Christmas in LA

I just got back from 10 days in LA visiting friends and family. It was really nice but with only 10 days it wasn’t much of a vacation since every other day was going somewhere else to see someone else.

Still it was great to see my friends and family. I got my nephew Rick a PSP for Christmas so now all his friends are jealous. :-p My other nephew, Gene, at 3 1/2 is now able to talk so that was nice.

Even though I was back in LA last May I was more aware of differences between my life in Japan and LA this time. All my friends and family have nice large places to live by Tokyo standards. I’m trying to figure out how to change that here. It’s not so much about having more space but at least about having a nicer space. If you watched Sex and the City there was an episode where Carrie dates some 25 year old guy, wakes up at his place and after seeing how messy it is decides she can’t deal. Well, as silly as that might sound that feeling kind of describes how I feel in my 330sqft apartment in Japan.

There was a progression from high school through collage to living with roommates and then to living alone until I had bascially made a home for myself with matching sofas, a king size bed, a dinning room, etc. My place cleaned up well and looked like I suspect most typical 30 something American apartments look like. Then I came to Japan and it’s been back to college like dorm living for the last 4 years. Sleeping on the floor, computer is on my coffee table and I kneel at it, my place is low on storage so there is stuff everywhere, etc.

Driving was of course fun. On the one hand I could feel myself getting fatter even as I tried not to eat too much since I was driving everywhere instead of walking. On the other hand it was really nice to be able to go shopping and throw my purchases in the trunk or backseat instead of having to carry them for the rest of the day. It was also nice to listen to music loud in the car, listen to NPR or KWCR, sing along, etc. Things I don’t get to do here in Japan.

There was something about the style of American brands and stores that mostly turned me off. I’m not sure what it is. Lots of really gawdy packaging I guess. I don’t get blackberry at all. Japan skipped that and went straight to e-mail on cell phones. According to my friend Evan, in America cell phones only have SMS which sucks compared to e-mail on your cell phone since SMS is not compatible with e-mail. It would suck ass to have to carry both a blackberry and a cell phone. You’d think the cell phone companies would have already added e-maill features just to try to take the market and money from the blackberry crowd. Still, the pre-paid phone I got had really crappy text input. What were they thinking?

I can’t believe how cheap PCs are now. I got my grandmother a new PC for $199 from Fry’s. I was one of those machines with Lindows or Linspire as it’s now called. I had an unused license for XP Home so I immediately reformatted and installed that. It all seemed to work. My grandmother used to have 233mhz PC running Windows 95 with 32meg, broken CD drive. Now she has like a 1.5ghz Sempron with 128meg ram, 40gig HD, working CD drive. Hopefully it’s working for her. I got her a router for the firewall features, upgraded to SP2 and locked her machine down so she’s a limited user. She only uses e-mail so that should prevent her from becoming victim to viruses, spyware or adware. I might have left it with Linspire installed if she wasn’t already used to Windows and Outlook Express. Plus, I just don’t know Linux as well.

Best Buy was even selling a Compaq PC including Windows, a 15inch monitor and printer for $299! But it was actually $650 with like 5 rebates. To much of a pain.

Again I noticed how many fat people there are in America. It makes me embarrased to be American. I’m not just talking about a few pounds overweight, I’m talking pretty much every where you look there are some grossly obese people around. EVERYWHERE! Unfortunately I think Japan is more likely to get fat rather than America get thin. It’s all about market competition I think. Brand A gives you 20% more food for the same price. Brand B increases their offering. Escalation leads to almost everyone eating more.

Otherwise, just before I went to Japan I saw the preview for War of the Worlds and so decide to read the book. I think my mom read it to me in 6th grade as I needed do a book report but I didn’t remember any of it. My memories are only of the older movie.

I saw some documentary on it on A&E or Discovery a few years ago that claimed the old movie was fairly different from the book, specifically in that the movie kind of ends on a religious theme and the documentary claimed the book didn’t have that theme at all. Well, the book was fairly different than the movie although the basic plot was the same.


