My life 4.4

 In Tokyo, Buying



He thrust his sweating palm against mine. It did not seem so hot in this air-conditioned hotel, but this guy always seemed to be nervous and sweating. I shook it, then surreptitiously wiped my hand on my trousers.

 He was the ‘leg man’ for a big Japanese manufacturer. I was in Tokyo, buying. He had to entertain me, or they would loose face. I had to agree to be entertained, or they would loose face. So I agreed.

 After the obligatory taxi ride (30 minutes to cover a 10 minute walk), we arrived at the restaurant. Brightly lit, it was Chinese. Fine! I thought. I loved Japanese food, but had been in Tokyo for two weeks now, and a change was welcome.


My first exposure to true Chinese food had been a trip via Hong Kong. It was ‘snake soup’ season. I later learned that the flavour was chicken, as were half the small lumps of meat. The rest was snake, chewy and tasteless.

We had a lobster. It arrived on a bed of dry ice, steaming mist. In its eyes were two tiny neon bulbs, shining red. Presentation tasteless, but the flesh was fresh and good!

 Then the waiter placed a covered bowl on the table, filled with prawns in some kind of liquid. As I was finishing my lobster, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. One of the prawns had jumped! Surely this was a mistake. My stomach turned over.

 It was no mistake! The prawns were jumping, rattling the glass lid on the bowl as they twisted and turned.

 The waiter explained they were in rice wine, to numb them. He took them and tossed them in a hot wok, delivering them to our plates, fresh and steaming.

 We travelled on to Japan, little dark-haired schoolgirls in white socks serving us wonderful food on the Cathay Pacific flight.


So here I was, many trips later, still trying something new in Japan.

This time, they didn’t cook it.

 A big, juicy prawn, a whole mouthful in itself, once again pacified in rice wine arrived on a plate. The main shell had been removed, leaving its legs, tail  and head intact. The sweating man explained :

 “You pull off the head and legs, dip it in the sauce and then ….eat it!”

 It was simple. Here was a simple decision.

 I looked at him, He smiled at me.

 “OK” I agreed, and did it.

 It was pulsing as it entered my mouth, and as I chewed on it, it moved.

 But it was delicious!

 After more delicacies (all less challenging to the western palate than my live prawn), I drank my fragrant tea and sat back.

 “Thank you so much!” I gushed “That was a new experience, and excellent!”

 The sweating man swelled with pride. I knew it would go in the report. I knew how this game was played.

 “Would you like to go somewhere and relax?”

 “Why, yes!” I replied, glancing at my watch. It was still early.

 I was naïve.


The taxi took us to a bar. “A drink?” the sweating man invited, mopping his brow.

 “Fine” I replied, taking a beer and wondering why we were sitting in a small bar in a back street. But I enjoyed it as it was a new side of Tokyo for me. Clean, neat, perfect service, it was undoubtedly downmarket.

 The sweating man consulted his watch.

  “We are early!” he explained

 “What for?” I enquired, innocently.

 “The girls are very clean!” He assured me.

 I don’t know to this day what deterred me. I would like to think it was my moral integrity. My wife, my children? Being in some place with lovely Japanese girls and this sweating man?

 It was the word ‘clean’ that jarred, to be honest - and the ‘early’.  It reminded me I was in a queue.

 Was I so desperate I wanted that?

I had seen colleagues on foreign trips just go crazy, away from home. For me it made no difference, home or away. Was I undersexed? Who knows? Perhaps I was just picky. Perhaps I thought there should be a relationship?

 The sweating man was looking at me.

 “Sorry!” I said – “No! But thank you!”

 As the sweating man started to panic (perhaps it was his fear of my meeting with his boss the next day, or his disappointment, if he was getting the company to pay for ‘entertainment’ which included himself.), I explained:-

 “I don’t do that! It is not my custom. I apologise that I misunderstood. I can accept meal and drinks, but nothing else. After all I may be buying from you.”

 I was whisked back in the taxi.  The sweating man persuaded me to let him buy me a drink in the hotel as he continued to apologise.


Next morning, the phone rang.

“We have changed the arrangements” a voice announced. I complied.

 It was face!

 Instead of meeting the Head of Marketing of the Company at a branch office, I was welcomed at the Main Headquarters by the General Manager. The ancient President, wheeled in to greet me in his wheelchair, sang my praises.

 The price went down, the specification increased and we did an excellent deal.

 I praised the sweating man briefly, to get him off the hook, but they didn’t send him again.


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