Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Losto in translationo Part 2 - A day in the life of ....

It couldn’t be my alarm clock already !!!!

I'd hardly shut my eyes.. The persistent weird tune woke me from my dreamfilled stupor !!
Reluctantly, I pressed the pause button on the dream i was seeing and semi-opened my eyes. The clock was showing 3am.. After a few seconds of absolute incomprehension i figured it must be the phone. Now who could be calling me at this time? I hunt for the phone from the 6-7 similar shaped devices on the table lying on the table …TV remote, AC remote, bar of soap, Beer Can….and then I remember phone had a cradle. I pick it up.

" Hello??"

The caller " something in Rapid Japanese"

I said "Sorry wrong number" and kept the phone.

I lay down again on my bed and pressed, "Play" on the dream sequence. Too good to last. The phone rings again. Muttering under my breath I cut the call, remove it off the cradle and go back to bed. Almost immediately it rang again.

Lesson Learned - No point removing a cordless phone off its cradle!!!!

"Hello??" i ask politely while gritting my teeth. The caller " Something in even more Rapid Japanese" but i catch something like Sandeepo san, plocesso and something called OC-aah.

It slowly dawns on me- the guy is looking for someone in Tech Support for some OCR process. Having been in Investment Banking Ops earlier I understood the predicament of someone looking for Tech Support guy in the face of a huge crisis. This could be important. This might cause a major crisis in the Stock Markets tomorrow. A company might go bankrupt. People might lose jobs. All because some payment did not go thru and this couldn’t be prevented because the Tech Support guy couldn’t be reached at the given number. I could not live with such guilt for the rest of my life!! But what can a Business Consultant do for Tech Support? The person he was looking for would have been staying in my apt earlier and they had the number in the emergency contact list.

Ok, I figured out so much, but how do I convey this? I remembered the Japanese word for Phone number was Bango. So i tried the best Japanese I could manage "Wrongo bango. Sandeepo san doesnt stay here any moro."

The caller " something in bewildered Rapid Japanese ???"

Me "This is a Hoter-o ( I hope that would mean a hotel) . I stay hereo . My roomo. Sandeepo sano no stayo. Manassilayodo?- that last part in my mothertongue ;-)

I slammed the phone this time. Didnt care about any company going bankrupt. My sleepo is more importanto .

But I dont get sleep for another hour now. The phone rings a couple of times more but I dont pick the phone. My sleep is really screwed up. But at 7am, the merciless alarmclock wakes me up. I'm as groggy as a punchdrunk boxer after 9 rounds of fighting, but somehow drag myself to get out of bed and go to office.


It's a five minutes walk to the Osaki station. Then catch the Rinkai line. The rush hour is at 8-8:30 am range - and though its not exactly Virar fast (Mumbaiites can relate to this) the rush is pretty bad. I go at 8:45 to strategically avoid the rush. People do queue up at times to board a train and allow people to get out first (Mumbaiites cannot relate to this ;-) ). Tennozu Isle (Tennnnn -Oh- zoooo Airu -as per the announcements) wher my office is at, is on area reclaimed from the sea. I'm sleepy thru out the day...
I was determined to find a solution to the “Tech Support Issue”. I met my "Japanese language expert" friend at the cafeteria. Asked him how to “politely” say "You have a wrong number" in Japanese. "Thats simple" He responded. You say "..................................................................................."He completed a sentence that took around two and a half minutes to complete. I gave up. I'd rather learn Tech Support than learn that by heart. "Ok, how do i say that without being particularly polite??" - politeness be damned!

“Hmm, you can say Chi-gao denwa bango” he said.

Good, short and sweet! That I can remember!
Getting out of the office happens only around 8pm. My walk to Shinagawa station passes thru 2 bridges across the canal providing a picturesque view of the skyscrapers around. Shinagawa station is really huge, something like Grand Central NY according to my NY returned friend. Aa huge structure with several platforms, shops and restaurants. There’s even a Nepali run Indian restaurant at the station called Sitar. Of course, with my amazing cooking skills I don’t need to rely on any Nepali for an evening meal. So I walk on.