Martains arrive, have superior tech and would have destroyed us but end up dying from infectious diseases

Some significant differences from the old movie though. The cyclinder that crashed to earth in the movie was maybe 3 meters across. In the book it’s 30 meters!!! 100 feet! In the movie they have slow flying ships about 20-30 feet across. In the book they have multi-legged walkers 100 feet tall that can RUN, i.e., they go VERY FAST! They do have a flying machine in the book but the main character only hears of it, he never sees it. Also in the book they manage to kill one machine earily but the martians come up with countermeasures.

I was surprised how short the book is and how little actually happens. There is very little “action”. The biggest parts of the story are going from town to town trying to get away. A scene where 6 million people are leaving london all at once and a scene where the main character is stuck in some rubble near the martians for 15 days are the biggest parts.

It will be interesting to see how they modernize the story in the new movie since at the time the book was written, wireless communication didn’t seem to exist (the martians communcation by signals) and as well, you’d think any civilization that made it far enough to travel across space would have invented space suits to save them from infectious diseases. [/spoiler].

Also, on the way home I watched 4 movies on the plane. If you are flying to and from Asia take Singapore Airlines. They are consistantly rated #1. Even in coach they have private TVs for everyone and now they have movies on demand. Before when I flew a couple of years ago they had private TVs for everyone but the movies were just on rotation. This time they are both on rotation AND on demand. If you just cycle through the channels you get movies on rotation. If you go through the menus you get movies on demand including controls for fast forward, pause and rewind, etc.

There was some poor interface design though. They main menuing system used one set of keys but then getting into some other parts of the system the key system changed. Another was that when the crew makes an announcement they cut off your soundtrack. That’s fine but it would be nice if they paused your movie. I guess it wouldn’t have been a problem if I could have rewound a little but the button for rewind was broken off on my controller. 3 of 4 times the crew cut in on a critical piece of dialog. Murphy’s Law I guess.

Anyway, I watched I-Robot which was better than I expected. The ending battle, 20-30 stories up was silly in that it was clearly designed for an action scene and had nothing to do with how a real system like that would be designed but other than that the basic story was pretty well done I thought.

The Bourne Supremacy was fun but forgetable. No major problems but also nothing really memorable either.

Elf, which by just the poster I thought looked really lame, was actually not bad. My nephew recommended it. It wasn’t that great either though and the turning point for the dad was pretty unbelievable.

Finally I watched Anchorman. I probably only watched it because a few stores I went to in America were pushing the crap out of it making it look like it must be good. I’m sure in the right frame of mind it’s funny as hell but with 8 hours already on the flight when I started I just wasn’t getting into it.

  • Paul
    We’re not total cell phone luddites!

    I have the Hiptop 2 (T-Mobile calls them Sidekick II) and it has a full featured POP email client, WAP browser, SMS, etc. with an unlimited data plan of $20/mo. Oh yeah, and a cleverly hidden QWERTY thumb pad.

    Oh great… now I feel fatter. 😉

  • Leo

    I’m a little dissappointed to read that you’re embarrassed to be an American because people are obese. Yes, there is something in our culture that lends itself towards obesity. Hell, I’ll 75lbs over the “ideal”. I’ve lost 5 lbs in the last two months. But being embarrassed because people are fat is a little shallow. Oh well, you can be embarrassed and I’ll be dissappointed 😉

  • living in Tokyo

    it probably comes from living in Tokyo.  Sorry if I offended you.  I had this discussion with my Japanese teacher about how Americans or at least SoCal people are much more casual.  They have no problem going out shopping to a supermarket unkept and sloppy.  Most Tokyoites or at least female tokyoites would feel they need to get at least slightly more dressed to go outside.  I feel that’s a plus to SoCal people that they aren’t considerned with it.  At the same time, going to Las Vegas and seeing all the old scruffy guys walking around in worn out pajama shorts and a raggity t-shirt as they walk from casino to casino kind of ruins the mood for me so I can see it both ways.

