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PERSONAL BLOG - 2002 Q4: October - December

7 October 2002

I went to a dinner at the Fiji Ambassador’s house in Kuala Lumpur to celebrate Fiji Day tonight. After dinner, about a dozen muscular Fijian men, wearing only synthetic grass skirts, performed a dance on the lawn. As they danced, various women from the audience got up from their seats and poked money into the tops of the grass skirts of the dancers. I was told this was a Fijian custom. It reminded me of those B grade American films where you see guys in smoky strip clubs poking money into the garters of the strippers on stage. Only difference here was that the Fijian guys didn’t take their skirts off (although a few of the western women might have liked them to, given the way they rubbed their hands over the guys’ bulging triceps as they slipped their ringgit bills into the tops of their skirts!).

29 October 2002

I arrived in Tokyo tonight for 10 days of annual meetings. I took the airport bus to the hotel to save on the very expensive taxi fare from the airport (about US$150). At each terminal stop, an attendant boarded the bus to bow to passengers before departing. A recorded announcement on the bus asks passengers not to use mobile phones “as it will annoy the neighbours”. A couple of times passengers did answer calls on their mobile phones, and each time this happened the driver would press a button to play the recorded announcement. It seems this is a better solution for the Japanese than having the driver tell the passenger off himself and thus cause the passenger to ‘lose face’.

I stayed at the Cerulean Tower Hotel at Shibuya. It was comforting to note from the hotel regulations in the information compendium in the room that “Organised crime groups and members as specified in the Law for Prevention of Unjust Acts by Organised Crime will not be accommodated in this hotel”. And that “those who have tattoos” or “members of violent groups” were not permitted to use the pool or gym.

30 October 2002

After breakfast I walked down to Starbucks near Shibuya Station to get a coffee. People were queuing up at 9.30 am outside the pachinko establishments (vertical pinball machines) waiting for them to open. Poker machines do operate in Japan, but pachinko seems to be more popular. They use small ball bearings, and some of the players have up to a dozen plastic trays of the ball bearings under their seats, each weighing several kilos. I suppose they cash them in by weight as it would take forever to count them. Someone told me later that they have to cash in their winnings for cigarettes or sweets, which they can then sell for cash at another small shop outside. This is apparently to get around gambling restrictions that apply to pachinko.

1 November 2002

Tonight I was taken to dinner at a teppanyaki restaurant. It was 20,000 yen a head (US$170) – probably the most expensive meal I have ever had. It was about five times more than I usually eat for dinner but the food was so good that I couldn’t stop eating. As is the case in many Asian cultures, it is considered very rude in Japan to ever leave your guests hungry, so the tendency is to just keep feeding guests until they can’t eat any more. I really should have said “enough” earlier in the night because I felt so bloated the next day.

Whilst at dinner I was shown how to drink Japanese green tea: Hold bowl with right hand, left hand under bowl with picture on side of bowl facing you; lift to eye height, bow head, and turn bowl on left hand two turns clockwise (so as not to be touching picture with lips when drinking); drink; wipe edge of bowl with right thumb, turn back two turns anti-clockwise and replace on table.

6 November 2002

I had a brief meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizuimi, this morning, but his mind seemed to be on other things. In fact, he struck me as being a bit spaced out, but he was probably just tired having just come off an overnight flight from Phnom Penh where he had been attending an ASEAN meeting.

7 November 2002

I went to a fantastic concert in Tokyo tonight which featured attract some of the top pop stars from around Asia – Ayumi Hamasaki and Miyuki Ikeda from Japan, Chen Ming from China, Kelly Chan from Hong Kong (very sexy!), Siti Nurhaliza from Malaysia and SHINHWA from Korea. SHINHWA is a boy band that seems to be very big in Japan. There were 3,700 teenage girls in the concert hall, and when SHINHWA appeared they all stood up and just screamed virtually all the way through their performance. The noise was deafening, so I hardly heard what they were singing. But it was an electrifying atmosphere.

8 November 2002

A group of us went to a party about 15 minutes walk away from the hotel, and on the way back one of our hosts said he would show us a short cut. The walk took us past many love hotels, punk clubs, bondage clubs, etc. which the women in the group seemed to find fascinating. I pointed out to them the colour leaflets stuck on the lampposts advertising the services of call girls. That was a big mistake. Several of the women in our group then kept stopping to look at them and would call out to me: “Here’s a sexy one for you, David; here’s one you’ll like, David”. Most embarrassing! The Japanese passers-by were giving us strange looks, so I just walked on ahead, trying to make out I didn’t know the rest of the group.

11 November 2002

I spent two days this week in Hong Kong at a conference. Tonight I attended a reception at Government House hosted by the Chief Executive of the SAR, Tung Chee Hwa. Michelle Yeoh was there. One of the Australian guests couldn’t understand why all the guys were fussing over her until I explained to him that she was one of the top film stars in East Asia. I had a picture taken with one of Radio Television Hong Kong’s on-air personalities, who I thought was much prettier than Michelle Yeoh, but I have never been able to find out who she was because I couldn’t remember who took the picture!

6 December 2002

Tonight I went to a charity ball in Singapore held at the new Parkview Square which was an incredibly grand venue with one of the most beautifully painted ceilings that I have seen in a modern building – something you would more expect to see in European museums. About half of them were in fancy dress, but I decided not to this year because of the hassles I had the previous year. On that occasion I went as ‘ASTRO boy’ and spent quite some time before the ball getting professionally made-up to look like the space character, but when I went to the men’s room after a few drinks, I realised that the only way I could relief myself was to get unzipped from the whole costume – which was extremely difficult to do on my own because the zipper was in the back of the costume. It’s somewhat embarrassing to have to ask guys to unzip you in a men‘s room when you are almost naked underneath!