Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Close to the end of October...

  This coming Saturday it will have been one month since I arrived in Japan. My life here in Kyushu is finally starting to feel more like I am living here, rather than me just being on vacation in a foreign country. I've met some incredibly nice people, and I'm finally starting to make some new friends.

Last Friday, the Chemical Engineering Department held a party for the women in the department. I rode the bus and subway with the other girls in my lab, to a buffet-style restaurant called Fucci. The food was really nice, and I met a lot of new people. For being a generally petite race, Japanese people can EAT. I have never seen such small girls eat so much... I know if I did the same I would probably gain 5 lbs. after one meal. I took a lot of pictures of food, and of the fellow female members of my lab.

 I even made some new friends with the only two Korean exchange students in the department. One is a Master student named Kayoung, and the other is a Post-Doc researcher named Haechoo. I had no idea that so many people worked so close to where I did. I think I just never see them because everyone is so busy with their research, and I'm still in a trainee-mode. Both were so nice, and we agreed to meet once a week for coffee at the nearby cafe! It's nice to have someone to talk to in English, though they are helping me with my Japanese when they can. Kayoung got me this costella spongecake from Nagasaki. It was delicious!

Haechoo was also so kind as to invite out to eat lunch with her the following Saturday. I wasn't expecting her to do so much, but she invited me over to her house where she cooked an amazing lunch of anko-nabe. Anko is angler fish, and nabe is the equivalent of a vegetable rich soup. It was really delicious, and I got a chance to meet her husband who works for Coca-Cola. They said they were glad they could have me over, because they never have the ability to practice their English. I, of course, was much more appreciative of their hospitality, as they helped me find good places to food, dishes, utensils, and cleaning goods for my dorm room. Before I left their house, they even gave me a special box of somen, or very thin noodles. Haechoo told me it's what is traditionally is given to guests of Korean weddings, and that the different colors of noodles are different flavors. I really owe Haechoo and her husband a great deal of gratitude for their kindness! Maybe once I am back into my baking-mode I'll make them a nice cake or batch of cookies.

This past Monday, my Japanese language classes started. They're first period classes so they start from around 8:40-10:10 a.m. While this has been making me get up a little earlier than what I normally would, it's actually fairly nice that classes do not start any earlier than this. Back at Berea College I always seemed to have an 8:00 a.m. class, or I had to be at work at 8:00 a.m. While this class is sort of a review for me (I've studied Japanese two semesters in college), I feel like I have an unfair advantage over the other international students. The textbook we are using is meant for English-speaking individuals to learn Japanese, and I am the only native English speaker there. That means, everyone else other than me and the teacher are trying to learn a third language off of secondary language. That has to be really difficult for the students whose native languages are not similar to Japanese at all. I hope I can help some of the other students out, but it's difficult to talk to people outside of class since many of them have other classes to go to.

Speaking of helping other students, I have been tutoring my friend Taku Tuesday nights. It's been really nice to be able to see an old friend, and we have dinner together in the cafeteria. He's a fellow foodie, so we usually end up talking about where I can buy donuts in Fukuoka. This week, I asked him if he could help me find an oven/microwave, and he said that you can actually get free delivery on the Japanese Amazon.com for such appliances. I would totally do that, but sadly I cannot read any of the reviews or oven descriptions... I'll have to ask someone to translate. I really want to have some more cooking supplies in my dorm room. While Japan makes buying meals (bento) really easy, it gets expensive and it's a little unhealthy to eat those all the time.

This coming weekend, I don't have too many plans, but I may go searching for some Halloween-related goods. I am trying to throw a Halloween Party for my friends and lab-members. Halloween is novel holiday here, and while it's popular among very small children, most people around my age don't even know what day it's on. I thought it would be nice to have some American-style treats and to play a few simply party games with the people in my laboratory. While everyone is nice, I would really like to get to know them a little better since I don't like to bother them at work when most of them are busy doing experiments or homework. I'm hoping a more casual setting like a party will help them to be a little more willing to try to communicate with me. They're often shy because of their bad English skills, but I think they forget I'm equally as embarrassed by my poor Japanese... it's about even for everyone I think.

Next weekend some other family members are coming to visit me! I hope to have more to post then. Until then, please know that I am well and well fed!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Finally after a few weeks of waiting, I have regular internet in my dormitory room! It's so nice to have reliable internet access, though I have sadly discovered that I am unable to watch American television online due to my Japanese IP address. Looks like I need to find something else to do besides watch television...

Classes started this week, though for right now I only have a single class made up of myself and two other students. It's nice to have a small class size, but I feel like I'm in a tutor-session more than an actual class. Next week, I should start my Japanese language course, but there is a significant scheduling conflict I have to resolve before this week is out. It seems I have been have really bad luck with online systems, and registering for things. This is the second time I've done something online, and there has been a major error not on my part. Other than that, my life has been fairly laid back, and I've had a great time.

My lab members have invited me to join their Badminton club. They play every Monday and Friday afternoon at the gym on Ito Campus. I went last Friday, and it was a lot of fun, though I had no idea if I was on the losing or winning side since I couldn't understand the person calling the matches.

