Jason Truesdell : Pursuing My Passions
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.

No more distractions, unfortunately

I spent a couple of days in Vancouver with Hiromi and came back late last night. In Vancouver, I took a look at a couple of Asian markets and along Robson Street to try to get a feel for what might be possible in the Vancouver market, and Hiromi and I visited with a couple of her friends from the time when she was on her working holiday program in Canada.

Today I fillled a couple of orders for Chinese New Year that cleared a whole lot of inventory, but I found out I have some more stock than I previously thought when I itemized my inventory more carefully. I will try to get some of that sold this weekend by doing some in-store promotions, most likely in the Seattle store.

I need to figure out how to get my candy in Los Angeles as well, so I think I'll focus on researching good venues for that. This week I also have to finalize my order for the next batch of candy as well, and I need to do an obscene amount of catchup work on bookkeeping.

I drove all day

Sunday morning, dark and early, I extracted myself from bed around 5:30 am, finished packing some ceramics samples, almost finished packing clothing, and carried everything down to my car after a quick shower. I think I actually left home around 7:30 if I take into account the quick stop at Lighthouse Cafe for a necessary dose of caffeine... I had to stop at Seatac airport for about 30 minutes to pick up frequent flyer tickets I redeemed for part of my upcoming trip to Japan. Somehow, 8:30, I got myself on the road, nearly nonstop to the Bay Area As I recall, I made one stop for gas and greasy food somewhere in southern Oregon, one secondary and another stop for gas and windshield insect removal just about 30 minutes shy of the big box hell known as Emeryville, California, where I had booked a week at Extended Stay America. I think I was all checked in by about 9:25 pm. I think 13-14 hours including stops is pretty good for 800-some miles.

The night before, I had been volunteered to take advantage of a cache of mushrooms scored by my graphic designer, Jennifer, who has previously done some work for a Portland-based fancy mushroom distributor. I cooked for Jennifer and three other friends various little treats, including porcini korokke or croquettes (which were pleasant tasting though I faced some texture issues that I haven't had before), a potato-dough based pizza featuring more porcini and some good buffalo mozzarella, a side dish of portabellas sliced and cooked with garlic and rosemary, and another side dish of golden chanterelles which were seasoned with sage brown butter and adorned with crispy sage leaves. We had sumibi-yaki of white matsutake and all the other available mushrooms, served with dipping sauce choice of yuzu-ponzu I had tossed together or ginger and soy sauce. I also made a little salad with my signature yuzu honey vinaigrette, which had some pine nuts and a little bit of browned bits of mushrooms, as well as some nice tomatoes. Leftovers mostly went home with guests, as I was leaving town for the week. Everyone went home by around 11:30 and I put myself in bed a little after midnight, where I tossed and turned and briefly woke to turn on the heat and put on more clothing after an unknown period of time, so I was impressed with myself for waking up early and mostly successfully getting on the road without panicking and without forgetting anything more than a pair of pants.

Friday night was Jennifer's birthday party, which I attended after trying my best to finalize last-minute arrangements for my little trip. Alas, many things suffered due to biting off a little too much for the last two days of the week.

The first day here was only moderately productive, but I met with one lead and made a few other calls, set up an appointment to show off ceramics to someone, and so on. I am now stopping in a Palo-Alto based cafe to feed my information needs, as the Extended Stay America has no meaningful internet access in the room and I don't have a dial-up provider. I had intended to do this in the morning but the spot I found in the Oakland area had pretty unreliable connectivity so I had only about 15 minutes of usable access. I thought about some sort of dial-up plan, but I think I am happier to spend the $3-5 in a coffee shop for internet access with a nice cup of coffee than I would be to sign up for another subscription service for something I don't really want anyway.

I'm a little nervous about all the stuff I have to cram in to the next two weeks in the United States... I'll try not to think about it too much; it'll only make things worse.

Technology woes

As an ex-Microsoft employee, I'm by no means easily discouraged by technological irritations. Of course, I do tend to scream and yell at my machines when they give me trouble, just like anyone else (it's not just me, is it, Doctor?). But it seems to me that when I have one small computer or cell phone problem, I have an unfortunate streak. Usually one problem coincides with another which coincides with yet another.

Recently, for the second time, my cell phone seemed to take a disliking to the manufacturer's power chargers, and the only way I can get my cell phone charged up is by connecting the data cable to my notebook's USB port. That's a minor inconvenience, and I can live with it. It just happened a couple of weeks ago and I kind of live on my cell phone these days, so I didn't want to send it in for repair.

