News: CitiBank Japan uncertainty for customers

It has been reported by various Japanese media outlets that CitiBank Japan was for sale to the highest bidder. Many Japanese banks wanted the Japan subsidiary to acquire the mainly wealthy customers and their money. Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ (aka MUFG) has apparently been the winner about two weeks ago. This apparently is the final week of business of CitiBank Japan as a CitiBank subsidiary, next week it becomes the property of MUFG. However, CitiBank Japan customers have heard nothing from CitiBank, and all the information they’ve so far received has been via Japanese newspapers. One expat customer asked staff at the Nagoya branch about his accounts. Apparently his ATM and credit cards may not work internationally from next week, which comes at a time when he will be travelling in Taiwan. CitiBank Japan has already ceased over the counter foreign exchange, and it is said that other services will cease this week.

The main attraction to CitiBank Japan for expatriate customers was the fact that all services, in branch and on the internet are bilingual and available in English and Japanese. In contrast, MUFG does not provide services for international customers, except for basic ATM functions. MUFG ATMs provide a wider range of functions in Japanese, but not in other languages. This is in contrast to Korea and Taiwan, where I have always been able to use bilingual forms and speak to English speaking staff. MUFG staff refuse to use English, and all forms are in Japanese only, and many essential financial services are refused to people who cannot read Japanese. Consequently, many expats may be looking for friendlier services, as MUFG’s reputation may sour their shiny new acquisition. The little known Shinsei Bank, appears to be the only retail bank that provides English language support left in Nagoya, one of the riches cities in the world.

CitiBank Japan was bought by Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ (MUFG) ahead of uncertainty for account holders.

CitiBank Japan was bought by Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ (MUFG) ahead of uncertainty for account holders.

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#POTW Taking a cyclo in Saigon

Yes, they still have them, and you too can get a ride in one almost anywhere in the main tourist precincts in central Saigon, District 1. Unfortunately, there are some restrictions on where they can go, but they can get you to all the key central tourist destinations. Here is a great model, Hieu taking a ride past the Ben Thanh Markets, Saigon, Vietnam. More images for licensing can be found on my agent’s website.

Hieu taking a ride in a cyclo, in Saigon.

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Photography competition Can I drop your name?

Would you mind if I drop your name in a photography competition? The winning criteria is not clear (or stated at all, actually), so I’m not sure if it’s a raffle, or there’s some intelligent selection happening. In short, there is a $5,000 sponsorship for a photo shoot, and a free camera, so a claimed total of $8,000 of prizes for one lucky travel photographer. They want two things. 1. 25 words or less of “Your dream shoot”. 2. A list of email addresses to invite other photographers. I don’t know if the winner will be the one with the best 25 words or less, longest list of invites, the most invites who joined their website and entered, or best 25 words and matching portfolio on their system. Because their winning criteria is not explicit, I’m a little hesitant to just throw people’s names in without checking first. In any case, I’d love to use that money for another trip to Vietnam and get a wider array of great local images of life there, tourism, and more.

A young lady in The Morning Café in Saigon, Vietnam.

A young lady in The Morning Café in Saigon, Vietnam.

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5 Things about typhoons in Japan

As yet another typhoon approaches (number 18 for 2014), I thought this information might be timely for many people. I’ll keep it brief, mainly because there isn’t that much to say. For current typhoon information see http://www.jma.go.jp/en/typh/. For current and general weather warnings (including snow and other), see http://www.jma.go.jp/en/warn/. For rainfall and radar maps see http://www.jma.go.jp/en/radnowc/. For news, see http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/.

 

1. There’s nothing to see here

Typhoons are not that dangerous… any more, at least. If you’re super rich and live in a good neighbourhood in a sturdy house, or like most expats, live in a very sturdy apartment or condominium building, there’s nothing to worry about. Basically it’s just a windy, rainy day, and it has no effect on you, whatsoever. However, if you live in a low-lying area, near canals or rivers, in an area with storm-surge barriers near the sea, then you might have something to worry about (think New Orleans). Furthermore, if you live in Taiwan (with dodgy illegal rooftop structures all around you), or other places with flimsy building construction, then you shouldn’t stay too long near the windows or on your balcony and definitely don’t venture out. In countries like China, Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, and others there will be a lot of debris flying about.

An office worker with an umbrella walking in a typhoon past a canal that is about to breach.

