Monday 12 October 2009

Japan First Day

The Narita airport had me excited from the minute we touched the ground. Everything seemed so fuctional, so neat, tidy, and technology laden, so "if you're going to bother making something, do it right." Moving through customs was efficient, within 5 minutes I was out where Tori was waiting for me. She had already dropped whatever gazillion yen it took to buy two train tickets to Tokyo station, right by the Imperial Palace and right near our hotel.

The hour train ride to town didn't show a hint of undeveloped land, everything is squeezed in somewhere. The train was quiet, fast and everything on it seemed to be built to a high level of quality.

We navigated out from 4 or 5 floors deep on the subway which I think was later from work on Friday night and probably 75th percentile past rush hour, but it was the busiest spot I've been in a long time. Finding our way around was decently easy as I can see over everyone and signs are all in english and characters. Once outside we fired up blackberry GPS and google to find our hotel which as the crow flies was probably 150m away, but we had to walk around a couple blocks because of construction to get there. As expexted, checking into a Four Seasons always relaxes me a couple of notches, as long as I'm not thinking of the bill too much (Four Seasons = expensive. Tokyo = expensive. Four Seasons Tokyo = expensive^2). Since I'd been travelling and mostly awake for 20+ hours, we had a quick dinner at the hotel restaurant and went to bed - definitely a convenience choice rather than a choice based on economizing.

After sleeping for 14 hours on no schedule that made sense on home time, I woke up and watched a few bullet trains come and go from our window - super cool. Clicked on the TV, and second channel was Giro d' Italia coverage of the time trial that sounded intensely exciting no matter what the situation, Japanese just sounds so intense when they get going.

Our goals for the day were to see the Hama Rikyu Onshi-teien gardens which was about 2km away, the Tsukiji fish market, and the Roppongi area.

The first 2km walk was completely inspiring. I thought I'd be impressed by Tokyo but it's so impressive I'm in love with it. I've never seen a place as awesome as this. Everything is so nice, so architecturally cool, so tech laden, so clean and so manicured it's unbelievable. It makes Manhattan look like a blast from the past in many ways. Using anything is preceeded by a 60 second learning curve because there's 10 more features than I'd ever expect (and if there's no english on it it's pretty challenging).

The gardens have something to do with an old palace - but now they're a sanctuary from the city. Very manicured, very relaxing.

We found our way over to the fish market, but first went through the produce market where some festival was going on with a team of people banging away on giant drums. We bought some snacks that were fishy flavored mushy dough balls. I think we got there late for the fish market activity, but suffice to say the place is crazy huge. I have no idea what percent of Tokyo's daily catch changes hands here, but suffice to say it seems big enough to handle a large portion of fish commerce, and this is a city over 12mm people, so that's mind bogglingly fishy. Before leaving we bought a bag of unsweetened dried kiwis which I'm in love with. Seemed like an easier snack to have all day than a bag of soya covered giant dried scallops.

We walked back to a mall type thing called Shiodome for lunch. On the way I decided to try one of the million vending machines and was a bit surprised that my can of coffee came out piping hot. The gas station nearby had no pump islands in the middle, all the nozzles hung from the ceiling and were pulled down with strings to save space. We ate at some third floor restaurant and marveled at the view from the window that showed 3 levels of sub ground level construction in a huge patio/atrium area, the road level, stone sidewalks with stainless steel handrails going every which way above the roads, then a train level and 50 story buildings all over. Every level has gardens and trees planted. There's so many stairs and escalators its like that famous Escher drawing.

Lunch meals specified calories on each dish, Tori and I ordered two different meal combos and drank tea while we waited. When the server brought Tori's tray out it had a dozen little dishes of different stuff, mine had 15. Insane amount of preparation. Naturally I started to screw up the mixing and matching with that amount of possibility, so the girl came back and showed me what was up. We could figure out less than half of what was on the plates, lots of biodiversity and culinary diversity going into my belly. We couldn't even explain back and for what "that little pink thing probably was" or "what it tasted like". Probably a vegetable of some kind, and I have no idea how prepared, and have no idea of anything that tastes similar.

Before moving on to Roppongi we went to a Panasonic Life building. I thought it might be an electronics type place, but it's more like a cross between the Museum of Modern Art in NY and Ikea on triple steroids. Apparently Panasonic has industrial reach into everything needed to construct and furnish a house, and it was all on display here. I've never seen such badass stuff - my new house reno now seems like it will fall so far behind what is actually capable with 21st century technology. Totally mindblowing.

We walked west to Roppongi and stopped through a neighbourhood citizen fair. A park was set up with tent stalls of food, crafts, info, games, and a big dance performance stage was going on. The humane society had a big display that showed how many strays they take in then euthanize and put into giant blender machines and incinerators. I think most of the audience could have done with less pictures of cement truck sized dead animal blenders and the resuting polished white broken bone piles after all was done.

We walked past the giant Toyko tower thing that sort of looks like the Eiffel tower, then made it to the area we were trying to reach. Seemed more urban-hip, people hanging out and being busy looking as cool as possible. Got some coffees and chilled out till past dark, then took the train home.

