Thursday, 30 July 2009

Back to business

I'm healthier again - hooray! By that I mean that I can actually swallow food now without being in stupid amounts of pain and I made it into work today. So, hopefully, normal blogging shall resume as of now. My antibiotics seem to be working, as does my iodine 'throat gargle', which appears to have been designed for hippos with throat infections:

And came from a pharmacy that likes koalas:

I'm starting to wonder if I went to the vet by accident.

I'm spending this week with the guys who trade options and hybrids. The hybrids trades are so mentally complicated that I feel like I've only just scratched the surface - each trade is completely custom-made and has multiple parameters that can all change the price and risk on a daily basis. They've got to be able to calculate the current value and risk of each trade so that they can then hedge the whole portfolio. There are so many things to keep on top of! And the maths behind it all is horrendous...

I don't really feel like I've achieved much this week and I spent two whole days in bed, so I've not got much to report on. Apart from what I've eaten, of course. I got taken out for sushi for lunch on Monday at the same place I went with my boss on my first day:

Had a ton-katsu bento for tea one night

And got taken to a ton-katsu restaurant for lunch today

(I may have forgotten to take a photo at the start of the meal as I was so hungry. Apologies for the lack of food left on any of the plates!)

They specialised in this weird green leaf called shiso (that looks suspiciously like a nettle...) and gave me tea made from it and also rice that had been cooked with it.

I've spent most of my free time (and my time stuck in the flat) looking for places to stay in Kyoto. I want to go there next weekend and would like to stay in a traditional ryokan or minshuku, where you get tea ceremonies and amazing Japanese food, whilst living in a fantastic old paper house. Unfortunately, none of them seem to offer rooms for one person, especially not one woman. Travelling alone hasn't been a problem until now. Bummer.

Photos from John Swinney's visit

The photos from John Swinney's tour around RBS have been posted on the Scottish Government's Flickr account. They're pretty dull, apart from the ones I'm in, obviously...

Here is the standard 'posed, unnatural conversation' photo, where I actually appear to be grimacing:

Followed swiftly by the 'oh my god, I'm so short it looks like I've been badly photoshopped into this' photo:

Monday, 27 July 2009

I am contagious

Or at least I will be for the next 18 hours or so. I feel like I'm dying and am now going back to bed (again) at 2.45pm. NOT COOL! I WANT TO GO TO KYOTO THIS WEEKEND! Nightmare!

I woke up this morning and was genuinely worried that I may have caught swine flu. Went to the doctor's and he thought that it was glandular fever (fantastic). Thankfully, after some tests, he thinks that it's just a really bad throat infection. Eugh.

So apologies for the lack of blog posts - I have some good photos of food that I will put up when the antibiotics kick in.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Saltire blog part 2

My second weekly round-up can be found here. The formatting is a bit weird... Apologies.

Shop 'til you drop...

I woke up bright and early this morning (not) and headed off towards Harajuku for some retail therapy and Harajuku-girl-spotting. I left my apartment, armed with my camera and credit card but in no way was I prepared for what the Tokyo summer threw at me. I have never experienced heat like today - well over 35 degrees, humid, barely a breeze and clear blue skies. Honestly, I thought that I was going to melt or just spontaneously combust on the pavement.

Shopping in Tokyo has to be the best in the world. I hit Forever21 first to grab a few nice things and was glad that I got there early(ish) as when I left at about noon, there was a massive crowd queueing to get in! I wandered in and out of a few places in Harajuku before ending up in Kiddyland, aka, Holly's-dream-land. Let me try to show you exactly why I loved (and my bank balance hated) this shop so much:


And that was just one small display on one of the six floors! Needless to say, I bought a lot of Hello Kitty related paraphernelia, as well as countless other charater-branded stuff. Happy face!

I then headed towards Jingu-bashi, where all the cool kids hang out on Sundays. Or at least they're meant to. There weren't that many dressed up teens hanging about (it was absolutely boiling...) and not all of them were happy for me to take photos of them. (At least I asked! Lots of people just snapped away like they were visiting the zoo.) Here are the happy few who laughed at my attempts to ask for their permission in Japanese:

I then walked down to Shibuya, got lost in a department store and then made a bee-line for Shibuya 109 - the place to shop for the latest Tokyo trends. It's amazing: nine floors of concessions, each with it's own distinct style of clothing and music blaring from huge speakers. The shop assistants are dressed from head to toe in whatever mini-shop they're working for sells and were often standing at the entrance, shouting about what's on sale or better than the next door shop. It was shopping like I'd never experienced before - hundreds of concessions, hundreds of immaculately-styled Shibuya girls, shouting, overlapping dance tracks from neighbouring shops, squeezed into a building that's not quite big enough for it all - I loved it! I got myself one of those little straw trilbys too :)

By the time I left there it had been dark for some time and my feet were about to mutiny, so I dived into the first ramen joint I could find and then got the train home. The chashu-ramen (char sui pork and noodles) was delicious and tasted even better because I had ordered it from a vending machine! I kid you not. The machine is just at the entrance to the shop:

I put in my money, made my selection, took my ticket (the order is sent to the kitchen) and then joined the queue for a seat. Here's what I got; not bad for a meal from a vending machine!

