Monday, December 31, 2012

The View

I had the day to myself (only five work emails!) and caught up with laundry, grocery shopping, and other chores.  I didn't go out for a long walk as I'd hoped because my sneakers were still drying out after last night's umbrella malfunction in the middle of a torrential downpour, but I was able to enjoy a little sunshine from the apartment.  This is what my view looks like:

To the Right
(Reminds me of LA!)
(Note the elevated expressway.)
To the Left
(Finally, some blue sky!)
Our views at the office are better (Mt. Fuji, Imperial Palace, etc.), but I don't enjoy them often because I have an interior office.  I need to remember to take a break every once and a while and walk by some of the exterior windows.

Happy New Year's Eve!

Saturday, December 29, 2012


Since arriving in Tokyo at the end of October, I've eliminated 10% of my remaining student loan debt.  Ironic, given that Tokyo is a famously expensive city, but a COLA and free housing make all the difference.  Glad I was aggressive enough to give up my apartment at home and nearly all of my reoccurring expenses.  (iPhone, I miss you!)  Every.  Dollar.  (Yen?)  Counts.

Since graduation, I have paid the minimum payment on my student loans and car loan, maxed out my 401(k) contributions, made a modest contribution to savings, and funneled all remaining cash at month-end to another financial obligation which, happily, was met in full just before I took off for Tokyo.  It is a great feeling to direct my month-end cash to student loan repayment instead.

The relief I feel when paying off a loan in full makes me realize how much my student loans weigh on me on a day-to-day basis.  This from someone who had modest scholarships from both her grad programs, worked part-time every semester, and got lucky with a high-end salary after graduation!  It could be so much worse... I have been incredibly fortunate, but still find my student loans influencing even the smallest decisions in my day-to-day life.

The extra payments I'll be able to make while I'm here will take years off of my loan repayment.  Years.  That's one of the things I think about when I'm feeling homesick.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas in the Office

Christmas may not be an official holiday in Japan, but folks around here do get into the spirit.  Check out the Christmas tree that was in the lobby of our office building:

Missing my iPhone. This was taken by a Blackberry.
I saw trees like this one at the swanky apartment building near the station.  The ANA Intercontinental had a "tree" made of poinsettias that was really cool.  Tokyo Midtown had a "tree" made of ornaments strung on transparent cord.  But I ended up with only one picture.  The American in me assumed that once the crazy push at the office subsided, I would have time to walk around and enjoy the decorations. Leave it to the Japanese to have all the trees taken down by the time I left the office on Christmas Day (11:30pm, for those keeping track)!

The good news is that the firm kept me so busy, I didn't have time to feel lonely or homesick on Christmas.  The bad news is that I worked through the night on my birthday (except that one hour nap... on the floor), did the same on Christmas Eve (which is a day off here--its the Emperor's birthday), and worked a full day on Christmas.

Second year in a row working past midnight on my birthday.
Second year in a row working on Christmas.

Not the end of the world given that I'm out here by myself, but I can't imagine what it feels like to find yourself doing the same with a spouse and kids at home.  And even for someone who doesn't have a spouse or child, I think working two Christmases in a row is enough.  Next year, it's my turn to have the day off.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Between my upcoming birthday and the end of the year, I've been thinking a lot about the past--reflecting on a few areas of my life that haven't been going well for a long time.  I noticed that I'd been humming Gravity by Sara Bareilles on and off all day and then connected the dots.  This is a favorite piece of choreography from SYTYCD and expresses what I've been thinking and feeling.

The choreographer intended the piece to tell a story about drug addiction, but I think it applies to any influence that pulls you in to a dark place when you let your guard down.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Little Brother Got Engaged

Heard about it via email from parent.  They've been dating a year and a couple months... have only met her once (thanks to living in Tokyo).  Happy for them!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Card

Took a break from work today to walk through some of the shops in our building and happened upon this cute pop-up card that made me smile:

Note the second Santa from the left who has had too many beers!
Christmas isn't a real holiday in Japan--we don't get the day off work--but the "holiday" is certainly acknowledged in the commercial sense.  I'm noticing Christmas music frequently in Roppongi Hills (admittedly, an expat area) and there are a number of beautifully decorated Christmas trees around town.  I'm going to try to carry my camera the next couple of weeks so that I can snap a few pictures to share.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

When I Get Back...

Even though I've been in Tokyo just two months, I've been thinking a lot about what life will be like when I get back to the US.  There's nothing like being far, far away to bring your likes into sharp contrast with your dislikes.  It also seems easier to focus on what I want and feel less guilty about giving up on things or people who have been keeping me from making my life what I want it to be.

I will return to the US the week of my 10 year college reunion.  I will be two months shy of my 33rd birthday and just about done with my third year at the firm.  I will still have some student loans (but will be way ahead of where I once thought I would be).  My car will be paid off.  All of my belongings will still be in a storage unit.  I will be able to choose a new place to live in LA or an entirely new city to live in.  It's an opportunity to get started on the right foot.

First, I am going to give the dogs a big snuggle.  I miss them so very much already.

Second, I'm going to my reunion come hell or high water.  I missed my 5th year because I was worried about money and missing class and have regretted it since.  I want to see the familiar faces.  I want to walk aimlessly around campus.  I want to go to the football game and shake my head at how young the cheerleaders look.  I want to be inspired by the amazing things my friends have been up to in the last decade.

Third, I'm going to take at least three weeks off of work.  Based on the pace of work here, I suspect I will have more than met our annual requirement by the time I leave Tokyo; and, during the transition between offices, I am not likely to be assigned to any deals.  Given that I haven't taken a vacation since joining the firm and don't expect to be able to do so this year, it will be about time for some time off (not to mention that I'm about to reach our vacation cap and stop accruing time). I hope I can spend most of that time in Austin.

Fourth, I am going to live where I want to live.  Not where the firm wants me to live.  Not where a boyfriend (or a boyfriend's ex-wife) wants me to live.  Where I want to live.  In a place that feels safe.  In a neighborhood that's at least a little bit walkable.  In a location with access to a grocery store with a nice produce selection.  In an apartment/condo/whatever that gets some natural light.  Most of all, in a place where I can stay for more than a year.

