Trip to Tokyo-land!

August 31, 2009

Over the weekend I went to Tokyo to visit some friends. I arrived on Friday night and was met by Megumi at Shinjuku station. we went to a Japanese restaurant to grab a bite to eat and then promptly went home. i was pretty tired from a full day of work followed by a 3 hour bus ride. the next morning we got to wake up at 4:30am! ohh the joy. there was good reason for it though. we were going to Tsukiji (the largest fish market in japan). It was such a busy place even as we arrived at 6am. there were people driving carts of Styrofoam packed goods in every possible direction moving at relatively high speeds. if you weren’t careful to see where you were going you could get run over by one of these carts. outside the main building was a mountain of Styrofoam. Environmentalists of old must have been turning in their graves. as we entered the fish market, we saw two giant tunas. they were bigger than me! we saw two men trying to saw one in half on a trolly and they were having quite a difficult time. walking through the isles of the fish market, there is water everywhere from the vendors trying to keep their seafood fresh. buckets of ice being thrown into vats of water and shellfish. there were salted crabs, dried fish, live fish, live shrimp, live sea urchin (uni), large freezers of tuna. everybody was doing something and just by standing there, you can feel the energy of it all. i found it exhilarating. we didn’t get any fresh fish to eat, but we did buy a whole bag of live sea urchin to eat later.

after wandering the fish market we went outside to the "outside fish market" to find some breakfast. we ate a small shop that served sashimi-don. i had salmon sashimi-don (sake-don) and it was delicious. it was served with egg (tamago-yaki), seaweed (nori), pickled vegetables, and caviar (roe) all on rice with miso soup and cold tea on the side. i love japanese food.

After tsukigi it was around 7:30 when we left and no stores or anything else was open. it wasnt until we got back in the car that i realized how incredibly tired i was. so we went back home to ake a nap. after napping, we went to asakuza. there were SOOOO many people. they had police officers directing traffic IN the subway station. When we got out of the subway, we got some ice cream and headed for the giant lantern that is a landmark of the area. apparently there was some sort of festival happening that day because people we lined up and down the street waiting for the parade. it was near to impossible to walk anywhere. we managed to get to the lantern, wandered down the "indoor/outdoor" market place and went into the shrine. the market place was interesting because it was outdoors, but they had canopies over head to provide shade. thank goodness they did too because it was ridiculously hot that day. the shrine was beautiful with ancie nt artworks painted on the walls and ceilings of dragons and other mythical creatures. it is also customary to give a small donation when you enter and after you pray. some people couldnt get up close to the donation boxes, so they threw their donations at the box. it was a large box and you can hear when they get it in, but you can also hear when they miss. i wouldnt be surprised if people got hit in the process either.

after asakuza, we headed for ginza to see all the high class stores and window shop. there was no way i was going to buy anything on that street full of stores like louis vuitton and donna karren. we did go into a mall that i thought was really nice. the floors were slanted, and the main walkway was a sort of spiral. i wanted to take a picture, but there were distinct signs of "no photos" posted. too bad, it was quite a design.

after having had enough of window shopping, it was time to do real shopping so we headed to harajuku. it was really busy  there as well, but there were many shops having sales. i managed to buy a coupld articles of clothing myself and was very satisfied with the prices. we also got a snack since we didnt have a real lunch. we went to a little pancake cafe that made the cutest little pancakes that smiled back at you. they were really cute.

after harajuku we went back to shinjuku to meet with our other friends for a class reunion. there were only 7 of us in total, but thats ok. it was tons of fun! we went for dinner at a japanese restaurant and ate good food, had good converstation, and had an overall good time. that is, until near the end of dinner when we noticed a cockroach crawling down the wall. a private room full of girls makes a lot of noise when a giant cockroach is spotted. we ended up having our meal compensated (damn straight!) and left shortly after. of course after that we had to go karaoke so we did. 2 hours of japanese and english pop music. it was awesome! after that, we went to an arcade where there were rows and rows of claw grab games and プリクラ (purikura) machines. i hadnt taken a プリクラ photo in ages! it was fun and the girls an noted the pictures afterwards. we also got digital copies sent via email. i think that was the most fun i had since arriving here. being able to spend a night with people my own age doing "young people" things. it was great.