Curiouser and curiouser

Saturday was so surreal. I went to the St Andrews Society's Summer BBQ and Ceilidh in the afternoon, not really knowing what to expect, and had a fantastic time. It was held in the embassy, which automatically made it feel like I was in the UK. Add to that multiple saltire and lion rampant flags, as well as guys wearing kilts, and it really didn't feel like I was still in Tokyo! The afternoon's entertainment kicked off with a performance from the embassy's taiko drummers:

I got involved in the action too:

This was the start of the weird series of events. The music and the drums were Japanese, but the majority of the players were British employees at the embassy. The next act was a pipe band - all Scottish events need at least one piper! Although the members of this pipe band were all Japanese!

It was very odd to be standing in Tokyo, listening to an (amazing!) all-Japanese pipe band playing Highland Cathedral, with the noise of cicadas in the background. It felt like I was at home and very far away at the same time.

Everyone there waas lovely and out to have a good time. This lead to a very succesful ceilidh! I wasn't so sure how it would work out, but every got the jist eventually! I also got to meet up with my guarantor, Stephen, and one of last year's Saltire Interns, Zach.

After the ceilidh finished, us three and some others headed off for karaoke - my first time ever! It was such a good laugh, I can't wait to do it again some time soon!

It was exactly like the karaoke shown in 'Lost In Transalation' - we got taken to our own little booth where we picked the songs and then sang along to the words on a big tv screen. Hilarious.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Two weeks in

It's scary to think that I'm already a quarter of the way through my internship; it feels like I only just got here! My last day at the CDS desk was pretty good - it's been a quiet week, giving me time to learn lots. The desk manager spent an hour today going over the structure of a securities company and other financial institutions, which really helped me see where the various specialities fit in. It also helped put the work I've been doing for the last two weeks into perspective. I don't think it was his intention, but it also made me make some decisions about my future, i.e. if I do decide to go into finance when I graduate I:
a) Am never being an investment banker ("those guys don't ever sleep, but you get used to it I suppose").
b) Am working in Tokyo as the environment here is a lot less hectic than in the City or in NY - the stock exchange even closes for lunch!
c) Would probably lean towards trading, with the aim of one day becoming a hedge fund manager. They earn eye-watering sums of money for being very good at what they do (or at least they should be good at it...).
Although I've not experienced working in research, structures or exotics yet, so I can't tell which sector I prefer just now.

We got in a massive amount of Burger King for lunch today. Upset at it not being Japanese food again, I ordered the 'teriyaki burger', which turned out to be brilliant! In retrospect, I probably should have ordered the new Japanese limited edition 'Angry Burger'. (Check out the website, it's hilarious.)

I went to my first conveyor-belt sushi restaurant for tea after work! I'd asked one of my colleagues where the nearest one was - turned out there was a cheap and cheerful place within Tokyo station, just next to the office.

I had nigiri with seared maguro (tuna), ebi (prawn) and unagi (eel) and also some tuna maki. The plates were colour coded for price and you just stack them up and ask for the bill. This is where I got excited - the waitress came over with an electronic scanner and scanned my stack of plates! The handheld machine then worked out how many of each price were in the stack and printed out the bill for me to take to the cash desk - awesome!

Living here is like being a time traveller - I am constantly fascinated by the technology and it honestly feels like I'm living about 10 years in the future. Everything is automatic, there are vending machines on every street and most electronic devices talk to you in Japanese - the moving walkways in Narita warned you that they were about to end when they sensed you going past. My washing machine is amazing in that it is almost completely silent and doesn't move at all. I know that sounds a bit sad to have noticed that, but seriously, how does it not make any noise or shake about when the spin cycle is running?!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

I'm such a pie

Half of what I write here is about food! When ever I go on holiday with my family, all we do is go out to eat and then take photos of the food. So I have a reputation to maintain whilst I'm in Japan; I couldn't let my family down.

Here is yesterday's lunch:

It was a pot of rice, topped with chopped spring onions (negi) and thinly sliced pork that had been boiled with ginger and onions. It was so tasty! The wee chain that sells it is apparently quite famous as they specially import the spring onions from Kyoto. I was told that the negi is the best in Japan - I'd go as far as to say the best in the world, it was that good.