Fifth, I am going to stop waiting to get married to live my life.  I promise to stop feeling like a second class citizen because no one has chosen me.  (It kinda feels like being the leftover kid who doesn't get picked for a team, except that it's not P.E., it's life!)  The vacation I've been "saving" for a honeymoon one day--I'm going to take it.  During the holidays, I'm going to get a little Christmas tree, decorate, and make some Christmas cookies even thought it's "just me."  I am going to live in a place I like instead of living in a place that makes me uncomfortable just to save money to impress Ben with how financially responsible I've been.

Sixth, I am going to decide if I want to be a mom badly enough to go it alone.  I have been thinking about this for a long time already, but have a lot of unresolved practical concerns.  Is it fair to the baby?  Can I build a strong enough network that a baby who would have no siblings and no dad would still feel like he/she had a "family" of some sort?  Who would take care of the baby if I die sooner than I'd like to think I should? I have spent a lot of time waiting for Ben to propose so that we can start a family together. He keeps telling me he wants to get married, but nothing happens and I don't understand why that is. This is why I think I need to face the possibility of moving on all on my own.

And, seventh, I'm going to try to take some more pride in who I am.  Today, as I stepped into the elevator at the office, I looked at my reflection (who thinks it's a good idea to mirror every surface of an elevator and then lights the space with harsh fluorescents?) and felt... deflated? sad? embarrassed?  From my hair, to my glasses, to my makeup, to the clothes I was wearing--I looked like a person who has given up.  And I think, in real life (when I'm not giving myself a blog-based pep talk), the way I talk about myself has changed and my assessment of my self-worth has changed too.

I've missed out on some opportunities and milestones, but it's far too early to give up.  I am more than my job.  Just because structural problems have made it hard for me to bill "enough" hours the last couple years, does not mean that I am failing as a person.  Just because I feel invisible in Tokyo, doesn't mean I'm ugly and completely unattractive.  I'm not married because I stayed committed to relationships that weren't working way longer than I should have, not because I have nothing to offer.  I want to stop making things harder than they need to be.

In 2012, the best thing I did for myself was return to the dance studio.  It gave me something to look forward to, a way to make some new friends, a reminder that there is at least one thing that comes relatively easy to me, and an excuse to dress up and feel pretty for a few hours.  I still sometimes feel guilty about the time and money I spent on dance this year, but on balance I think it was, hands down, the best thing that I did for my well-being in 2012.

Friday, December 14, 2012


Because of the holidays, because I'm an ocean away from my family and friends, because of my stark temporary apartment, because I'll be working on Christmas, because I'm not married and don't have any kids, because I'm lonely... all the holiday photos in my newsfeed are making me burst into tears.  Starting my own family and creating our own holiday traditions... it's something I've wanted for a long time, but, now, I can feel it slipping through my fingers in a way that's too real.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Pep Talk to Self

This morning, I woke up wearing the clothes I'd worn at work the day before.  I was sitting up, on the couch in my temporary apartment, with my laptop and notes in my lap, and a pen in my hand.  The timer on our billing software was still running.  I had a terrible headache and a stiff neck.

(I'm just glad I got to come home and--against my will, apparently--got some sleep.)

This is the sort of thing that would be tough at home.  I'd be missing the dogs or fuming about canceling a dance class.  I'd be wanting Ben to come visit, but worried I couldn't invite him because work was too busy.  But I'm here to work, to catch up, to grow my deal sheet and cram in as much drafting as I can.

Here, there are no distractions.  I don't even have to wash my own dishes--the housekeeper, who comes two times a week as part of the serviced apartment contract, does that.  Seriously, you guys, it's a bizarre, one-dimensional existence.  I know (and hope!) it will never be like this again.

I gave up a year of my personal life to collect the bargaining chips I'll need to correct course and land in the right city and job to allow for a full, well-rounded life when I get home.  Odds are in my favor so far.  I'm getting exposure and experience and I'm learning.  It feels great to check agreement types off of my drafting to-do list (this week alone: shareholders agreement, share subscription agreement, general release, cause marketing vendor contract, and diligence memorandum).  I'm also getting "paid" more while I'm here (the firm provides the serviced apartment and a COLA), which is allowing me to prepare financially for settling down when I get back to the US.

With my birthday and Christmas coming up, I will need to read and re-read this post to keep myself from descending into that dark and ugly place of self-pity that seems to be just around the corner at any given time.  I'll be here for the holidays and my birthday.  I will be missing my family and friends and American holiday traditions.  It will be sad and lonely.  But I have got to keep it together and remember that every day I'm here, I'm gaining more control over my future.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Shaking Things Up

We had a few earthquakes this week. At or before 6am, I noticed an earthquake too big to be just my imagination as I was running a redline and trying to get a document emailed out to another associate after working through the night. Later, at about 5:30pm, there was a 7.2M quake. The quake was long enough for me to log on to social media to post about it, instant message with a number of co-workers, think about getting under my desk, decide not to get under my desk, and start working again all before the quake ended. (This was much less scary than the March 2011 earthquake that I experienced from the same floor of the the same office building.) Our building kept moving for 17 minutes after the quake was over.

Also, this week, was my review. Given my own frustrations with how things have been going at work, the firm's evaluation of me was much more positive than I expected. I was evaluated as exceeding expectations in a number of categories, particularly business development (the whole bringing in a client as a 2nd year thing was a stroke of luck, really, but they appreciated it). Happily, I will move on to the next salary level in 2013--my first ever raise at a full-time job. (In fairness, this sort of salary bump is relatively automatic in a firm like ours, but since I did not receive a salary bump last year because the group didn't have enough work, I am particularly happy to progress to the next level.)

Speaking of work, I had a tough week trying to balance five different major projects plus three minor projects. I don't think I did a job of keep the senior folks on all the major projects aware of the competing deadlines and, as a result, didn't sleep a couple of nights in a row and felt like my work product wasn't up to standard. Coming from a much slower office, this is the first time I've experienced this--really need to do a better job managing my work.