I have another desktop machine, which is essentially a salvaged 5 year old PC with a newer processor, motherboard, and DVD-RW. It has an NTFS based file system. I never quite got this machine fully optimal, but I do use it at my office for basic tasks, or when I forget to bring my laptop to work. I was finally installing Service Pack 2 late last week on my office desktop machine, and some file permissions-related problem caused the install to fail. I didn't investigate, but I just allowed the machine to reboot. It turns out it didn't quite successfully uninstall the partial update, and my whole installation was hosed.

Then, Monday night, my laptop had a familiar problem, now out of warranty: the power clip on the motherboard seemed to misbehave, and I couldn't get it to charge the battery or sustain a power connection. This has happened before a couple of times. Apparently I have to be super-careful to make sure the AC Adapter Plug never gets jiggled or plugged in too casually, because it seems to be very easy to damage. When such a problem occurs, the whole motherboard gets replaced.

So by Tuesday, I had trouble with absolutely every essential piece of electronics in my life. It took me hours to recover my office desktop configuration, but it's now functional enough to be used for real work, including printing shipping labels and so on. So I'm up to speed again, but I wasted a lot of time, and now a substantial amount of money because of the laptop repair.

Pizza with arugula, chanterelles and oyster mushrooms

Whatever is affecting my sleeping pattern and energy level bit me hard last night. Fortunately I had a light workload, so I decided to do some cleaning at home, which I’ve neglected a lot since I moved to my current apartment, so there’s always something out of order.

I’m in a bit of a comfort food mode recently, but tonight I balanced my need for something comforting (lentil vegetable soup with some tarragon) with something a little more drama. The mushroom season is in full swing, so I got a few chanterelles again, and some oyster mushrooms, which I briefly sweated with a hint of thyme and a dash of salt in olive oil. I didn’t feel like making any sort of sauce or pesto, so I just rubbed garlic and olive oil on my pizza dough, added a bit of mozzarella and parmesan, and baked the pie with the mushrooms. Upon finishing, I sprinkled some arugula on top.

Pizza with mushrooms and arugula

 

Slave to the web

Tonight I'm getting the last bits of absolutely necessary work done to convert YuzuMura.com to a new online ordering system.

I spent the week taking photos, adding content, twiddling with unfamiliar configuration settings, and modifying my basic site template so that it's at least presentable. I'm not 100% thrilled with the results, mostly because I have some customizations I need to finish in order to make the site design more consistent. I'm also still a couple hours work away from integrating my payment gateway. But my bCentral ordering system was never integrated with my payment gateway, so it's not a dealbreaker.

However, the shopping cart solution, from http://www.AspDotNetStoreFront.com, is leaps and bounds ahead of what I had before. I think it will make cross-merchandising easier and it's a little more rigid than manually editing each page when I have a new product, but still flexible enough to allow me to present the site the way I'd like to.

This weekend I also did candy demos in Beaverton and Bellevue, amid the din of a lion dance at Uwajimaya. This will be a 3-day demo weekend, in fact: for Valentine's day, I'll be sampling at the Seattle Uwajimaya. It'll be my first Monday demo ever, I think.

Bay Area exposure

Our TV appearance in Portland got canceled due to the feature reporter and some part of his crew getting very sick... we got a call from the station at 5:45, about 30 minutes before we were supposed to go on. We just chose to drive to San Francisco around 7:30 on Tuesday morning.

However, a Chinese TV station and a Chinese newspaper visited us during our first demo in Daly City in the Bay Area. We saw the newspaper today, though I'm not sure when the TV feature will appear. It's likely to be on the SF market Cantonese station, TVB. A mainstream newspaper photographer also took some photos.

The Daly City demo went pretty well. Enough of the customers were from Hong Kong or Cantonese speaking areas that I didn't have to talk very much, and some people aready knew the brand. Our demo today was a little quieter, as the store traffic at the Cupertino 99 Ranch location wasn't quite as dense.

We made a brief stop at the Asian Art Museum today, where I could see their presentation of both the ceramics and the candy. We also showed the video to some of the volunteer staff and Mr. Wong greeted everyone. We ended up behind schedule, arriving at almost exactly noon at the Cupertino store. I think we were lucky everyone else on I-280 considered the speed limits a mere suggestion because we might have otherwise been about 15 minutes later.

 

Lining up things, figuring out balance

I’m trying to juggle the various competing pressures of my work and I’ve realized my wholesale sales efforts have been inadequate of late, so I’m trying to make sure I spend a bit more time each day focusing on developing new accounts.

Most of my larger existing customers have been seeing good sales results and have been increasing their order amounts, but I need a more substantial client base to get to a level of survival. I’m getting better at what I’m doing, and a fair amount of growth in my sales brokerage end has made me more optimistic, but my available resources are still getting smaller.

I’ve been thinking about doing some side work to help increase my survival chances. But I need to do build up my business at the same time, because my goal isn’t to work for someone else; I want to make my concept work.

