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.

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.

 

The Bamboo Garden team is here

Mr. Wong, Mrs. Cheng, and two other key staff members of Bamboo Gardenhave arrived safely. I trust they are now getting some sleep. We had countless errands to run this afternoon, including nailing down the final schedule, routing the new candy shipment, and sending some media to the 99 Ranch promotions folks. Afterward, we made some attempt to find large quantities of cornstarch, which Mr. Wong was loath to bring on the airplane and risk misinterpretation by Homeland Security folks.

Before turning on full-productivity mode, we stopped at Cafe Besalu for a little breakfast and caffeine, with a little bit of chatter. After that, I was either on the phone or driving somewhere or writing up a shipping order for the next 5 or 6 hours. We mellowed out around 5:30 pm, although it took me a good 30 minutes to make it from Queen Anne back to Fremont due to heavy traffic. I did some prep work in the kitchen and came back after they had time to take a shower.

I did manage to make them a little dinner, but I think we didn't eat until about 8:30.... I made a potato pizza with sage pesto, chanterelles, and thin slices of eggplant, a mixed green salad with yuzu vinaigrette, a little squash-potato soup, some grilled mushrooms with basil and garlic, and some green beans with lion’s mane mushrooms and ginger. We finished off the pear sorbet which I think I mentioned here a few weeks ago, and it still tasted pretty decent.

The schedule for Bay Area is now settled, though I think the actual time of day might still need clarification.

  • December 15: 99 Ranch Daly City, 250 Skyline Plaza, Daly City, CA 94015
  • December 16: 99 Ranch Cupertino, 10983 North Wolfe Road, Cupertino, CA 95014
  • December 17: 99 Ranch Richmond, 3288 Pierce Street, Richmond, CA 94804
  • December 18: 99 Ranch Foster City, 1070 Foster City Blvd., Foster City, CA 94404
  • December 19: 99 Ranch Milpitas, 338 Barbar Lane, Milpitas, CA 95035

Not yet that sane

I was doing the usual sampling at Beaverton and Bellevue this weekend... Beaverton went reasonably well, with a high sampling-to-buying ratio; Bellevue was a little slower but sales picked up as I was about to give up for the day. One guy who bought several boxes last time I saw him picked up another big box today. I'm happy to have that kind of customer.

Hiromi discovered a unique "pillow" when acting as a tour guide for one of our mutual colleagues.

This is probably not something for my import company, since I tend, to my detriment, to focus on slightly more high-brow items, but someone would probably appreciate it if I did bring it in... Called "hiza-makura" (hiza means falling asleep in someone's lap, makura means pillow), I guess it's designed for a special kind of man. If nothing else, this pillow seems to have the "dirty old man" or ojisan market locked up. Cost: about $90 (retail). 

http://portal.nifty.com/koneta04/11/12/02/

I'm likely to be incommunicado on the web journal for an extended period, as I prepare for Mr. Wong's visit and try to solve some irritating issues I'm facing. But I'll do my best to report what's going on during the tour.

Thanksgiving and new geek toys

I had some dinner guests yesterday, not quite something I had planned. I was planning on making squash gnocchi for myself anyway so I added a few other dishes and had a little party... a little salad with pomegranate seeds, a frittata, a little mushroom dish with some garlic and rosemary, and of course the squash gnocchi, made using potatoes, kabocha, and flour, roughly estimated. I then served some sweet potato ice cream and pear sorbet. The pear sorbet turned out really nicely... nothing more than pureed, slightly cooked fragrant pears, sugar, and lemon juice.

Today I woke up after sleeping a rough 5 hours, and then I was up for a couple of hours before I crashed again. It was a little late to properly prepare my planned contribution to a Jennifer-hosted Thanksgiving. I made a hurried bread dough and then I prepared a butternut squash gratin, which was a good way of using up the extra pureed kabocha and heavy cream from yesterday. Today's stuff was a little rushed, so it didn't turn out as well as yesterday's food.

I got a replacement for my damaged Sony Ericsson T616 cell phone. I settled on a Motorola Mpx220, which I hunted down at a Best Buy location after abortive attempts to order it online. It seems like a decent choice so far, though I'm having some little frustrations with it.

The voice recognition works better than my last phone's "voice tag" system, though it doesn't seem to work in handsfree mode. The camera was behaving erratically yesterday but seems not so completely insane today. I had some issues setting up features like email and so on because the menu system was not initially very intuitive for setting up new accounts.