This morning I took a picture of the spaghetti bowl train map as a joke and figured I better have good walking legs because there's no way we'd be able to navigate the train system, but even with words that have no meaning to us it's entirely logical and simple. What looked like a complete impossibility this morning looks like endless ease of moving around for a couple of dollars a pop now.

The outdoor courtyard/entry plaza of the bulding we're in has thousands of color changing little raindrop sized lights drilled into the marble floor. Lot of effort for a cool effect.

This is by far the most impressive city I've ever been to. Nothing is shoddy, it's all well kept, high tech, and beautifully designed with diverse styles and materials. Even though it's busy, it doesn't feel crowded - people are reserved, even markets that would be super obnoxious in other countries are mild mannered here (maybe everyone is rich enough generally that white tourists aren't simply viewed as cash sources). People put a lot of effort into what they wear - some of it is pretty outlandish, but despite any judgement on style preference, you can tell people wake up and actually spend effort thinking about how they want to look.

I love Japan!


This is the building I'd live in if I resided in Tokyo.

Mmm... dried Kiwi from the giant fish/produce market in Tokyo bay.

That's a lot of dishes - elaborate lunch meal.

No clue.

I got into the habit of enjoying vending machines.

Park near the fish market.

Big spiders in park near fish market.

Cool building with little apartments. I think people maybe get more than one cube.

Neat green building.

Giro d' Italia was first thing when we clicked on TV. I'm pretty good at reading Kanji characters now, I think that says "Levi Leipheimer of Astana just before his time trail starts".

Japanese People Movers

I think we came across the most awesome minivan convention of all time.

I wonder about the high speed effects of such large spoilers.

This one even had Winnie the Pooh and gang painted on.

Plus a full sized mural in back. Pretty hard to beat.

Japanese people like cat naps everywhere it seems.

People drove these mini bikes on the highway.

They seemed to be pretty high powered and went pretty fast.

We took a lot of trains. It's easier than it looks given this map. Not all are the same system, some are privately owned and need different tickets - we wasted $5 by accident once. Makes the public debate around expanding our Calgary LRT to the SW kind of look like child's play.

A speedy intercity train.

A way speedier intercity train.

Muscle car.

Neat Japanese Stuff

Maybe this says green tea. Maybe it says "tastes like water drained out of the rice paddies".

When you can't chose a single color for your shoes.

This little guy had so much energy it was impressive - he made short work of the hike at Nikko national park.

Mmmm... sweet pancake with sweet bean fill. We had to go back to this place twice since we kept getting there perpetually "5 mins before noon" on our two trips. Tori was happy we finally made it.

This parkade is a 10 story building that's as wide as seen here that puts your car in spots all computer controlled. Instead of having to turn around, the circles rotate to spin you.

Gas station nozzles come from the ceiling to save space.

Sounds so high class French.

Micro hotel toothpaste that was like licorice.

Toilets are much more electronic and complicated.

Nothing says tasty snack like a hot dog applying ketchup to itself.

Tokyo Bikes

Japan hasn't apparently applied it's technological excellence in high end bicycle component design to commuter bikes for the masses, or frame design for that matter. Here's a sampling of crappy suspension designs sold on brand name than any riding benefits I can see:

Chevrolet: The heartbeat of America.

Lamborghini: Most look way faster than this.

Spiderman: what does he have to do with bikes?

Captain Stag: Uhh, right.

Japan vs. Canada - people movement

I'm back on Canadian soil in YVR, and have a few minutes to peck away at a keyboard before flying home. My short stay in Japan was so fun, so awesome, so unbelievable - I thought I'd be wow'd with the culture and the technical impressiveness of it all but instead it triple wow'd me well past any expectations... I've got a camera full of pics to make a few posts out of this week.

Having said that, I'll touch on just a few of the texts basics in reverse order first. When I left, I was pontificating on topics I'm no expert in from my unqualified position of armchair critic on what works and what doesn't work - a thread I want to briefly continue.

Ohhh Canada. Ohhh Vancover. I've just come back from a city of 12 million that is part of a continuous metropolitan area of 35 million people. Japanese are masters of many things, including seafood, electronically sophisticated toilet seats, and people movement. People movement falls into many categories such as the 5 story deep hive that is Tokyo Station right near our hotel serving as the nexus for the subway system, to bicycles everywhere, to the most varied assortment of cars I've ever seen, each of which will be elaborated on with a few photos.

First on the list though are airports. Narita airport had me excited the second I got off the plane. I felt instantly welcome and instantly in awe of cleanliness, design, foreign language functionality and technology layered into every inanimate object people interact with. I haven't had the opportunity to make it to other ultra-advanced airports like Beijing's recent mega project/improvements, but Narita airport struck me as the [first step of a trip] that is the closest I can comprehend to visiting the future. The mass of people that find their way anywhere and everywhere efficiently and serenely in the sea of movement is undeniably impressive. Customs, baggage, trains from the airport, ticketing, food and shopping are just amped up so many notches. I didn't stop to wait in a line for more than 60 seconds anywhere between deplaning and checking into the Four Seasons Maranouchi.

