Take fifty of these and call me in the morning

As promised a while back, a medical story.

For well over a year, I’ve been experiencing fatigue.  “Fatigue” is a irritating problem: it’s hard to describe precisely, unpredictable, and there are lots of possible causes including sleep problems, diet, stress, lack of exercise, emotional issues, licking lead paint walls, or any combination of the above.  The toughest thing of all is that you can still basically function, it’s just that something’s “off”.  In my experience, this is hard to explain to healthcare professionals.

So to my perverse relief, the problem intensified a few weeks ago to the point I was unstable on my feet, unable to stay alert or concentrate on anything for more than a few seconds.  Great, symptoms I could actually describe!  Off to the doctor I went.

Now, while my Japanese has improved to a point where I could probably battle through a medical consultation, when it comes to health matters, I didn’t really want to experiment with it as a language-learning opportunity.  So, I shopped around for an English-speaking doctor in Tokyo.  I found a Japanese doctor near my house who was listed as speaking English “fluently”.

Ah, “fluently”, my favourite hazily-defined word.  It means lots of things to lots of people.  Obviously, it meant something different to this doctor than it did for me.

“Konnichiwa… ah, hello,” he said as I entered the room, projecting my powerful aura of foreign-ness.
“Hello”, I said, wanting to keep proceedings in one language, at least.
“Where from?”
“Ah! Many times I have been there. It’s my favourite place!  I… uh…”

He dived into his draw, plunking a hefty English-Japanese dictionary on to his desk.

“… oh, traveled! to there in eight years ago.  I like it very much.  I had a car crash there.”

I started to get a little nervous now.  I was relying on the English language as my conduit for acquiring ingestible chemical substances.   Although sure that we could have proceeded at least a little more effectively in Japanese, I decided to persevere and plough on in English.  As a language learner myself, I know I would have been a little gutted had my efforts been brushed aside had the tables been turned.  He was certainly giving it a red hot go.  I’m realising in retrospect that it was a foolish decision.

I described my symptoms to the doctor – the dizziness and fatigue and what not – and explained that I worked in a Japanese environment.  Without the need for any tests, his diagnosis was decisive.

“It’s all….. (how do you say it in English)… about your head… (how do you say “psychological”)…”
“Ah yes!  Psy-cho-logical.”
“I’m not a doctor, but I don’t think it’s psychological.”
“Yes!  It’s psy-cho-logical.  I’m sure of it.  You should eat antidepressants.  I’ll give to you.”
“Look, I’m not sure if that will help…”
“And these are for your stomach.”
“For my stomach?”
“Yes, the antidepressants will make your stomach painful.”
“Oh, and try this on your muscles, it might do something.”

He passed a roller over my shoulders with some kind of watered-down version of Deep Heat.  It had the net effect of feeling somewhat wet before evaporating.

“You feel better, yes?”
“Uh… yes?”

In my enfeebled state, I decided to go with the flow at this point.  I naively thought that Eastern medicine was about energy and balance and chakras and whatnot, but apparently here at least it was about stuffing me with mind-altering substances and seeing if anything interesting happened.  I would have even preferred to be fobbed off with the “Try getting some more exercise and call me if things don’t improve” classic that I just love to paying $60 in a 5 minute consultation for in Australia.

With that, my time was up.  I received my gift bag of medicinal candy:

From front to back, anti-clockwise: stomach-ache powder, aspirin (maybe?), strange rubbing alcohol, a variety of anti-depressants.  They were given loose, just like this, with some hand-written instructions in Japanese that I couldn’t really make out.

At the very least, thanks to the wonders of Japanese socialised medicine, both the consultation and medicines only cost me a grand total of about $30.  He gave me a range of three different antidepressants to see which one I liked.  I didn’t try any of them.

Post-script: I went to an actual native-speaking English doctor on the far side of Tokyo a couple of days later.  He gave me a thorough check up and a blood test, and I’m on my way to getting on the mend, fingers crossed.

Lesson learned: go to a “native”-level English-speaking doctor.  If you can’t do that, perhaps it’s better to go to one who can’t speak any English at all.


The Franken-furter and Taco-bomination

You have to love a country where the food is so good, the bar so high, that you’ve got to do some pretty outlandish stuff to stand out from the pack.

Mos Burger is a very popular chain here in Japan.  If you have to eat fast food, this would be near the top of the list, if only for the fact that they make burgers on demand rather than having them sit soggily under a light bulb for a half hour.

