Thursday, March 28, 2013

Japan Finale - Kyoto: Magic and Geishas

After skiing and Snow Monkeys in Nagano, most of the group got ready to return home while me and Rebecca continued on to Kyoto.

I have to start by saying that had we not stayed in Shuraume Ryokan in Gion (the Geisha District), my views on Kyoto would likely be very different. As it was, however, it. was. magical.

Typical crazy architecture
Kyoto marries ancient Japan (Shrines, Temples, tea ceremonies, geishas) with modern, Tokyo-like Japan with big buildings of crazy modern archetecture and shopping malls.

But Shuraume.


When my friends, who had gone to Japan a couple years earlier, told Rebecca and I to stay at Shuraume I was skeptical. The place costs about 4 times what I'd normally pay for a hotel. But they insisted it'd be worth it so we swallowed the cost and committed to the room several months before the trip.

This place is so worth the price.

First, we arrived and it looks like this on the outside:

And I have to say, we were thinking "really? This is what they've been talking about?" And Ryokans are traditional Japanese places to stay, meaning no furniture. You eat, chill, and sleep on mats.

We just paid how much to sleep on the floor?

But then the magic happened. We arrive and are immediately given slippers again. We are given a tour of all the winding hallways and small intimate rooms (the place used to be a geisha tea house so it was designed to give people...ahem...privacy), the bamboo Jacuzzi tub, the library where they serve refreshments each afternoon, our private zen garden.... They even provided sweets and tea upon arrival, delivered in our personal living room.

After that, we went through a series of magical transitions. The table in the living room was empty, we'd blink and it was filled with a fantastic dinner that included Kobe Beef (AKA - the food I'd give my first-born for). We'd blink again and the sliding door would open, revealing the Ryokan's owner, bowing face on the ground in her elaborate robe, about to enter our living room to tell us all about Kyoto in a melodic voice that put us in trances. We'd blink again and dinner was completely cleared. Ninjas, I tell ya.

Trying to fit in, looking out at our garden 

Wasting no time pampering myself with the free stuff around our bamboo sink

When we first looked in the bedroom, it was empty. After dinner, we returned (already wearing our own robes and slippers now -- when in Kyoto!) to find our bed mats rolled out perfectly.

Ate more ridiculous fish items (this was on our tea table -- dried sea assortment...included eyes....gulp)

We blinked again -- and our sliding door opened again, this time revealing our very own on-call massage therapists ready to give us massages right in our beds at 10:30pm. Blinked again, and the massage ninjas disappeared, leaving us to fall asleep with no angst on price or tipping.

The whole experience ruined us forever.

When we got to our second hotel in Kyoto (because ain't nobody got money for two nights in the magical geisha hotel), it was also a Ryokan with mats on the floor and robes and slippers -- but it was too late for us to be impressed.

"Ugh, we have to roll out our own mats??"



Even the cab driver that picked us up from our magical ryokan was swanky

Anyway, we spent our days wandering around both the old Geisha District and the newer part of Kyoto. We saw Geishas rushing off in their intense ensembles to their evening appointments

 We saw more temples, learned how to make our own tea

Went shopping...

Saw more temple things...

Saw bamboo forests

Walked the beautiful streets of Gion
And wandered around the ginormous Kyoto train station

We also spent time desperately trying to find our way to places without actually speaking Japanese. The tough part was, all the words started to sound alike. We'd ask a cab driver where something was and the conversation would proceed something like this:

him:  Takiyama
Rebecca: "Takayuma, got it."
Me: "Wait, you changed a syllable"
Rebecca: "Takiyaki, got it."
Me: "Wait!..."
Rebecca: "Takiyamaha, got it"
Me: "Stop putting syllables together, you are making other words!"

And we'd giggle and run off to the next place.

Then we got to our last adventure:

The public bath.

You'll remember in my past posts that I have a bit of a history with foreign baths. In Turkey, in Morocco...

Kyoto topped them all.

First, you are completely naked.

All of my other experiences have included, at the very least, bikini bottoms. No such luck here.

Rebecca and I walk up to a steamy door, slightly fearing what we'd find on the other side. I quickly realized, however, that when everyone's nude, it feels like you are all wearing clothes.