Voice quality is decent, and I can hear better than I did with my T616. The internet features are substantially better, and syncronizing my address book with Outlook is absolutely painless; it was something I dreaded when I was trying to do that with my Sony phone, because I was always wondering which contacts would suddenly be duplicated and also whether the phone would even be detected by the Sony-bundled package. ActiveSync is actually a pleasant experience, which is surprising to me, considering all the horrible things that people said about ActiveSync a few years ago.

The next few days I'll be doing in-store demos for my candy at the Uwajimaya stores, and then I have to furiously get my publicity stuff together.

International attention

It may not do much for me, but my retail web site was mentioned by a Singapore-based food industry magazine, The New Asia Cuisine and Wine Scene this month. The blurb "demystifying dragon beard candy" actually has a couple of trivial factual errors, but there's no such thing as bad publicity, right?

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be furiously preparing for a somewhat more dramatic launch of the product in Seattle, Portland and Hong Kong. This will require me to take a slightly heavier financial risk than I have been doing so far, but I think it's probably a good thing and will help create some long-term buzz.

Tomorrow I'll head off to Portland once again, and I'll be doing sampling in Seattle on Sunday. I also need to get some work done to prepare for some other product offerings. I'm hoping I can afford to take on everything.

 

Compliments in Japan

One of the things I learned in high school German class was never, ever to accept a compliment. The proper response is denial; graciously accepting someone's praise in Germany is hopelessly gauche.

Fortunately, a similar aesthetic regarding compliments prevails in Japan, as this Japan Times article suggests. So even my first time in Japan, around 1998, I was habitually denying the overwrought compliments offered on my truly atrocious Japanese. Anyone I know whose Japanese skills are actually worthy of praise ceases directly hearing even a word of such, unless they are particularly tired and sloppy and making mistakes. Such people are offered praise (or bewilderment) through intermediaries.

Unlike Germany, however, it seems to be far more common for Japanese to lavish praise on people, so the skills in deflecting compliments require somewhat faster reflexes.

It is somewhat news to me, though, that I would need to be cautious about group contexts when offering compliments to people close to me... But since Americans can be insulted by insincere compliments, I suppose the same risk would be present in U.S. situations; offering an insincere compliment to someone you know in a mixed group might be taken particularly badly. I think that the most sincere direct compliment in Japan is when someone is saying that they like something about you (I like your hair when it is longer) or something that you have done (is it ok if I eat more of this?), rather than offering general praise (your Japanese is good, etc.)

Shall I be soapy?

A couple of days ago, I headed off to Shizuoka to meet with a soap supplier whose product I was interested in when I was last in Japan.

Although I'm very interested in the soap, I'm still trying to find a way to make it work financially, because their export price will make it hard to offer in a reasonable price range in the U.S. I think some retailers won't mind as long as people buy. The price will work out to be closer to the cosmetic soaps that they tend to sell in department stores. It's unique enough that this may not be a problem, but like many products I am interested in, developing the market may be very challenging and expensive. I suppose, however, if it weren't challenging, I wouldn't be interested... I started planning to leave my last job when it stopped being challenging. Still, I'd be much more comfortable with a price point that would be more compatible with US equivalent markets, and also avoid risk of parallel imports from individuals with friends back home...

I did a little bit of research on sources for a product a customer requested, which bore some fruit, so to speak. If I can establish a connection with the company in question, I may be able to get a much better price for a product of similar quality. At the same time, I found some other interesting products, though I am a little ambivalent about importing them.

Last night I met with Linda of Azuma Gallery, who invited me to join her and the daughter of her one-time host family at a print show and benefit. After the reception and viewing of the prints for sale, Linda rounded up some artists whose work she sells, and Hiromi joined us as we all went out for a light dinner and drinks, overwhelming the waitstaff and kitchen staff by suddenly appearing all at once in a group of 20.

Tomorrow I head off to Kyoto, which is now a slightly different trip than I had originally planned... it should be pleasant... I'll get to see a friend from college and another friend or two, and also have the chance to eat at Del Cook Cuisine de Nose, which is a French restaurant in a woodsy area near Osaka. I may try to do a little ceramics hunting, though the dealer layer will make that much more expensive than I'd like. I've had a few requests for some work that comes out of Kyoto, so I will hunt a bit.

