Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Free Lunch

In Small Adventures #24, I mentioned how I'd gotten a phonecall out of the blue for a one-day job to playtest a city guide walking tour brochure. The company making the brochure, a bank, contacted me in email several times to make sure I'd be participating, and to announce changes to the planned start and stop times. On Feb. 2nd, I went to a rental meeting space at a hotel annex near the main train station at just before 11 AM. There were 20 participants, mostly from China and the Philippines, and maybe 10 supporting staff from the bank. 3 of the Filipinos were people I knew from the Japanese language classes at the International Exchange Center (one of them knew the organizer, and had been participating in this kind of seminar in the previous 2 times that the bank had conducted it). At the start time, the organizer welcomed the group, spelled out the rules, and explained the purpose of the event. In essence, the bank had created a city tour map, in English, Chinese and Korean, and sold ad space to about 20 restaurants in the Tenmonkan shopping complex and around the train station. Our jobs were to visit the various sightseeing spots marked on the map, and to take lunch at one of the restaurants. To avoid everyone visiting the exact same locations in one big pack, we were ordered to travel separately and not double up on the restaurants.



The map had the eateries divided up by food types, and I wanted to try the Kagoshima chicken, which was at one specific place at the farthest east end of the map. I'd seen most of the sights highlighted, but there was a "brand shop" at the opposite north end of the map down by city hall that I hadn't known about. We were given from 11:30 to 1:45 to visit as many places as we wanted, as well as having the lunch break. After that, we'd get together again at a different meeting room in a building within Tenmonkan, for debriefing. The payment for this was 8000 yen ($96 USD) minus income tax, and it was to be applied to the meal, so we got the money up front. I started out by going over to an open air market I also hadn't known about, located a few blocks southeast of the station, crossed over the Kotsuki river at the main tourist information center, walked past the Meiji Restoration Museum, and then went the 6 blocks to my restaurant (Zino). The brochure had indicated that lunch was 700 yen, but in fact the meals were between 900 and 1800. I decided on a sliced chicken sizzling platter for 1100 yen, ($13 USD) accompanied by a salad, soup, rice and a cup of coffee at the end. After adding a little salt and pepper, the chicken turned out really well, and the coffee wasn't bad either. Compared to the U.S., the serving size was on the small size, but it was just about enough for me at the time. When I was finished, I had 45 minutes left, so I set out for the brand shop. The brochure indicated that I could watch some of the local products being made (shochu or satsuma-age), but when I got there all I could see was a souvenir shop, and a display of shochu bottles. I returned to Tenmonkan and got to the second meeting point with a couple of minutes to spare. The wind-down consisted of filling out a survey, and then giving our impressions to the support staff. We finished at 4 PM, and me and the 3 other people I knew walked the 50 feet over to another shop to buy fresh doughnuts (made in the shop) for 70 yen apiece. The doughnuts were excellent, and I'm inclined to go back and get another occasionally when I'm in the area, which happens 2-4 times a week.



So, for about 6 hours of doing very little other than walking 2 miles, I got a good meal and about $60. I spent another $10 getting souvenir snacks (a bag of shaved dried fish, and some candied pear slices) at the open air market. Not bad. If the bank decides to do seminar #4 in the future, I hope they contact me.

Mini-Small Adventure: The day before (Feb. 1) my Japanese language class had a special event at the Maruya Gardens department store in Tenmonkan, where the International Exchange Center set up a discussion on family-raising in Japan, and had invited Japanese and foreigners living in the city. There were about 50 people total, and the discussion ran from 10:30 AM to noon. After that, we broke up into groups of 2-3 to give the Japanese visitors a chance to talk to a foreigner. The woman I talked to had mentioned that Kagoshima does get a little snow every year, and my comment was that I didn't think it was going to happen at all this year. At best, the crown of the volcano might turn white, but that would be it. That afternoon, there was a light drizzle that lasted until night. I was thinking that this would make for a miserable walk during the brochure playtest. Actually, the entire walkthrough described above occurred during a light snow fall that was still coming down when I returned home at 5 PM. Silly me.

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