No, I don't know how to explain that, but let's move on.

There were several baths to choose from. We had read about another one that was too far away from our hotel to get to and it had something called an "electric bath" and a "medicine bath." We weren't sure what we'd find in the one near our hotel but we jumped right in and started testing out each pool as we came to them.

And that's when it gets a bit unnerving since there are no signs telling you what each are and we don't speak Japanese.

Eh. Surely this toxic green-colored one is safe - let's go!

We tell ourselves that must be a medicine bath and we proceed to the other choices. Some hot, one that was freezing, one that was outside, a steam room...

And I forgot to mention you have to shower on those bucket things again before getting in, so the entire time we are marching through pools, we are surrounded by elderly asian women scrubbing each other down on buckets against the wall.

We get to one of the last pools and Rebecca heads towards the side where she immediately yelps and jumps back -

""It's the electric one! It's the electric one!"

Well! Guess we got the full bath house experience after all!

I must say, the electric bath was a new one. Although given that I completed a Tough Mudder last fall, this was not the first time I'd been electrocuted in the past year.  Shockingly. (couldn't resist)

We ended up having a fantastic time there (even with the elderly naked lady who was doing stretches at the outside pool...) and ended our trip riding in a train back to Nagano to catch our flight. And at one point I casually glanced out the window and found THIS:

Mt. Fuji!!! Magnificent.

And so we finally end the Japan series. I'll leave you with the video Adrian put together of our trip. Sayonara, beautiful country!


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Back...from Iraq!

Sorry I've been silent, Internet. I still owe you my last post on my Japan trip but my life was interrupted a bit the last few weeks because - Surprise! - I went on a little jaunt to the Middle East! I'll tell you all about that as well soon. Stay tuned! In the meantime, enjoy this adorable picture of Chloe in my suitcase.

You're welcome.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Event Conclusion

I know I still owe you the last post of my Japan adventure, but first I'll finish telling you how my recent work event concluded.

The third morning started around 6:00am. I had one of our biggest speakers showing up about 8:30 and had some other meetings and side events before that happened.

The speaker showed up sooner than expected, he and his entourage driving straight into the building through a back entrance in two black Suburbans.

I love when that happens.

So me and my client rush over to shake his hand and I fall in line walking right behind him, and right in front of the biggest security guard you've ever seen.

And I'm so in the zone that I don't even see the giant guard at all. As in, after the event was over, my coworker commented on how large this man was and I didn't know who he was talking about. It wasn't until I saw a photo later of us all marching down the secret back hallway that I realized who I'd slid right in front of in my effort to keep pace with the speaker:

I should probably work on my observation skills....

Anyway, we start to prepare everything backstage and begin the program.

And the entire program ends up including:

1, a total of four sex jokes told from the stage, some made by a former cabinet member and some made by a former governor...

2. one of the event staff having to squat down in front of the stage - in front of thousands of people in the audience -- and tell a tycoon that his time was up

3. a prominent politician deciding he needed to use the bathroom right as he should've been going on stage
I was not pleased. I had finally gotten that speaker up the stairs and into the capable hands of my staff behind the curtain and as I'm breathing a sigh of relief -- back down the stairs he marches, right past my shocked and confused face while I'm stammering "him...supposed to be on stage...right now!" and my team member just looks at me and says "He has to use the bathroom...." and we both stare in horror at the speaker disappearing into a dressing room. And then I hear the backstage staff squawking in my earpiece about needing him on stage and all I can do is say "yep, I realize that...." 

4. a prominent senator showing up over 30 minutes late because their driver got lost
That ended up messing with our program so badly that my client later described what we went through next as the I Love Lucy scene in the chocolate factory:

Except instead of chocolates, we were frantically trying to fit all our other speakers in at different times and every time we tried to move one, it seemed we would lose another one, so we'd try something else, and the cycle went on for awhile...
"...If we move X back, he won't make his meeting at the White House..."
"... well we can't move Y up because her flight doesn't land in time..."
"...could we throw these two people together up on stage?..."
"...do we have to let our boss speak?...."
Slippery little devils, those chocolates. I mean speakers.