An office worker with an umbrella walking in a typhoon past a canal that is about to breach, in 2011. He probably was allowed to return home halfway through the day because of a change of JMA advisory.

 

2. Employers expect you to go to work

That’s right. Even if your home is at risk, and your family too, you’d better have a good reason not to come into work. Fortunately, most companies allow their employees to either stay home or return home when the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) says that their is a “Warning” level for “storms” (or red on the JMA maps, but listed for “storms”). That means that the slow response the JMA has in updating their websites, and the near server crashes they experience from hundreds of thousands of hopeful employees means that when the information finally comes through, many employees could be in the brunt of the typhoon as they are travelling home. In contrast, Taiwan is much, much more organised. When the government announces closures of government offices either the night before or before 7am on the morning of an expected landfall, all businesses follow suit, so no-one is in harms way unnecessarily. I’ve seen news reports in Japan of children at a school sports day being killed by a marque blowing over in the middle of a typhoon. Japanese do tend to deny nature exists. It is a country of engineers and bureaucrats, not humanitarians.

 

3. Japan Meteorological Agency website is a problem to itself

I guess the JMA doesn’t quite understand that itself is a small natural disaster. Their information does not appear useful to non-Japanese people who are in Japan. On their Japanese version of the website, their typhoon probability circle times are in Tokyo time, but the English side it’s in GMT, a fact I didn’t know for the first eight years I lived in the country (I hadn’t heard of “UTC” until recently). I always wondered why there were such discrepancies in the expected arrival times. Furthermore, the language is not descriptive enough to adequately communicate the level of threat you face. They did bring out a new level last year. So there are now (my translation in parenthesis):

  • Grey: No warning or advisory (no danger)
  • Yellow: Advisory (moderate danger)
  • Red: Warning (high danger; risk of injury and damage)
  • Purple: Emergency Warning (extremely high danger; expected loss of life and serious damage to property in some places)

Furthermore, they still use Japanese and Japanese-English terms on their English website that no-one else understands. Here are some that you’ll see with a translation (republished from September 2012 JMA Information blog post):

  • Ku: Ward (like a suburb)
  • Cho / Mura: Town
  • Shi: City (like “Nagoya-shi” is just a city called “Nagoya” in regular English)
  • Hokubu: Northern areas
  • Nambu: Southern areas
  • Tobu: Eastern areas
  • Seibu: Western areas
  • “Storm”: Extremely high danger winds
  • Gale: Very strong wind, but only moderate danger
  • JST: Japan standard time, though the English website quotes everything in UTC (Greenwich Mean Time). Use TimeAndDate.Com Meeting Planner to convert.

That’s right, the word “storm” refers to strength of wind, not the normal English definition of violent weather that includes thunder and lighting.

One more thing on this point, JMA doesn’t give names to typhoons, but they count them. The one that is bearing down on me as I write this is “number 18 of 2014″, as you can see here, http://www.jma.go.jp/en/typh/141824.html The English version of the website does include the international name of the typhoon. However, all the local news services refer only to the number, not the name.

Japanese Meteorological Agency website screenshot from September 2013.

Japanese Meteorological Agency website screenshot from September 2013. Click on your area of the JMA map on their website, and it’ll take you to information for your specific city or region.

 

4. What is actually dangerous about them in Japan?

Some simple facts. The slower the typhoon moves north, the more energy it has. Also the slower it moves, the more rain will pummel the storm area. The more rain in an area, the greater the risk of run-off overwhelming flood barriers, and the greater the risk of land and mud slides in hilly areas. A slow moving typhoon might track between 8 to 15km/h. A faster moving typhoon might move from about 20 to 25km/h. From about 30km/h it seems they start to loose organisation and fall apart. Also, from eye-balling the JMA satellite imagery, if you can easily and very clearly see a large hole in the centre, the eye, then it’s a seriously strong typhoon (see below). In my experience, the central pressure of typhoons is in the 900-1000hPa range. If it drops quickly, that means it’s getting stronger. I think I have seen typhoons under 900hPa, which is seriously strong and quite dangerous. Wind speeds or gusts over 200km/h is considered strong, but speeds over 300km/h are extremely rare and would make international headlines for weeks to come. The most dangerous or wild part of the typhoon is usually the northern arc, not so much the southern for some strange reason. Rainfall of anything over 150mm (I think in a 24hr period) is expected of almost all typhoons, over 200mm is more normal. However, rainfall in the range of 300 to 400mm is a lot. I think rainfall of 50 to 80mm/hr is a lot and expected in the centre of typhoons.

