Japanese Perfectionism

In the several times that I’ve been to Japan, I’ve always been at awe at the Japanese strive for perfectionism and dedication to work. This Japanese concept of “kaizen” of continual improvement in the pursuit of perfection or “kodawari” is noticeable the moment you step off the plane and onto Japanese soil.

I remember my first few times landing in Narita and noticing a unique phenomenon while waiting for baggage.  Typically for me, waiting for baggage is something I feel happens  in a daze. In most cases, I get off a long flight, and walk the walk through immigration and to the baggage claim. I find a spot and watch the bags roll off onto one another and onto the belt. Everyone stands and waits patiently for their bag to come and if you’re a small lady, you might struggle if your bag happens to have fallen on top of someone else’s bag.   In Japan, however, efficiency is key.  As airports most likely want to move people in and out of the airport as fast as possible, design and process are important. To help the travelers, as bags roll onto the conveyor belt, a man helps stack them in order. The bags are placed vertically, with the handle facing up and lined next to each other. They stay on the conveyor belt perfectly lined up waiting to be picked up.

It’s a simple action but is one that makes your travel so much more enjoyable.  There’s more space on the conveyor belt for other luggage and it’s easier for everyone to take their luggage. Travelers are efficiently and politely moved out of the airport. You enjoy a seamless customer experience.

Earlier this year on our snowboarding trip I saw more examples of this Japanese dedication to perfection.  When getting on the ski chair lift, the chair lift operator would without fail know perfectly where to brush off the snow before you fall on the chair.  For example, when I took a four seater chair lift by myself, I noticed that in the split second that the operator had time to brush off snow from the seats, he would accurately brush off the snow precisely where I would sit and lean back. The other three seats had snow, but where I sat, it was nice and dry.

Another example Alex and I noticed was when we were resting at the restaurant looking out onto the slopes. By the restaurant was a little slope area that had been cordoned off by ropes. Over time the rope had slacked a little but it wasn’t noticeable unless you really observed. In many other countries, I’m sure this would have been overlooked. The observant and dedicated Japanese slope patrols however noticed, and we watched them stop to pull the rope just that little bit tighter.

I believe it’s this Japanese dedication to perfectionism or “kodawari” that also makes their products so desirable. Japanese products are well known worldwide for their craftsmanship and unique designs. Everything is made with care and whether the customer sees it or not, as much care is given to the outside as to the inside. Every detail is thought of.  This is also reflected in their excellent customer service.

I wonder though, if future Japanese generations would continue on to carry on this culture of perfectionism.  If future generations lose this sense of perfectionism, then one of the  unique charms of the land of the rising sun would have been lost and their products less desired.  For now, let’s hope that we can all adopt a bit of this Japanese perfection into our work ethic. Let’s all continue to improve and strive for perfection. Let’s remember “Kaizen” and “Kodawari.” Good night!

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The Elder Gentleman

I’m tired and sleepy, but this story has been whirling around my head all day and it’s one I’d like to share .  Like many mornings the past eight years, I woke up and got myself to the gym for a run before work.  Over the years I’ve come to know a few ladies through locker room chit chat, and to recognize the regulars by face. After eight years you start to know who comes on what days, what time, and who likes what kinds of exercise. I’ve also grown accustomed to being greeted by a gentleman who must be in his late seventies or early eighties. He’s a regular and spends around an hour each day on the treadmill followed by the bicycle before lifting a few weights. In between he’d greet people with a big smile.

I always thought to myself how active and pleasant this man was.  He’d smile and go around asking people how they were.  If I had gone missing for a week or longer than a two days, he’d ask me where I’ve been and remind me that I should keep coming regularly. He’d encourage you to keep up the good work when he sees you working out well. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing the familiar face at the gym even though I don’t know his name or anything else about him.

Then he disappeared for a few weeks.

I wondered where’d he gone. If it was for a holiday, it usually wasn’t more than a week but this time the absence was noticeable. Thoughts crossed my mind. I wondered if he’d fallen ill or passed away. After all he wasn’t young anymore. I pushed such thoughts out of my mind.

This morning I found out what happened.  Walking to the fitness room, I saw him sitting on a bench just in front of the fitness room. In that moment, I felt a big rock slide down my throat.  I felt like my heart dropped.  He was surrounded by two helpers with a walking aid in front of him. He wasn’t his old self and most probably had suffered a stroke. I dared not ask. When greeted, his speech was blurry but he still recognized and remembered everyone. After awhile, he slowly started his rounds at the various weight machines.