One of the major challenges is working with people in too many time zones. I've worked on cross-border deals before, but those deals have included just one overseas jurisdiction and it was relatively easy to adjust my work and sleep schedule accordingly. For the last month and a half, I've been working simultaneously with counterparts across the US, Latin America, Asia, Southeast Asia, and Europe. Someone is always awake and emailing you. In order to keep the project moving forward, it's very tempting to stay up "just a few more hours" to make progress with local counsel in jurisdiction X. What a slippery slope!

Growing pains, really, that's what it is. Still, I want to do better!

There is nothing other than work going on. I'm okay with that because my goal for my year in Tokyo is to develop and get "catch up" experience, but this wouldn't be how I would want to live indefinitely. I miss my family and friends, and I miss having a well-rounded life (dancing!).

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Texas BBQ in Tokyo

On Saturday night, I went out to White Smoke for Texas BBQ in Azabu.  I was skeptical, but pleasantly surprised.  They have a smoker on their first floor and the meat was on par with County Line or Salt Lick (well-known Texas BBQ joints I frequented when I lived in Austin, Texas).  White Smoke has room for improvement when it comes to the sides--cornbread and biscuits could definitely be better (both were dry and the biscuits were downright hard).  But they have the pecan pie down!  I had a taste of a friend's slice and was surprised by the generous quantity and great taste of the toasted pecans.

I have been having some trouble with my appetite since I moved to Tokyo and just haven't been eating much.  Saturday night was the first time in a long time that I left a meal feeling completely satisfied!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

What was Thanksgiving Like in Tokyo?

Thursday was not a holiday in Japan.  My American firm did not give us the day off, but they did cater a lunch that included turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, and little pumpkin pie squares.  It was nice of the firm to do this... I was missing my family and our traditional Thanksgiving a lot that day.

Friday was a Labor Day holiday in Japan so our office was closed.  One of the associates coordinated a pot luck for the unmarried associates.  He made the turkey--which was great because turkey can be hard to find and many of the ovens, if you even have one, aren't large enough to cook a turkey.  I broke in my kitchen by cooking up some creamed corn (the real adventure was in shopping for the ingredients).  Dinner was tasty and it was nice to have company.

I heard from a kiwi that I met in Japanese class that the Japanese expect all white people to celebrate Thanksgiving even though it's really just an American and Canadian holiday.  He seemed a bit put off that his Japanese friends were continually asking him what he would be doing for Thanksgiving.  So, there is an awareness of Thanksgiving here, but I didn't see any decorations or explicit acknowledgement of it.

One Month Down

I've been in Tokyo for more than a month now. I miss my family, Ben and California a lot and, most of the time, have no idea how I'll stick around until next October... so I'm trying to take things day by day and stay focused on why I'm here.

My main goals are to get substantive experience at work and improve my financial circumstances in order to give me more (job) market power and flexibility when I get home.  Happily, there's been some progress on this front.

This month, I've been participating in drafting a shareholders agreement for a cross-border joint venture in addition to the usual ancillary document and signature page management.  I'm trying to get the opportunity to do as much drafting as possible while I'm here (at home the only drafting I've been getting is on pro bono projects).  So, I'll count this a success.

On the financial front, I paid off another student loan and made a larger contribution to my savings than usual.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


People in the office have been talking about how great Kyoto is this time of year.  What's the big deal?  The foliage.  Seriously, there's even a foliage report.  A couple of friends from my summer class at Beach City office are also in Tokyo at the moment.  Wanting to make the most of our time in Japan, we hopped on the shinkansen (bullet train) Saturday morning and arrived in Kyoto a couple of hours later.

Because it was pouring down rain, our planned outdoor sightseeing was on hold.  We got some ramen for lunch and checked into our hotel, which came with pajamas (this reminds me to mention that the gym at my apartment loans out workout clothes... not that I've taken them up on it).  Then we did some shopping, had a Kyoto-style dinner (lots of vegetables), and turned in for the night.

The sun was shining this morning, so we were able to hop in a cab to Kiyomizu-dera, a temple that has a nice, official website here.  The walk up to the temple was crowded with people and gift shops.  We saw lots of young women and girls in kimonos, but weren't sure why.

Hello Kitty in Kyoto

Autumn Colors
Next, we walked about aimlessly for awhile (hadn't had time to plan during the work-week), found a few additional World Heritage Sites and saw three geishas walking down the street before catching another cab to Nijo castle.  Inside Ninomaru palace, the rooms were overwhelmingly simple.  The aesthetic is just so different--while there were murals on the wall, there was no other furniture or decoration.  Such a contrast to Europe.  (No pictures allowed inside.)  We got a kick out of the nightingale floors that intentionally squeak in order to alert occupants to intruders, but the gardens were the highlight of this site for me.

I wish I had taken the time to do more research before we went to Kyoto, because I felt I wasn't fully appreciating much of what I saw.  

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Why am I in Japan?

This is a question I'm getting a lot, from all sorts of people.  There are a few reasons:
  • My "home office" told me that there were no projects in the pipeline that would require junior associate support for the next six months.
  • After spending nearly two years in two Southern California offices of my firm trying to best integrate myself in the workflow, but I feel like I have failed.  There are no other Southern California corporate associates in my class year or the one below me and I have been told (repeatedly) that it's not a problem with my work, it's a problem with the workflow and a problem of clients not wanting to pay for junior associates staffed on deals.  I couldn't think of anything else to do to try to improve the quality of my work experience from that location.
  • My lateral options have been diminished by the poor volume and variety of my work experience at the Southern California offices.  Staying longer would only put me further behind in terms of skill and chip away at my earning power (and more importantly, my ability to score an interesting and challenging job in the future).
  • The Tokyo corporate group was looking for extra hands at my level for about a year.  A year here will help me catch-up in terms of work experience.
  • In Tokyo, the firm pays for corporate housing and a per diem (a form of COLA), allowing me to dramatically accelerate my debt repayment and savings for a year.  This will give me more freedom when it's time to make the next career move.
Really, this opportunity was a lifeline as far as protecting the market value of my law degree is concerned.  Because I don't have a husband or kids (and Ben, my long-term boyfriend, apparently has no interest in getting engaged any time soon), I was in a unique position to jump on the opportunity.  I am thankful.  For the lifeline, for the job, for the ability to pay my bills.  And for the adventure.