My journey back from office takes exactly 35 minutes. I reach home. Dear readers; this abode of mine, is a sterling example of space optimization. I’ll tell you how this works. Take an average sized PVC pipe. Divide its interior into a “Barbie doll accessories set-size” Kitchen, Bedroom, Shower and Loo.. Install a TV, DVD player, Microwave, fax machine, Washing Machine and dryer in the remaining space – and voila! You have my apartment. Space becomes a issue if you are trying to cook. Storage space is premium and flat surfaces tend to attract stuff. So, what if the pickles jar is on the Fax machine and the Rice cooker on the Washing machine? What if the cornflakes packets line the outside of the Shower room wall? This is a pretty comfortable home for me now.

I switch on the TV and surf the channels. The govt channels are some 11 in number, predictably only Japanese. In fact, even with Cable TV there are only a few in English. However, there are 4 channels, which show English movies, sometimes Japanese dubbed but not always. However, trailers are always in Japanase. In the last month, I’ve seen several Horrywuddu movies such as Dai Hardo, Joorasic Parko and Waaaird Waaaird Westo. Also there’s CNN and BBC to quote the latest tally from Iraq. MTV seems to have 99% Japanese content with some hiphop thrown in at some time. As the soulful Love songs in Japanese pregnant with feelings and emotions are lost on me, I go check out the Sports channels. Baseball, Basketball, Golf and American Football. Got to work out something by the time World Cup starts in March. Here is a country totally Americanized sports wise.

Well, but then you have the Internet for entertainment. A lightning fast connection is something you appreciate if you have waited hours for a download via a BSNL line. The advantage? Streaming content – without much buffering. Youtube has most of the KBC 3 episodes uploaded so managed to catch up on those. Also most Indian Hindi channels are streamed online so that no Software engineer’s wife would miss her daily dose of the Saas bahu capers.. Also, the news channels such as CNN-IBN, NDTV, and Times Now have streamed content so that you can track what is the latest on Abhishek and Aishwarya.

I fix up my dinner- Japanese salmon fried in specially imported Kerala Fish Masala . Awesome!! I salute my own cooking skills, then call wife to report on the success of the same (I ‘ve to keep this on for another month before she joins me here). I check my blog; comment on a few others and go to bed.

2:30 am…..Dejavu! The phone rings. It is the one for Sandeepo san. I almost forget my lines. “Chiii-……….errrr???? “gooo” What was it??"

I manage to remember in the nick of time

“CHI - GAVO DENWA BANGO!!!” I shout it into the phone triumphantly.

”Oh, I hav the wlong number??” he replies…. in English.

I slam the phone….

PS: Sandeepo san, whoever you are - if you are reading this- please update your contact number at your company

PPS: If any of you know any Sandeep or anyone who might call himself Sandeepo when in Tokyo, (u never know) ask him to do the above urgently.

PPPS: This was just a weekday. Await more travelogues on my weekend trips

Friday, February 09, 2007

West Side Story- Misadventures of a Desi Software Casanova in Yankeeland

(While the next report from Tokyo is shaping up, enjoy this anecdote from a friend..of course the masala and special effects are by flaashgordon)

This did not happen to me. Neither did it happen to someone I know. And I heard it from someone I had no business of hearing it from................

Ok enough of crap, just know that this is just an anecdote out of the anecdotal Pandora’s box which opens when there are a couple of old friends meeting up, are a couple of drinks down and are swapping stories…

Anyway…here’s the story.......

“There was this Software guy who went onsite to the US“ … Can hear your collective groans “Aww, not another one”. Are Software guy jokes are more common than the Sardar jokes in Bangalore nowadays? Ok, anyway I can’t help it if he went onsite. .

Anyway, this man was different. He was not the usual who vows to live onsite on just one dollar a day, have only Puliogre or Thairsadam everyday and save the rest. This one, for starters was a stud mallu Casanova who used to make the hearts of every babe in office go flutter (Disclaimer 1: This was probably his own opinion ...Disclaimer 2: The definition of a babe in a Software company is “ anyone who fills “F” in the gender column of the Application form”)…. ….

Well, our man had watched enough movies to get a fairly accurate picture of America as a place where women generally dress in Baywatch gear and guys could pick’em up at any bar/pub just by saying……… “Bond, James Bond”.

And so, he had his task cut out…. He wasn’t going to miss any “opportunity” when it presented itself, and was on the lookout right from the time he boarded the plane. Unfortunately for the man though, most of the intricacies of the Queen’s language were still a mystery to him

The AI flight out of Bangalore was eventless, the Airhostess too old and his neighbor was another software guy. Our man hence concentrated on the next best thing about International flights ie: Free Booze… By the time he reached NY, he had done reasonable justice to Kerala’s "highest per-capita consumption of Alcohol" statistic...But well man doesn't live by whisky alone...