I write a lot about death, but it’s events like this that remind us how fragile life can be. One day you are living your life, following your daily routines, and the next, you find yourself having difficulty just moving a few steps. The trick is to keep on going. The gentleman continues his recovery but no one knows what will happen tomorrow.  Live life and enjoy it before it’s too late. In the end there’s one truth we can’t escape and that death is always on our doorstep.  Time stops for no one. Do what you want to do before it’s too late.

Good night!

Back on the Writing Bandwagon

Waking up to cool breezes and sunshine without having rain pour down is heavenly.  Suddenly it’s November and year-end is approaching. I realize I haven’t written since January and I hit myself on the head.  I have so many stories I’d like to share with you. So many stories that remain swirling around in my head like dreams floating around in a cauldron.

I say this all the time and I’ll say it again, time flies. Time waits for no one, and each second, the clock continues to ticks on. If you’ve been following me, you know I’ve a big thing for “Time.” The fact is we all have 24hours in a day. The question is what are we going to do with those 24hours in a day?  What are some goals you would like to achieve? What are some places or things you would like to do? What do you want to do before you die?  I’ve been working on a few of my personal goals this year, but that is still no reason. There’s always time, you just have to allocate it well.

Today, I wanted to thank a dear friend (you know who you are) for pushing me back onto the writing bandwagon by recommending me to write for Urban Affairs, a new and upcoming magazine for Bangkokians. You’ll find it distributed at Villa supermarket and a few other places in Bangkok.  My first article will appear in the December issue and I’m excited.  Reading and writing have always been my passion and I’ve always loved and thoroughly enjoyed sharing my experiences with my readers. I hope to be able to keep doing this for a long time.

I promise I’ll write more often from now on. See you again soon my readers. Now it’s time to go out and enjoy the awesome Bangkok weather. Are you getting enough Vitamin D?

Ed Whitlock, 85 year old marathoner because he can.

Sitting on the plane from Sapporo to Bangkok, I read an interesting article in the Bangkok Post about Ed Whitlock, an 85 year old marathoner who ran the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 3:56:34. It’s inspirational. He doesn’t do any specific training, doesn’t adhere to any strict diet or use any gadgets to monitor his heart rate and training. All he does is run by the cemetery by his house in 15- year old shoes. He doesn’t run for his health, or gets runner’s high. He runs because “the real feeling of enjoyment is getting across the finish line and finding that you’ve done OK.”

Numerous tests have been conducted and he apparently has a large VO2Max capacity and good muscle retention for his age. I suspect his genes play a big part in his being able to continue running at such an age. What I find more intriguing though is his attitude which I think is what really keeps him going. In the article he is quoted as saying, ” I believe people can do far more than they think they can. You have to be idiot enough to try it.”
This, to me is probably his secret. If you believe you can do something and truly work at it, I believe you can achieve anything you want to. It’s the story we tell ourselves that determine the story of our lives.

If you tell yourself you can’t do something, then you can’t and you won’t. If you tell yourself, and believe in yourself, you can accomplish whatever your goal is. That said, it might take some time before you accomplish your goal, but if you work at it long enough, you’d be closer to your goal than if you had never started. If you focus on the end goal, you might get frustrated at not being able to reach it, but if you focus on taking action towards those goals, then you’d keep moving forward. As Ed Whitlock showed us, age is not a limit and is not a constraint to living your life because at whatever age you start working towards your goal, you are one day closer to your goal than the day before. 

Thank you Ed Whitlock for reminding us that life has no limitations than those we set for ourselves. Now, the burden is on you. What are your goals in life? Let’s get moving!

To Love or Not Love the Rain

It’s been a long time since I last wrote and what better time than to write on a lovely cool morning after the rain has stopped. How I love the rain varies from time to time.

Most times I love the rain when it’s just light rain or drizzles. I love it for the greenery and freshness that comes with it when it stops. Lawns become so green and life beckons. Birds chirps and splash around in the puddles that form along the driveway. Snails and slugs appear along with other types of insects moving about slowly in their slow way of life. Toads hop around in my garden and give me a surprise everytime one unexpectedly moves in a dark corner. My dogs equally like it (I think) as they lie happily on the porch with the cool breeze that passes through.  I practice my guitar, and life is just wonderful.  I feel calm and settled.  I feel home like when I grew up in cloudy, rainy Brussels.