But it's still pretty tough.  I don't speak Japanese.  I don't blend in.  I left my dogs, family and friends behind.  I miss Ben something fierce.  I am putting off any chance at getting married and having kids yet another year at a time when, frankly, I don't have much time left.  There is nothing wrong with Tokyo, it's just lonely.  Sure, I want to protect my earning potential, but I want to be settling down and starting a family.  I decided that because I had no immediate opportunity to do that, I would come to Tokyo.

I hope, when I look back at this decision years from now, that I feel like I made the right decision.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Pictures from the Competition

A couple of pictures from my last ballroom competition have arrived.

Per usual, seeing the photos is pretty eye-opening.  I have a pretty crazy amount of natural turnout, but you would never guess that from these photos.  Looking very pigeon-toed here!  Still nice to have this keepsake from a fun day :)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Day 13: Dinner and Drinks

In celebration of an attorney who is leaving the firm for a public interest job, some of the associates planned dinner and drinks and generously invited me to join in the fun.

We went to an Uyghur restaurant--apparently the only Uyghur restaurant in Tokyo--that was really fantastic.  The last time I had Uyghur food was in Xi'an, China, and I was so pleased by the relative cleanliness of the restaurant in Tokyo and the larger variety of foods on the menu (still lamb-based, of course).  We were also pleasantly surprised by the reasonable bill.

Afterwards, we caught a cab to Shinjuku's Golden Gai.  This area is a small series of alleyways bursting with even smaller bars--most packing in six to eight patrons at a time at most.  We finally found a bar with enough empty seats to accommodate us and hiked up the steepest set of tiny stairs I've ever seen.  I used the restroom at some point in the evening and had to turn sideways to get through the door.  It was eerily quiet in Golden Gai, by comparison to American bar districts, but it was nice to be able to sit down and talk instead of spending our whole night screaming and straining to hear one another.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Day 9: The Apartment

I registered at the Minato City Hall today (despite HR telling me it was the "Minato Ward Office" all signage refers to is as "Minato City Hall"). There was trepidation--imagine going to a DMV where you can't communicate with anyone!!! But it turned out to be misplaced. There are a lot of foreigners in Minato-ku and City Hall is prepared: they have some English forms and the lady at Window 4 (Resident Registration) spoke English well. They look at your passport, your Japanese visa, stamp the back of your residence card, and give you your welcome packet, which includes a 20 page Guidebook for Sorting Recyclables and Waste.  So many rules, you guys, so many rules.

Now that I'm officially settled in, I thought some of you might be interested in a virtual tour of my new digs.  It's stark, but much larger than I anticipated:

View from exterior door looking in, bathroom on the left.

High tech toilet!

For scale: I'm 5'1" and can barely extend my legs in the tub.

Light Switch

It's a microwave AND an oven.
It's comfortable.  I do miss the heated wood floors and re-circulating tub at the Oakwood in Roppongi, but the neighborhood here is much nicer by my taste.  Less solicitation, fewer screaming drunk chicks at night, and nicer outdoor spaces.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Day 8: Tokyo Tower

It was a rainy day and I got a slow start--laundry, phone calls home, and a delivery from Flying Pig.  To explain, Flying Pig delivers Costco goods to addresses in Japan.  I ordered laundry detergent and dryer sheets plus some grocery items to fill my box after a friend had a terrible experience with Japanese detergent ruining some of her clothes (maybe it was the machine, not the detergent?).  Everything I ordered was wrapped in a massive amount of cellophane:

This is pretty typical of my shopping experiences in Japan.  I picked up a bottle of Woolite from an "American Pharmacy" and this is how they wrapped it up before sending it home with me:

It keeps things tidy and clean, but just isn't very green.

Later in the day, I picked a nearby destination from my Lonely Planet city guide and headed towards the subway station.  (I am dedicated to seeing more of the city this time around!)  My pick was Tokyo Tower and, as expected, it's a total tourist trap.  Not worth visiting if you're in Tokyo for only a week or two.  The tower is modeled after the Eiffel Tower and was built in 1958.  It's painted orange and white in compliance with international aviation rules and was much more beautiful as day turned to night as it's nicely lit in the evenings.

Tokyo Tower
I had a look around the souvenir shops and found this treat:

Yum!  Octopus snack... well, at least I think that's what it is.
I plan to go back to Shiba-koen (I learned in Japanese class yesterday that koen means park) to see the Zojo Temple and will be back in the same neighborhood to register with the Minato ward office sometime next week.

On my way home, I happened upon the Reigakusha Gagaku Workshop and Concert.  Gagaku, as I understand it from the program I was given, is a form of Japanese classical music (c. 10th century), which sometimes includes dance.  A Stanford researcher has put together this informative website about gagaku.  The director of the Reigakusha group, Sukeyasu Shiba, was a musician at the Music Department of the Imperial Household Agency for 27 years and selected by the Japanese government as a "Person of Cultural Merit" in 2011, which made me feel like I was experiencing a truly authentic performance.  It was really nice to sit at the outdoor concert under a sturdy canopy, while the music and sound of the rain melded together.  Here's a picture of Reigakusha--they wore the same costumes and sat is the same arrangement at the concert:

Reigakusha (Source)
What a counterpoint to my experience at Tokyo Tower!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Day 7: Getting Situated

One week in and I'm started to feel situated.  I've unpacked the three boxes I sent over (Japanese customs opened and inspected them all).  I've done some grocery shopping.  I've even gone to my first Japanese class.

The boxes.  The firm sent them to the office, not my apartment, because everyone thought they'd get here before I did.  It didn't turn out that way and I ended up with three boxes of clothes---boxes that are too big to carry on the subway--in my office.  I've unpacked them by tucking the contents into the filing cabinets in my office (uh, does that count as unpacking?) and take a few items home in my work bag each day.