Sweets in a suit and a wedding

Since Friday I have been busy presenting the dragon beard candy at Uwajimaya Bellevue and Seattle... I've been offering samples and showing a video of Mr. Wong, the founder of the company, making the candy. It's actually been a pretty pleasant experience overall, although I wish sales had been a little better. The conversion ratio, sampling to buying, was much more favorable at the Chinatown festival... I am not sure if it was the complete novelty, the festival atmosphere or the apparent uncertainty of future availability, but it was much easier to turn people into buyers when I was doing the festival event. Of course, most people aren't really going to the supermarket to buy gift items, so it might also require finding additional more appropriate venues.

Saturday was probably the most successful overall, although it came at the cost of a lot of free samples. Maggie handled the Bellevue store, and I was at the Seattle store. I was at the busiest entrance, so nearly everyone who enters the store comes somewhere near there. That meant that I had good visibility, but enough people coming past me rapid-fire that it was sometimes hard to tell everyone the product story. On Friday and Saturday we were also at the main entrance of the Bellevue store. Maggie apparently did a pretty good job at the Bellevue store and had a better conversion ratio than I did.

My friend Alexandra, who has been rarely seen in public since she met Alan about a year ago, was married at Lake Union Cafe on Sunday. Since I was doing some sampling on Sunday at Uwajimaya Seattle as well, I dressed in my dark blue suit to avoid running around madly just before the wedding. It meant, however, that I ended up having lots of dragon's beard candy bits clinging to my suitjacket, and it also surprised some of the Uwajimaya staff, who always dress in their standard store attire when doing product demos.

The wedding ceremony was pleasant, and was full of all sorts of touches that wouldn't have been possible in anyone else's wedding... Everything from the meal to the wedding cake to table adornments reflected their first encounter when Alexandra was planting purple potatoes at a south Seattle P-Patch garden. Handmade soaps and pots of herbs made and grown by Alan and Alexandra were placed on every table as take-home wedding favors, the wedding buffet featured roasted purple and white potatoes, and even the wedding cake was decorated with two small potatoes adorned with bridal and groom accoutrements. The atmosphere was casual and comfortable, with just the usual requisite toasting speeches and no unnecessary drama or kitsch. It was also great weather, and the backdrop facing Lake Union cast a nice glow throughout the room.

I've managed to squander a lot of my Monday, so I'm going to spend some time consuming coffee and coding and I'll try to be a salesperson again tomorrow.

Just enough competence to be dangerous

Over the last couple of days I made some mini-breakthroughs in my shopping cart code, which is encouraging enough to make me feel like I know what I'm doing.

To be fair, though, that's come at the expense of time I should probably be spending selling. I'm hoping that the hard part of the work on the web store is over with, and that I can just pound out the rest of the code now that I have a functional framework. Past experience tells me things won't be so simple. But I also feel like I've finally got my head around the problem, instead of my head being disembodied, looking askance at the problem and just wincing.

I had a few more meetings and telephone conversations with potential customers, but I think I need to be more focused on that. Also I need to pick a few larger retailers to target so that I can clear out my existing inventory a little faster. I think there's not enough time in the day...

My life is a barcode

Thursday I ran over to Staples to hunt for some laser printer-friendly adhesive labels that would be suitable for bar codes that I can stick on the single tubes of my dragon beard candy so that retailers, like Uwajimaya, can scan them. The gift boxes all have pre-printed bar codes, so that wasn't an issue, but, alas, there are almost 1200 small tubes for individual retail sale that lack these essentials. So this weekend, in the sweltering heat of my apartment, I printed out appropriate bar codes and stuck them on to about 364 packages, which made it possible for me to deliver the single tubes to Uwajimaya Beaverton and Seattle.

On Friday I got agreement from two other stores to carry the candy. I will most likely be doing sampling at Viet Wah next weekend, and I have sampling plans for the next few weeks at Uwajimaya Bellevue, Seattle, and Beaverton.

I made a little delivery at the Beaverton Uwajimaya and met with the new grocery manager and his assistant. Not entirely surprisingly, since I knew this was a vendor sampling day, I ran into Eugene Levy, who was showing off his green tea, today in the form of iced genmaicha. I chatted with him a bit before meeting with the Uwajimaya staff and we had a simple dinner at the little Japanese restaurant bordering the store. It was probably around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, so I ate hiya-yakko (cold tofu).

I needed something of a weekend, so I didn't do any work today until afternoon, when I made a delivery of the now-barcoded impulse-buy tubes to Uwajimaya. Tomorrow I need to make another trip to Chinatown to meet up with another store there.

Things are kind of picking up... I still have to do a lot of sales work this week, so I hope I can take care of everything else that comes up.

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