the next day (sunday), we woke up late, so we went to shinjuku to wander before meeting David (one of the other interns this year who works at the Hino branch) we went to lunch with him and then dragged him along shopping in shibuya. we didnt actually buy anything, but i did see a lot of interesting things that i could have bought. and would have been great gifts for people. I also went ot eh disney store. i couldnt resist (i miss being in it all the time). i did notice a large difference though. this disney store carried *useful* products. stationary, bento boxes, clothes, dishes, luggage, and  basically anything you could think of. Thats when i realized why: its because in north america, most people picture disney as a kids place and only for kids. its frowned upon for an adult to wear disney becayse it makes you seem "childish". Here, however, its *OK* for adults to love and embrace disney in everything they do because its "kawaii". i also realized that i know way too much about disney when i saw a Scrump plush doll and instantly wanted it. I had to describe to Megumi and David where it was from (lilos home made doll) and i also noticed a bear sitting on a desk and instantly identified it as michael’s bear from peter pan. after wandering shibyua, we went back to shinjuku, grabbed a coffee, went to the bathroom and just managed to catch my bus. i was really sad to go. i had such a wonderful time in tokyo thanks to Megumi (best tour guide ever)!

Anyways, next time i go, we’re going clubbing and tokyo disney. Yay! I have to say, though, i miss big city life. just being able to wander around and always have something interesting to see, being able to hop on a train or bus at almost any corner, hundreds of restaurants, cafes, karaoke bars, and arcades to choose from. I really had a good time and cant wait til next time!


So many opinions, So little time

July 17, 2009

Ok, this is going to be an extremely opinionated (because this is *my* blog) and long, but I may not have all my facts straight so I do encourage people to correct me where I’m wrong. Here goes…

I’ve spent a good deal of time reading the Toronto Star over the past couple of weeks. I’ve taken particular interest in the garbage strike, because I think it’s absolutely ridiculous. I’ve even read the comments on those articles and columns. This is something I normally wouldn’t do in Toronto because I usually don’t have time.  I think that the strike is ludicrous and I am against unions in general. From what I’ve gathered, the strike is taking place because the city wants to take away seniority and sick days, which includes reducing the number and not paying for days already banked (or paying less for them). I think it’s unfair to not pay up what they already owe workers who have banked their days. Fine, but I don’t think that 18 *paid* sick days are necessary. I would never expect to get that many in my future careers. One thing I’m not sure of is whether that is on top of 3weeks of unpaid holiday days that the rest of the working force usually gets?

I also read a column from the Windsor Star about CUPE and CAW that basically stated that the union’s time of reign over cities are over and that privatization should take over. I’ll admit that I don’t know too much about those organizations, but I think this is how it should be: No more unions. Privatize and let the market work out the wages. There were lots of comments for the author and thanking him for writing the article.

** side note: some comments complained that the article was too biased…umm I think that’s what COLUMNS are for: to let authors express their thoughts and opinions. no? **

Dumping garbage at authorized dumping sites in Toronto: I will agree that it’s not right to harrass city workers as they strike. Honking your horns, yelling profanities and insults are not the way to get striking workers to give in. If anything it makes everything just that much worse. But it’s also not right for them to harass or prevent people from dropping off their garbage! Let people drop off their garbage in peace, they are also just doing what they have been told to do by the city. Just stop arguing with each other and stay out of each other’s way. Fair enough right?

“Entrepreneurs” Picking up garbage: I think they should just pay the $500 and pick up the garbage in sanitary ways as required. That one pair of guys made $10k picking up people’s garbage! Surely they can afford $500 for the license and continue doing so. I think that if more and more people did this, it could force the unions out as less and less areas of toronto will need the city pick up, and charging per bag (which the city is already kind of doing with the different size bins) is a good way to encourage people to reduce the amount of waste that they produce! City wins and environment wins. I would not encourage people to do it illegally though because one comment made a good point. The lisence is there to make sure that garbage is being handled and discarded in a sanitary manner and not just dumped somewhere stupid.