I'd snacked all evening at the embassy so on my way home I picked up a few wee things to tide me over until I woke up for breakfast:

The wee dish of chopped raw vegetables was too cute to say no to (they turned out to have been generously doused in vinegar, which I strongly dislike, so were basically inedible...) and a salmon-filled o-nigiri were exactly what I needed.

The credit desk all got treated to Indian take-out for lunch today, courtesy of one of the brokers they deal through. It wasn't as good as Indian food at home, but very tasty (and free!) all the same. We'd ordered enough to feed a small army, so I decided to get a bento for my tea as I was too full to eat out.

It consisted of rice, a big fillet of salty salmon, pickles, aubergine and a bit of fried chicken. Hidden under the salmon were some pickled vegetables of some sort, a bit of tamago (Japanese omelette), a mushroom and a bit of lotus root (renkon).

I got all of this from little take-out stands or foodhalls underneath all the buildings in the financial district. There is so much to choose from and it's all so cheap! Lunch times are NEVER going to be boring :)

Och Aye

Yesterday was so surreal. Unfortunately, it absolutely poured with rain all morning and afternoon, so we couldn't see the eclipse at all. And because it was only a partial eclipse in Tokyo, it didn't even get any darker than it already was. Sad face...

John Swinney (the Cabinet Secretary for finance and sustainable growth, in the Scottish Parliament) and his entourage tipped up at the office just after 12.00. My line manager, the main boss and myself chatted with them all for a bit and posed for numerous photos infront of RBS logos. They were a really nice bunch! I was mainly answering questions like, "How did you end up working in Tokyo?", and, "How are you enjoying it so far?", so it was a good opportunity to big up the SaltireFoundation - the other, secret aim of my internship. They then went off to lunch and I went back to work.

After work, I headed straight for the British Embassy, which is on the other side of the Imperial Palace Gardens. I actually walked the whole way around the back of the embassy, thinking that it was the park - it is huge and has massive gardens. The site is so big that there are houses inside for the ambassadors. It was really weird walking in as it really is a little Britain in the centre of Tokyo - all the buildings are Georgian, there are roses in the gardens and Land Rovers parked in the driveways. The reception itself was actually held in one of the houses, rather than the main embassy building. John Swinney gave a nice wee speech (he said "alliance" an awful lot though...), as did Stephen Baker (my guarantor) and one of the Japanese heads of Suntory.

It was after the speeches that the networking really kicked-off. I made some brilliant contacts, including one guy from the British Chamber of Commerce, who promised to help me find work if I decided to move to Tokyo in the future! Result. I also realised just how small the world is. One guy I was talking to had sent his daughter to Mary Erskine's (my old school!) while they were living in Edinburgh for a bit. I was later introduced to a girl who had graduated from St Andrews in 2006 (international relations) and then gone on to work in the embassy here. Then, someone dragged over this unsuspecting Japanese man as it turned out that his daughter has just finished her first year of physics at St Andrews - crazy!

It was a lovely evening, full of surprises, and I've now been invited back to the embassy for a barbeque and ceilidh on Saturday. Hopefully this will give me a chance to meet even more people who live in Tokyo and make some more friends - most evenings I feel like a bit of a norman! There acually seem to be more 'Scottish' events here in Tokyo than at home! The St Andrews Society runs bbqs, ceilidhs, Burns suppers, Highland games and other events all year - last year 1500 people turned up for the summer Highland games and 500 went to the Burns supper. I don't think I've ever even been to a Burns supper... The Japanese people who attended probably know a lot more about Rabbie Burns than I do! How strange to encounter all this thousands of miles away from Bonnie Scotland.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Derivatives and diplomats

One week of work down, a lot still to learn. I'm spending this week with the 'credit' guys. Today I was sitting with the two guys who trade Japanese credit derivative swaps (CDS). Basically, CDSs provide insurance against the company you've invested in going bust and are used for hedging large investments. Today was a very slow day though, which was quite good for me as it meant everybody had lots of time to talk. It was also the first day that it's rained whilst I've been here and I actually felt a bit cold outside - I must be getting acclimatised to the heat!

Working with a new group of people means that I've been introduced to new places to get lunch :) This is a bit of a disaster as, to get to the new food hall (which is beyond fantastic!), I have to walk past a Hello Kitty shop, a Domo-Kun shop, a Doraemon shop and a shop that sells the edamame-bean-with-a-dog's-face-and-ears character stuff! I am going to be financially ruined by the end of the week! I then have far too many choices for lunch - today I had a box with a variety of gyoza, siu-mai and other steamed/fried dim sum. I also went back and got a bento for my tea because I couldn't choose between the two at luchtime! Yum yum yum yum...