Something like four and a half days later, I deplane in Vancouver, walk a hallway, and stand for 45 minutes in a customs lineup. It just feels wrong. The layout doesn't fit the space very well. A family a few spots ahead of me in line is talking to a silver haired airport host guy on the subject of this being "surprisingly long". "Sir, this is to be expected - we've just had two large planes land, one from Tokyo and one from Seoul right now."

Fair enough. But this is the international terminal that's a few months away from "hosting the world" with the Olympics. And my recent frame of reference is that facilities such as airports can be built to take a "large airplane from Seoul/Singapore/Bankok/Beijing/Shanghai/London/Los Angeles/Sydney/Vancouver etc. basically all simultaneously if need be. At least the carpet colors the taxpayers bought are relatively nice.

Good luck to all international visitors arriving for the winter Olympics - bring your serenity with you.

Thursday 8 October 2009

Things that work/don't work

Things that don't work: West Coast Budgeters and me

I've spent a bit of time perusing the Vancouver airport this morning, checking out the pre-Olympic updates, should turn out nice, just wonder when the west coast will ever learn how to budget in a manner that shows an understanding that taxpayer dollars shouldn't be measured as a zero cost of capital (I say west coast as the "Governator" on TV this morning serves as reminder this isn't only a BC phenomenon).

My functionality has dropped precipitously lately. Got home late last night, couldn't find my preferred carry on travel backpack, appropriate clothes, travel charger, and my Air Canada upgrade certificate book. I'm not used to being such a mess, but I guess I've grown up to be 31, homeless, single and unorganized (tongue in cheek). Sometimes I wonder.

Things that work: Macs and less planning

I've found I enjoy carry on traveling. Planning in advance works well for many things, but I find way too much of my life is planned in advance. Tori has told me many times how much she loves and cherishes my affinity for last minute travel planning ; )

The Macbook Air is, in this guy's humble opinion, what laptops have been aiming to achieve since they were invented. Simple. Fast to boot (esp. with that solid state drive). Light. Not a royal pain in the ass to carry around - just a right sized travel tool. For all its elegance - it's just that - a tool. However I pick "tool" as a complimentary word - so functional and right that I don't spend time thinking about the machine itself; I just use it (other than this drivel). Proliferation of public Wi-Fi and tools like this have changed airport layovers forever - seriously what was earth like before unending access to YouTube, Facebook, any movie or song I'd ever care to watch or hear, and streaming live quotes from the same app as my desktop at FirstEnergy?

Wednesday 7 October 2009


I don't know much about Japan really, but I do know I booked tickets last night to fly there tomorrow morning.

A Mitsubishi guy I was speaking to a month ago could do fairly large number/complex arithmetic in his head and had hair like those Japanimation cartoons, so thats kind of what I'm working with.

The sun rises over the pacific and looks just like this apparently.

I like food like this.

They make lots of robots that show up in the news.

But really I'm going to go see Tori, all the other Japan stuff will just be fun to absorb a little. I have a feeling that with such a large country rich in tradition and history, I'll come back feeling empty on how much I absorbed in a short time... kind of like only drinking one cup of green tea and missing the whole sushi dinner.

As excerpted from the Hilltop Hoods' "Nosebleed Section" here's the general plan:
Ladies come chill, come rock with me honey,
I got like half a mill in monopoly money,
There’s no stopping me honey, so you can take my hand,
We can lay on the beach and count grains of sand,
And take a plane to Japan, and drink sake with mafia,
Fly to Libya for some Bacardi with Gadafi a
Dinner date, followed by a funk show (uhh),
We’ll rip off our tops and jump around in the front row

Except I generally hate Gadafi until I actually see $ in my trading account for Verenex. As of yet it's indeterminate whether I can secure tickets for a Captian Funk show in Tokyo this weekend to rip off my top and jump around in the front row...

Monday 5 October 2009

Canadian Hydro Developers, Inc.

Long time client. Long summer for all involved - both companies, legal counsel, advisors, shareholders, and the arbs... TransAlta emerges as the top bidder at the end of the day for about a $1.6bn price tag.

Thursday 1 October 2009

Results outside bike racing

Like post race cyclists hanging around for results to be posted, our industry likes to know who "wins" and "how everyone stacks up". Year end tax returns are one measure, albeit non public. Another one is the classic "league table". These circulate around our office when the quarters are over... thus today was league table day.

These simply show how the group I'm a part of at FirstEnergy competes (in Canada) against bohemoth names you might be more familar with through the news.

But BikingBakke, what's so great here? Not even in the top 10.

Indeed. But consider what's not shown here... namely headcount of M&A professionals. To save you from hours of web surfing to add those stats to this table, let me just summarize by saying it's somewhat David and Goliath like... those 10 above have "a few more" people nationwide (I think RBC is around 160 from some web count, while we are a very busy dozen).