5. We had to get one of our speakers toast with salt.

When I'm famous and powerful, I'm totally asking for more interesting stuff than red M&Ms, hot food, and salty toast.

"Yes, Miss Dana will need a bounce house and a hibachi grill in her dressing room please. Thanks."

6. I saw two different adults dancing backstage from nervousness. One of them was my client.

I'm sure I'm forgetting countless other things we endured but my brain is fried and I can't think of them all. I will, however, tell you what happened when I went to take Chloe back home.

Do you remember in my first post on this event where I said I visited our venue twice in the same day the day before our event started?

So about that.....

The night before our event ended, I knew I needed to deliver my contraband feline back to our apartment because I'd need to check out of my room the next morning and I'd have no place to store her for the rest of the day until the event ended.

So late Tuesday night, I shove Chloe back into her carrier and make my way out into the cold to locate my car.

And my feet hurt. And it's raining. And Chloe is bouncing around in essentially a pink duffel bag with airholes.

We are pathetic.

And I take the elevator all the way to the top of the parking garage, because I distinctly remember having to park up there because the cheerleader invasion had taken up every other floor back when I first arrived.

When I first arrived, that is, the first time. I completely forgot that I went back home after that, and the second time ...that I first arrived... I parked on the bottom floor. Confused? So was I.

And I told you HERE about how my car was stolen back in the day. Well, the latent effects from that have been extra paranoia around my car. Every time I can't find it -- I immediately think it's been stolen (it's usually been towed. ahem.) So when I can't find my car in the garage, I get slightly panicked.

And it's late, and it's dark, and there's no one around except a scary looking van parked on the floor I'm on, and my feet hurt and I have a cat sloshing in a duffel bag on my hip.

In other words -- I'm done.

So first, I set Chloe down and look around the immediate area, up one floor, down one floor, and my feet can't take it anymore and I'm picturing myself getting kidnapped by whoever owns that van. So I call my vendor.

She assures me the hotel would not have towed it and she can hear in my voice that I'm panicked so she sends out hotel security to pick me up.

Great. So much for hiding my cat.

I'm so tired, I let the security guy come for me. I move Chloe back into the elevator bank and I just sit down on the floor, in my suit and my pearls and I wait to be rescued.

And the guard comes and I stuff Chloe in his backseat, I sit down in the front and I explain why I know for sure that my car was on the top because I distinctly remember having to go up every floor because of the dang cheerleaders on Sunday morni....

Oh. Crap.

And that's when I realize I parked in a different spot Sunday night.

I immediately begin apologizing profusely. "I'm SO sorry, it's been a long week, and I was scarred from having my car stolen a decade ago, and....and...."

And the guard is so great and tells me this happens a lot (I doubt it) and says "hey, I have to work until 11pm regardless" so he doesn't care how he spends that time.

And we get back down to the first floor and I get ready to start thanking him profusely and he just turns and smiles and says "this was fun!"

I may have just had a date with the security guard.

Doesn't matter! He didn't say anything about Chloe and I can finally drive her to my apartment, turn in my homework while I'm there since I couldn't get the internet to work for me in my hotel room (of course), and get back to my fluffy hotel bed and my belching Shrek wake up call.

And on my drive back I decide to treat myself to a McDonald's ice cream cone on the exit back to the hotel. And I bite into that ice cream:

and find a piece of plastic in it.

You can't make this stuff up....

So I throw the ice cream out, give up on the day, finish my event, chocolate factory moments and all, and mark another work adventure down in the history books.

Aaaand exhale.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Event Planning Adventures Continued

So we left off with my arrival at the hotel at our venue. I'm pretty sure the suite I had was bigger than my actual apartment, and I took no time before wrapping myself in the plush robe and enjoying the amenities. I also took advantage of the fact that you could choose from an assortment of cartoon characters for your wake up call. Having Shrek belch in my ear first thing starts the day off with just the touch of class I enjoy.

Anyway, the first day of the event actually went fairly smoothly outside of the usual bumps - starting late, explaining the cues, dealing with an angry Swedish man who refused to stay put because he was convinced someone would steal his computer that was already on stage....you know, the usual stuff.