Sexism in the news: There was a column that basically said that being against the union and striking workers meant that you were sexist against women. It said that over 70% of indoor workers are women. I don’t understand what that has to do with anything. Included in the indoor workers are old age home nurses, daycare workers, and social workers. It also said that many of the part-time workers don’t get any sick days. HELLO!? They’re PART-TIMERS!!! I don’t remember getting sick days when I worked part-time anywhere! *outrage continues for a few minutes…* Back to my main point, I don’t understand where it becomes sexist. There are male nurses and social workers who suffer just as much. I suppose if they are not getting maternity leave then I suppose that would be an issue. But even these days, men can get paternity leave, so the way I see it, both sexes are getting screwed. I don’t think there is nothing sexist about this.

Sick Days: Banked sick days is soemthing that most people would like. I understand that some long term city workers have banked up quite a few sick days that could be cashed in for a certain amount and under the new proposed contract, that amount would either be extremely reduced or none at all. I think I understand that correctly. If that is the case, then just pay out what’s owed to current workers and change it for the coming year and onward. But, I think that the workers want to keep it so that they and new workers will get the same benefits and perks. So they’re fighting for the benefits of workers not yet hired? That’s kind of silly. The city is in debt, and they want bankable sick days for future workers. Great! I think it’s fair enough to pay out what’s owed and just change it. Then no one loses out on what they’re entitled to currently, and union workers not happy with that contract can try and find a better job in the private sector with the same benefits and perks. Good luck! Also, then people thinking of working under the union will know that they’re sick days may be limited and not bankable, so maybe they can use them more responsibly because from what I understand this bankable sick days also kind of encourage workers to go to work sick, just so they don’t waste their sick day so they can save the pay and cash out big in the end. Well that’s just backwards.

I think most people chose to be in these professions in one way or another: I’m not trying to sound mean or anything. One article I read made it seem like these workers should be paid more because they’re doing jobs that others wouldn’t do ever, but that’s not true. Nobody put a gun to their head and said “You have to be a social worker!” I understand that sometimes It’s out of their control and they are given certain circumstances. If you are dealt terrible circumstance you just have to make do. I know that I’ve been very priveledged, so this is probably sounds incredibly elitist, but I also know that many people have CHOSEN to be social workers and nurses and daycare workers. To those people, I don’t think that anyone ever said they would be glamorous careers in any way or even that you would make millions. I think that it’s kind of understood that you’re just not going to make as much as other occupations. There are many people who work 2 jobs to support their family so that they could have a higher standard of living. Sure, one can argue that you shouldn’t *have* to work 2 jobs as a nurse to support your family, but when time are tough, like they are now, it’s kind of inevitable. Of course one would find it difficult to find a second job with all the layoffs. I also know a daycare worker who chooses to have 2 jobs for the extra income and because she enjoys it.

Then there are those who are in the profession because they had no other choice. Either they didn’t do well in school or didn’t have a chance at high education due to finacial issues. I get that. And I understand that it sucks. But did it ever occur to them that while they work, they can save to go to college and take classes? Maybe cashing in those sick days to pay for these classes instead of taking a trip elsewhere? I know it sucks to make lots of sacrifices to get to certain places, but if you want it enough, you’ll do it. I know a *teenager* with a newborn child working two jobs to support the child *and* attending college to be a pramedic. OSAP is a lifesaver I think. Seriously that’s a terrible position to be in, but they make it work and they know what has to be done to better their position. There is always a way if you’re unhappy with your current job or position. If you don’t like what the union is giving you, then do what needs to be done to better your position. Maybe the private sector can offer you something better after.

