10 Random Things I Learned From My USA & Japan Trip

Dream can bring you to places you never thought possible. If you told me one year ago that I’d be lying here in a cozy business class seat on a flight from Los Angeles, US to Narita, Japan; I’d be hard pressed to believe it. But here I am, typing the latest writing that you read right now in 272-seater Boeing 777-300 of Japanese Airlines flight. These 2 weeks in late November, I have been given an opportunity to be part of a company business trip for one of my projects’ equipment at Springville, Utah.

To say this visit broaden my horizon is an understatement; I learned and watched a ton. Between various new concepts of instrumentation & myriad of technical jargon, I see different cultures collide and emerge in (mostly) harmonious lush mountain backdrop. I am appreciating changes of fall to winter in USA and the fresh breath of autumn leaves all in one week whilst in Japan. Here are 10 random things that I picked-up along the journey:

  1. Folks in Utah greet like no other. I’m floored with the level of warmth and friendliness of their waiters, servants and generally all of the people. Great enthusiasm exuded from the waiters and it’s pretty much happening everywhere I go. The casual greetings in high confident voice of ‘Hey there how you’re doin?’ left me grumbled for words in the first few days. We don’t greet like that in our shops and restaurants. That was part of over the top service that perhaps justifies the tip culture over here, ranging from 15% to 20%. Those are mostly only applicable at the restaurant, and with the cheery greetings and services, I tend to agree that it is justified. I don’t know whether this is Utah thing, or a normality all over in US.
  2. And then you walk into American Airlines flight. In a flight however, Asian hospitality wins. The first thing you should notice is there won’t be cute girls serving you drinks like we do in Malaysia (and most of Asian regions). The second thing is you got the feeling that the service is of absolute bare minimal. You won’t be having an extra service, and perhaps US citizen didn’t value it as much. Compare that with MAS or JAL hospitality. The stewardess will come in every now and then, asking whether everything is OK or any side meals you want through out the whole flight. This is on top of Order Anytime Meals (only in biz class I think) and crazy retractable cozy seat. It certainly feels extravagant and luxurious. A quick check on the ticket prices reveals a shocking fact. The same biz class on an American Airlines for a long haul route from Haneda to Los Angeles is in the region of MYR10K, whilst it’s only MYR8.5K for the same flight in Japanese Airlines. Perhaps the economics plays a part here. It’s just not practical for American Airlines to focus on services/extravagances as their cost are higher.
  3. My colleague note with awe when he is literally given to all access of the factory, and despite the foreign visitor disclaimer documentations that is required by law; he can freely took pictures of everything. Americans are practical yet casual. You can get the feeling that safety, when it is preached, is more practical. I can only imagine that we would make a big fuss over not seeing the tags for that monorail being used. A check on the records shows that their 3 monthly load tests are perfect. This is in stark contrast to his visit to China, few years back where taking pictures by your own phones are forbidden. You’d be having more strict clothing requirement for doing the shop work. We speculate that Americans, are more interested in guarding their invention and R&D capability. They know they’re in the upper value chain. The same valves can be manufactured anywhere in the world, but the concepts and flow algorithm being used are the result of 30 years improvement and might not be conceived anywhere. Respect.
  4. Most of Utah residents are bi-lingual who went for missionaries. The people I met at the cash counters and Kelly the contract administrator,  who was hosting us, had the experience for being in missionaries during their teenage years. They are officially known as LDS or you might heard ‘Mormons’ which teaching’s differs a bit from the mainstream Christian. So, if you ever be in Utah, you might just need to ask where did they go for the missionaries, and chances are they still spoke Spanish from that 2 years experience.
  5. Zero degree Celcius freeze is no kidding. I’m guilty of underestimating how the freezing weather would affect me, and on my second day I even brave the weather for a quick run. My attempt to emulate George Sheehan of running in the winter failed miserably as I couldn’t last more than one block. Running in the winter certainly felt like a mission to Mars. I felt like being punch on my face and my exposed hand felt as if it was pierced with thousand needles (which prompt me to buy a cheap 9 dollar gloves at CVS pharmacy afterwards). Good experience though. I can only look in awe when I saw few other runners running with only one layer of clothing. Respect. Note: The non-snowy days, I realized, was colder.