Typhoon season in Taiwan is typically in July and August. In Japan it is typically in August, but mainly September and October. It’s rare to get one in May, June, or July, but not unheard of. I’ve seen typhoons approach and hit South Korea in August.

A satellite image showing a very well formed super typhoon, on 9th October 2014.

A satellite image showing a very well formed super typhoon, on 9th October 2014.

 

5. Blue skies afterwards

Usually after a typhoon all the pollution in the skies have been blown away and you’ll see the most amazing blue skies. Also, it’ll be a hot day, too. I’m not entirely sure why. Typhoons tend to follow the warm or hot ocean currents, but warm air or rather, warm days follow typhoons.

Clear blue skies are usually seen after typhoons have past.
Expect clear blue skies and very warm or hot days after typhoons have past.

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Frustrated with Adobe, Try Corel Aftershot?

Firstly, I have to give this background. I still use an old version of Adobe PhotoShop LightRoom (Lr3), because it’s just too hard to get an upgrade to Lr5. I’ve since bought a new camera, which my old version of Lr does not support, so I now need to upgrade my Lr. It’s kind of an urgent issue. I’ve just come back from Vietnam after using this new camera, and I cannot process any of the photos at a professional level until I upgrade.

Adobe PhotoShop LightRoom 3 does not support my new camera.

Adobe PhotoShop LightRoom 3 does not support my new camera.

I am absolutely, and utterly frustrated with Adobe. I don’t like to do rant posts, because they only ratchet myself up more… unnecessarily. I’m almost giving up on Adobe and perhaps days away from abandoning them and going to Corel. I have been an Adobe customer for many years using both PhotoShop and LightRoom. Though my first art software was probably Corel PaintShop (I think I remember that right). I have money, and I’m willing to spend, but I keep getting blocked by Adobe’s bad website design.

The problem is this: I live in Japan, but I’m not Japanese. My Japanese reading ability isn’t good enough for me to confidently navigate the Adobe-Japan checkout. I’ve contacted Adobe a few times before, and even spent an hour on the phone with one of their English speaking customer support staff, but to no avail. So, why not purchase from the English version of Adobe? Well, the Japanese version of the website is available in Japanese only. The English versions of the website are only available for English speaking countries only:

Adobe blocking me from making a legal purchase.

Adobe blocking me from making a legal purchase.

To add insult to injury, Adobe sends me emails in Japanese.

Adobe emails me in Japanese, despite my account being set to English.

Adobe emails me in Japanese, despite my account being set to English.

I think this email is from Adobe Customer Support, perhaps asking for feedback on how well they did in the provision of limited support they gave. If it’s of highest priority, as the email is set to, then why didn’t they make it readable for me. Despite that, my account has always been set to English:

In the Adobe menu the language for communication is set to English.

In the Adobe menu the language for communication is set to English.

So, after multiple contacts with customer service (phone calls, online chats, and community forums now) and getting nowhere, out of utter frustration I decided to check out Bibble5, some software I was considering a few years ago for my Linux powered travel laptop. I’ve since learnt that Corel bought out Bibble, and have released AfterShot Pro, and now Corel AfterShot Pro 2, which are of Bibble heritage. Here’s the important point, it supports my new camera, so I can process my hundreds of Vietnam photos. Additionally, it has versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux. How cool is that. Also, it’s cheaper, faster, and includes HDR processing. The only sticking point is that the order of the menu items do not reflect a natural order in which you should process your image. As in, Exposure first, then colour temp, fill light, blacks, contrast, highlights, etc. It seems like it’s in a different order for a reason I don’t yet know. But that’s no big deal. I remember as a teenager in the 1990’s Corel PaintShop was the popular art software, and it is still alive and kicking, and promoted as a companion to Aftershot, much like PhotoShop and Lr are meant to be peas in a pod.

Corel AfterShot Pro 2 is much cheaper and does the same job, but faster and may be better?

Corel AfterShot Pro 2 is much cheaper and does the same job, but faster and may be better?

Finally, he’s the important part. It looks like I can go through the entire checkout procedure in English unhindered, but yet to be confirmed. I have money, and I’m ready to spend. What say you, Adobe?

It looks like it will be possible for expats and travellers to purchase Corel AfterShot Pro 2 in their preferred language, regardless of their current location.

It looks like it will be possible for expats and travellers to purchase Corel AfterShot Pro 2 in their preferred language, regardless of their current location.

