A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.
I was awakened this morning by my neighbor, who noted that my car window was smashed.
Apparently, someone decided it was worth breaking my window and ripping up the air conditioner panel and bezel for the prospect of maybe $25 they could get for my cheap aftermarket CD player. I had a Panasonic 50 Watt x 4 CD player which played WMA- and MP3-encoded CDs installed in my Camry back in November. It was an impulsive decision that alleviated some frustration after I missed a trip to Korea. It wasn't the fanciest model but not the cheapest either.
Normally I take out the head unit's detachable faceplate when leaving my car in the driveway at night. For some reason, I didn't think about it yesterday... after returning from some errands in the afternoon, I assumed I'd be going back out in the early evening.
I spent the evening unpacking ceramics and writing web code instead, and never made it out. I slept around 1:30 at night. My apartment is actually close enough to my parking spot that it might have been possible to hear the noise of broken glass, but I didn't.
After reporting the damage to the police and calling up my insurance company, I cleaned most of the glass off of the driver's seat and headed to a glass shop in south Seattle. I was able to get the window replaced today, but I'll have to wait until Monday or Tuesday to talk to someone about the stereo. I still have the factory-installed cassette player/stereo unit, but it sounds like insurance will cover the replacement of the stereo and structural repairs.
I can't imagine anyone who knows about car stereos would have considered mine worth stealing, but they did pop the trunk and decided that my ceramics tools and a pair of gloves weren't interesting. I guess it was probably just a drug addict who decided he could get some pocket change toward his next fix.
I need to busily photograph and inventory my ceramics shipment. 9 boxes, around 130 kilos, and hundreds of pieces to sort through...
It's hard to tell right now but I think everything arrived intact. One of the boxes seemed a little overstuffed, but everything else seemed like it was packed by a potter.
Today I just want to make a dent in my web application for the online store, and in the morning tomorrow I need to run a few errands... finally commit to some continuous lighting solution and take care of some other small things.
I returned from San Francisco late last night. I took the Metro bus from the airport, which is a bit of an adventure after 10pm; this time it featured wannabe tough guy antisocial kids. The downtown transfer involved listening to a verbose guy conduct a mostly one-sided conversation with me, waxing proud about his well-behaved pitbull puppy, as his dog sniffed my luggage curiously.
When I arrived in downtown San Francisco on Friday, I checked in at my hotel, the Serrano, dropped my luggage off, then walked toward the ferry terminal to meet an old friend from college. I grabbed some food I could eat on the way, and about 25 minutes later met Jen out front of the Ferry Building. We obtained our preferred caffeine sources from the Pete's inside, and sat on a bench outside facing the bay, chatting about all sorts of things that have happened in the years since we've last seen each other, facing a stellar view.
My plane had been delayed almost two hours due to fog but it finally burned off by the time I made it this far. I had run into Greg, a colleague I had previously worked with on ad-related things at Microsoft, in the waiting area at the gate in the airport; he was headed to the Bay Area for some meetings. I learned about a job that had opened up related to a bunch of work they are having done in Shanghai.
Friday night I met my friend Sally, who works in apparel import, for dinner. We ate at a Catalan restaurant in an alley full of restaurants trying simultaneously to be large and cozy. We had some nice salad with olives and caperberries, a baked eggplant dish, an unseasonable butternut squash soup, a vegetable paella with pine nuts and currants, and a plate of cheeses with a quince-lemon paste. It was pretty decent, though I'd skip the squash soup for sure.
On Saturday, Sally took me to Japantown and Chinatown and I noted what kinds of weekly/monthly type papers were circulating targeting Japanese and Chinese immigrants and for Asian Americans. We also took a look at all kinds of stores and thought about which kinds of places might be best to approach for my Hong Kong sweet.
We had lunch at a place that serves Japanese-style western food, yet again modified to suit locally available ingredients. I had a doria, which is a rice casserole, with spinach and mushrooms and tofu. The scale was a little more American... it was too much food, and eventually a little monotonous. I just had this strange craving for doria after seeing the menu outside.
