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Costco Strikes Back

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Remember the slam dunk I scored on Costco getting the new iPod for $50? Well, Costco got me back pretty good on Christmas. I kind of forgot until just a few days before about my birthday. I mentioned it, and my family, who apparently also forgot, figured we would get a birthday cake for the big family gathering/dinner. It would just be another dessert on top of the ridiculous pile of Christmas cookies and cakes we already had begun accumulating. We were going to get a Costco cake, so I told my parents to just get something funny, like a clown or Ninja Turtles cake or something.

So Christmas dinner comes and ends, and the cake comes out. I haven’t seen it yet, but I got a good surprise when this gets put in front of me:

big rainbow cake; thanks a lot Costco and Mom and Dad

So there you have it, my gayest birthday cake ever, and that includes the Sesame Street cake I had when I turned 4.

Apparently when I said “get something funny” they figured a rainbow would be good. I think my mom didn’t realize that a rainbow could have some other meaning. My dad was either being a jerk or didn’t realize it either. Well, it was funny, but in a different way. Haha. My cousins and everyone got a good laugh out of it. I kind of wish that they would have chosen the “umbrella” or “cross*” that were some of the other options on the order form.

Also, I don’t know if you can tell, but the part of the cake with the lettering was also drooping. So Costco must have been still bitter about giving me the new iPod, and retaliated by giving me a lopsided gay cake. I guess it tasted good though. So take that Costco!

*My brother said that if we had the cross cake, we could have drawn me hanging on the cross. Real P.C., hahaha.

Hamburger Scamburger

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new iPodI got the new iPod “classic.” Some of you may remember from two summers ago when I bought the 30GB iPod from Costco, planning to one day take advantage of their liberal return policy in another scheme. And guess what, I did it, and it worked. 作戦大成功!

I suppose my old iPod worked all right, but it did freeze up a few times over the past year, so I felt it was valid to call Costco out on their guarantee. Also, the new iPod has much better stats, so I think the upgrade was a pretty good move. Since Costco has since (intelligently) revamped their return policy on major electronics to just 90 days, I no longer have a lifetime warranty. However, since Apple only comes out with new iPods about once every two or three years, I figure it was worth it while I was in town. I’m set until the next next iPod comes out and I’m tempted again to have the newest toy. The new 6th generation iPod that I have is 80GB compared to the old 30GB I had, and battery life is like double from before. The new interface is a lot more colorful, using album art and stuff, and the menus are overall just better organized. Thank you Costco for the free upgrade.

Take that Costco.The return process was pretty simple. I put everything back in the original box and went to the service desk. They asked what was wrong with it, I said “Uh, I think the hard drive is corrupt or something,” and they called over their expert, which was a high school-age looking guy who I guess was in charge of their electronics department. As he inspected my iPod box to make sure everything was there, he dropped the iPod onto the concrete floor. “That sure isn’t going to help!” he said. Yeah ace. So either way I knew right there I was golden and would be getting a new iPod. They gave me all my money back, and I was able to go get the new model.

Oh, did I forget to mention that the price had dropped since my original purchase? So I returned my old iPod, got a brand spanking new one, and also made $50 out of the deal. Works for me.

Last week at work, the other foreign teacher got really sick and was out of commission for a few days. While this didn’t really affect my schedule too much, save for having to teach 3 extra classes over 3 days, and changing my schedule around on Saturday, it was very interesting to see how things operate at AEON and at my relatively small school in general. Since there are so few teachers at my school; 4 full-timers and 3 part-timers, when one person is sick or takes a day off or something, it really screws things around. That being said, it’s nearly impossible to take vacation days or anything, unless you want to royally bone your co-workers. This is an example of a situation at AEON, and in Japanese culture in general, where you’re not explicitly not allowed to do something, but doing so is so socially unacceptable or otherwise frowned upon that there is no way you could even consider doing it. It would be like meeting your boss’s wife, and instead of shaking her hand you German suplex her to the ground and do the Rocky victory dance. No one told you explicitly not to do that, but you just can’t do it. That being said, I doubt I’ll be taking any extra days off this winter break. Might be heading down to Kansai either way, although if I thought it would be possible to take off 2 extra days before Christmas, I’d be able to hang out with Nick in Kobe before he heads back to the States for break. This, my friends, is a prime example of giri.