The grocery shopping.  Last time around, I subsisted on food that the firm ordered in and convenience store food.  Really a shame since there's lots of good food here.  So today, I found a grocery store and spent a lot of time marveling at all the exotic stuff on the shelves (little to-go boxes with octopus tentacles!) and puzzling over the dairy section (is that yogurt?  milk?  full fat or non fat?).  Next up, eating out more often!

The Japanese class.  Rosetta Stone has been fun, but I haven't gotten to a point where I'm learning practical, day-to-day survival stuff.  So I found a little school on the internet that seemed promising and went in for a trial lesson.  It's a good fit and I plan to head back on Saturdays from now on.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Day 6: Prepared

My Earthquake Helmet
Last year, when I got off the plane from Tokyo, I realized I had only taken three pictures during the month that I had been gone.  This time around, I am taking more pictures, even if they are just grainy photos snapped with a Blackberry.  And this is how I ended up with a picture of the little white helmet I hope not to have to use while I'm here.

These helmets are issued to every employee in my office and, I think, most offices, which is why one of the images that I most remember from last-year's post-earthquake walk home was the sea of little white helmets everywhere I looked.  I knew a lot of people who carried their helmet with them for the next week.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Day 4: Compare the Views

This is the view from reception in the Tokyo (note the Imperial Palace):

This was the view from my individual office in Los Angeles:

Not pictured: the view from my individual office in Tokyo.  In Tokyo, associates are in interior offices until the fourth year.  I miss the sunshine already!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Day 2: Lunch with Co-workers

An associate from my original summer class in Beach City has been working in Tokyo for about a month. As luck would have it, we are staying in the same apartment building. This meant I had a guide to the office this morning!

The day consisted of typical first day in a new office fare, including a lunch with a couple of co-workers. We went to a chain restaurant called Hibiki, where we took off our shoes before walking to our table.  My instinct was to put on the generic slippers that were set out, but it turns out those are reserved for guests who get up from their meal to use the restroom.  (The waitress put our shoes away in a cupboard and later retrieved them just as we were getting up to leave.)

Here's a photo from the restaurant of the area where we ate (for source, click here):

I drank hot tea (no water at the table), a pumpkin puree appetizer, and had some seasoned salmon with white rice.  There was also a broth and vegetable soup, but I didn't get to that.  Chopsticks only.  The food was good, but ordering would have been tough without my Japanese-speaking co-workers.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


It's been a long day. I left for the airport at 4:30am on Saturday. Two flights, one bus ride, and a short walk later I arrived at the apartment the firm found for me. It's a very basic studio--probably not as nice as the one I stayed in during my 2011 visit, but I think the neighborhood is better (to be explained later).

The first thing I did when I walked in the door was power up my laptop to send out a message to my family.  (My firm Blackberry has failed to connect to the cell network here despite the IT department's efforts to ready it to roam in Asia.)  Then, I unpacked both suitcases before turning in for the night.

Other highlights:

  • Enjoying business class.  After sitting in coach on trips to China and India (in the middle seat!), I will never take the luxury that is international business class for granted.
  • Receiving my residence card.
  • Explaining to customs officer what I am here to do in Japanese once I realized that he didn't know the word "law firm".

All in all, I judge the day a success.  Tomorrow, we'll see whether I can get to the office without getting lost.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Competition

This post will tell you a little bit about my experience at the Orange County Dancesport Challenge.

1.  I went to JoJo at Brown Buns Airbrush Spray Tans to get some color.  She does a great job, pays attention to details, and uses her own formula that leans brown instead of orange.  On top of that, she's got a great personality!  I only wish I had found someone like her a few years ago--when I was the pastiest college cheerleader on the planet.  (JoJo also does makeup and, fun fact, works on DWTS.)

2.  To save a little money, I passed on a pedicure since I planned to wear fishnets and glued on a set of press-on nails (yeah, haven't bought a pair of those since the 80s).  I am happy (a) to report that not a single nail popped off during the competition and (b) to not be stuck with acrylic tips for the next month.

3.  Kudos to Patricia at The Winning Look for putting together this awesome updo (she did my makeup too).  She was set up onsite in the vendor area right outside the ballroom.  She has a real passion for dancesport and is a dancer (a very good one!) in addition to a vendor.  I received some great compliments on my hair from other dancers and from random folks I bumped into throughout the day.

4.  The competition ran ahead of schedule.  One of the deck hands had to pull my teacher and I from the warmup area--very grateful that they do that instead of letting you miss your dance.

5.  I'm done wearing fishnets.  At both comps, the buckles of my shoes have snagged on my fishnets while on the floor.  Amateur hour!

6.  My top popped off.  (No video, for those who are wondering.)  I have a nice dress by Randall, who designs for DWTS, but it's second-hand and I'm not sure how old it is.  The dress is backless, with two thin spandex straps that criss-cross over the shoulders and are secured by hook and woven (cf. metal) eye to the bodice of the dress.  The woven eye, no doubt fatigued by the extra five pounds I've put on since the last competition, quit for the day in the middle of the cha cha.  I kept dancing (albeit with one arm holding up the top of the dress) and was able to secure the strap between heats.

7.  I was out-danced by some familiar faces.  One young lady is a former student of my studio and the other I've seen at competitions before.  The former student of my studio has at least two years and many, many competitions' worth of experience over me.  I know that she has danced in silver and gold before, so I was curious why she was dancing in bronze, but wasn't surprised that she beat me.  The other lady is someone who I've seen at workshops I've attended and I know that she too is at least a couple of years ahead of me with ballroom lessons.  In every heat that I danced, she placed first, the younger lady placed second, and I placed third.  Of course I would have liked to do better, but I placed third in Latin Closed Bronze Scholarship (not beating out many people, mind you), which was one of my goals for this year.

8.  I have video, but it's encrypted so I might not be able to share it.  Pictures will be available in a couple of weeks and I'll be sure to post them (mainly so you can see that great hairdo in action =P).

9.  I am happier with my experience than I was after Emerald Ball, but bummed that so little of what I've been working on with my teacher shows up in the video.  I made basic mistakes, like not checking out of my New Yorkers among many other things.  I usually get kudos for nice, pointed feet, but that didn't seem to be happening today either.  It's humbling and makes me appreciate all the work and practice that is behind the advanced dancers' performances.  I just haven't put in adequate practice time, between the secondment and the prep for the move, so I shouldn't be surprised.