In Chinatown we looked through dozens of stores and chatted with a few shopkeepers. After a few hours we stopped at a dingy Hong Kong style cafe and bakery; my friend had some warm soy milk and I drank some strong milk tea. We ate a simple late dinner at Millenium, a pretty decent vegetarian restaurant closer to my hotel. We shared some salad and a quinoa croquette over lentils, which was adorned with a surprisingly refreshing green pea puree with lemon.
I splurged on some La Maison du Chocolat filled chocolates which I found at Nieman Marcus's food section. Apparently that's the only location of Nieman Marcus allowed to sell the chocolates; the only other places to buy are in New York, Paris, or Tokyo stores run by La Maison itself. I really wanted to see what people are paying for, since I will be selling a premium confection myself. The quality is really nice; it's very sparing with the sugar and is based on really good, carefully treated chocolate. My friend plowed through a number of them as well.
Sunday I met Sally again at Berkeley. Before she arrived by car, I wandered around and discovered that the town basically shuts down on Sunday. I did find a little soap shop called Body Time, which according to the employee working when I visited was created by a family that later sold their company name to the company now known as Body Shop.
Sally showed me another area along Fourth Street which has a stretch of gift shops and chain store concepts, and a yuppie food store. Actually the specialty food store looked like it might be an appropriate place for my Hong Kong sweet, so I'm going to try to set up an appointment with them the next time I'm in town.
We ate lunch at an inexpensive but nice taqueria; they had freshly pressed corn tortillas. I got a decent vegetarian chile relleno with fresh asparagus, and a nice fresh corn tostada. My friend had an omelette with nopales (cactus paddles). Thankfully they eschewed cheddar; they sparingly used a few types of Mexican cheese and some jack, depending on the dish; the only flaw I'd complain about is that their condiment bar didn't offer any fresh salsa, just stuff in bottles.
After I took BART back to downtown San Francisco, I met Jen, originally for a coffee, but due to a change in her evening plans we went to eat dinner at some Thai place instead. We stopped for coffee afterward. We parted around 9pm and I went back to my hotel, incredibly sleepy but I stayed up a little longer and chatted with a friend in Japan.
Monday morning I met with a soap supplier in the lobby of Courtyard Marriott in Oakland. We talked about different positioning strategies, and about which products I thought would be the most interesting. We also talked about packaging options to make the products look more compelling.
I had a little trouble getting there because I relied on my mapping software to find the place where she was staying in Oakland, and the mapping software was oblivious to the newer location of Courtyard by Marriott. I ended up having to spend money on a taxi fee to get back downtown after having changed trains to go to toward the other Oakland location of the chain.
Afterward I walked around downtown again and trekked on foot up to North Beach via Telegraph Hill; I wondered what kind of retail shops were in the historically Italian neighborhood. After wandering around fruitlessly in the area South of Market, I ate a late dinner at an Indonesian restaurant near my hotel on my own... vegetable martabak and gado-gado.
Tuesday I followed up on a couple of things I wanted to do in Japantown and Chinatown, but I was able to stop and meet Sally for lunch. She took me to the Gap corporate cafeteria and we ate typical corporate cafeteria fare facing the Golden Gate Bridge.
I also made a few media contacts when I was in town, mostly to get rate sheets and demographic information.
I basically met my objectives for this trip, but it was a fairly humble set of goals. Since I mostly wanted to get a feel for the market and see what kinds of venues might be best to approach, and my primary objective was to meet with the supplier, it didn't take much. Before I my next trip, I'll schedule some meetings to talk with potential customers.
I had about 5 hours of sleep Tuesday night, and got myself out of my hotel just a bit before 7 am. I tried to grab something at the Corner Bakery location near my hotel in Chicago, and somehow I managed to get myself turned around and heading away from the El station. When I realized my mistake, it started raining heavily, and I noticed there was no utensil to spread the cream cheese that was included in a small tub with the bagel. It was probably the worst bagel imaginable, short of something sold in the grocery store freezer section.. it was a poppy seed bagel, but somehow mysteriously loaded with sugar.
Yes, I did make my airplane. It was boarding by the time I checked in at the airport. I managed to sleep through more than half of the flight, even sandwiched as I was between an oversized guy on my left and a fidgety 17 year old girl on my right.