    Being that there are very few overweight people in Tokyo it just feels like the fact that there are so many overweight people in America makes it seem like so many Americans are lazy (no excersize) and have no self control (eat too much).  To have the stereotype of an American to be a lazy person with no self-control is embarrasing as an American.

  • DoctressJulia
    yes Americans are faaat!

    I agree with you and i am embarassed as well by the nasty obesity here. It isn’t just aestheatics either, it is just knowing how UNHEALTHY people are here theay eat McCrap, etc. I hope someday I can go to Japan, it sounds very walking- condusive, public transport and all, and SUSHI!! Yum. Well, I’m off for a walk! 🙂 later… 😉

  • Leo

    No worries, you didn’t offend me (as if it really mattered that much 😉 ). I can understand being embarrased because of politics or the sterotypical (not really much of one because its true) American tourist talking loudly (and stupidly)and saying things like “Back home they’d do this for me” or “God, that ugly, you’d think they’d do something to make it look nice for us”, etc. That I can understand. I guess I should take into consideration where you live and what little I know about where the emphasis lies there. We are a fat-ass nation, we’re tied to our cars, we constantly run around and its easy to stop by McDonalds and turn it into a habit as opposed to say, a treat every once in a while (lol). But there is a rise in obesity and we are partly to blame ourselves. And since I live in the U.S., I don’t have to face the sterotype. Sorry if I offended you in that case.

    I agree with you about people going out dressed as slobs. While I don’t dress up totally and I do where jeans a good percentage more, I’m not a slob about. When I see people dressed like slobs, I remember the pictures from the Great Depression. Remember the pictures of the foodlines? No matter their circumstances, they were still dressed better then we do today.

    Anyway, you didn’t offend me, but I’m sorry if I offended you Greg.

  • RIO

    dude, what’s up. glad to hear you stretched your legs outside of tokyo. about NPR, everytime I’m in tokyo, I listen to it via my laptop via the Internet. it’s a live stream, it’s very comforting to listen to in the middle of tokyo.

    I also wanted to comment about the apartment thing. it’s better to compare tokyo to new york rather than L.A. (or any other U.S. for that matter). I’ve lived in L.A. before, as well as several other U.S. cities, and only new york is a fair comparison to tokyo, and I can tell you that most people here in new york live in tiny box apartments that cost a lot of money. I have a pretty big place that I pay A LOT of money for. for the same money, in most other places in the U.S. I could have a huge place; people would think I’m rich or something.

    also, when you watch Sex and the City, they show all these incredible apartments. yeah, well, I’ve been to some of those kinds of places here in NYC, but they are usually owned by a rich (real rich, not just well off) person. I know plenty of people here making between $100k-300k, and they have very normal (often small) apartments. even the apartment Carrie Bradshaw has on her show is rather big for a single girl with only a magazine column as her gig. don’t let that show fake you out. the only personal friend I have that truly has a big huge place in new york city (aka, the only good U.S. comparison to tokyo) is literally rich (making like $4 million a year). so don’t sweat it.

    [by the way, I’m not saying prices in new york are the highest necessarily, I’m more so talking about price versus space. in new york, there’s not much space for the price, so it’s a lot like tokyo. price wise, san francisco can kill you dead just as well as new york.]

  • RIO

    p.s. yes, people here are fat dude. you know, for me, with the advent of the broadband Internet and cheaper airfares, I see tokyo as the place to be. the only reason I’m still in NYC is because right now business is doing well for me. any down turn and I’ll probably bolt for tokyo.

    ultimately the idea is to have a sweet pad in kamakura or harajuku, while owning a piece of property here in new york that I can visit occasionally.

  • RIO


    just thought of something… I ‘have’ known people here with incredible apartments and average salaries, but they are almost always in a roommate situation. In fact, many people (more than you’d think) in new york city who are in their 30s are in a roommate situation. And we’re not talking about $500 rent. I’m talking about people in a roommate situation where they are paying between $800-$1200 a month (and I’m being conservative).

