New Year Vacation

First of all I would like to wish everyone a happy new year and hope that you all got a good start into it. I certainly did. Next, I have to apologise to these poor brave souls, who actually checked my blog for updates, only to find that nothing at all was going on. Please excuse my laziness.

Let me being my narrative in late November. Thanks to the combined Presidential state-visit to the United Kingdom in early December and the UK-Korea Forum among other events, I was kept busy with drumming up UK companies to commit their pounds (Sterling please) to Investment MOU's in time for the state-visit for the big-shots to claim when they get back home. It went actually quite well and I had a seat at all the tables, but it also meant that I had to work late and even on weekends.

When this was all over, the rest of the pile had to be worked down until I was able to take my vacation at the end of the year. Actually, even though I sacrificed two of my vacation days on the 23rd and 24th, I still had to take some unfinished reports with me to Japan to complete there in a Internet Cafe in Shibuya, Tokyo - very nice btw., why didn't I start that business!

So anyhow, after one last long day in the office on the 24th, I had a great Christmas Eve and on Christmas day 25th, I left London happily and totally relaxed... well ... not quite. Actually, since in this city where BOTH inefficiency AND ineffectiveness reign the public transport system, all bus and underground services are suspended for the Christmas holidays, leaving potential travellers stranded with over-priced (double for xmas) taxi-services. Therefore, I had asked a good friend of mine to bring me to the airport, because I am a much happier man to see my friend and give the money to him then to those rip-off mini-cab drivers. However, he called me on the 24th saying that due to the damage sustained in an accident, his car was not usable and I would have to find alternative means of transport.

So I went to the devil and paid my dues (some 100 pounds worth of it). Still worse was to come...: Being the sensible fellow that I am, I had created a Yen-savings account on my normal Citibank account here in the UK before going and had loaded quite a good amount of money on it at a good rate when the pound breached the 200 yen barrier again. So on the 24th I had my card switched to that account, so that I would be able to withdraw directly from my Yen-account at ATMs in Japan (there is a citi atm basically in all the spots I usually visit in Tokyo). However, although I had used the online e-pin all the time and new it by heart, I had completely forgotten the normal pin number and even despite going back to my house (which again cost me a fortune, while the cabbie waited outside laughing), I was not able to find it while I destroyed my beautifully cleaned-up room, leaving a mess of papers and drawers all over the place. In fact, as I found out when I got back, I had deposited the slip with my pin number in the top desk-drawer where I have all my important stuff, but I must have overlooked it in the panic... -.-;;

Despite pleading over the phone with Citibank employees for the next couple of days before and after departure to Japan, the UK Citibank would not let me know my pin, accept identification at a foreign branch and not even the Emergency Cash service that usually all other Citibank’s allow their clients if they have lost their cards. Fortunately, I had just gotten my Citi Platinum Credit card. Although I also did not know the pin number for that, I at least was able to make plastic-purchases, though still being stranded cash-wise. For the time being, I used the cash I had left and borrowed a little from my friends until the situation was resolved two days before I left Japan again for London (the only option open to me - sending the pin automatically to my UK address, I had requested to be expedited on the 25th, but it only arrived on the 4th/5th January).

Anyhow, I had a great time meeting my friends in Tokyo and going out around town from the 26th until 31st. I even met my colleagues from the Japanese Korean Trade Centres and it was actually very enjoyable with them. From the 31st until the 2nd I had planned to enjoy some relaxing time up north. However, although I had the ticket to go up north over the New Year, I still had no proper accommodation. Still, I found a nice cheap place in Hakodate on Hokkaido for Sylvester night and, by sheer luck, the famous "Tsuru no Yu" onsen hot-spring just had a cancellation when I called up and I got a room (CHEAP!!! if you ever want to go to the perfect yukimi rotemburo that’s the place!) for the new years day until the 2nd. Have a look at www.tsurunoyu.com. It was fantastic: a remote centuries old natural hot spring in the winter wonderland surrounding Lake Tazawa in Akita prefecture with an untouched 40cm+ thick snow-cover everywhere. The Onsen Hotel was traditional in style and food and I could not stop gasping and thanking my luck, taking a bath in the same-sex open-air natural spring at 2am at night looking at the stars while some snow fell down on the quietness that surrounded me. I seriously have a hard time thinking of other times when I was this happy, relaxed and at peace with the world and myself.

Hakodate on Hokkaido was also great for the new year itself and in the deep show it showed its beautiful half-European half-Japanese architecture in all its glory, although for the beholder it was plainly bitter-cold. Many of the houses have a traditional Japanese style entrance, or even the complete first floor, but the second floor and often verandas will be unmistakeably of European origin.

The rest of my time, I spent back in Tokyo, doing some shopping and meeting more friends, but as always, there is never enough time and there is so much I would have liked to have done more. Well, always keep some good reasons to go back, as they say.

Now back in the office this Monday morning, a happy surprise came from Keiichi, whom I had just visited in Tokyo. He brought me the good news that Standard Chartered Bank, far from being out of the race as FT had reported before I left for Japan, had actually beaten Citi and HSBC to it and bought Korea First Bank from Newbridge Capital, catapulting it from a 2 branch operation to a major player in Korea. This US$ 3.3billion deal, not one year after Citi pulled the same trick with KorAm, leaving SCB and us here in London out in the cold, is great news as my work gets so much more interesting. ^-^ Okay that’s all for now folks.