Wednesday, February 1, 2012

They came all the way from Hokkaido

Office life could be plain dull and not exciting at times.
Pressure from the superior,
Never finished tasks,
Changes to your already familiar job scope,
Sometimes I start wondering the meaning of life...

It had been half a year since I started working for my current company. It is not an MNC, but considered very established with business crossing several countries, being well-known in Malaysia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. As I am in the product development department for health foods, we are constantly approached by suppliers, proposing products to us, and followed by business talks that lasts for hours.

I am still new to the company, thus, I really don't have much experience on talking face-to-face with suppliers, especially Foreign Suppliers! Yesterday, 2 Japanese suppliers flew all the way from Hokkaido to my office to have a session with my GM and I, wanting to discuss about 2 on-going projects. It was the 1st time I spent time with Japanese, though I had seen Japanese dramas for ages.

1 of them, Kohei, is a phD holder , standing all tall, confident and witty. He doesn't look Japanese, but like an American born Chinese. I later learned that he worked as research lecturer in Nebraska for several years before coming back to Japan. The other one, Takashi, has the classic Japanese appearance, and he totally reminds me of the Crown Prince Naruhito. They presented us with some small gifts, nicely wrapped green tea and lavender essence. Japanese has one of the prettiest packaging, and I love it! 

We talked business for 2 hours. They were wearing tux and ties, being all formal, which is predicted. My GM is a smart & quick lady, she has a business mind, fast to pick up hints/clues/opportunies in each word uttered by suppliers. The day before, I had informed her about the inconclusive and less than convincing lab report supplier had sent to us on the product efficacy. I didn't expect her to talk about that matter 1st thing in the meeting. But that truly made the suppliers nervous. I had to gave her credit for such a choice. Kohei took out his handkerchief and started wiping his forehead. Later on, he removed his coat. I suppressed a grin, my GM clearly could make a man nervous! Even a Dr!

It is tradition I guess, for us to have lunch with suppliers. This is the time to try out nice and expensive food. But it is not a time to enjoy, because that's a business lunch. I hate this kind of meals actually, this is when the superior keeps on judging on your behaviour and performance, leaving me with no more appetite. So 3 females (me, GM, Senior Manager) ate together with 6 men (Japanese + Americans). When the main course arrived, GM and Senior Manager started spooning dishes into our suppliers' plates, playing host. For a minute, I was wondering whether I should follow suit , but I held my ground, because I was worried of making a mess amidst the spooning act eg. dropping dishes half way on the table blah blah, that would be embarrasing. But GM spoke to me in Cantonese : Samantha, start working! That was her way of telling you, serve the suppliers & start spooning dishes for them. I did as instructed. But I must admit, it's funny to be serving men who are so much older than I am. 

Communication was all in English. But it isn't easy to understand their English, due to accent. Sometimes they sound Japanese, even though they are speaking in English. But overall, I really like them, my Japanese suppliers. They are different from Malaysians, but not totally different,  like Westerners. We talked about non-business things over the meal. Sometimes we run out of things to say, and the table turns quiet. There goes the art of socialising. It is challenging actually. 

The old Japanese gentleman beside me tried to make conversations. He asked me about my Zodiac! He actually knows about the 12 animals and each year represented by a different animal zodiac. I knew then he wanted to guess my age, well, not a problem. I told him I am born in the Tiger year. And he was counting on his fingers straight away, successfully guess on my age. Then he asked whether I am single. Well, it doesn't sound that strange when it is asked by a grandfatherly man in 70s. He then pointed to Takashi on my other side, saying, "He is single". Lol! 

After lunch, the suppliers stayed in our office , since they flight is late at night. I were to have dinner with them as well, meaning OT. This round, we let them tried typical Malaysian food such as Nasi Lemak, Fried Kuey Tiao, Prawn Mee, Asam Laksa, ABC, Chendol, Otak-otak and Bubu caca. These food are so typical, that I really wont have a second look at them. But Japanese isn't familiar with these food. And it was cute listening to my Senior Manager explaning about each dish to them, what it is made of, how does it taste blah blah. I really need to learn the art of being a good host, cause I didn't think about explaining the dishes at all. Believe me, it is totally not easy, when you want to explain and describe your everyday food, from another person's view. 

At night after dinner, we had some group photoes and I waved them off in front of my office building. They were heading towards the airport. Guess what, they would arrive Tokyo in the morning. And they had go enter the office straight to work! If I were them, I would surely take a day's leave :P! I need to salute to their professional etique . 

Their visit seems like a fresh flow of spring into the dull office life. If only my company will send me to Hokkaido for a visit ..... Well, extremely unlikely.