I took Metro from Seatac airport to the International District in Seattle and met with my friend Amelia, a German-English translator who has been out of the country for four or five months. We ate at Salumi. Mario Batali's father's place at the edge of Pioneer Square, and got all the specials for the day... an asparagus dish, a polenta dish, and some chickpea soup which had bits of ham in it that I ate around. Actually, it's mostly famous for the cured meats, but there were plenty of nice things for me to eat there also.
Afterward we drank some tea and quatsched for a while at the Panama Hotel Cafe at 6th an Main. This was also where I headed in the evening when I met with Eugene Levy, a green tea importer I knew from the FoodEx trade show. We talked business for two or three hours and I gave him a sample of the Hong Kong sweet I'm working on. (I also gave a piece to a staff member who was working the counter when we were there, who suggested I come in and meet the owner later). Sometime after I return next week, Eugene will help me by introducing me to some people that may be good contacts for me.
Today I made some calls to little papers to talk about ad rates and publicity and related stuff so that I can write up a coherent budget for my first project. One of them is interested in letting me write some articles in addition to getting a nice little interview type thing, if I place an ad. I love how blurry the distinction is between advertising and editorial departments in small media... it reminds me of my old days as an assistant editor at a similar paper, doing proofreading, layout, advertising design, and production work all in the same week.
I jogged around Greenlake once around lunchtime and walked one lap... this is routine, but it was somewhat urgent since I've been stuffing myself in Chicago. I'd like not to expand.
I had my last Korean class of the quarter, which for a subset of us has usually been cause for a potluck during previous quarters. This was no exception... I hurriedly made some kimchi dubu mandu before class after stopping at Thanh Son Tofu for some extremely fresh, hot out of the machine tofu, and at a Korean market for some kimchi and bean sprouts. I actually wanted to use my own homemade mandu pi (dumpling skins) but it was a little hot in here today so even with a liberal application of flour my skins stuck together too much; I ended up using manufactured ones. Next time I make them from scratch I'll roll out only a few at a time or use some cornstarch.
Today, beyond eating too much in Korean class, we were learning how to use verb forms to express "can/cannot" and "want" and so on. I need to start practicing Korean without the benefit of classes or I'll lose everything... there aren't any classes beyond the level I've taken for the forseeable future, and I don't want my modest effort to be wasted.
Sunday I had hunted around Chicago's Chinatown looking for shops that might be the right kind of venue to carry my specialty sweets from Hong Kong and went away not very thrilled at the prospects. There aren't many shops there that do a very good job of displaying merchandise in a way that suggests quality. The two exceptions I found didn't really carry any food type gifts; I think they might be potential customers but I got the impression I'd be better off at mainstream tea shops in other parts of town, and maybe a few upscale gift shops that aren't necessarily focused on Asian products.
On Monday I visited the area around the red line stops Argyle and Berwyn to see if things were any different up there, but that area was overall more depressing. A few of the supermarket type places had better merchandising of sweets and snack items so next time I'm in town I will probably approach some of them. These shops tend to be owned more by Thai and Vietnamese immigrants than the ones in Chinatown but the selection tended to be more or less international. I overheard one Thai shopkeeper requesting green tea mousse Pocky, a Japanese product, from a salesperson for one of the big distributors of Asian imported stuff.
Around dinnertime, I met a friend of mine from college, Grace, for dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant with another friend of mine, Lucia. I've been to Ras Dashen, which is located a little south of the red line Thorndale stop along Broadway, before, so there weren't many surprises with the food, but it was good, humble food. We had an okra and lentil dish, some dish made with small chickpea dumplings, some fresh cheese curds called "ib" which are sort of ricotta-like in texture and cream-cheese like in acidity, a cabbage dish, a spinach dish, some kale and bitter greens, and some split lentils. We plowed through as much as we could but were bested...
