Freelancing Diaries: Part 5 — New Year Resolutions and Clients!

January 3, 2017 in Blogging, Freelance, Japan, Misc, On Writing, Travel by pacejmiller

clients

Wow. So here we are, 2017. I feel like I’ve been neglecting this blog. Looking back, I realise I only posted 3 times in 2016! Three times! But it’s all about quality, not quantity. Right?

2016 was just a crazy year. One of the most important, rewarding and challenging years of my life. I jumped ship from my employer late last year to embark on my freelancing journey, full of anticipation, excitement and trepidation. What I ended up experiencing was unlike anything I had expected. 

For starters, I thought I was going to struggle some months finding work, being a new freelancer and all. As it turned out, the exact opposite came to fruition, as I was bombarded with shitloads of work pretty much from straight after Chinese New Year in February, all the way until…well, it’s still going. In a year of 365 days, I’m fairly certain I worked close to 350 days, and that’s including this week I just had off vacationing in Japan (from where I type this post). I actually had to turn down about half a dozen projects in the lead-up to this vacation just so I could keep this week free, and I still have a bunch of stuff waiting for me as soon as I get back. There was literally one week (in September) where I didn’t have anything on my plate, but on every other day of the year there was something hanging around on my “to do” list. In fairness, on some of these days I worked for maybe only 20 to 30 minutes, but always having something to do feels so different to having a completely “free” day.

On the other hand, I was dead wrong in thinking that freelancing meant sitting around in a cafe for a couple of hours a day and doing whatever else I wanted the rest of the time. Yes, I did sit around in cafes quite regularly, but I had ZERO time to do any of my own stuff. Work and money took precedence, and this meant less time writing (on my blogs and on my projects) and less time with my family. After working out intensely for the better part of two years, I did virtually no exercise at all this year. I didn’t gain much weight but the waistline doesn’t lie. A good measuring stick for how free I am is how up-to-date I am with my movie reviews — right now I’ve got around 60 reviews outstanding. It also meant my wife had to shoulder a heavier burden with the housework and looking after the kids, even though I was pretty much at home most of the time.

In all, it was a year of unchartered waters where I learned a lot and tested my limits. I was better off financially than I thought I would ever be from taking the plunge into freelancing, and it was indeed very rewarding to be appreciated and valued for work that I took personal responsibility for. It’s just so different to working for someone and getting a pat on the back. However, I hated that I had no time for myself and how my health deteriorated throughout the year.

I’m currently battling topical steroid withdrawal, which is the toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life. In short, I’ve had eczema since childhood and gradually and unwittingly developed an addiction to topical steroids, which artificially suppress inflammation and mask your underlying health problems, whether it be your gut, intestines, liver or kidneys. And they also suppresses your adrenal glands so much that they stop producing cortisol. While it is still not accepted by the general medical community, there are now doctors who believe adult eczema is actually an iatrogenic condition caused by topical steroid use (check out the ITSAN website to find out more). The only cure, unfortunately, is to go cold turkey and suffer through a long and traumatising process in which you allow your body to heal naturally over time. My entire body flared up almost immediately as expected, and the intense, deep itching and flaking skin is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced (sleeping well is an impossibility). I’m doing everything I can to speed up the process, such as following a strict diet (no wheat and other grains, dairy, eggs or sugar) and taking supplements and Chinese herbal medicine to heal my gut and improve my general well-being, doing acupuncture, light exercise and even meditation and deep breathing exercises. For most people, the withdrawal process can take a year or even several years, but I’m hoping to buck the trend. I go through good days and bad days like everyone else, though it seems I’m not as serious as a lot of other cases I’ve seen and I’ve already made remarkable progress in just 6 weeks. Hoping to kick this debilitating condition in 6 months, but it will require a lasting change in lifestyle to keep it at from ever coming back.

Anyway, so my New Year’s resolutions for 2017 are simple. First, work on my health — both physical and mental. When you go through something as harrowing as TSW, it makes you appreciate a healthy body and mind so much more. Secondly, I need to find time for my own writings. Whether it is getting up earlier in the morning, watching less TV at night or spending less time on my smartphone, I need to make some sacrifices to get shit done. This year is really now or never. 