He hoped for better luck in the transit flight from NY. Our man entered the aircraft and found his seat. The next seat was empty. A “gorgeous blonde” entered the plane. Our man held his breath. She paused near his seat. The man fervently prayed to all the gods he knew. She smiled, checked her ticket and sat down beside him. Our man’s heartbeats quickened. He pretended to stare out of the window while strategizing furiously. Scenarios, Alternate Scenarios, Counter Scenarios. The conversation Opener, follow-up, clincher. He didn’t even realize it when the flight took off…

“Sir........” he turned. The Airhostess was offering a glass of Orange Juice. His neighbor helped the Airhostess by taking the glass from her and offered it to him. Maybe it was the unexpectednerss of that, his nervousness, or the alcohol in the blood stream, the man tried to take the glass and awkwardly dropped it. The juice got all spilt in his lap. “ Sorry” She exclaimed ; took a tissue and proceeded wipe it off in his lap. Our man was in a dream. Something had to happen now. Various movie scenarios flashed thru his mind in fastforward . The situation begged to be taken advantage of ....

"No proublam maadamm, ” he said. She smiled. He was encouraged

He decided to start a conversation. “Wh-where you going ?” He asked

“I’m goin to Seattle” She answered

“ I goingg Seattle too. I am SOFTWARE engineer - Microsoft Project, you know Microsoft- Bill Gates???” He was sure that’d impress her.
“ Oh, that’s great”. She smiled again
Our man was eager to continue the conversation. He wasn’t going to let go of such a golden opportunity. He told her about the “Dotnet” project and how he was chosen out of many for the assignment.

She kept smiling and listening. Our man decided to take it to the next level…..
“ So why YOU going Seattle? ” He asked

And then came the answer, which broke his heart into a thousand pieces; made him stay off blondes in his lifetime….and prematurely ends this story.

She answered, “ I’m going to visit my grandchildren!!!!!!”

(Do you think this initial setback caused our man to abandon hope and focus on coding alone? No way, here’s part 2)

A few days passed; our man started on the Client Project. Lack of Linguistic abilities never tampered with his supreme coding skills and he was doing well in his job. However, this did prevent him getting anywhere close to a Yankee “All-American” woman and so the romantic life he dreamed off never took off.

Days passed and our man was getting desperate. No action, no satisfaction. ...But then one day fate smiled on him. He was working late one day when someone spoke behind him “Excusa Senor“ . He turned, and Lightning bolt struck him . He could hear Violins were playing in the background.. It was the Hispanic maid who was cleaning the office. Almost Salma Hayek, though probably 15 kg heavier and probably, around so many years older. The opportunity he was looking for had come to him with a Vacuum Cleaner.

Both shared a common advantage of not knowing too much English. And soon, our man was more than friends with her. Don’t ask how they communicated but he soon got himself invited to her house for dinner on Friday.

D-Day came. The dinner went great though the conversation was difficult. After the food, they went to the living room. Our man could sense the atmosphere was electric. The night held a lot of promise. He wanted to say something romantic to set the mood. He looked out of the window .... He opened the door and stepped out. He felt chilly so he put on his coat. The lady looked bemused, he hadnt spoken anything after the dinner and was now putting on his coat.

It was a beautiful night, slightly chilly but there was a clear sky where one could see the stars. The moonlight bathed the foliage around. It was breathtaking. The night was so beautiful . He took it all in but unfortunately, his severely limited vocabulary did not allow him to express all that..The only adjective he could think of, was "good". And so he said……………
“Good night!!!”

(It was a long walk back; he never realized why the Latina went inside and slammed the door.)

PS: Do leave a comment and do share a similar story in the comments section if u have one :-)))

Check out my latest post on my Tokyo life here

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Losto in translationo (Part 1)

(Am onsite in Tokyo for some time..Here are some reflections from the first few days of being here. Typing this down from my PVC pipe sized Apt)

Even if I was twice as good as Sherlock Holmes himself who figured out the "Mystery of the Dancing figures" in a jiffy ; it is going to take me at least a decade in deciphering these weird little wiggly figures which they call "Japanese". Ok, I’m talking about the language here and not the people. Everyone seems to confuse the two. Like a friend who was asked "Did you try to pick up any Japanese?" He answered, "No way, I'm happily married” And added indignantly " btw neither did I try to pick up any Indians here!"

