Thursday, April 17, 2014

Spring Vacation at Work

March in Japan is usually a four week holiday for students in Japan, but it was just the opposite for me... in fact I wasn't even aware there was a spring break until a undergraduate student asked me what I had done over the holiday. From the beginning of the month, when classes ended, I started doing experiments 8-9 hours a day.

In relation to my personal project, I got approved to by my lab PI to start a new experiment. If you are not familiar to how a lab works, in order to introduce anything into the PI you need to have a considerable amount of papers and former research to back up your hypothesis. Than, after your proposal, if it is approved, you need to get some initial data showing that your project is possible. So for the entire month of March, this is was I did.

Boring stuff aside, there were a few major events in March that were interlaced with my monotonous research schedule. First off, my birthday!

I can't say my birthdays are very exciting, but I am fortunate to have good enough friends that they are always willing to throw a small party for me. Besides, I really do not want anything other than a small party and cake.

Other than that, March was really kind of a bittersweet time. A lot of my first friends I made in my laboratory graduated this month. They were very excited to go out and start their jobs, but I know it was really hard for the other students to see them leave.

However, just because it was a slightly sad time, doesn't mean they didn't party hardy. The graduation ceremony/party was just as rowdy as usual. Between American style and Japanese style graduations, I like the Japanese way of thinking much better. They break down students into sections, so only people within our major went up to grab their certificates, which means there were less speeches, and more eating. Also, there was a superfluous amount of goofy photo taking, and drinking, like at any party I have been too.

To my friends who graduated, I will miss you!

During this time, I was also able to make some new friends in Japan.

 I was really fortunate that in my last Japanese class, I was able to meet another girl who had similar hobbies and interests as me like drawing, sewing, and cooking. She invited me to her home for dinner one night, and after that we became quite good friends. Occasionally we will go grocery shopping together, and she teaches me to cook Chinese dishes, while I teach her how to bake American-style sweets.

It was during one of our shopping trips, that we got really, really lost, but ended up at a garden show in the downtown area of Fukuoka city. They had very many beautiful flowers up on display, so I managed to take some photos.

This was the best day for flower viewing it seemed. Sadly the cherry blossoms this year were not very good. Both peak days to see blossoms, there were rainstorms, so most of the cherry blossoms were knocked off the trees before anyone could enjoy them. I did however, see a white dandelion!

Maybe it's not the most interesting post I have had so far, but I hope to have a more interesting post soon. I am scheduled to go to Tokyo in a few weeks to go visit relatives! I am really looking forward to that trip.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Valentines in Korea

I need to apologize for the lack of posts this past six weeks or so. Since I am approaching the end of my Master's program, January and February included  my Master 1 Presentation, and the end of my fall semester of classes. So, needless to say, I have been very busy studying and making presentations. Probably by May I will start writing my Master's Thesis, so right now I have a little break from work and school.

Normally, most students have spring break during this time period, but none of my lab  members, including myself, have missed a day of coming to school. We are a biological lab, after all, and need to maintain living things... so if we were to be absent more than two days in a row some poor creature (or cells) would most likely die.

However, I got extremely lucky due to the kindness of a friend to be able to travel for at least one weekend. My friend is a native Korean who also is at Kyushu University in a neighboring lab. She told me she originally wanted to go home to celebrate the Lunar New Years (celebrated in Korea, China, Vietnam, etc.) but do to the hectic timing of the school's schedule (as I mentioned above many people are doing presentations/taking final exams) she was unable to do so at the end of January. Instead, she decided to go in early February, and asked me if I was interested in joining her. This was an opportunity I could not refuse, since I have not been to Korea in 21 years... for those of you who don't know this, I lived in Korea when I was a baby. Since I was too young to have any memories of living there, I jumped on the chance to go to Korea again.

So sure enough, the day before Valentine's day I went on a 30 minute flight from Fukuoka to Korea. Busan is closer to Fukuoka, than Tokyo but the atmosphere and culture are so totally different. It really is amazing how different the Japanese and Koreans are. I could tell as soon as I got off the plane it was indeed, a different world.

The very first thing we did when arriving in Korea was to go eat. We went to go eat my most favorite type of Korean food, gamjatang. It is a pork-bone soup with various vegetables and served super hot. Even though I almost choked to death on some radish-greens, the soup was delicious. The owner was so nice to even give us extra sides, even though we did not order any.Afterwards it was already quite late, so we went to my friends home to rest.