Both of these hinge on the main topic I want to talk about in this post: Clients. I’ve dealt with more clients than I can count over the past year.Clients can make a project enjoyable or a nightmare. Some can be great, and some can make me facepalm just about every time. The thing is, you never know what you’re going to get, and often initial impressions can be deceiving.

I’ve learned a lot about how to deal with clients since becoming a freelancer. The most important thing is to always be professional, even when you feel like you have established a connection and have become friends. That means being friendly, responding to emails and calls, maintaining open channels of communication, and always adhering to deadlines. I’ve found that, if you simply act professionally, clients will really appreciate you and will keep giving you more work. They may even recommend you to others. I’ve frankly been a little shocked at how much clients appreciate it if you just do the job you’re paid for and do it on time. Apparently a lot of freelancers aren’t like that, which is pretty shocking if you consider that’s what they’re supposed to do for a living.

There are so many things that go into a client relationship. It’s more than just them giving you work and you sending it back. Sometimes they require invoices or there are forms and agreements you have to sign. Sometimes you have questions to ask them and vice versa. Sometimes they give you feedback and you have to amend your work accordingly. It can be surprising just how much back and forth there is for a single project.

The key is to be your own boss and be disciplined. Set yourself realistic deadlines and get started early so you never leave anything to the last minute. It’s always better to give yourself a little more leeway because things you haven’t planned for always have a way of inevitably popping up. Maintain good files and archives so you can find your shit when you need it. Ask questions whenever you’re not sure. In fact, always ask a bunch of questions to clarify anything you’re not sure about right at the beginning. There’s nothing worse than a money dispute when you’re halfway through the work or at the very end. You need to be very clear on exactly what work you’re doing. I can’t believe how many times I’ve been duped by clients and friends into doing things I should not have done or accepting cases for much less money than I ought to have been paid. When someone says it’s a “proofreading” job, make sure it’s not actually “extensive editing” and “fact checking every line”. When someone says “editing”, make sure it’s not “completely rewriting everything”. I find the best course of action is (unless it’s someone you’ve worked with before and really trust) to always ask to see the work before you agree to do it or at least a sample. If they can’t show you anything in advance, make sure you give yourself some wriggle room in case you want to say no or extend the deadline later. Negotiating and dealing with clients a nuanced skill that develops over time with experience.

Up until recently, turning down work was always a problem for me. As most of my clients are relatively new, it’s hard for me to say no to them regardless of how busy I may be with other work. In this line of business, unless it’s a long-term client, if you say no once, chances are you will lose that client because they’ll just go with someone else and stick with that person thereafter. As a result, I would always end up with a full slate and then accept more work on top of that, leading to late nights and added stress, further compounding my health problems. Next year I will endeavour to take on no more than I can take. If I have to lose money because of that, then so be it. Health has to come first in 2017.

Some clients, no matter how good you are on your end, will always be hopeless. One of my oldest clients is a publication that is very famous but has not been relevant for quite some time. I’ve dealt with numerous people from that company, and with the exception of one responsible individual, all of them have been pathetic. Once, apart from an editor jumping in at the very end and butchering my work without any dialogue, they also published my name wrong on the freaking article. It would usually take 2 months to receive any money from them, but sometimes they would “forget” or send the wrong amount, and I would have to email and call them a bunch of times, create spreadsheets and graphs and all sorts of shit to explain to them what they did wrong and what they still owe me. The amount of time I spent on all the extracurricular stuff was probably more time than I spent on the actual work. And their employees are the type that would bombard you with emails and calls whenever they need something from you, but whenever you need something from them, they would ignore all calls and emails. I don’t mean temporarily, either. If you don’t chase them up, they’ll pretend you don’t exist. One time there was a particular employee who kept sending me the wrong files with unprofessional, incoherent emails, and laugh things off when I ended up wasting my time on work that didn’t need to be done or work I would have to rush to finish because she forgot to send it.