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New photos from Vietnam

JapanesePhotos.Asia has photos from other countries, and Vietnam is the latest on the list… or rather, the new gallery in the portfolio. Many photos of Vietnam are already available for immediate purchase, and more are still being processed as you read this. Other galleries in the portfolio include Australia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam (Bella Vu & Hieu), and even England and some European countries are in the archives. Genres include art, cityscapes, landscapes, model release photos, portraits, rights managed photos, seasons, transport, and more.  In all honesty, I just realised that I have a load of Taiwanese film-based photos that I haven’t migrated to this decade. Hmm… I’ll have to get the scanner out and get to work in this winter’s rainy days. In any case, my photos are available at my agent’s website, and my PhotoShelter portfolio.

A young lady in a cafe in Saigon, Vietnam.

A young lady in a cafe in Saigon, Vietnam.

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#POTW Bella Vu in a Saigon Cafe

This Photo of the Week comes from a shoot I did few weeks ago with a great Vietnamese model, Bella Vu. Here, she’s wearing a fashionable version of the áo dài (pron “ah-oh yai”). Áo dàis was probably invented in about 1744, but the first modern version appeared in a Paris fashion show in 1921 and became the canonical design we know now (Wikipedia). Today, the áo dài is only really worn for weddings, high school girl uniforms, and by receptionists. We were lucky enough to shoot in The Morning Café for a few hours, to which we are really, really grateful to TMC (TMC on FaceBook). It’s a great location in Saigon, District 1, about a 3-5min walk from the Ben Thanh Market on Le Loi Street, heading towards the Opera House. It’s a quiet place to relax in the mornings, especially if you want a good cappuccino and time to bash away on your laptop keyboard.

This photo of Bella Vu is one of the first of thousands I’ve taken in Vietnam, and so this, and others like it, will come available in the coming weeks on by my Agent’s website, and in my Vietnam Gallery of my PhotoShelter portfolio.

Address: The Morning Café, and TMC on FaceBook, 2nd Floor, 36 Le Loi Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City.

A young lady in a cafe in Saigon, Vietnam.

A young lady in a cafe in Saigon, Vietnam.

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#POTW HCMC Museum

This Photo of the Week (POTW) comes from the Ho Chi Minh City Museum. It seems most tourists either arrive in Hanoi or HCMC, and travel to the other city. Everyone I met was either going south to north, or north to south. There seems to be an itinerary that most people follow, almost religiously and it includes Da Lat, Ho An, Nha Trang, Ha Long Bay, etc, but mostly keeping out of HCMC. However, I hung out in HCMC and had my own fun. A lot of people I met on the tourist path said that they were so glad to get out of the hustle and bustle of HCMC, but I didn’t mind being there at all. There are plenty of things to see and experience.

One such place that is unhurried, relatively empty, a place out of the rain, really cheap (entry is about 75 US cents or 15,000VNM Dong) is the HCMC Museum. It is the former Vice President’s palace of South Vietnam. Construction completed in 1890 and originally known as Gia Long Palace, it became the residence of the Cochinchina Governor when under French rule (Wikipedia). During the South Vietnam era, it became the Vice President’s palace when the president built something even grander than this (now known as Independence Palace). Gia Long Palace is very grand, very elaborate, and it’s a proper mansion. Far more than what you’d expect the vice president of any country would get, let alone a newly independent former French colony. The entrance way is so grand, that today wedding photographers have a standardised course, images, and a routined array of angles for photographing newly weds. The rooms are so large that most are bigger than my entire apartment. And there’s even a bunker and escape route too connecting to the Independence Palace. Not that it helped in the end. What is really worth seeing, though, is history as told by the winners. It is their history, experienced, written and told by them. The perspective is really different. The building itself has not been well maintained, and so there are walls with paint flakes missing. The former South-Vietnamese Air Force jet fighters on display outside are in serious disrepair, even for display items. Cars out back need renovating, too. However, it is an escape from the city, and something worth experiencing.

This photo, and others like it will be available for licensing very soon at my agent’s portfolio (Asia Photo Connection), and my PhotoShelter portfolio at the Vietnam gallery, and Hieu’s gallery.

A young lady exploring the Ho Chi Minh City Museum (former Vice Presidential palace). Model: Hieu.

A young lady exploring the Ho Chi Minh City Museum (former Vice Presidential palace). Model: Hieu.

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