Anyways, I had a great weekend. Saturday night after work I bolted to Soga and saw Death Note: The Last Name, the sequel and conclusion to the first Death Note movie. To quickly explain, the movie is based on a comic series that I read this past summer. A prodigy named Light finds a notebook that kills people when you write their name in it. He starts killing criminals, and the world-famous mastermind detective “L” is put on the case. It’s not an action movie, it’s not horror….it’s a little hard to describe. It’s like a really good drama with detective elements added. Either way, I highly recommend you download the first movie via your preferred illegal downloading methods, and enjoy. I’m pretty sure that there is an English subtitled version up somewhere. The first movie was really good, and pretty accurate to the original comics. The second movie, though, was even better, and had some really good plot twists that weren’t in the comic. The concept of this story is just amazing, and the movies did a really good job. You pretty much have two geniuses trying to outwit each other, one with a magic notebook and the other with the Japanese police force behind him. It might sound really hokey and stuff, but trust me, this is a damn good set of movies. Also, Takeshi Kaga, the guy who played the Chairman on Iron Chef, plays the police investigation chief (who happens to be Light’s father). Believe it or not, he’s a really good actor. Also many hot chicks in the movie, so you have a little bit of everything.

Here are the trailers for the first and second Death Note movies. I found them on YouTube.

Hit up Costco on Sunday, which was everything I hoped it would be. Met up with Blanchard and waited for the Costco bus outside of Kaihim Makuhari station. The bus was really late or something, and I think we were waiting in the rain and cold for almost an hour, but it was totally worth it. First we ate a ton of food, mainly the giant Costco pizza which we couldn’t finish. We then went shopping and I bought some of the stuff that is near impossible to buy anywhere else in Japan. Namely, a jug of Picante salsa and 3 bags of Tostitos. The great thing about Costco is that they have a ton of American stuff, but to make that even better, it’s all super cheap and pretty much the same as it would be in the states. It was also funny that when we entered, I showed my Dad’s old Costco card, but the lady checking cards noticed that there was no picture on the back of “my” card. So I had to go to the customer service desk, where I thought I had been caught. No, not at all. I gave him my ID, which obviously doesn’t have my Dad’s name on it, but they must have thought “oh well, foreigners must have weird names,” and he took my picture and put it on the card. I’ll now never have problems getting into Costco. Also, I’m pretty sure that the American and Japanese Costco systems are not connected, so they can’t tell that I’m using an old (and probably expired) membership card. Woo-hoo!

And, since they have so many American products there, they also had this monstrosity. The signature of Mr. Patrick Ellison:

gross

Unneeded extravagance

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Call it unnecessary. Call it compulsive. Call it way expensive. No matter what you call it, I gave in to the fad on Saturday. I went ahead and bought an iPod, those things that so many of you already have. I’d been thinking about getting one of these things for quite a while, a few years even. Up to now, my portable music solution was a MiniDisc player. Since some of you are probably thinking to yourself “what is a MiniDisc?,” it’s the format after CDs that was introduced to the US from Japan, but never really caught on here. They’re available, just I’ll bet you don’t have one in your house. Anyway, I went with that a few years back because I was able to get a good deal on eBay, and to be honest, it worked pretty good and served me well for a few years. It was nice because I could transfer MP3s to it from my computer, although since it was an American Sony model it couldn’t display Japanese text, and also I had to use the crappy Sony proprietary software. I used my MD player mainly for those long train commutes in Japan, etc. Here at school in the states, I didn’t really need a portable music player since I drive most places and/or just listen to music on my computer at home.

I figured since Japan’s mass-transit system, longer commute times, and lack of a car are sneaking back up on me very soon, it might be worth picking up a new music player. iPod time, right? But it’s so freaking expensive! Also the batteries gave lots of people problems, as apparent by the huge class-action lawsuit we all heard about. Regardless, I saw it at Best Buy last Thursday, and I didn’t realize how thin the current model actually is. Pretty sweet. So really, cost and the concern of the warranty or battery were the main things holding me back. As I tend to do before a major purchase like this, I thought about it back and forth in my mind, followed up by trying to dig up a lot of info online about reviews, prices. etc. I stumbled upon a pretty interesting bit of information about Costco, the large warehouse club store that is pretty much like Sam’s Club. St. Louis got a Costco about 4 years ago, so I had known what it was. Up to now, however, my main interaction with the chain was the Makuhari branch, where I once witnessed a Japanese man cover his pizza in every condiment available, including mayonnaise and chopped onions. I never really thought about buying a major electronic gizmo (or anything besides pizza and sushi) there. The thing about Costco that I found out was that they offer a 100% guarantee on everything they sell, with the exception of computers which only have 6 months. But still, everything?! Including iPods! This means, according to what I read, that I could probably buy an iPod there, and if there were any problems or if I decided I just didn’t want it, I could take it back with the receipt and return it very easily. Or better yet, take it back in a few years when the current 5th generation iPods are obsolete and exchange it for a shiny new model. Sound a bit too good to be true? Apparently a lot of people are doing that with a much more expensive item, HD TVs. Cnet has a good article about this (link).