The next day we went shopping in the downtown area of Busan. Since it was Valentine's Day the streets were pretty crowded with couples shopping, but it was a long and tiring day. If you are a person who likes to go shopping, Korea is the place for you. They have many shops packed together, and you can buy just about anything you can think of. I went to one of my favorites stores of all... Dunkin Donuts! You may think I am crazy, but Japan only has Mister Donuts, not Dunkin Donuts, so I was quite happy to be able to eat and drink at Dunkin Donuts for a change.

We also ate some great food in the shopping area; homemade noodles and kimbap. My friend said her Dad once ate four bowls from this shop, and that it is very famous and old established noodle shop in Busan. At night we met her friend who she has not seen in nearly four years. It was a fun reunion for them, and we were able to enjoy dinner and coffee together late into the night.

The following day, we were pretty tired from staying out the night before, so we decided just to have a relaxing day of sight seeing. Going to one of the more well-known beaches in Busan, we had lunch in a scenic restaurant, went to the Busan aquarium, and then toured an island famous for it's view and camellia trees. It was fairly crowded that day, and sadly the camellia tress were mostly finished blooming, but the view was spectacular.

Korea was a really wonderful place, but after two days of non-stop walking and shopping we were ready to come back to Japan. Koreans certainly live a high-pace life, and I am not sure how some people are able to live like that everyday. I can say though, that now I definitely have some good memories of Korea and the bright and fascinating culture it owns.

I also need to thank my friend and her parents who were so kind to host me during that time. I am not sure if I would have been able to get around Korea so easily, without having a native Busan person with me. Thank you so much!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Christmas and New Years

This year, I did not travel anywhere during the holidays, so I can tell you my post for Winter Vacation will not be nearly as exciting as last year. However, I can say that I was not bored thanks to my good friends always willing to have great parties!

As you know, most Japanese people do not celebrate Christmas, so Christmas day is not a national holiday... most people go to work and school as they normally would. However, since the Emperor's birthday is very close to Christmas (the 23rd) the week for Christmas did happen to have Monday off. Because of this reason, my friends and I planned to have our Christmas Party that three-day weekend.

So when it comes to parties, it's all about the food! Despite there being seven people, we prepared far too much food! One of my friends even prepared a whole chicken, which is pretty rare in Japan.

This was also a party-party, so along side building a gingerbread house, we also played some non-traditional games like Jenga and bowling! It seemed a little unconventional, but it was a great party. Also, this was the first time to make a gingerbread house for the people here... luckily since there were so many engineering majors available, I think we did okay!

Besides a Christmas party there was also a New Years party for my laboratory and the Yamahon Challenge. Thanks to my brilliant lab members (and their weak toleration to alcohol) these are always a lot of fun to attend. Most people really are able to relax during these, and I almost always learn something new about the people I work with.

First off, the most infamous and properly named Yamahon Challenge. This is usually a celebration for seniors who are graduating, so normally we will wait until the senior has submitted their thesis before we have this party.   So, in case you do not remember from my post last year, the Yamahon challenge is where each project team in my lab try to see how many plates of sushi they can eat. The winning team wins the title of having beat the 'Yamahon Challenge'. This challenge was named after a senior who graduated, who at one time, could eat close to 30 plates of kaiten sushi or Conveyor belt sushi. That's roughly 60 pieces in one sitting.... yes the Japanese can eat that much!

Just to show you what I mean, here is this year's Yamahon Challenge photos at the beginning:

And at the very end... notice a change of expression on everyone's face? I think it was a little painful for some people:

As usual, the winner were the muscle-cell project team. It only seemed fitting since this year one of the members of that group is graduating. However, you would think that after such a wild party that my lab members would be tired... you would be wrong. Just the very next week we had our 'bonenkai' or forget the year party.

While I am not sure whether some of the lab members truly forgot the year, I am pretty sure some of them forgot what they did that night. I am grateful there are no angry drunks in my laboratory, but there are a few who tell everyone else that they love them.

 This was such a wonderful time! I have been really fortunate to join a laboratory that not only works hard, but plays hard as well. 2013 was a great year for me, and I hope 2014 will be just as great if not better!

Afterwards I am afraid not much happened to me. I have been working on experiments, and doing preparation for a scholarship. Just like in the United States, everyone always is busy again right after the holidays are over, so I am no exception.  Perhaps once it is spring, I will have some more interesting photos and anecdotes to post.

Happy New Years, everyone!