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Friday, March 5, 2010


Well, I had one of those...was I just in a movie?...experiences. In fact, I've seen that film. Anyway, Ambassador Shinichi Nishimiya (photo on left), Counsel General of Japan in New York City, an old friend, hosted a dinner at his home for me and a few of my acquaintances. At one point in Hawaii before I initiated this trip, I got his address and his cell phone # and carefully placed them in my iPhone. Understand that all the counsel generals I know live next door to their office. Therefore, for our 7PM dinner tonight, I caught a cab at 6:30 and asked to be taken to 299 Park Avenue, what showed in my phone.

The taxi driver, a Sikh, and very imperious, who was protected in his cocoon, which made it difficult to hear him, asked, north or south. (I later saw the Ambassador's business card, and it does not say N or S., except, it turned out, that is the address of his Consulate.) I didn't know, so we went one way first, and ended up at a bank (which is where I later learned the consulate is located). I couldn't see an obvious entrance, so we went the other way, and he dropped me off, as it had to be here.

It turned out there was a 295 Park Avenue, which was a curious looking and quite run down apartment, but no 299. I thought maybe I wrote the wrong number, so walked into this dump, with a few derelicts hanging around. There was a desk, and I asked a scruffy old guy if a person named Nishimiya lived here, musing that things must be tough for Japan if they housed him here. He asked what apartment? Clearly, this was not going well.

So I dialed his cell number and, oh no, there was an answering system. At this point it was about 7PM and I was in a high state of sheer panic. Press one for this and press two for visas...etc., until call xxxxxxxxxxx only if there is a life or death dire emergency. This was, so I dialed, and the 818 area code was a Los Angeles number. Thankfully, someone did answer, but must have been a guard or something, for he had no idea about anything in New York City. He said go back to the other address and find your way into the bank building, then, on second thought, as the consulate was closed, he said, let me check. At this point, we lost contact, or, maybe he just hung up. Somehow, after three or more frantic calls, I found another individual, who, I think, lived in New York City, and he said he would call me back if my story was true.

Two out of three cars on the road at this time of night are cabs. It was freezing, and I was not prepared to survive that environment. The traffic, furthermore, was not moving too fast, so I hailed for more than 5 minutes before one stopped. This was the standard Hindu from India, and really very helpful and nice. He had no protective plastic and kept asking pretty good questions of where I was going because I had no idea what to do but return to the bank. At this point, my phone rang, and I was, finally, given the Ambassador's home address, which, apparently, was provided in the final e-mail message from his assistant, but, which I stupidly ignored, for all the other guests got there without incident. We changed courses, and by some minor miracle, after shuttling through the greater part of Manhattan during a Friday night gridlock, I actually arrived at the Ambassador's residence, protected by two armed guards, and not all that late. The prospects of getting this far under these circumstances were theoretically nil. But I made it. I started with a kir (chardonnay and creme de cassis).

The dinner was incredible, hosted by Ambassador and Mrs. Nishimiya (above, with Irvin Barash to her left and Grace Onaga way to her right). I must repeat the menu:

Sakizuke: Simmered Duck with Vegetable and Foie Gras
Wanmori: Traditional Clear Soup with Youzu Dumpling
Tsukuri: Tuna, Fluke, Amberjack sashimi
Mushimono: Egg Custard with Shark Fin Sauce
Kuchidori: Yellowtail and Tofu Steak in Scallion Sauce
Syokuji: Rice with Bamboo Shoots, Miso Soup, Pickled Vegetable
Mizukashi: Assorted Seasonal Fruits

This all came with a 1998 Dom Perignon (courtesy Grace Onaga--she's to my right, with Anne Marie Barash across in the photo above), Denemon Niigata Sake and 2007 Stag's Leap Chardonnay. The service was impeccable, and, in fact, as soon as any of your glasses was half full, more liquor was poured. You had to carefully pace yourself.

As great as the above meal was, the discussion was even more stimulating and productive. We rationalized Obama's health plan problem (whatever that means), agreed that the world economy was still in recession, analyzed Japanese-American differences about Okinawa and other related delicate matters, a bit about Prime Minister Hatoyama and the Democratic Party of Japan, and well analyzed global warming, but could not come to a solution for Peak Oil and the resultant doomsday to most probably compromise our lifestyles. Kind of what we do when we gather. Talk, but not really come to an obvious pathway to save Planet Earth and Humanity.

Above, you can't see her face, but that's my cousin, Katie Tanaka Balogh, a medical doctor in the city, to the right of the Ambassador. (Her husband Michael, a psychiatrist, just had a medical procedure and could not join us.) Grace Onaga is the girl from Papaikou, just outside of Hilo [and I shared them my story (from Book 1) of how that whole area could fall into the ocean, causing a mega-tsunami heading for Seattle], went to Georgetown Law School and has now been a high-powered lawyer in New York City for three decades. Irvin Barash is a venture capitalist from Manhattan, specializing in sustainable resources, while the last time I talked to Anne Marie, she was an educational administrator.

I should mention that the Nishimiyas live in a museum, and you can't see it above, but there is a huge chandelier above the dining room table, which made me slightly uncomfortable, for if it fell...well, but also, what a task to clean all that glass. The artworks and ambience no doubt inspired our discussion.

By 10:30, it was time to go, so we left with huge thanks and high respect for the Ambassador's life and role. He regularly hosts U.S. Senators, CEO's and mostly only important people around this table, so we felt very privileged. What a night!!!

Earlier in the day I caught the Acela to New York City from DC to get to that above dinner. There is a waiting lounge, and breakfast with Bloody Mary and Screwdriver are served on the three hour ride.

From the Westin at Times Square I can see the Empire State Building and there must be at least two dozen adjacent buildings higher than my 38 floor room. There are two clocks right in front and just higher than me on a building that looks like it has a disco ball on top.

New York is truly a cosmopolitan city. The diversity, culture (different from that of Europe) and vitality exude. The weather is also wonderful (meaning the sun is out), but cold. At 8 million people, this is the largest city in the USA, but #13 in the world (Shanghai and Mumbai both are close to 14 million). The great metropolitan area of New York City is around 25 million, or 20 million, depending on what you count. Tokyo has a metropolitan population of more than 32 million, the largest. NYC has one-fourth the people density of Tokyo.
The Dow Jones Industrials shot up 122 to 10,566, with world markets also all up. Gold increased a buck to $1133/toz and crude oil is just under $82/barrel.



Harry said...

Sounded like a scary beginning, Pat, but looks like the evening turned out nice. You move in heady circles, but that might be because you have always been a mover and a shaker yourself ... and above all, someone willing to think outside of the proverbial box. Enjoy the rest of your trip.

Patrick Kenji Takahashi said...

Thanks, Harry, and if this is the Harry in Colorado, see you and Connie next month in Honolulu. Yes, the second half of the evening was like a fairy tale.

kt said...

It was a great evening in all aspects - thank you for making it possible. It turns out that Grace lives just a few blocks south of us.Enjoy the rest of your journeys.