Tomorrow is going to be quite an exciting day for the following reasons:
1) Tokyo is one of the places you'll be able to see the partial solar eclipse. (!!! :D)
2) It's meant to rain really heavily and there may be a thunderstorm (which is crap news for #1, but I love lightning).
3) John Swinney MSP is coming round to the office and I've been called on to have my photo taken with him as the 'Saltire Intern'. Woop woop.
4) I'm then going to a reception with John Swinney and others at the British Embassy in the evening. I hope they have good food...

Monday, 20 July 2009

Holly's weekend of adventure - Day 3

Happy Marine Day! No idea why it's called that but it means I got the day off work today! So to treat myself, I decided to sleep in before tromping off around Tokyo again.

Today was more slow paced than Saturday and Sunday, which was nice. I realised this morning that I don't need to try to cram everything in this weekend as I am here for two months and will have plenty of time for adventuring. I headed over to Ueno-koen (Ueno park) again, around noon-ish, and spent most of the afternoon there wandering around. I saw all the diffent shrines and did a lot of people watching too.

This temple had a brilliant tunnel of torii leading down steps to it.

And had stone foxes, wearing bibs, standing guard at various points.

The biggest and most impressive temple in the park was covered in scaffolding and tarpaulin - trust my luck! It's surroundings were pretty cool though - there are 52 huge copper lanterns leading up to the front, which are used to burn incense at certain ceremonies.

I also particularly liked the giant bronze Bhudda face. It fell off a massive statue which was destroyed during an earthquake - the surviving face was preserved by setting it into a wall and turning it into a shrine.

It was when I was walking around Ueno-keon that I saw my first homeless person. A lot of homeless people in fact. I'll have to check with some people at work, but it seems that homeless people are allowed to live in the parks in Tokyo and not anywhere else. They don't beg at all and seem to actually have 'jobs'. What I mean is, they collect rubbish and separate recyclables and then take it all to larger rubbish collection areas within the park itself. Also I saw a few guys sweeping up leaves from the paths that lead up to the shrines. I don't know whether they actually get paid for doing this, or maybe it's in return for this that they are allowed to stay in the park. I'll have to find out as I've never seen a homeless person on the street yet.

Now, at home, you might go to the park at the weekend and feed the ducks in the pond. In Tokyo, you can wander over to the lily pond (which has a beautiful temple sitting in the centre) and feed the huge black and gold koi carp and the terapins - how much cooler is that?!

Once I'd fully explored the park, I hopped on the train to Roppongi and checked out the new Roppongi Hills complex. I dotted in and out of a few shops but they were all brands that I could get at home for a fraction of the price. For example, I looked at a nice jumper in the Diesel store that would have cost about £80 in Edinburgh and was priced at 45,000 yen - around £300! When I go shopping here, I think I'll stick to brands that I can't find elsewhere! I then headed up to the 52nd floor of the Mori Tower, to the 'Tokyo City View Observation Deck'.

This glass-walled atrium has 360-degree views of the city and was brilliant.

I spent ages up there, so long in fact that I got day-time and night-time views!

Up at the top is also a massive art installation space that is currently home to the 'Sky Aquarium'. Think modern art meets deep sea world, on psychedelic drugs. All in the dark and surrounded by mirrored walls are individual aquariums designed by various artists; giant tanks filled with jellyfish, which are illuminated by a laser light show; tiered tanks with water cascading into the next tank down, each with a different type of goldfish and huge gemstone shaped tanks filled with tropical fish. It was truly magical.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Holly's weekend of adventure - Day 2

I am knackered. And FAR TOO HOT! Being a tourist in 34 degrees with 40% humidity in some of the busiest areas of Tokyo really takes it out of you... So this post will be short and sweet as I desperately need to go to bed if I'm going to make it out and about all day tomorrow too - I'll need another weekend to recover from this weekend!

Met up with a guy who works for RBS in Singapore today and spent the day walking around with him and his two kids. We dotted in and out of shops in Harajuku and Shibuya before heading to Akihabara to meet one of the guys who works for RBS here and his kids. And guess what I spotted in a shop window in Shibuya:

That's right, it's A CUBIC WATERMELON!!!! And it's an absolute steal at £100...