Lucia wanted to get some cake afterward, so the three of us tried to ignore the drug addict ogling Lucia and Grace on the train who was blabbering incomprehensibly, and made our way to Julius Meinl near the Southport stop on the brown line. Julius Meinl is apparently the only US location of an Austrian coffee shop, and they have impressive-looking cakes that Lucia can vouch for. Grace and I stuck with coffee. I had an espresso with a little bit of cream. Were I not completely stuffed at the time, I probably would have grabbed a Topfenstrudel made with sweetened quark, or a cute little tulip-shaped chocolate filled with white chocolate mousse. Lucia had some sort of banana cake with what appeared to be a caramel topping.
We finished the evening by going to the regular Monday night performance of the Patricia Barber quartet at the Green Mill. Open since prohibition, the Green Mill is reputed to have been a hangout of Al Capone and his crew. Patricia Barber is a clever pianist and vocalist, and has assembled a band which does great reinterpretations of standards, some nifty originals, and genre-bending improvisations. I'm not that well educated when it comes to jazz... Almost everything I know I learned from listening to KPLU and some small shows in Seattle mostly by local performers. But it's really cool to listen to someone as ingenious as Patricia Barber for a mere $7.
I arrived in Chicago exhausted Thursday afternoon... I was able to sleep a bit on the airplane but it didn't quite make up for the inadequacy of the three hours of sleep I got Wednesday night.
Though I didn't eat dinner until late, a friend of mine and I went to Emilio's Tapas on Clark and ordered five “small” plates which turned out to be larger than I expected. We had an oversized salad, a oversized serving of patatas bravas, little eggplant roulades (which were in fact tapas-sized), some stuffed mushrooms, and some forgettable chickpea spread. I liked the egggplant roulades and the stuffed mushrooms were nice enough.
Today I was in Lincoln Park for a little walk, and then ate mediocre Chicago-style pizza at some regional chain that my friend wanted to try, and then recovered with some nice pastries at Bittersweet, a cute little pastry shop that serves modest portions of good quality tarts. Every time I've been in Chicago since stumbling onto that place, I've felt the urge to go there.
I went to a Korean movie, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, which was playing on the smaller screen in Music Box. Actually I missed the first few minutes because I walked into the wrong place. Overall, I was pretty pleased with the film; it had a simple, sparse aesthetic and explored innocence and human weakness in both mundane and jarring ways.
For dinner I had stuffed chiles with huitlacoche (corn fungus) at Salpicon in Old Town, as well as some nice corn soup and mini-tamales. It's a great place for upscale Mexican food; the flavors are a little more restrained than one might find at a more working-class kind of place, but I like the kind of sappari approach to Mexican cuisine; this way of thinking about food is not even close to imaginable at the low-end places that pile loads of yellow Irish cheese on everything. It was a little extravagantly priced, but I left happy.
The guy I was supposed to meet with yesterday called me up and said he owes me lunch for missing our meeting. He apparently left his cell phone behind at home, which would explain his unreachability. We rescheduled until next week.
Around 12:30 I had a meeting with a representative of the National Association of the Self-Employed at the Lighthouse Cafe near my apartment. I need to figure out whether I should use them for health insurance or if I should use the Microsoft Alumni Network plan. The legal service benefits might also be useful for me for document review and so on. I'm not sure if the other features are all that useful to me. I'll have to think about it a bit more. When one files for a business license, all sorts of people line up asking for one's money... it's not always straightforward to figure out what's worth the cost.
I finished setting up some ASP.Net code that snips content from my weblog and places links to them on my personal home page. (Home page sounds especially quaint these days... so very 1990s). I basically used RssFeed, as is, from 4GuysFromRolla.com in four different places. The only tricky thing was figuring out how to format date strings in a databound template, which would be easy for anyone who regularly uses ASP.Net but I have only played occasionally, so it was new to me. Anyway, the net gain is that essentially I no longer need to manually update anything on that page. The remaining static content is the conversational text, the snapshot image, and the links on the right side... I do have some plans to write add some code that will cycle the snapshot displayed over there.
My samples from Hong Kong finally arrived today. FedEx decided not to ring the door buzzer again, but this time, thanks to the signed waiver I put on the door, they at least left me the package. Interestingly, it looked like customs sampled the product; one of the tubes of the candy was torn open and a piece of the candy was missing. I guess they didn't find any evidence of bioterrorism.