On the other hand, one of the best clients I’ve ever dealt with is a church in the US. I was a little wary of them at the start because they genuinely seem like a cult and are annoyingly polite, but once I got to know them a little better it was all smooth sailing. Apart from paying great, they outline clearly the work you have to do for them in an agreement and pay you half upfront. They respond to questions almost immediately and are flexible when you need to be. I love working with them. And they pray for me and bless me a lot.

Sometimes, however, things can turn sour with a client fairly quickly. Until last month, I kind of had a falling out with an old client, which happened early in the year. I undertook a tiring interpretation gig from them at a fixed price. It ran for five days on a set schedule, but when the sessions kept running over time, my contact person told me to jot down the actual session times and she will help me ask for more money if it gets excessive. Of course, it did get excessive in the end and I informed them as such, but it seemed my contact had made a promise before checking with her boss or they backed off their initial promise of paying more. Either way, it got a little awkward as they started making excuses and even suggested issues with my performance, though I had received nothing but praises up until the dispute arose. I didn’t push it in the end and was happy to put it behind us, but it was obvious my contact felt embarrassed by the incident and shied away from asking me to do more work for them. I did do work for their other departments, but for eight months (from March until November) I didn’t hear anything from my contact at all.

I still have a million more stories to tell about clients I’ve heard about, such as ones whose companies go bust or those who literally run off and hide. But I’ve got to go pack for my return flight. I’ve already got plenty of work waiting for me when I get back.

Sant-AnGeLo (Osaka)

October 23, 2014 in Food, Japan, Reviews, Travel by pacejmiller

8

So I recently went to Osaka on a short family trip. Meals were scarce, so we were sure to book ahead, and one of the recommendations we decided to try out was Sant-AnGeLo, allegedly one of the best Italian joints in the city.

It took us a bit of time to find the place, which is situated inside one of the food alleys connected to Namba Parks (near the very end of the strip). It has a nice Italian atmosphere, with traditional tablecloths and plates on the walls. They do have English menus so there’s no need to panic, and the waiters seem to be able to communicate in English if your Japanese isn’t up the scratch.

1

Their menu is fairly extensive, with a nice range of traditional pizzas and pastas. With four adults, we decided to go with two pizzas and two pastas. Based on the recommendations of the waiters, we went with these:

photo 4

Quattro Formaggi, basically a “four cheese” pizza that comes with gorgonzola, mozzarella, taleggio, parmigiano. 

photo 3

The Pescatore, a seafood pizza with a tomato base

photo 1

The Bolognese

photo 2

The Carbonara

The food may look unspectacular but it was truly awesome. The pizza crust is hand made and wood fired, and the cheese seems like it’s good quality stuff. It’s hard for me to rank one pizza above the other because they were both so good in their own way, with the Quattro Formaggi full of cheesy flavour and the Pescatore so flavoursome and deluxe. The pastas were also deceptive tasty, especially the tangy bolognese, which the kids absolutely loved. The carbonara was also not too creamy and had a little bit of an extra zing.

For dessert we tried the tiramisu, but it was so enticing that we gobbled it up before I had the chance to take a photo.

In all, it was a splendid experience. Great atmosphere, friendly and speedy service and delicious, traditional Italian cuisine. Would love to come back if the opportunity presents itself in the future.

8.5/10

Details

Sant-AnGeLo (サンタ・アンジェロ)

Website (Japanese): http://www.anjou.co.jp/shop/angelo/index.html (pizza menu third tab, pasta/dessert menu fourth tab)

Address: 5-1-60 Nanba, Chuo Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture (walking distance from Namba stations)

Phone: +81 (0)6-6644-2855

Hours: Mon-Fri 11:30-14:00, 17:30-22:00; Sat-Sun 11:30-22:00

Price: about 1,000 yen per person for lunch, 2,500 yen per person for dinner

SA

Kansai Adventure Part II: Kobe & Osaka

July 14, 2013 in Japan, Travel by pacejmiller

167

Dotombori in Osaka

This is the second part of our Kansai adventure, to Kobe and Osaka, which we knocked off in single day. We had been to both places numerous times so this time we narrowed our focus to the must-do things.

