I woke up on Tuesday Morning with a bit of shock on confusion. Where was I? Did I oversleep? What day is it? Do I have to be at the airport and fly somewhere again? When you travel to a new destination every two to three days with jetlag, red-eye flights and all sorts of new impressions to digest, things start to get blurry. Tim and I had arrived the night before from Shanghai and even though the flight itself was just a quick 2,5 hours jump over the Sea of Japan, we were kept busy with queueing and rides in taxis and trains.
After a shower and some toying around with the japanese high-tech toilet (there were LEDs and buttons to explore) I got on my way to the conference location using the public transit system that I had researched way ahead of time. The google maps app has been a great help with this, too. When searching for public transit connections, it not only shows the line you need to take but also the ticket price and the number and names of the stations in between. Back in Singapore I was already impressed by the ability of the app to display information on the different floors in an indoor shopping mall by floor.
But none of the reading I did really prepared me for the masses of people that rushed through those stations on their morning commute. With a new train arriving from each direction every 3 minutes, there was an endless stream of people. But even though the sheer number was mindblowing there was no chaos at all. It was all very civilized and orderly with people respecting each others privacy and there was no shoving or body contact of any kind. It was very fascinating to watch which made me the only person not following the stream as I was mostly standing there in awe.
The conference center was conveniently located right next to the Akihabara train station and easy to find. They had four rooms with about 60 seats each which is a great size. A huge ballroom can sometimes be intimidating (when it is full) or deserted (when there are too many empty seats), and this was just right. Insight technology, the organizer and main sponsor of the db tech showcase conference, did an outstanding job. There were coordinators in bright yellow t-shirts everywhere and every possible detail was covered. Sessions started right on time with the strike of the clock, they recorded all the sessions and made sure that speakers and delegates were looked after. A photographer captured some great shots and was quick to upload loads of picture to social media sites. Our liaison Noriko deserves a special mention. She seemed to always be hovering around, making sure that we always had everything we needed, got us fed during lunch, sang and danced with us and was just a sheer bundle of joy.
Craig started the conference with an excellent introduction and explanation of the working of latches and mutexes in his typically captive style. I was due to present two presentations on the first day and despite being a bit nervous about how the japanese audience would enjoy my talks I was very happy with my delivery. But it took a bit of getting used to how the Japanese react (or don’t) to the presenters. They showed very little reaction and only a very occasional nod or smile and did not raise questions during or right after the talk. But to my relieve I was able to speak to a handful of the delegates one-to-one at the reception that night and was reaffirmed that they honestly liked all of our presentations, so I reckon not speaking out or showing reactions in public is just a sign of japanese politeness.
It was also good to see Francisco again, and he talked about the challenges organizations are facing when implementing (or even planning to do so) high availability and desaster recovery solutions. He showed some very interesting (yet disturbing) statistics he gathered from a user group survey and showed ways to get started and take action. One of the last tips he gave resonated very well with me because I had the same thought for a long time but was wondering why noone actually uses this: He mentioned that when you do replication it is sensible to keep two replicated databases. One that is synced almost synchronously as the pure (physical) DR database and another one that is intentionally set to lag behind by a day or two. That way, you have an easy starting point in case you need to perform a back in time recovery. So you only have to recover and apply the latest archive logs instead of having to go to your backups and perform a lenghty restore operation. Tim did his talk about avoiding PL/SQL performance mistakes again and unfortunately I could not really attend (or understand) the other sessions since everything else was in japanese.
And I also met Anton from New Zealand again who must have been the only one from his team that did not make it to OpenWorld this year. So it was good to reconnect but a shame that he was not presenting until Thursday which was also the day when we were flying out to Beijing.
There was a networking party later on that first night and it did live up to the conference motto “meet wow”. The staff all dressed up in cute christmas costumes of santas, reindeer, snowmen and a christmas tree while playing bingo with the attendees. This (and beer) helped to break the ice and I got to talk to some of the other attendees of the conference. The consensus here: no matter where you live or what your cultural background is: DBAs are struggling with the same issues everywhere; Oracle bugs (and features) do not discriminate.
The highlight of the night was a performance of an all-girl J-pop band called Symphony No 5. This group of 8 girls in manga-inspired costumes, high-pitch voices and perfect choreographies captured the audience that was swinging glow-sticks with the rhythm (I know that does not sound right). I thought it was brilliant and I loved it.
The second day was packed with great content by Tom Kyte, Mike Dietrich, Craig and Tim. But since I already did two talks on the first day, I had some spare time to explore Akihabara after lunch. This district is heaven on earth for geeks. An area of several blocks has all the electronics, video games, arcades, anime and manga shops that you could ever want. A friend of mine is into a few of the anime shows which gave me an excuse to hunt for some memorabilia in a few of the malls. My research and advice from the locals also advised that theme cafes are a huge trend in the area. These are places where the waiters dress up in costumes – usually maids – and interact with the customer by playing card games, singing songs together and drawing cute cat faces with chocolate syrup on desert dishes. I had to go and see this for myself. They gave me cat ears and I learned a few “cute” words and gestures, it was a bizarre experience. But the weirdest part were the customers. Sure, there were a couple of tourists but even more a good number of local regulars with frequent-maiden cards who were greeted with their name and they brought a huge collection of pictures and autographs.
Later we were treated to a very nice dinner with the organizers. Steamed vegetables and crab meat, lots of fish, scallops and clams, it was a whole new world to taste. And it was also a good chance to chat with the locals and exchange stories and jokes which to me is the best part about these OTN tours. What better way to learn about a foreign place than to spend time with locals. You start a connection through technology and soon become friends that talk about anything but technology. I was honored to also join the group for some karaoke after the dinner. Again, what impressed me most was how big the Japanese are into this. The place we went to consisted of three stories and each one had a number of private cabins that you could rent as a group. When we got there, the doors to a few of those were open and I got to take some peeks inside and see the crazy parties some were having. We mixed it up between japanese and english songs, I got to sing “Big in Japan” and we finished the night with all of us singing “Hey Jude” by the Beatles which reminded me that I would be in Liverpool for UKOUG in just three weeks.
After this it was time to say goodbye to my newfound friends who still had one more day of conference ahead of me while Tim and I would have to get up in the middle of the night to catch a flight to Beijing. But we would be treated to sunrise over Tokyo Bay on the way to the airport.