The next morning started our first full day and held much more excitement. Beginning with the fact that despite me leaving the "do not disturb" sign on my door, the maid still came in. Awesome. I now need to leave a tip just to buy her silence since she inevitably saw the cat things lying around my room (although I doubt she ever actually saw the cat, seeing as Chloe spent her time there in terror, slunking between hiding behind the curtain and hiding behind the bathroom door. My little disfunctional baby. Sigh.)

I get to the event venue and work around until it's time to be backstage. We have an eclectic group of speakers each year so it's always interesting overhearing the conversations that take place in the green room. Like when I heard a former governor tell a southern tycoon that they need to get "43" down to his place sometime soon. "43" being -- George W. Bush, the 43rd President of the United States. Ah, you gotta love politics.

Sometime that morning, I was told that one of our speakers -- who has recently had a slight falling out with our organization - had not been heard from and we weren't even sure he'd still be coming.

He was due on stage that afternoon.


Thankfully, he does arrive but we feel like we need to handle him with kid gloves and we've also heard that he's a bit of a diva anyway. He's a billionaire, I suppose they often get that way.

I deploy one of my volunteers to bring him down the hall, and do you remember when I posted about my first Advance job HERE and the guy I'm working under tells me he had to tell someone to go sit in a corner because they started to freak out on game day?

I nearly had to tell my volunteer to go sit in a corner.

He's already flustered being the "handler" for Needy Billionaire and apparently Needy asks for food. So my volunteer comes out frantically and I calmly tell him that we have sandwiches just for this type of situation.

But Needy doesn't want a sandwich. He wants hot food.

So my volunteer goes racing to another part of our venue to find a plate of hot food. And he comes racing back to where I'm standing outside the green room and -

he drops the entire plate. Shattering on the ground. Right outside the door of the green room.

And he loses it.

This is an attractive, intelligent, successful young man and he flails his arms and curses and sputters at me "this has to be cleaned up! Now!"

You don't say?....

So now I'm trying to calm him down, hoping Needy Billionaire doesn't charge through the door and step on broken dinnerware, calling on my headset for a clean up crew and someone to fetch more hot food, and up walks another VIP speaker-

a former White House official who has to step over the mess to get into the green room.

So far, this is going so well....

And did I mention the headset? Yes. Throughout the entire event, I felt exactly like Jennifer Lopez in The Wedding Planner scene where she's walking around with a smile and all chaos is breaking loose backstage so she's barking out orders through her teeth on her headset like so:

I have to admit, it was fun. Not quite as fun as the Secret Service type ear pieces we used during Presidential events back in the day:

I'm smirking because that is NOT my vest...but I was wearing a cool earpiece, trust me....

but fun nonetheless.

So this day also included:

- technical difficulties on stage
- a speaker whose staff had told us needed a bowl of only red M&Ms (turns out they were joking, but we didn't realize that at first...)
-me and my client fearing that she'd slip and call an important General "J Meister" to his face, or some other funny name we had been jokingly using for him in an effort to dispel nervous energy
-me nearly forcing an aide to march into the men's room and retrieve a Senator who had been in there forever and was supposed to go on stage.

At least I didn't have it as bad as the AV guys, who could hear everything once someone had their lapel mic on. At one point they apparently all looked at each other, one saying "what's that noise?" while the other somberly answering "The Congressman has gone to the bathroom..."

Another day in the life of event managers.

And we had one more day to go....

Saturday, March 2, 2013

More Adventures in Event Planning

So yes, once again I got roped into planning a large event for my client. As I've said before, I do a lot of different things at my job and because I used to do Advance for President Bush (seen HERE), I always end up being asked to plan events every now and then as well. I always end up with funny stories and sadly I can't tell them all or I'd never work again, but I'll leave the details vague and tell you a little bit.

We'll begin the day before the event started, when I did my final meeting with our vendor and the staff at the venue we're using. I arrive 10 minutes early, very pleased with myself, and I start to park in the garage and discover -- every single spot is taken. At least until the very top, many floors later, where I finally park and make my way back down to the venue -

which is busting at the seams with a cheerleader competition.

I'm going to need so much coffee, stat.

I had forgotten that the reason we couldn't start our event sooner was because this cheerleader group had taken over the place until midnight the night before our event. I push through the girls (who are doing splits in the hallways, doing headstands, wearing ribbons and stage makeup, being trailed by their stage mothers with southern accents....) and I go to two different coffee machines -- both not working.