Kobe

There are lots of things to do in Kobe, about a 50-minute express JR ride from Kyoto. We used to always head down to Harborland, which is an excellent place to hang out for a nice meal, shopping and some scenery. Most of all, there is a mini-theme park there which offers plenty of fun.

But with limited time, we narrowed our focus on Sannomiya, Kobe’s main terminal. If you are looking for Kobe steak (as we were), this is the area to visit, but I would still recommend doing some research beforehand because there are simply too many choices and you don’t want to end up picking the wrong one.

We did your research and chose a Kobe steak teppanyaki joint called Royal Mouriya (review here). It’s located on Ikuta Road, which is easy to find because there is a large arch on both ends which says “IKUTA ROAD.” There are loads of Kobe steak houses along this road and in the surrounding streets.

131

Another landmark to help you find this place is the massive Tokyu Hands you will see at one end of the street, just across the road. Tokyu Hands is one of Japan’s most famous specialty department stores and you can spend hours or even days in there wandering through the levels looking at really cool Japanese stuff. Check out the English website here. Basically, Tokyu Hands has whatever you want — their motto is “When You Visit, You Find What You Want” — except it looks more appealing because it’s Japanese and is packaged in that alluring Japanese style.

Tokyu Hands, the ultimate place to go for shopping

Tokyu Hands, the ultimate place to go for shopping

From snacks, phone accessories, travel goods and cooking utensils to stationery, home appliances, toys and cosmetics, Tokyu Hands as it all. Kyoto doesn’t have one, which is why we came all the way here, but Osaka has two and Tokyo has four. The one we visited, Kobe’s only store, had close to 10 levels. So if you’re looking to buy stuff — cool, quality, unique stuff — go there. I highly recommend it.

Osaka

If you have to make a choice between Kobe and Osaka, choose Osaka. It’s bigger, as most of the things Kobe has, and it’s closer to Kyoto (about 25-30 minutes via the JR).

With just a later afternoon and evening to spend, we caught the JR from Kobe to Osaka and went straight to Honmachi for the massive Akachan Honpo baby store there (website – Japanese).

After spending a lot of money there, we went to the most happening place in Osaka, the lively Dotombori (or Dotonbori). It was raining pretty heavily that night but the area was still packed with people. It’s just one of those places with so many iconic images (the giant crab, the Glico runner, the drummer clown — though that place has closed down) and you just have to visit and see for yourself.

The giant crab!

The giant crab!

We first enjoyed some takoyaki (battered balls with octopus inside — interpret that as you wish) at this little dingy joint because it looked pretty popular. There are literally dozens of takoyaki places at Dotombori and I’ve tried my fair share over the years but none have been able to match the brilliance of Taco Tora in Kyoto (review here). The one we sampled on this night was pretty average, to be honest.

149 143 146

The takoyaki was just an appetizer, as we then headed over to Osaka Botejyu for some okonomiyaki (review here). That was a great meal, but unfortunately it didn’t leave us with a lot of time or stomach space to try other places. So instead we went to H&M and bought a bunch of clothes and caught the JR back to Kyoto.

137

More shopping!

Kansai Adventure Part I: Kyoto

June 19, 2013 in Food, Japan, Reviews, Travel by pacejmiller

098

Night view from outside the front of Kyoto Station

I’m back, and I have no excuse for why it’s taken this long to post. Anyway, the restaurant/dining reviews from that March trip to Japan have finally been completed, so now it’s time to offer a brief round-up of the rest of the stuff we saw and did.

We were only in Japan for effectively three days and three nights (and that includes piecing together two half days). One of those days was spent on a day trip to Kobe and Osaka, with the other day and two half days in Kyoto, where we stayed (at the awesome Hotel Granvia, which is right on top of the Kyoto Station).