We all endured the heat until about 4, at which point we all headed our separate ways to shower and relax for a bit. I then met up with them later on at another colleagues house for dinner. His flat is on the 15th floor of the Moto Azubu Hills building - an amazing new tower in Roppongi with outstanding views over the whole of the south-east of Toyko, towards Yokohama. The flat was stunning (I still haven't got over how amazing his view is!) and the food was delicious.The conversation was pretty enlightening too - those guys really hate Sir Fred! One of them actually told everyone what a joke he thought Goodwin was a few years back, but just got laughed at. They're not laughing so much now... Honestly, they think Goodwin should be in prison for what he did and I couldn't help but agree with them on that one. Some of the stories they told me about him were hilarious, and not in a good way!

I'm going to have to head back to Harajuku and Shibuya next Sunday as, because I was with other people (one of whom is a potential employer...), I felt obliged to do what they wanted and didn't manage to go to half the shops I wanted to or check out the Harajuku girls!! The Shibuya girls are amazing too but for different reasons: they are ridiculously beautiful and have amazing style. Almost every second girl is wearing a straw trilby at the moment and I'm so going to have to get one too! I love Japanese girls' dress sense; they all look so glamourous compared to people my age at home.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Holly's weekend of adventure - Day 1

Wow I achieved a lot today! And took a ridiculous number of photos to document it - I actually am turning Japanese...

Set my alarm for 3.45am (!) and headed to straight to Tsukiji Market. This is the world's largest fish and seafood market and has a massive fruit & veg market on-site too. I spent the whole time I was there trying to avoid being run over - all the produce is moved around the tiny spaces between stalls by men driving these weird carts, that are a cross between a forklift truck and a dodgem.

The famous frozen tuna auction started at 5.30 but the hall it's held in filled up with traders and wholesalers from about 5.00. The traders are trying to show off their fish and cut knicks in the tail to allow the wholesalers to inspect the underlying flesh. Men in blue boiler suits paced around inspecting the fish and occassionally stabbed into the flesh with big hooks to test it in some way or another.

The auction itself kicked off with the ringing off bells to signal the start and, after that, I had absolutely no idea what happened! The auctioneer shouted a jumble of numbers in no particular order and the odd person made a very discrete hand signal. How they kept track of who was bidding and for how much I'll never know...

After the auction, I spent about an hour wandering around the fish and seafood bit (I don't even think I managed to see it all!), testing my new camera out in the warren of stalls and piled up polystyrene boxes. The variety of seafood for sale was staggering - most of the shellfish I had never seen before and some things I couldn't even work out if they were a fish, shellfish, animal, vegetable or just some lumpy rock! I did spot quite a few things that I have so far consumed in sushi... Everything seemed to be available in three forms: alive, dead or frozen. Quite a lot of the alive stock was actively trying to escape! The one type of fish that dominates, though, is tuna. It's everywhere.

There are huge electric saws for cutting the frozen stuff and then the guys that deal with the fresh version basically use Samurai swords to cut it up.

There is also someone who is employed with the sole purpose of feeding massive blocks of ice into a machine that chips it.

After pacing around the fish, I made my way over to check out the vegetables and stumbled upon the vegetable auction. This was even more confusing than the tuna one! There were about 6 different items being auctioned off simultaneously and the patter and signalling was even more obscure.

Obviously, I had to try some of what is on offer, so I headed over to Daiwa Sushi for breakfast. Included in the market complex are a number of sushi joints that specialise in the tuna that comes straight from the auctions. For my breakfast (it was now 8.30) I tred 4 different types of nigiri - tuna, fatty tuna belly (apparently a delicacy), yellow tail (?!) and prawn.

It was the best sushi I've ever had! I then headed back home to shower the fish-smell off and take a nap. Post-nap, I headed up to Asakusa to do some temple-hopping.

The whole area is a fantastic combination of gorgeous temples and shrines with stunning gardens and streets filled with shops and stalls that sell local food, clothes and trinkets. There is lots of reasonably priced traditional Japanese yukatas and geta for sale, as well as fans, parasols and lanterns.

I'm going to have to go back and get myself properly kitted out! It was really good to see lots of locals walking around in their yukatas - the women all looked so beautiful.

I even walked past two dogs who were dressed in full Japanese gear! Kawaii!

For tea, I popped into a wee restaurant on one of the side streets and devoured some tore karaage (fried chicken bits), edamame beans and cucumber with dip.

I headed to Ueno to go to the big park there that has some great temples. When I got out the station, I walked straight into the middle of a parade and couldn't cross the road to get to the park! Eventually, they let people cross when there was a big enough gap, but in the meantime I got to watch local dance and music groups strut their stuff. It was glad to stumble upon what was quite a big event. It did mean that by the time I walked to the temples, they were all closed, but Ueno park in the twilight was very picturesque anyway and the temples looked good from the outside! I'll have to go back and explore some more.