Well, it’s not just the humans; even the machines talk only Japanese here. The washing machine, the Microwave, TV, DVD Player, the Vending Machine and the recorded voice in the telephone line. A couple of times I managed to horrify people on my lack of manners by slamming shut the elevator doors on their noses coz I pushed the shut button instead of open. The squiggly figures for "Open" and "Shut" looked similar anyway.

Good news is you can make some Japanese words by adding an "u/o" sound after a familiar Engish word. Hence spoon becomes spoonu, glass is garassu, passport becomes passporto, and Bangalore becomes Bengalooru... (ok, the last one is not a particularly good example for Japanese translation)

Unfazed, I'm building my Japanese vocabulary here though some words are outright weird. For eg: can you imagine a language where you call your mom “Haha”? Just remember any sentimental Hindi movie scene and replace "Maa" with "Haha" then you might see the problem! You’ll be clutching your tummy and laughing! And for Dad? Its Chichi !!(ouch! Reminds me of yellow pants, multicolored shirt and awful David Dhawan movies) But I was somehow comforted by the word for 100,000 - it is something like "Jomon (Jumen)" and it sounded familiar enough to my mallu ears ;-)

The ubiquitous Indian techie is now in every city in the world and Tokyo is no exception. In the floor where I work, the Indians actually outnumber the Japanese 4 to 1. Even in the Serviced Apt Bldg where I stay, half the occupants are Indian techies. In fact in office the more serious language problem I face here is with Kannada rather than Japanese. The vegetarians amongst us have one mantra taught by those who came before them. Any place where it involves food say “ Sakana nashi, niku nashi” (no fish, no meat) even if you are ordering ice cream!! At the office cafeteria, now I find it difficult to order anything with fish or meat coz they automatically assume that a person with an Indian face can’t have any Sakana however much he begs and pleads for it.

People here work long. And long is an understatement. Some of them return from work only the next day. They even have a term “Karoshi” to describe death due to overwork. (Thank God we don’t have such problems in Kerala as any remote chances of these are countered using a local custom called "Hartals". Dunno the Japanese equivalent of that anyway. nobody seems to know :-)) And maybe because they do not know when they return from office , all seem to carry toothbrushes wherever they go. To the extent that, at 10:30 pm at night in an upscale lounge pub I saw a guy brushing his teeth!

People are generally helpful if you ask them for directions and will try their best with the limited English. Also it is a safe country with an extremely low crime rate. You see technology in action anywhere. The Electronic gadget supermarkets at Akihabara have shelves and shelves of ingenious gadgets. A USB vacuum cleaner for your Laptop? They have it. And quality is taken for granted so much that, even if you are buying an expensive gadget –say a laptop or camera – all you have to do is point at it and they just pack it. I hear that they get so insulted if you actually insist on testing something before buying that they may commit harakiri.

And then there are the local customs. Long ago when I was a kid I had taken a resolution that I wont bow to anyone’s pressure and would stand up to the right thing. But here I had to discard that resolution because bowing itself is the right thing!! The normal custom of bowing involves the pectoral muscles, and can be considered exercise equivalent to one-ab-crunch at the gym. So if you meet about 20 people a day, you will be reasonably fit. The hands posture taken while bowing is sometimes rather similar to that a defender takes while a free kick is being taken, but your head position should be like Zidane about to butt Materazzi.

People are friendly here but you should not over-estimate it. Like the time we were in a train, and at a station an old couple got in and sat on the opposite seat….They smiled and bowed deep. Touched by their friendliness towards such a ragtag group of Indians, I bowed too! They bowed again and I bowed even deeper. After the third bow, my friend nudged me and pointed to the platform behind me. There was another old couple bowing deep too. Unfortunately, they were bowing to the couple in the train and I just had been in the way!

I have gone back to my resolution of not bowing to anyone.

Check out this sample of Japanese TV fare -( not what the kids watch) and you may appreciate the Saas Bahu Serials a bit more . If you are in office better keep the volume low ;-)

(await more stories from here..this was just the tip of the iceberg.

Check out my latest post on my Tokyo life here