10.  It was still fun.  It is a real pick-me-up to see so many smiling happy faces.  One lady bounced up to me to introduce herself and explain that it was her first competition--she was bubbling over with enthusiasm and so happy to be there.  I don't encounter that kind of pure joy very often, so it's pretty fun to immerse yourself in it for a day.

PS: Someone's Shih Tzu sat on the edge of the dance floor and intently watched each of the heats, wagging its tail the whole time.


Tomorrow morning should be a lot of fun.  I don't need to win, but I want to have fun and capture some of the technique we've been working on in lessons while I'm out on the floor.  Hopefully I don't get so excited that I forget the routines!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

One Last Competition

At the last moment, I decided to do a ballroom dancing competition before moving to Japan (you know, because an international move hasn't been keeping my to-do list full enough).  To prepare, I'm taking an extra lesson tonight and my teacher and I had a coaching together over the weekend.  That's it.

(You guys, how do I always end up in last-minute competition entry situations!?!  I want to be prepared, not scrambling at the last second.)

The answer is that when you work at a law firm (or at least when you work in corporate practice), you have to be opportunistic.  You never know when a deal will go pencils down or start up again.  So, if you have spare time, you better use it and, if you don't, you're going to end up canceling on pretty much everyone and every thing when work picks up again.  (As you can imagine, this makes corporate lawyers immensely popular with their friends and family.)

I have the time and what is likely my last opportunity for an entire year to compete, so I'm doing it.  It's a minor competition and I'm the only student from my studio participating, but it should still be fun.  I registered for 10 single dances (Cha cha, rumba, samba, paso doble and jive in both the intermediate and full bronze divisions) and a scholarship round.  Unfortunately, the closed bronze scholarship round was undersubscribed and I've been bumped to open scholarship (to put this in perspective, this is like being a member of the frosh/soph team and only knowing about five moves, but dancing against the stars of the varsity team).  It will be kinda embarrassing, but what can you do?

Tomorrow, I tan.  Saturday, I dance.  And, until the competition is over, I refuse to think about packing up my apartment for the third time in less than three years.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Do you know what that means?  Paid.  In.  Full.

I paid off my first student loan today.  It was a tiny one that financed the Global Connections trip to India that I took with my MBA classmates in 2010 (see related blog posts here).  Before I took the trip, I remember wondering if I would regret taking out the loan.  I had gone on the Global Connections trip to China the previous spring, wasn't that enough?

Because no trip to India is complete w/o a picture in front of the Taj.
A couple of years and many loan payments later, I can say that I'm glad I took the trip.  India is a beautiful and complex country that I likely wouldn't have had the courage to visit on my own.  I'm so happy to have made the trip and experienced a little bit of the culture.  My only regret is that I skipped our bollywood dance class to finish and submit a seminar paper to one of my law school professors.

Now, with a year of working in Tokyo ahead of me, I'm even more grateful for the time I took to travel to China and India, to try to understand other business cultures, and to understand what it's like to be a true outsider.  I think I am just a little bit better prepared for a year in Japan because of it.  Thanks, McCombs.  The money was well spent.

Friday, September 28, 2012

On Notice

I terminated my lease today.  It was difficult because it makes the move to Japan seem very real, but I won't miss this apartment too much.  It never seemed like home.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Taking a Haircut

Because of Yom Kippur, there was nothing going on at the office today (until the sun went down).  I took the opportunity to pop across the street for a haircut during my lunch break.

I'm not picky about my hair so I don't have a regular salon or hairdresser, but the girl who was available at noon did a great job.  She took off four or five inches of length and then blew it out.  I did it because I think it will be really difficult for me to get my hair cut in Japan (not being able to speak Japanese and all), but the masses appear to approve--there were lots of compliments today and even some hooting and hollering from the general (albeit probably drunk) public as I walked back to the office.

It made me realize that the last time I wore my hair down on a work day was sometime in May--four months ago!?!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Land of the Rising Sun

This maybe has become a reality.  When a midlevel in my group gave his notice earlier this week, I thought my group might make a move to keep me here.  Didn't happen.  So now I'm sitting here overwhelmed and, well, scared at the thought of moving to Tokyo for a year.

"You can do anything for a year."

"It's an adventure."

"You'll get great experience."

It's what everyone is saying and what I'm trying to remind myself of the million times a day that I start losing my cool.  To try to make the process more manageable, I made a to do list a few weeks ago and started chipping away at it.  Dentist appointment, check.  Well-woman visit, check.  Eye doctor visit, check.  Credit card with no international transaction fees, check.  But there are so many other big items to tackle.

It would help if the firm would give me a start date.  That would make it easier to plan to terminate my lease or sell my car.  But some things won't get easier.  Every time I look at C&B, my eight and nine year old dogs, I feel heartbroken about leaving them with my family for a year and wonder if they'll still be here when I get back.  I wonder the same about my grandparents.  I feel a sense of hopelessness about my own personal life and whether I'll ever start my own family.  Why can't I get Ben to talk about this?  Why isn't he ready to get engaged so that I can turn this relocation down?  I feel frustrated that this is what it takes to get enough work to develop as a junior member of my practice group at the firm.

I've been there before.  I know that there are nice people in the office.  I know that there's good work.  I know the office building can withstand an exceptional earthquake.  I made it through a month there in 2011.  But I'm worried about keeping up that pace for an entire year.  What will it do to my health?  What will it do to my relationships?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Happy Trails

My last couple of weekends have been all about quality time with the family.  I just got back from Palm Springs and spent the previous Saturday on a six-mile hike in Crystal Cove State Park where I was treated to views like this one:

Hello, Pacific Ocean!
I know it's the first day of fall, but that's hard to believe given that I spent my last two weekends in 100+ heat.  The stupidity of a six mile hike on a 100+ day is not lost on me, but it's one of my favorite OC trails.  I've been wanting to spend a day at Crystal Cove since I moved back to California, so I was determined to get out there before I'm (probably) exported to Japan.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Do I have them?  Do I need them?  Is there some point where, even in this economy, you stop being thankful for a particular job?  If I have to leave the country, my family, my friends, and little C&B behind for a year, is that too much?  If my answer is no, where do I draw the line?  This is what's been keeping me up late at night this week.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Student Loan Interest

In talking with some of the older associates at my firm, I've been surprised by how much student loan interest rates have crept up in such a short period of time. The highest interest rate among my student loans is 8.5%. What about you guys?