I have to wake up extremely early tomorrow to take off to Chicago–about 3:30 am–so I'm going to go jogging around Greenlake for a little while to wear myself out, then make a small dinner and finish up packing. I ate a big salad and a little homemade asparagus pizza in the afternoon... kind of a late lunch. I had some buttermilk waffles in the morning, so I might have eaten a little too much for one day...
Yesterday I completed my trip booking to Chicago. I have never flown into Midway and I've never flown a discount airline like ATA, so I have two new experiences this weekend.
The importer who was supposed to meet me today was unreachable, but I went to the meeting place anyway and waited. I studied Korean a bit, and then made a couple of other phone calls. After 45 minutes or so I didn't hear anything so I prepared to take off.
At the cake shop where I was waiting, I gave the baker and his business partner a sample of my Hong Kong confection and they responded positively... It looks like they are interested in making a small order after talking it over with their other partner. So that's a good thing... I hope there's more of that to come. I had another conversation at a little pearl tea shop in Bellevue just before Korean class, and the owner there was in disbelief that the product could even be imported (he knows it normally has a very short life after being made). So there's some definite untapped potential.
Apparently FedEx decided not to ring me this morning when they brought a shipment by, or else they came when I was in the shower, so I didn't get the rest of the product samples I expected today... I hope the same thing doesn't repeat itself tomorrow because I want to carry some along to Chicago this weekend in case I can find some shopkeeper who might be interested.
I booked a trip to San Francisco on the 21st, where I'll meet with a supplier who is in town for a few days, and start researching the Asian media and gift shop type places that I will try to sell to down there.
Coincidentally, this weekend I discovered a couple of college friends on Orkut, and one of them is now living in San Francisco and practicing law. Today we chatted a bit on the phone about career frustrations (current or previous), food, and so on. We made plans to meet up for lunch and so on. I also have another friend there, Sally, an importer who previously lived in Seattle, and we'll talk shop a little when I'm there. I found out that Sally was in Seattle today heading over to Spokane.
One of my suppliers sent some product samples that are apparently needing more precise descriptions for customs. Hopefully that will all be cleared up tomorrow... I'd like to get them as soon as possible. This is a quantity sufficient for sales demonstrations.
Today I cooked a nice little lunch for a friend using good spring ingredients. She's going out of the country for probably just a few weeks so it's kind of a mini-farewell. I got a few morels and patty pan squashes and shallots and made a cream-based sauce for tortiglioni. I cooked a small dish of asparagus and garlic. I roasted a red bell pepper and stuffed it with a mild cream-cheese-textured chevre from a small cheesemaker in Blaine WA, and adorned with a basil leave, pepper, and meyer lemon zest. And I made my signature yuzu salad dressing with honey and mustard. I actually made small portions of each but it turned out to be a lot of food. Somehow we managed to eat almost everything though...
Afterward I took care of some trivial things and went to pottery class. I didn't feel productive, but I started assembling pieces that I threw on Sunday. I'm trying to build a kind of small sculptural piece in the style of something I saw in Japan a couple of times.
I'm also planning to take a little trip to Chicago this weekend, which I'll commit to in the morning, but I have fewer business justifications for. It turns out that it's just going to be a relatively inexpensive trip overall for various reasons so I think I'll go for it.
This morning I sent off my final visitor, and my week of being a tour guide came to a close. It was a pleasant distraction and I am happy that I am able to take time to do this kind of thing without having to ask for permission from someone. Of course, it means I do have a lot of work to do now.
Actually I was able to accomplish a small amount of work over the last week as well. Yesterday I met with another guy who had been working as a small importer/exporter and has since moved on to build a marketing firm in Bellevue. He gave me the names of some distributors that may be useful for me.
Also I got a call from a tea importer that I met at FoodEx who is based in Bellevue. He had also been attending the Las Vegas tea show which was going on a week or so ago. He offered to introduce me to some buyers he works with, and we'll also have a little meeting at my favorite Japan-esque cake shop in Seattle next Wednesday.
I may need to make a little trip to the Bay Area later this month to meet with one of my suppliers, so I'm going to need to hunt for some cheap tickets.