No motivation to perform well: The seniority issue really makes me angry. This is essentially the point of job security I think. Promoting somebody based on how long they’ve worked there over how well they perform is absolute garbage! This just makes workers lazy because they know that even if they work harder than senior workers, they won’t get the promotion or raise. This is DE-motivating. This is exactly the attitute you get from a socialist environment. I’ve lived in that environment, and I don’t like it. People are lazy because the government provides everything. There’s no motivation to better one’s living or income because you jsut get taxed more. So why try? Not to mention the ridonculous (yeah I said it) amount of debt that country is in. Frankly, seniority and job security just make society worse. Of course, then you have the whole issue of promoting based on favourites, or firing based on how well you’re liked. But it isn’t anything new. Businesses are run without unions and I think it’s fair to say that it’s worked for them pretty well. This is what yearly reviews and job performance reviews are for. If you’re going to slack off and not do your job as well as someone else, then you’re going to get fired. And if you do a stellar job compared to others, then you SHOULD be promoted! That’s something that I think is common sense.

Teacher’s Strikes: This is kind of off topic, but still on the topic on unions. Teachers have really good benefits (I think they also have majority shares in the the Leafs or the Jays or something…). But I agree that sometimes, there are times where they might need to strike. I actually don’t know too much on this. But in terms of job protection, again, I think it’s absurd. I’m sure everyone can name a teacher they’ve had that was absolutely terrible and one that was phenomenal. From what I’ve seen and heard, these terrible teachers just won’t leave. Not to mention teachers that should be retiring, but now don’t have to since they raised the retirement age. I know lots of people trying to become teachers and finding it really difficult to A. get into teachers college since more and more students are using this as their fall-back plan and B. find a job after teachers college since less teachers are retiring. Teachers retiring seems to be the only way that any new teachers can enter the work force. Let’s be honest, there’s no lack of teachers. There’s only a lack of *good* teachers.

Personal Thoughts: I’ve always been told to “study hard, get good grades, and get a good job” from my parents when I was younger. Once I started working, they told me to “save, save, save, so you can retire in peace and you never know when you need extra cash in emergencies.” They give me the look of disapproval when I return home with new clothes when I don’t need new clothes, or shoes, or electronics, so I’ve usually been pretty stingy with the things I buy. They don’t even like it when I eat out because there’s always food at home that I can eat for free so I can save my money. Usually I like to eat out because I don’t buy many other things and because it’s one of those things that just makes me happy because it’s variety. But never, did my parents every say, “Ohh don’t worry too much, there’s always a pension plan and severence package.” I NEVER thought about that and have come to learn that they’re unreliable and usually insufficient. Which is why we “study hard, get good grades, get a good job, so you can save more money.” I don’t think it’s news to anyone that the pension plan is just not enough to retire on, which is why many people have “nest eggs”. This is why I think it’s unfair to take that away from current city workers as explained earlier.

It also seems like the asian markets are not being hit as hard as North American. I may be wrong. But I also know that some asian companies  understand the current market situation and have CEO’s and upper management take pay cuts or pay out of their own pockets to prevent layoffs. There’s a sense of “For the good of the company”. This is something I don’t think many North American companies would do. I know that’s a big sticking point in the current union strike situations. It’s upper management and city councellors who continue to get a raise, while ‘lower’ workers get cuts that is pretty unfair. I think that it’s more appropriate for all levels of workers to not get a raise to save some money and keep more workers. I know the firefighters and police have gotten raises and some people argue that clearly city workers are just as essential and should get the same raise. I don’t think that it’s a matter of what’s essential and what’s not essential and I can’t say I have a solution for this, but I do think that Police and Firefighters go through extreme and strenuous training and then put their lives on the line to keep peace and protect the city from harm. And not to sound like a ass, but is there similar training to collect garbage? I suppose social work can be just as dangerous, and nurses are ‘front line’ to diseases. Lifeguards? I think most of those are students doing it part time for extra cash.

I just think privitizing more of the city’s unions would be beneficial to the city in the long run. Some people will complain because they’re getting things taken away from them, but in the long run, the city will prosper more and these kinds of strikes just won’t happen. Children won’t be kept out of school or learning from poor educators, garbage won’t pile up in parks and street corners, and the city won’t shut down from transit workers walking off the job (I tried not to talk about the TTC, but I couldn’t help myself. Private transit is all over asia and works phenomenally. No strikes, *actually* convenient, and trains and buses are on time).

*sigh* this has taken me a while to write and I think I’ve said everything I wanted to say. Please let me know if I have some facts wrong, or if you would like to discuss this further. I’d be happy to do so.