I'm going to start crying.

I realize I'm now late for my meeting, so I turn down the hallway towards the room I'm supposed to be in, and there's a guy guarding that hallway, asking to see my "bracelet" - I assume it's a cheerleader event thing. So now I'm late, coffee-less, and I can't get to my meeting.

I then realize I don't have a number to call my vendor, she tries to call me but it doesn't work, I finally call one of her staff who try to find her, and someone from the venue finally calls me.

This is all while I'm still attempting to get coffee, so I wander into an atrium where I see a cheerleader literally climbing up a pole in the hallway, and I ask where I can get coffee. I'm pointed inside an area where there is a buffet. I look at the tiny cup for coffee and see it costs three dollars and I'm filled with indignation. I'll just wait here while the venue staff comes to get me and they'll get me coffee for free, surely. I'm a client afterall.

So I'm waiting to be rescued, I get my coffee, start adding cream and -- I overfill my cup. It's right at the edge so I bend down to slurp it (I've lost all sense of pride at this point) and of course the whole thing spills everywhere. Meanwhile, I get another call and the venue staffer can't find me. So I have my phone between my ear and shoulder, my purse and papers are half-falling out of my arms, I'm bent over trying to mop up cream and still slurp down my coffee --

And so sets the stage for the week.

The venue staffer finally sees me and I'm hovering inside the buffet area inexplicably because I want to get her to tell  me to just walk out with my coffee and not pay. She doesn't get it. So I finally leave the barrier, at this point stealing the coffee, and I look at her as if it just crossed my mind and say "woops! I guess I need to pay for this!" she still doesn't get it. Finally I say "unless you think it's ok...." and she finally gets it and says "just take it, it's fine." Sheesh. And we wander down more hallways (this venue is HUGE. and did I mention it's FILLED WITH CHEERLEADERS?) and I walk into a room with, oh, about 25 people around a table, all just looking up and now staring at me. And I kid you not, my vendor introduces me -

and they end the meeting.

I. am going. to scream.

Most of the group leaves the room (as we hear cheerleader chants in the hallway as if they are getting ready to sacrifice one of us) and my vendor's like "I just wanted them to see your face so they know we are all one team." I'm thinking, 'sure, that's worth me driving all the way here and going through that traumatic coffee/cheerleader situation, and then driving all the way back home.....'

This is starting off so well....

We do end up going over a few more things (thankfully) and I go back home and pack my stuff because me and my core staff are going to stay at the hotel at the venue throughout the event to make it easier since we will be needing to do stuff there at all hours anyway.

The problem is, I have this:

That's Chloe. Well, when she was a baby, but this conveys her personality -- a little psycho. I love her, but she's super tempermental and when I'm not home enough for her taste -

she pees on my things.

Sigh. So I decide to smuggle her into the hotel with me and keep her there during my event.

Smart, right?

So we get back to the hotel that evening and I pull up in front and the bellhops surround my car.

Crap. Can't let them see the pink duffle bag with airholes containing a feline in the backseat.

I quickly jump out and am like "oh, let's get the trunk first!" thinking I'll rearrange the inside of my car so they can quickly grab the boxes of event supplies in the front and not have to look in the backseat.

And did I mention it freezing and insanely windy? So when I jump out, everything goes flying. My hair, my clothes, bags, etc. And the bellhops are frantically trying to hurry so they can get everything on the cart and back inside. So we are running around each other, trying to grab things, unable to see at times -- it's ridiculous.

At one point one of them just ask if they need to grab the stuff in the back and I quickly brush it off and hope they don't realize it's an illegal cat. I finally feel like we're all set so I jump back in my car -- and one of the bellhops starts calling out to me.

The wind has somehow shoved part of his coat into my trunk, which is now closed.

Why. Why do the weirdest things happen to me at the times when I'm already stressed.

He is also dumbfounded and actually says, with disbelief "that's a first...." So I set him free and finally drive off, contraband cat in tow, to the garage and this time the cheerleaders are gone and I park on the bottom floor and head in. (that will be an important data point later).

And so begins my week.....