  • NY vs Tokyo

    I don’t know the NY market but looking on the New York Times Classifieds and searching in East Village, Far West Village, Greenwich Village, Soho/Tribeca, a bunch of $1500 a month 1bedroom 1bath places come up and they all look 2-3 times the size of the equivilent Tokyo $1500 a month place.

    Also, roommates might be ok but, I don’t know about New York but in LA there are tons of apartments designed for roomates.  2 master bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 1 each connected to those bedrooms. So the only place you have to share is the kitchen, dinning room and living room.  Here in Tokyo though, for the most part people just don’t do the roommate thing.  Either you live with your parents, you live alone or you’re married.  Landlords don’t deal with roommates at all.  It’s pretty much an exception here to have roommates.  The most common (yet still rare) roommate situation is a gaijin house.  A large 4-8 room place where some company rents out each room separately.

    Japanese houses and apartments typically don’t have real doors separating the rooms.  Instead they have either traditional sliding (none locking) paper doors or sliding doors that might as well be made with paper as they are so thin. All the rooms typically open into each other.  That makes it a little harder to have roommates.  There are more western style places downtown with rooms actually separated by hallways but they are for expats and double the price.

  • anonymousy

    i played a game as a kid called “jones in the fast lane” which was like a primative version of the sims. it tought me that you only make yourself happy in life if you rationally pursue your goals, and that life is about balance.

    you sound like an irrational guy somtimes, which is odd since you are a programmer. here is the logic of life :

    if you live and work in the city, you have no commute, convienence, but a small place.

    if you live in the burbs, you get a better place but a commute.

    if you live and work in the burbs, you often have a less-cool or lower paying job but have no commute and a nice house.

    if you arent making enough money, you train yourself to make more or take higher paying jobs despite giving up personal life freedoms like where you want to live or your free time.

    once you save money, you get more personal life freedom to indulge in fun but lower-paying jobs or more time off.

    money = choices, but making money often means less choices.

    but reality is this : you can only do one choice at a time. not to sound like a dick, but you should have learned that a long time ago. once you have money, you can invest it and balance things out. just go back to the US, work for 100k/year in games, then move back to japan for while. duh. my friend works at microsoft and lives in a *giant* house that costs only $300k! but he is constantly starved for culture.

    being unhappy is different than being irrationally frustrated about life. i know people that are unhappy because they know the phase they are in is not where they want to be, but they are using reason and logic to plot a course, and are never depressed and are excited about their future. for creative people, stagnation is death.

    why are you still fighting reality? maybe dig up jones in the fast lane or the sims and see if your character in the game turns out any better. then again, that probably explains why those types of games are so popular, if you know what i mean. gambatteyo!

    ps- the issue about fat people and fast food corporations is moot if you believe in free will.

  • anonymous_bos
    Cell phones

    I’m not sure who told you US cell phones aren’t capable of email function in addition to normal text messaging but thats just wrong.  My Sharp TM-150 is set up to retrieve email from my account at any time.  In fact my previous phone, a 3 1/2 year old nokia had email functionality (although it was so ackward i chose never to use it).

  • That’s good to hear.  Can you send email form your Sharp TM-150 or only retrieve it?  Here in Japan the interfaces an input methods don’t suck so I send quite a bit of e-mail on my phone.  Most Japanese send 10-20 a day.

  • anonymous_bos

    Yeah it has full send/retrieve ability (its just like outlook on your phone).  I’m not a big fan of typing on phones so I dont use it unless its something that I absolutely must send immediately.  My favorite feature is it will automatically send me a normal text message telling me i have an email and who its from which avoids me having to retrieve my inbox which generally takes 20-30 seconds (which isnt long but still) just to check if there is an email.  of course it uses t9 input, too.  the phone is wicked, by the way.  it has the highest resolution on the market (in the US anyways) so you can see the whole email at once instead of scrolling down every 4 lines.

  • anonemouse

    There’s a Blackberry with phone built in….