Monday, September 10, 2012


Late last week, I was asked to provide the documents necessary to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility--the first step towards obtaining a Japanese work visa.  Nothing is set in stone, but I am preparing for an extended absence from the U.S.  This means that I've set up appointments with my doctors, cancelled subscriptions, applied for a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, dusted off my Rosetta Stone CDs, and started mentally preparing for leaving my dogs in my family's safekeeping for a year (this last one has resulted in tears and nightmares).

On a happier note, I now have an excuse to burn through my pre-paid pilates and dance lessons.  I started my weekend with a pilates session.  Next, I had an hour-long latin lesson where we worked on an open cha cha routine ("open" means choreography that includes steps that are not included in the DVIDA syllabus).  Then, I had a two-hour lesson with a different teacher where I was taught American Smooth basics ("American Smooth" includes the following dances: waltz, tango, foxtrot, and viennese waltz).  Finally, I went home for some quality time with the dogs and tried a new-to-me recipe for pecan tarts.  And that was just Saturday!

Pecan Tarts from America's Test Kitchen's Cooking for Two 2010 Edition

I have a long to-do list that includes terminating my lease, possibly selling my car, and moving my belongings into storage.  If you can think of other housekeeping items I should tackle before leaving to live abroad, please chime in!  Like I said, nothing is set in stone, but I've learned to be prepared once the firm begins discussing these sorts of changes.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

First Day Back

As of last Friday, the last day of my secondment, I was on target to make my hours for the year thanks to the busy secondment and the fact that secondment hours count, as "legal service" hours, towards my billable requirement.

*huge sigh of relief*

I _really_ want to make my hours this year.  By way of background, during my first year, Beach City office's lack of deal flow and decision to work-starve the most junior associates wrecked havoc on my hours such that there was no hope, even after volunteering to transfer offices, to make my hours for the year.  The firm used this as a reason to hold me back from advancing with my salary class at the end of last year.  The written record of my end-of-year evaluation clearly stated that the partners assumed responsibility for the lack of work (and I appreciate that), but I was still frustrated.

I want to make my hours so that I can advance with my salary class.  More so, I want to make my hours because I want the practical experience that is necessary to advance my skill set.  Accordingly, about a week ago, I sent an email out to the group reminding them of my imminent return, which I hoped would help reduce the downtime during my transition back to the firm.

On my first day back, I walked the halls, said hello, discussed my experience in-house, and asked for work.  It appears that there is nothing for me to do except for a non-billable database project.  Don't get me wrong, I will do that database project with a smile on my face, but I am more than concerned that there isn't a single billable project that requires a junior associate in my group (I am the only junior associate in the group) at this moment and in the foreseeable future.

If you've been following along here for some time, you may be wondering why I keep writing what is essentially the same we-don't-have-enough-work post, without taking action.  I considered transferring offices a drastic and aggressive, but necessary way to address the problem.  When that attempted solution fell flat, I considered accepting the secondment as a way to fill my time and broaden my experience (mission accomplished).  I've said yes to every assignment and even brought in a client... I'm not sure what else I can do within the firm at this point.

So I will continue to walk the halls and ask for work, and start considering external solutions to the problem.

Monday, August 27, 2012

DIY: Replacing the Taillight Bulbs on a VW Beetle

I recently wrote that the turn signal bulb in my taillight had gone out.  I first noticed something was wrong when the clicking noise that I hear when I activate my turn signal started running double time.  Honestly, I had no idea what this meant at the time, but found it irritating enough to mention it to a family member who clued me in.

The absence of an obvious turn signal seemed like a safety issue, so I did what I do whenever my car has problems: I called the dealership.  The dealership quoted me more than $50 to replace the light bulb.  That didn't bother me (bulbs must be expensive, right?), but getting my car to the dealership during the available appointment times wasn't going to be possible due to the secondment.  So, I took to Google to see whether this was a project I might be able to do on my own.

I found the below helpful how-to video by A1 Auto:

This looked like something that I could manage, so I priced replacement light bulbs.  Just $5 for a pair!  That's all the encouragement I need to roll up my sleeves, grab a flashlight and a screwdriver, and do it myself.

I drive a 2005 VW Beetle Convertible, which has a plastic grate (instead of the plastic disc shown on the hard top model used in the video) that you need to pop out to access the thumb screw that bolts the taillight to the body of the car.  It took some serious effort to pop out my taillight, but swapping the bulbs out was otherwise as easy as A1 Auto made it look!

Thank you A1 Auto for saving me about $45 and the hassle of getting my car to the dealership!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wheels Coming Off

The post-secondment to do list keeps growing!  One of my turn signal lights just went out.  The dishwasher has been broken for weeks.  The refrigerator is making a strange rattle.  The kitchen sink is leaking.  Pants need mending.  Puppy needs a haircut.  Heck, I need a haircut.  I'm overdue for dentist and doctor appointments.  Exhausting just thinking about it.

Just a few more days!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Polos and Pearls Team Match

I've been out of the loop at the dance studio since my secondment started, which is why it was particularly fun to participate in our team match over the weekend and get to spend some time chatting with the other students and teachers. (A "team match" is an informal mini competition with another studio.) It was also a great opportunity to practice dancing with one of the studio's new teachers.

The host studio was beautiful.

I wasn't expecting my three quick heats at the beginning of the day to be memorable (there were 131 heats of latin, smooth, standard and rhythm throughout the day), but I walked away with some very nice comments from other students and this:

Saturday, August 11, 2012

In a Pinch

It's been a long time since I've felt fit.  A long time.  I'm not going to bother to draft a list of excuses as they are overly familiar to many of us and, frankly, irrelevant.  It's enough to say that I haven't been taking care of my body, i.e., simultaneously exercising and eating well, for ages.  (Looking back, it's possible that I haven't done this since I left my parents care.)