  6. Do your shopping only at the factory outlets. There is a price difference of about 15-30% compared to airport retail or mall price. Compare that to Malaysian prices, however, it’s mind-boggling low. So, don’t ever shop at other location unless it is for foods at the mart or souvenirs. I don’t advocate shopping beyond your needs so it’s paramount that you had a list of items you want to buy in the first place (think bags, shoes, clothings, perfumes, sportswear) and ensure you had enough money for it (to avoid end of month headaches). After that 5 hours retail therapy, I won’t ever, shop again for 3 years. Oh, remember for every item you’re bringing home, ensure there’s other existing items at your home being thrown away to make way for it. #kidding
  7. I need to remind myself to always figure out roaming in advance, praying arrangement and travel lightly. This is more of a recurring themes from my previous visit and I’m glad I had them mostly incorporated. But I overlooked the fact that things can go wrong in most places. I don’t really set my phone to voice-calls and inadvertently picked-up 2 calls from work. It was bad reflect and I hoped it didn’t cost me much! I need to remember bringing extra praying pant as the long journey (it was a 13-hour flight!) & constant ‘discharging’ might impure the current pant. Most important at all, travel lightly with only the essentials. Think one bag to bring laptop, toiletries, pair of cloth and that’s it. You’d be thanking me for this tips when you need to be going in and out of security checks in Japan and US for like thousand times.
  8. Humidity is a great deal for Malaysian (or perhaps Asian). I found out the reason why people make a bug fuss over relative humidity. I found it the hard way. Simply put, it’s a measure of dryness (or water vapour in your air). Why the fuss? Can we just leave it there in the wikipedia? The answer to my ignorance is my currently itchy body which is really bad especially at my thighs. It turns out, that my skin is extra sensitive to dryness more than the other two guys who’s in the trip. They are much more vigilant in keeping themselves warm and not to be exposed to the weather (unnecessarily) while I ran in the morning of my second day. For a record, we are at 90% relative humidity in Malaysia whilst in Utah it is more or less ranging from 40-70%. I learned to keep the body lotion (Malaysia Airlines give a Clarins Hydra Quench in their Tumi toiletry goodies which is quite neat). I’m glad I didn’t throw away that tiny thing.
  9. It’s really not hard to grasp right-hand traffic. I looked up for the term. I thought it should right/left driver terminology. While US has opened my ignorance eyes to the other way of driving, I imagined it to be much harder! It’s not. US citizen accounts for 65% of world population using right-hand traffic. The other countries such as ours are in the left-hand traffic (not to be confused with being right-side driver in the car). Confused? Let it be. I think as long as you go relatively slow pace, driving in US is peanut. But then again, I didn’t do any driving at all during the visit. #guilty. Maximum speed limit is a bit low at the highway (65mph) which is around 105km/h. The other thing I just found out, but also applicable to us is to determine which side of the car for filing the gas. I know right? I just knew from this visit that there are tiny little mark at the fuel level meter at your dashboard. That’s convenient. #ijustknew
  10. One of the folks involved in our testing, Cris come to the workshop at 4am in the morning and went back at 3pm. Which is great! I think those are a little bit of extreme work hours. But I realized that the day is a little bit short at Utah. You had your first daylight at around 6am and by 430pm it’s already dark. I end up sleeping as early as 830pm and get up at 350am in the morning. Note: Now being back at Malaysia, I’d be wide awake at 2.30pm, needing to eat something and went back to sleep. #sleepingdisorder.

I don’t know whether I’ll be flying business class ever again, so I am really thankful for the experience. I just realized there’s a lot of ways to differentiate the level of services as long you had the moneeeyyyy. Which come to think of it, might be a luxury thing that you won’t probably needed. I guess I’d be only involving myself with traveling at this level of luxury if the cost won’t be more than 5% of my yearly pay. What would it mean?  It meant I will need to be richer! Now, let’s go back to real life.

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