Scenic Attractions

This post features some highlights from our trip for those who might be interested in taking a similar short trip to Kyoto. That said, since we had been to all the tourist attractions in the city, all we did this time was shop and eat. So if you want to know which are the must-visit places, these are my personal recommendations:

1. Kyomizu-dera (清水寺) — in my personal opinion the prettiest of all the temples in Kyoto.

2. Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺) — if you’ve only got time for a couple of temples, then this is the second one I would recommend over Ginkaku-ji (銀閣寺). The former is the Golden Pavilion and the second is the Silver Pavilion, and gold is better than silver, right?

3. Nijo castle (二条城) — a massive castle built in the early 1600s, complete with a moat and all.

4. Arashiyama (嵐山) — the place to go for mountain views, especially if you’re there in time to catch the autumn leaves.

5. Gion (祇園) — the geisha district; ’nuff said. If you’re there, check out this awesome Japanese ice cream place.

PS: If you are into manga, then check out the Kyoto International Manga Museum.

Kyoto Station

Chances are you will arrive in Kyoto through Kyoto Station. This time we stayed at the magnificent Hotel Granvia, which I highly recommend for its quality and convenience (it is literally right above the station).

There’s lots to do near the station itself. On the first night we were there, for example, we had dinner at Katsu Kura  (reviewed here), located on Level 11 of The Cube (a shopping mall connected to the station along with Isetan), which I believe is the best Japanese pork cutlet place I’ve ever tried.

095

The view of Kyoto Station’s open areas from above

The shopping at The Cube and Isetan are both excellent, especially if you are looking for Japanese sweets, desserts or souvenirs to take back with you. Food-wise, there is the famous Ramen Street on level 10 of Isetan. It’s not the best ramen you can have in Kyoto, but with seven (by my count) options to choose from, you can always find something to your liking. Even if don’t eat there it’s not a bad idea to walk through it and check them out.

092

The list of ramen restaurants at Kyoto’s famous Ramen Street

094

The ramen stores here use a ticket ordering system

For lunch on our last day in Kyoto we went to Salavtore Cuomo’s The Kitchen on level 10 of Isetan. It’s an Italian place where you can order main courses to go with a delicious all-you-can-eat buffet (review here). There are also lots of great (but expensive) restaurants inside Hotel Granvia; for cheaper delights, visit the underground food haven which can be accessed from directly outside the front of the station.

For dessert or afternoon tea, you can’t go wrong with the green tea delights of Tsujiri, of which there is a branch in Isetan. The main store is near Gion, but that one is nearly always has a ridiculous queue, so you might be better off trying your luck at Isetan, especially just after the department store opens or just before it closes.

Another famous green tea dessert place is Nakamura Tokichi (English website), located on level 3 at the Suvaco section of Isetan. There’s nearly always a lengthy wait there as well, but if you don’t mind getting some takeaway you can go to the food court on the ground floor — there is a small window store there where you can sample some of their delicious roasted matcha ice cream.

319

This is the food court stall

317

And this is the ice cream!

Outside the front of the station, to the right, is a newish building with Japanese Karaoke, which we went to on our last night (and had a blast). On the left hand side is a a branch of the electronics giant Bic Camera — which has just about every electronic item you can think of. Well, unless you go to the massive Yodobashi Camera across the road, which has everything you can think of and much much more. If you only have time for one, go to Yodobashi — I used to travel all the way to Osaka for this place, one of the best shopping experiences you can ever have as a tourist. If you’re tired, just stretch your legs out on one of the unbelievable massage chairs. And then try another one. And another. No one will care. I am certain I can spend a whole day in that place.

Kawaramachi

181

My favourite hangout in Kyoto when I was a student was Kawaramachi, a street, but also used to describe the most happening place in the city. Department stores, shops selling everything from souvenirs to hats to comic books and retro CDs, restaurants, cafes, book stores, cinemas, pachinko parlous, bowling alleys, karaoke bars, insanely awesome drug stores, and more — just go and enjoy.

This time, all we had time for was to visit the famous Musashi Sushi for the first time (review here) and then venture deeper into the district for some crepes at one of my favourite joints. But trust me, you can spend a full day at Kawaramachi. Easily.

