the word wasabi.  Green check with the word wasabi under it?  Wasabi please?  I think so!  I selected the green check and my sushi came with wasabi.  Craig 1, Japanese 10000000.  At least I’m on the board.  The second breakthrough came from my learning Japanese mp3s.  I’ve learned “Good Morning”, which I’ve been using for a while, and recently I learned “How are you?” (slowly, but surely).  This morning when I went to breakfast at the hotel, I said the usual “Good morning”, the server guy said “Good morning” back.  Then I followed up with, “How are you?”.  The server was shocked.  And then he smiled.  A tall foreigner with crazy hair, just asked him how he was.  He was literally speechless.  Then he mustered up, “I am good”, in English.  (I’d prefer it if he respond in Japanese, but baby steps, baby steps).  The funny thing is, I only said, “How are you?”, but he thought it was a cultural breakthrough.  I moved on and got my breakfast, read my English newspaper, and went about my day.  But it felt good to communicate, if just a little.

Problems of the First World

Which cell provider do I want, AU or SoftBank?  AU has better service, but most of my friends are on SoftBank, and you get free calls and texts between SoftBank customers – and when calls are 50 cents a minute and 5 cents a text, it will add up (there are no calling/text packages in Japan).  Do I get the iPhone 4 or 4S?  You have to buy the phone up front here, so it’s either $250 for the 4 or $600 for the 4S.  Is it really worth it to get the 4S?  What if I lose it? That’s $600 dollars down the drain.  Do I want to get a car or stick to public transportation?  Public transportation will get you just about anywhere, but what if I go to IKEA and buy a bunch of stuff?  I don’t want to bring it back on a train. But parking and car insurance are hundreds of dollars a month and if I hit someone the penalties are much harsher than in the States. Hmmm… Where should I live?  I could get a fantastic apartment in Zushi, overlooking the beach with a view of Mt. Fuji.  But Zushi is pretty quiet except for in the summer.  Should I live somewhere that is lots of fun only three months out of the year, or live in a large city like Yokohama where there’s always something going on and I’ll meet lots of people.  And Netflix doesn’t work in Japan! What to do??

Problems of the First World.

My decisions were: SoftBank, 4, Public Transportation and Yokohama.