Other times, I feel less tolerent of the rain especially when it’s pouring down hard coupled with thunder and lighting.  The heavens roar and you wonder if Thor was having a fight up there.  On Earth, the grass grows at exponential speeds and if the rain is follwed by the sun, ticks and fleas re-emerge.  Roads get flooded and commute to and from work takes a couple hours.  The light reflecting on the road makes it harder to drive and accidents happen.  You see news of people’s houses with roofs broken and neighbors with water pumps working to drain water from their houses. 

In the end, do I love or not love the rain?   It depends on how much rain there is. I love it when there’s just enough of it to cool the skies and make pitter pattering sounds on the window pane. I don’t particularly love it when it’s accompanying by thunderstorms and lighting and comes in such large quantities that it floods. 

I suppose this is much like human emotions. Sometimes you like something but if you have too much of it, you might not like it so much anymore. For example, I love choux cream but I wouldn’t be able to have it everyday.  Emotions, like the rain, has ups and downs.  It all depends. What do you think?

Wishing everyone a wonderful Sunday ahead.  Have some ‘me’ time. 

The Impermanence of Life

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Life is strange. So many uncertainties yet one definite truth about life is that it all ends at one point in time. How it ends, how it stops, how we spend our last breath is one we do not know. When reading the many articles and literature on happiness (humans seem to be obsessed with finding happiness), one advice that often comes up is to think about life and death.

This week I’ve had many reminders. Many opportunities to think about life and death.

First, having dogs that are innately hunters, I am constantly reminded about the circle of life.
My happy dogs like to bring me gifts from their day’s play. Sometimes it’s a dried up dead lizard or snake. Sometimes its animals which I’d rather not see and have to ask Alex to dispose of. This week, I found a poor bird whose life has left its winged body on my porch. It was such a pretty little bird who had a ‘bad’ day. For dogs, hunting is everyday life and play. They hunt, they kill, then they lick me happily on the face and take a nap. I love them dearly.

My second reminder was on how weak physically humans are. I caught the flu. A vicious flu that showed its full strength just as I had to travel for work. I have had my annual flu vaccination and been exercising regularly. I believed I was in pretty good health, but yet it still took a great many days to overcome this vicious virus. I am still not completely well. I survived meetings through aids of medication and vitamins then spent nights trying to sleep amidst the fever and congestion. Once I got home, the adrenaline that kept me in working state vanished and I was left feeling frail and weakened. Muscle strength vanished and appetites disappeared. Thumping headaches followed. It’s been a long time since I felt so weak and such an invalid. Life is indeed fragile. Although a flu is nothing compared to other illnesses, it’s enough to remind me.

My last reminders were news of a dear friend’s family loss. The next day it was followed by the lost of a dear colleague’s family loss. Just a day apart, they have had family members who suddenly parted. One morning, you wake up to what will be another day, like every other day, but by evening it is not so. So quick and fleeting is life. So final.

So impermanent is life like everything else. Let’s remember to enjoy and be grateful for our lives. Let’s live in the present. Let’s not worry so much about the future, we forget to live in present.

Let’s do something to help our world. As Benjamin Franklin once said we should constantly remind ourselves and ask ourselves is “What good may I do in the world?”

I’m searching for a cause I would like to devote my energy to helping make a difference in this world. There are so many I can’t quite decide. What are some causes that drive your passion? Please share. 🙂

Grandma: 7 January 1923 -24 November 2015

They say that when you look back on life, it is the little things that you’ll remember and cherish. I agree for it is indeed the little things about Grandma that put a smile on my face and gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. To me, Grandma embodied warmth, kindness, and happiness.  

I remember sitting on her lap when I was around 5 years old and playing with grandma like granddaughters do: rubbing her skin, measuring her arms against mine and overall just curiously playing with her whilst listening to childhood stories. Grandma always had time for her grandchildren and stories to tell.

I remember spending Sundays at Grandma’s for it was when family would gather at her house for lunch. The house would be buzzing with activity and food more than one could possibly eat. She would sit there beaming and smiling drinking her coconut juice and having a comment for each and everyone. I always loved hearing her comments. She was a lady truly unlike anyone I know. She was our pillar and our centre.

Strong, sharp and loving; Grandma I love you. We all love you. Although you are no longer physically here with us, you will remain forever in our hearts and nothing can take away our love. Thank you for being such a wonderful Grandma. Thank you for being our inspiration. You were the best.