183

The crepe store is situated inside the Gourmet City supermarket

180

The crepe joint I’m talking about

189

Crepe master hard at work

191

Mmm…

Nishiki Markets

This 400-year-old market is worth a visit even if you are not all that interested in the food they have to sell. It’s located a road one block north and parallel to Shijō Street and west of Teramachi Street (thanks, Wikipedia), but all I know is that it’s pretty easy to access from Kawaramachi.

199

Inside the narrow Nishiki Markets

207

Produce!

The thing I would recommend at Nishiki markets are definitely the fresh strawberries (they look so red and perfect that I initially thought they were fake), though the other fruits looked pretty scrumptious too. There are plenty of local delicacies you can try, and the more popular ones include the egg rolls (literally a roll of egg) and the store that sells soy soft serve ice cream and soy donuts. It’s also a great place to get some sweets and snacks to take home.

195

The egg roll store

192

The famous egg roll

213

Soy soft serve and donut store

210

Donuts!

Candy

I’m not usually a candy fan, but I have a fetish for grape candy (which is a popular flavour in Japan), and the best I’ve ever had might be this sour grape fettuccine pictured below. I believe I bought around 10 packets and devoured them all in the ensuing days. And that’s all I have to say about that.

101

Salvatore Cuomo’s The Kitchen (Kyoto)

May 23, 2013 in Food, Japan, Reviews, Travel by pacejmiller

315

It was going to be our last meal in Kyoto, and we wanted a good one. Having already ticked off all Japanese delicacies off our list, we decided to wander Kyoto station and see if there was anything that jumped out at us.

In the end, we chose The Kitchen, an Italian joint headed by chef Salvatore Cuomo. It sits on top of Kyoto station at level 10 of the Isetan department store and offers great views over the city.

312

I speak the truth

One of the main reasons we chose this place was because of its 1,800 yen buffet lunch (11am-3pm; 80 yen for children aged 3-10).  It’s awesome — you get to choose a main course each (pizza, pasta, fish or meat), all-you-can-eat dishes from the buffet bar, and a tea or coffee. Some of the courses require an additional charge, and desserts (which we did order) are separate. There is also a “special buffet lunch” at 2,800 yen for famished people who would like two main courses instead of the one.

290

First, the buffet bar. The variety is pretty good — not huge, but everything is high quality. On this day, there was really excellent onion soup, DYI salad, bread, vegetables (pickled or otherwise) and an assortment of cold meats, fish, french fries, mashed potatoes, etc. The bar area is pretty small so during peak hours there might be a bit of a line, but everything I got was appetizing, especially the soup and the meats.

289

Fresh salad and onion soup

293

A selection from the buffet bar

The first main course we got was The Kitchen’s signature pizza, which, according to my shitty Japanese, won some type of award at a pizza competition. It’s simple — cherry tomato, mozzarella, and basil — but spectacular. One of the best pizzas I’ve had in Japan, or anywhere, for that matter. I mean, just look at this baby.

297

The second main course was chicken with tomato relish and pan-fried risotto and rosemary potatoes. Yum as well. The chicken was tender and I loved the tangy tomato and the crispiness of the risotto. A match made in heaven.

299

For dessert, we ordered a special Japanese green tea tiramisu and a sour lemon tart. The tiramisu probably was not quite as good as I expected but I enjoyed the lemon tart.  The dessert was probably one of the weaker elements of the restaurant.

305

302

As for the coffee, I think this is the picture of a bear or a dog. What do you think?

308

A dog? Bear? Alien?

Anyway, The Kitchen is a place I would definitely recommend if you are looking for exquisite Italian cuisine in Kyoto, especially its lunch special as dinner could be rather expensive. The ambience is classy, the buffet is delicate and the pizza is sensational. Try it.

8.5/10

Details

The Kitchen Salvatore Cuomo (Kyoto)

Website (Japanese): http://www.ystable.co.jp/restaurant/thekitchen_kyoto/index.html

Address: Kyoto Station Isetan Department Store, level 10

Phone: 075-365-7765

Opening Hours: Lunch 11:00 – 16:00 (LO 15:00); Dinner 17:00 – 23:00 (LO 22:00)