There is no time better than the present to start taking better care of the vessel that I hope, hope, hope will carry me into old age.  Why?  Because I've finished grad school.  Because I've settled into my job. Because I should establish better habits before I have children to care for.  Because it would be nice to look and feel my best.

Would I like to lose weight?  Sure.  I would like to lose 15 lbs.  I currently weigh 130 lbs.  More than five of those pounds have been put on during the last three months that I've been on secondment.  But I care more about how I feel, how my clothes fit (I refuse to buy a new set of suits), and whether I have muscle tone than the exact number on the scale.

Will I diet?  Not really.  I want to change what I'm feeding myself.  Right now, I eat whatever I feel like eating or, more specifically, whatever my employer orders in for lunch.  Yup, for the last three months I haven't eaten breakfast, but I have eaten whatever we order in, and then I either skip dinner or stop by In-n-Out during my hour-long commute home.  I don't have any fresh fruits or vegetables in my refrigerator.  It's bad and it won't take much effort to make at least an incremental improvement.  My short-term goal is to start eating breakfast and to eat at least one piece of fresh produce each day.  When the secondment ends I will be able to start cooking again.  That should help things.

What I really need to give up is regular, full-leaded Coca-Cola.  I drink a lot of it (2-3 cans a day) and, recently, I had a nightmare where I used up my lifetime supply of insulin on Coca-Cola and ended up with diabetes.  I've tried to quit it numerous times in the past without success.  It's my worst habit and I need to do better.  My short-term goal is to reduce my intake to one can a day.

Will I join a gym?  Yes, I joined a gym with the help of a discount through the firm a couple of weeks ago.  I joined mainly for the group exercise classes and because I anticipate that I won't spend as much time dancing during the week as I once did when I return from my secondment (more on that later).  Until the secondment ends I won't be able to do all that I hope to do.  My short-term goal is to take a pilates class on the reformer each week and to come in for a workout on both weekend days.  I've also been taking one or two ballroom classes a week.  So far, this has been manageable, but all of it has been happening on the weekends.

My new member package included a fitness assessment.  This is the part where some obnoxiously fit gym employee takes out the calipers, pinches your stomach, arm and leg fat and crunches the numbers. My body fat percentage is 27%.  According to the folks at the gym, I need to get that number below 24% to be "average."  (Average as in the average gym member? the average American?  It wasn't clear.)  Okay, well at least we have a target.

The secondment ends at the end of the month.  That's when I'll set some more ambitious goals.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Extending my Stay

My secondment has been extended through the end of August, which means I will spend 1/4 of my second year at the firm outside the firm.  Seems strange, professionally.  Been difficult, personally.  But the folks I'm working with are friendly and that goes a long way towards making the days pass.

I am also temporarily extending my lease downtown.  Haven't found a new place yet and can't manage a move during the secondment.  Thanks to those of you who provided encouragement--I'm hoping I'll move in the fall.

And this is the way it goes as an associate isn't it?  I've buckled down and gone into the same sort of survival mode that comes in handy when we've got a big deal running.  I subsist on whatever food they bring in at work.  I let laundry pile up and allow calls to go unreturned.  On weekdays there's only time for work and the commute (and a wee bit of blogging, apparently).  On weekends I play catch up.  I'll make it through.  I wish this job wouldn't snatch entire seasons, but I'll stay a little longer (and be grateful to be able to pay down my loans and save for a rainy day).

I'll stay, but I don't want to get stuck.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

What it Was and What I Hope it Will Be

Today was July 4th. I didn't make plans because I had been told to expect to have to work. Happily, the work project fell through and I had the day to myself. I spent my 4th sleeping in, walking the pups, shopping for groceries, cleaning the apartment, and working out in the complex's gym. Not a bad day, but nothing special... and pretty lonely too.

I hope that one day I'll be spending the 4th with a family of my own. A husband grilling in the backyard. A kid or two splashing around in the pool. A sunburnt little family waiting for the fireworks to start.

I hope I haven't missed out on the opportunity to be part of something like that.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Fasten Your Seatbelts

Friday was my last day in the office for at least two months.  It had been a hectic and very long week, light on sleep, and I ended up walking out of the building with a lot of work still due and owing.  Stubbornly, I snuck in one last dance class before packing up and heading out to the desert.  (Completely stopped traffic in the middle of the desert at midnight after a really long week does not a good combination make.) 

I've spent the weekend working remotely while trying to keep a whole pack of dogs in check (five dogs--I'm petsitting and brought my own along) with mixed results.  Because the family doesn't fly back in until tomorrow morning, I am staying here overnight and driving out to the office where I'm seconded very early in the morning.  (My dogs will be staying here for the first week that I'm at the client's office.)  There is a very real possibility that I will be up all night wrapping up my projects for the firm.

The next two months are going to be a bumpy ride.  Physically, the commute and the supposed long hours will wear me down.  I don't think there will be time for workouts or dance classes--I envision losing all of the progress that I've made by going to dance classes four times a week for the past five months.  Logistically, I have no idea how I'll give my dogs the attention they need and deserve--living across the street from the firm has let me come home for meals and walks on even the busiest days as needed.  Psychologically, ugh, I don't even want to talk about it.

I've long been planning to take two days off in July to participate in a dance competition in the desert (conveniently located where my grandmother, who was into ballroom dancing when she was younger, could come to watch) and spend a four day weekend with my family.  Those two days would be my third and fourth vacation day since joining the firm.  Now, I've been told I can't take those days.  I get that associates are told to cancel their vacations on the regular, but that doesn't make it less disappointing when it happens.

I'm waiting until the end of the first week to decide if the arrangement will be as difficult as I suspect.  If needed, I will hire a petsitter, housekeeper, etc.  One of my dance teachers lives near the client's office and may be able to meet me after work at a local studio for a lesson, which would be a great help in lifting my spirits.  I try to remember how quickly these arrangements change, e.g., when a supposed three month stay in Tokyo was substantially shortened by The Earthquake, and that I need to take the next two months day-by-day.