I’m not sure how much I’ve said about it on my blog, but one of my objectives as I started plotting my Microsoft exit strategy was to build a restaurant project. I did the math on that and decided it wasn’t going to be the right time for me when I decided I needed to move on from Microsoft, but I did think that doing some work in a restaurant work as I was building my import business would have been valuable experience to work toward that.

So I’ve long considered doing side work, I’ve been kind of torn between the idea of doing some potentially more lucrative but very intellectually draining short term software gigs, and the idea of doing some for me more interesting, but certainly not particularly well-paying, work in restaurants. I do look rather strange when I show my resume to most restaurants, though, so most don’t know what to make of me.

But actually, my first priority should be to generate new wholesale accounts, and my second priority should be to build up my internet sales levels. The jump from where I am now to where I need to be to assure basic survival isn’t that far out of reach.

I’m really happy to have been able to have built the audience I have so far. I think people are really starting to respond to my work to expose people to contemporary Asian style. But like a lot of people who start businesses, I surely underestimated what I needed to start with to get from nowhere to somewhere.

Travel plans

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.

New things brewing

I was chatting with the owner/manager of a new vegetarian restaurant who is interested in marketing her soy and gluten products that she makes in her store. I think I will help her out with some sales work for her, and take a fair cut without any inventory risk on my part. I'll also research and consult on solutions for some of the foods she makes that she'd like to offer as easy-to-prepare healthy, vegetarian Chinese entrees.

I'm also trying to talk to some contract manufacturers for introducing some of my own private label products, so I started making some inquiries on that; this need should be compatible with the restaurant's needs as well.

Yesterday I moved my display out from my sales broker's showroom, since I've been doing a better job on sales than them so far. I also think that will free me up to sell some other products in the same manner, functioning as a sales broker rather than an importer or import merchant.

As for the dragon beard candy, I'm having some issues with a shortage of small gift boxes and sampler tubes of dragon beard candy, but I'm supposed to be getting a new shipment later this week. I'm trying to figure out how to accommodate some orders received in the last few days that requested some quantities of items of which I don't have enough stock.

Bewitched in Japan

Today I didn’t feel very productive, but I did get my account with Yamato Transport established and I got a confirmation on an appointment with a soap company I’m very interested in buying from.

Other than that, I sent out a few inquiries and replied to a few other messages. My major accomplishment was taking care of a couple of loads of laundry and initiating some packing; tomorrow I need to move some of my belongings to a temporary storage place; lugging my larger suitcase, now full of product samples and literature, to Osaka for a few days starting Sunday, is not my idea of fun..

Lunch was leftover baguette from breakfast, with lettuce and some relatively cheap (for Japan) Brie. Actually I really wish I wasn’t closer to department stores than to a known grocery store, because for one thing department store foods start out more expensive, and they tend to offer more western foods.

I’m perfectly capable of cooking with Japanese ingredients, but collecting them at department stores is often far more expensive than I’d like. Of course, somehow, everything that I cook here tastes more Japanese than European or American, but I think that’s mostly a matter of scale. I decorate small plates of vegetables with a little cheese… or I cook one medium potato, one carrot, and half an onion, using whatever seasoning is convenient, and I serve it to two people as one of three simple dishes, rather than buying a mess of potatoes, a bunch of carrots, and a ton of onions and garlic and turning it into a huge mass of home fries or Bratkartoffel.

Dinner was, in fact, such a potato dish, plus a dish of seasoned soybeans, blanched greens and half an onion, and a sample of udon from the FoodEx show I have been refrigerating since last week. The udon were unusual because they are made with sato-imo (small taro-like roots) and yamaimo (a starchy tuber). The udon noodles are quite nice; the included tsuyu, or dipping sauce, is overly sweet, even though the packaging recommends using the tsuyu as is, undiluted. We switch to a bottled tsuyu that Hiromi bought last week, which was much less cloying.

The afternoon was fairly cold and windy, although out my window everything appeared sunny and pleasant. I went out for tea in the afternoon, walking as quickly as possible to escape the weather. Apparently someone else had the same idea... I noticed a woman who had fallen asleep in one of the comfortable chairs, oblivious to a half-consumed latte.

Tonight after dinner I had the surreal experience of watching on TV a Japanese reprisal of “Bewitched,” this time set in 2004 Japan, but with the same basic storyline. This episode is when the Japanese equivalent of Darren inevitably discovers that his daughter has magical powers, around the time that he brings his ad agency boss and some clients to his unbelievably large Japanese condo. It’s amusing to see this very sixties-style show re-enacted with 2004 Japanese fashion sensibilities, but fortunately, the mother-in-law with the funky hairstyle is dutifully preserved.

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