Finally, it looks like my ceramics are set to ship now, so I should be able to get my hands on them soon and start building up my retail web site.
Today I need to do some revisions on some sales objectives that I have for one of the products I am working on and prepare for another conference call with that supplier. And I need to play handyman also... I should finally put together the shelving I bought at Ikea a week or so ago for my office.
This week ended up being relatively unproductive when it came to work, because I needed to prepare for visitors and run various errands. On Thursday, I had two visitors from Japan and one from Victoria, BC.
Hiromi came in on Thursday morning and I picked her up at the airport. We were hoping to take a look at tulips up in the La Conner area, but the early spring weather this year had forced all of the growers to top their tulips a little early this year, so we ended up relaxing on the beach at Golden Gardens in Ballard, then having a little iced tea at Masalisa.
I had a conference call with one of my suppliers around 7pm. It was encouraging. I'll need to make some changes in my plan with that product and revise my sales objectives, but actually they are going to be more conservative than before, and that makes me feel a little better about the project because I don't have to take risks quite as substantial as I had expected.
Sachi and her Canadian friend, Sandra, arrived via the Victoria Clipper a little after 8:30, and cleared customs a little shy of 9pm. We made our way to La Spiga restaurant on Broadway and ordered Crescioni and Piadina in addition to various pasta choices. I had a pretty nice asparagus tortelli with a lemon butter sauce. We stopped at Dilletante and shared a single piece of cake between the four of us.
Friday, we played tourist all day and into the night. I took everyone to breakfast at Cafe Besalu in Ballard, we stopped at Archie McPhee and at the Ballard Locks, and we headed over to West Seattle for some postcard photography opportunities at the fishing pier and at Alki beach. We ate a little lunch at a tiny restaurant on 8th & King in the International District, Szechuan Noodle Bowl. I ordered their cold seaweed dish, a little braised bamboo shoot dish, and green onion pancakes. Two of us ordered vegetable dumplings in la-yu and soy sauce, and two ordered a vegetable udon dish in soup.
Afterword, we made a stop at Pacific Place mall, and then walked over to the Pike Place market to get vegetables and other things for dinner. We did a little gift shopping, and then briefly visited Vivace's for coffee and tea. We also made a quick run to Fran's chocolates at University Village.
Finally, we came to my place and tried unsuccessfully to get Japanese natural oak charcoal to burn in a tiny tabletop grill called a “shichirin“. This was the first time I have actually tried to use the shichirin so it was a little more trouble than I expected. I had gotten one of my potato pizzas done while my guests were fighting with the shichirin, and finally we gave up on it. I was asked to re-warm the potato pizza, which on a baking stone turned out to be a bad idea because there would have been no way to quickly bring the oven temperature down to a “warming“ temperature. and I managed to char the previously flawless but cold pizza. I them promptly managed to drop a slippery and unfortunately too flexibly plastic bottle of oil into the sink and it splashed back on to Sachi's clothing. I don't think I've ever had so many things go wrong in one meal. We did manage to eat grilled vegetables and my guests had shrimp, scallops and squid also; I just used my indoor grill pan and a cast iron skillet to stand in for the finicky oak charcoal. It didn't occur to me until far too late that I probably could have used my small “konro“ (like a gas camping stove) to ignite the charcoal.
We also had some nice yuzu ice cream and a kona coffee sorbet that I made, and dipped into a quince infused liqueur that I had started back at the end of January. Except for the comedy of errors, the food was mostly pretty good.
We finished the evening by going up the escalator in the Space Needle during the last open hour, and taking in the cityscape. Sachi and Sandra went back this morning, and Hiromi is here until the 4th.
Earlier in the week I finally got my car detailed by Fremont Auto Detail, which seems like a bit of an indulgence for someone without any consequential revenue but was very worth it... my car had been looking very sad especially on the interior. I also took care of getting some shelving I need to handle the ceramics boxes that will be coming from Japan later in May. I didn't do much that was actually useful for my business except for creating some price lists. I have another visitor to entertain from the 4th through the 7th, and then I'll get back into the swing of things.