I decided that this would probably be worth it. Worse comes to worse, I try it out for a bit and if I don’t like it, I can take it back after the Japan trip in August and get my money back. I called Costco to make sure they had iPods in stock, and they did. The guy on the phone said he wasn’t allowed to quote prices on the phone, but the nearest electronics store down the road sells them for 10 dollars more, plus at Costco you have a lifetime guarantee. Bingo. He said the magic words. Went to Costco with my dad, who has a membership card (note: me and Seth both used my dad’s old Costco card for over a year in Japan). I got the 30GB black iPod with video (I think they all have video now), and I do have to say, it is a sweet piece of machine. I even double-checked with the cashier girl, who confirmed that everything in the store but computers have a lifetime guarantee. Even the other employee who was helping her check out didn’t know about this policy. The 100% guarantee even works on car batteries! I don’t understand that, because it seems too good to be true, but apparently that’s how they do business. They must keep it kind of hush-hush too, if an employee didn’t even know about it.

I was reading online that Costco sets up agreements with the manufacturers to let them send back old stuff, which makes sense because otherwise Costco would have gone out of business a long time ago with this policy. But anyway, the iPod cost me $289.99 before tax, which is cheaper than Best Buy and even the Apple online store. Expensive as balls, but with this whole lifetime guarantee thing not so bad I guess. I can have the newest iPod forever! I can bring this thing back whenever I want! Keep in mind that at Best Buy, you can purchase the optional extended warranty, which costs $60 and is only good for 3 years. I’ll take the lifetime option for -$10, thank you very much.

The iPod is pretty sweet. It’s very slim and shiny black and silver, although fingerprints and stuff show up really easily. It comes with the trademark white iPod earbuds, which I won’t be using because I don’t want to necessarily look like an iPod owner when I’m outside, although Japan doesn’t have the mugging problem that New York did (article). Also I’d rather use my Sony earbuds, which are better sounding and are black to match the player. The thing, obviously, syncs up perfectly with iTunes, and I was able to put all of my music on there with just a few clicks. Disappointingly, I also realized that I only have just over 10 gigs of music on my computer. I thought for sure I had more. Thank god I don’t pay for music. I mean….I buy CDs all the time… uhh.. Video encoding is pretty easy with this Videora program I read about on Lifehacker (link), and it looks pretty sweet on the glossy screen of the iPod. Battery life for watching video is about 2.5 hours apparently, in comparison to the 13 hours you get when just listening to music, so I’ll most likely just use this thing for music when I’m on planes or trains in Japan. Having the video and photo ability is pretty nice though, and if nothing else it will give me stuff to show off to people.

it's so shiny
This entry has gotten way longer than I planned. I’m going to go watch more of Frasier season 8 and get to sleep. Japan in about 22 days!

With everything on it

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I think my blog’s been boring lately, with too much stuff about my life. I was reminded today by Seth of a story from Japan last fall. I will now share it with you all. I have no idea if I wrote about it back when it happened, but if I did, it’s worth re-telling.

So last fall, in Japan, a bunch of us were hungry for some cheap American food, so we all went to Costco. Yes, there is a Costco in Japan, and it’s pretty much the same as here in the states. In addition to pizza, hot dogs, donuts, and giant bags of everything, they have a few more Japanese offerings, like giant plates of sushi, which Ari ate in their entirety. They even had the samples of food, served by African ladies who can’t speak Japanese let alone English. American Costco cards work to get in, but they can’t scan them because apparently the Japanese Costco system doesn’t work with the American one. So if you have any American Costco card, you can get in real easy. Seth used the “Phillip W. Leong” Costco expired card for a good 7 months after I left.

So we’re sitting there eating our pizza in the food court, and we see this dude buy 2 slices. One for him, and one for his wife or mother, we couldn’t tell. What a nice guy, getting food for this female he was with. He walks over from the counter, pizza on plates, and goes to the napkin and condiment stand. Here’s where it gets disturbing. The guy used every single condiment available, and put it directly ON TOP of his pizza. This included salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese, mustard, ketchup, relish, mayonnaise, and raw onions. Probably some other stuff as well. He ended up with 2 pizza slices covered in ooze a few inches thick. Seriously, WTF. Anyway, that was the story, it’s just funny seeing how foreigners mess up other countries food. May I point out the soy sauce on white rice, you Americans?

Happy Turkey Day!

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It’s Thanksgiving Thursday, at least here in ol’ Nippon. Of course, I’m not gonna get to eat a proper dinner of turkey and stuffing tonight, so I’m trying to think of what to do. I’m thinking I could go to CostCo and get some chicken and/or pizza, or I could try to just have the most non-thanksgiving thanksgiving ever, like with sushi or something. Hmmmm gotta think. KFC sounds good too.

Anyone remember this? Nothing but class:

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