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Friday, September 30, 2005

Apropos Air Travel

This is my first ever post from 33,000 feet, somwhere over Siberia.

I may be travelling on a crappy A340 - with cramped seating arrangements, a global screen for entertainment (3 movies, seen them all) and Stogel for kosher food - but at least Lufthansa is one of the first airlines to offer internet access.

What I need now is one of those aircraft power cords for my laptop to make sure I can stay online for all 11 hours of the flight...

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Air Travel Questions

Travels over the past couple of weeks have brought me to six different airports, on four different airlines and seven different flights. The inevitable long waits in airport lounges and during taxiing gave me an opportunity to think about several questions concerning air travel. Perhpas someone out there can help me answer some of them.

  1. Why does the business class line (before security or check-in) almost always move slower than the economy class one?
  2. Why does the laptop need to go through the security x-ray machine separately? Will the machine not scan the laptop if it's in the bag? And what's the deal with removing your shoes?!
  3. And on the same subject, why do most European countries require you to remove the laptop but the Brits don't?
  4. Exit row seats are coveted by many, and for a good reason (extra leg room). But why on earth can't one lift the arm-rests in these rows?
  5. When the flight attendants dispsense that all-important security information to passengers ("the seat belt can be unfastened by lifting this buckle"), do they get offended by the fact that nobody pays them the least attention?
  6. Why is the kosher food distributed to passengers before the regular food? Could it be because it takes the average person almost half an hour to wrestle with those impenetrable plastic wrappings?
  7. Why does every airline on the planet air episodes of "Everybody Loves Raymond"?
  8. Why do pilots always promise to try and make up for lost time after a delayed departure? One would think they would go as fast as they can in any case, no?

There's more, but these will do for now.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


Years ago, when I started doing business in Japan, I was working on a rather large deal with one of the largest Japanese insurance companies. They thought our price increase was way too high and had no real justification. Negotiations were tough. At a certain point, after having exahusted all possible avenues of persuasion, I was beginning to lose hope of convincing the customer to continue working with us. It was then that a colleauge of mine, with decades of experience of working in Japan, told me it was time to use the ultimate weapon: shikata-ga-nai.

Translated into English, Shikata-ga-nai means "it cannot be helped" or "it is hopeless". What my friend was recommending was to tell the customer that there was no more room for negotiations. It was a "hopeless" situation and that was that. Apparently, once shikata-ga-nai is uttered under such circumstances, the other party understands you have reached the limit of your bargaining leeway; it is now decision time, a sort of "take it or leave it" situation. My friend added that shikata-ga-nai should be used only in extreme situations - "once a year at most" I recall him saying - otherwise one loses his credibility very quickly. With trepidation, I followed my friend's advice. It worked and we got the deal.

Shikata-ga-nai is a word you hear often in Japan although almost never in a business context. Its more informal version - sho-ga-nai - is used in daily conversations and is usually accompanied by a light shrug, an expression of hopelessness. People use it to tell you that they tried everything, but "it just cannot be helped". In a sense it conveys the opposite message of ganbatte, another popular Japanese expression meaning "do your best".

Sometimes the use of shikata-ga-nai is a chilling expression used by someone coming to terms with a bitter reality. I recently read "Hiroshima" by John Hersey, a book about the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima city on August 6, 1945. In his first-hand account of six survivors, Hersey provides a unique glimpse into the state of mind of the people of Hiroshima in the hours and days following the bombing. One expression by survivors which is mentioned several times throughout the book is shikata-ga-nai, but here it has a different meaning. Injured by the bomb, separated from their families, left with no possessions, these survivors answer the journalist's questions by a final shikata-ga-nai, here truly meaning there is no more hope.

Friday, September 02, 2005

To Become a Superhero!

Just as Japanese love their anime, so do they love their mascots. As mentioned earlier, even the police have their own mascot...

Today, I came across Kutan, the new mascot for Tokyo's international airport, Narita. His job is quite straightforward: keep everybody using the airport happy. But this is no ordinary mascot. He has a dream: to become a superhero!

Words fail me...