Here are some photos of my lab members at my initial introduction party and a BBQ. They're a fun group, but I'm still getting to know them. We also had a feral cat come up to our picnic table looking for food. The cat was not friendly but I managed to get one nice photo of it:

I was also able to explore the city a little more with one of my friends, Momoyo. She was an exchange student at my college sophomore year, and I was so lucky she came to see me! Momoyo took me to Tenjin, the big shopping district of Fukuoka. We rode the subway to Tenjin, and ate inside the subway station's shopping mall. Train stations in Japan have little shopping malls built into them, with several floors of clothing, goods, and restaurants. I thought this was odd, but it's common at the big train depots, and they are good places to walk around and window shop. I managed to take some pictures of dinner and the inside of the 'Hello Kitty' store. It's amazing how much stuff Hello Kitty has.

 It was a really nice visit, and I had a lot of fun! I just wish my campus wasn't so isolated. It takes a long time for anyone to come visit me because the Ito campus is so far out in the country.

I was also able to meet with Taku, a friend who was also an exchange student at Berea College. He was fellow foodie and donuts-enthusiast back a college, so we spent the whole time looking at cooking goods and eating food. We even went to Mister Donuts, which was an exciting goal for me to accomplish! Mister Donuts is the equivalent of Dunkin' Donuts in the United States, but their menu lacks my all-time favorites of jelly donuts and lemon filled donuts. Hopefully this will be my worse case of culture shock. Sadly, my batteries in my camera were dying when I was with him, so I was unable to take any pictures. I will, however, say that I really owe Taku a great deal of thanks! As a welcome present for me, he brought a large quantity of cooking supplies, and even bought me a few things so I would be able to cook. Only a  fellow foodie would understand my cooking withdrawal! I am really missing my full-sized kitchen and oven.

The next coming weeks should have some fun things planned! I have a science department girls party next Friday, and then a Halloween Party the following week. I also have to go to the Hospital Campus for health check up on Halloween! That should be fun!

I'll post more soon!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

First few days in Japan.

Hello everyone!

I apologize for not updating sooner, but it's been a little difficult not having internet. I have some access to it now, but it's only in my laboratory, so I don't think I'll really be able to write much at work after my lab hours and classes begin.

Anyways, my flight to Japan went fairly well. I was late leaving Nashville, but other than that, everything ran fairly smoothly. On my long flight, there were only about six people in my entire section, so it was fairly comfortable. However, I couldn't sleep at all on the plane, so I was awake for probably 23-27 hours straight. Not sleeping that long was tough for me, and on top of that, when I did make it into my dorm room, they staff forgot to supply me bedding so I had to sleep on the floor that first night... needless to say the first day I was exhausted. Some people may disagree, but even with the futon now, it's not a comfortable bed to sleep on. I really miss my queen-size bed (though that would take up the entire surface area of my room).

Upon arriving in Japan, my friend Taku and a Kyushu University staff met me at the entrance of the airport, where they got me a taxi to take me to the dormitory. I didn't realize it at the time (it was night time and I was half-awake) but Ito campus of Kyushu University is waaaaay out in the countryside. It's probably about an hour from the major city, and is surrounded by rice patties and hills of bamboo/kudzu. The following morning my support team of Japanese students met me to go set up a bank account, go grocery shopping, and handle the mounds of paperwork given to me. I cannot be more thankful to them for the amount of crap they have to go through to get me settled. Not knowing the native language makes me completely dependent on them, and I can't stand relying on others all the time for help.

 Yamaguchi-san is my main supporter and is one of the main PHD students in my laboratory. He's probably the smartest person in the lab, but he's extremely humble and won't admit to being good at anything (I think that's a very typical Japanese thing). Everyone else in the lab nicknamed him 'Taxi' since he drives everyone everywhere they need to go. Obayashi-san is another PHD student who at one point lived in the United States so he is fluent in both English and Japanese. He says he's losing his English-speaking ability, but so far, I haven't noticed his speech lacking in anything. The last member of my support team is Yamamoto-san (Masa). His English is not the best, but he genuinely tries to make an effort to talk to me. All three are extremely friendly people, and so is everyone else in the lab. I wish I could communicate more with them, but until Japanese lessons start, I have a limited vocabulary.

During my first weekend, my cousins  came to visit me, along with Hiroto's girlfriend Rei. One cousin speaks fluent English (with a London accent) so it was good to have a translator for that first weekend. Saturday, they took me out to the subway station which has a huge built in shopping complex, and to a Japanese temple. We had a tasty lunch of fried pork cutlets, salad, and rice inside the restaurant area of the subway station, and I also purchased an umbrella from one of the shops. Next, the temple we went to, was built in dedication to a famous scholar from Kyoto, so to pray there is suppose to help you with your studies (I need all the luck I can get). Sunday they took me to a HUGE shopping mall called 'Canal City' where we looked for some clothes, and I bought some housing goods for the dorm room. They had a lot of brands I have never heard of, but a few of them were familiar. Rei, unfortunately could not come with us on Sunday, but I got to have a nice seafood lunch with my family. All of them were so genuinely kind, I really had a good time, but I was so tired we had to call it an early evening both days. I hope next time I see them I am able to speak more Japanese! They seemed like such fun people.

I will post again with pictures later! This first week of school is pretty crazy, so I never know when I'll have time to sit and type (or when I will have internet). Thanks for your patience.