Apparently, they’re branching out from burgers now.  Say hello to the nan bread taco:

… and the nan bread chorizo curry (tandoori?) dog:

Mos Burger must be so successful that their execs are making bets to see what they can get away with without getting fired now.

That said… they both look pretty tasty.

My ones and zeros sound better than your ones and zeros

Near my office is one of Tokyo’s audio equipment retail districts, and I recently happened to pop into a store with a co-worker who said he wanted to pick up a couple of things over his lunchbreak. High-end speaker equipment is not unique to Japan of course, but it was the first time I’d ventured into one of these stores for myself.

I entered the world of the audiophile, and I don’t think things will ever be the same.

How about this used speaker cable, a steal at just $2800 AUD?

Or how about one of these second-hand audio cables at only $977 and $1140 respectively?

I’ve got to say, they look the business.  If they also happen to improve sound quality, I guess that would also be useful.

I once happened to meet a guy who used to work in stereo sales. He confided that while the margins on the speakers and amps were only modest, they made an absolute killing on cables – sometimes up to 80% pure profit.

As he said: “Once a guy  – yes, almost always a guy – has already dropped multiple thousands of dollars on high-end stereo equipment, it’s the easiest thing in the world to say, ‘You know, it would be a shame if you weren’t getting the best out of your new gear. If don’t use these $2000 cables, really, what’s the point?'” Thanks the the miracle of price anchoring, that $2000 seems like a trifle compared to the several thousands more the punter has already outlaid.

What also makes this so effective as a money-turning enterprise is that as audio quality is such a subjective thing, you can always be lead to believe that there’s just a little too much bass, or that treble is not quite sharp enough.  If only you’d bought those more expensive cables!  Time to upgrade!

But don’t let me sit here and claim that audiophiles are alone here.  I have a funny feeling that this scene in a camera shop is based on bitter personal experience.  I imagine you can easily replace the word “lens” with “speaker cable”:

Playing the market for fun and deliciousness

Tokyo is a big city, and the range of items you get at most shops and supermarkets is just fantastic.  However, there’s one food item I’ve missed here more than any other: lamb, and specifically lamb chops.

Yes, I love me a lamb chop.  However, it’s nigh-impossible to find them over here on the less-international east side of Tokyo.  If you go into a supermarket and ask, they’ll say that they don’t stock them because no-one wants them.  I want them, I say.  Sorry, I don’t speak English, they say before getting back to scanning barcodes, in spite of the entire conversation being in Japanese up until that point.  Case closed.

Talking to Japanese people, the reason that lamb isn’t popular here is that the smell is considered too strong for many people.  I’m not sure how that heavenly smell could ever be too strong, and this in a county where liver is massively popular.  There’s a reason, “What am I, chopped liver?” is used negatively.  At any rate, lamb is just not the belle of the meat section in Japan, it would seem.

However, a Happening!

Lamb!  And Australian lamb, no less.  It was certainly not cheap at around $11 for two modestly-sized lamb chops, but the way I fell upon them like a recently returned castaway, I was sure I was getting some interesting looks from surrounding shoppers.

So, I’d sated my lambly desires for one day.  But how to ensure my supply?  The lamb had just suddenly turned up one day and might well disappear the next.

And with such thinking, I made it my mission to single-handedly prop up demand for lamb at my local supermarket.  When lamb appeared, I’d buy it.  All of it.  Sales of lamb had never been higher there!  I imagine supermarket execs in their monthly sales meeting with one of those big graphs on an easel, a spiky red line surging ever-upwards.  “No, I don’t know what happened at that store either, Yamamoto-san.  But order more lamb, stat!  It’s flying off the shelves!”

With supply of lamb increasing and faced with a glut, I keep buying it, unsure of how much artificial demand I need to create to ensure a perpetual supply.  Meanwhile, my freezer is overflowing.  I’m unable to eat so much lamb, and actually get kind of sick of it after trying to battle through my stockpiles.  My desire to eat lamb diminishes considerably.

And so not long after it begins, my attempt to slap down the invisible hand in my local economy fails, my lamb problem is solved and the local lamb market regulates itself.

This may be the only time something I learned in the one torturous year of my aborted Economics degree has come true in a real-world situation.  I’ll have to contact my former economics professor.   I’m sure he won’t make a mistake like that again.

Article take-away: it’s impossible to manipulate economies if you’re a fussy eater.