I woke up at 4am and was completely awake, damn jet lag. I decided to go through my morning routine (bathe, wash my face, brush my teeth, floss, etc.) and then wrote the blog entry for the day before. After that I decided that in order to get to my lab, I needed to see the instructions about how to get there first. Not having any internet connection in my room, I headed down to the free wireless spot I found around this area. The internet is actually provided by an inn in their lobby, but I just sit outside by their little garden and use the internet there. I checked my e-mail to find the directions to get to Osaka University, and checked a few things online. Turns out I had to take the train from the station, and then switch to the monorail. I was reading this at 7am, and according to the schedule I was sent, I should be taking the 8:49 am train. And yes, trains in Japan are ALWAYS on time… in fact, I could have gotten off at my destination just by looking at my watch and seeing if it was time to be at the station, no need to listen to the announcements!
Since I had no idea how to use the train system, I headed down to the station at 7:15am and stood in front of one of the ticket vending machines, just to realize that no, I couldn’t read a thing. All those Chinese characters (kanji) all over the place were not my friends, so I just stepped back, and waited to observe. After a bit I figured it out, you put the money in, then select which ticket you want by the fare you have to pay. The way the tickets work is that you put them in when you walk into the station and you get your ticket back, then when you get off you have to put it in again at the exit and it checks that you paid the right amount depending on how far you traveled in the train. I think that is genius!
Anyway, I bought my ticket, and walked in just to observe how people lined up to take the trains, where the trains are, etc. Turns out that there are specific places to line up because the trains always stop at the same exact place. Furthermore, some stations (on the monorail) have fences with only a few open areas so you know where the door is going to open when the train stops. There’s also two different kinds of trains, designated as 2ドア and 3ドア and you can see in the announcement which train is next and then go form a line in the designated areas for those trains. I found the whole thing to have such an amazing organization, that I started wondering why the Boston MBTA has not hired some Japanese workers to teach them the way of working things out. It’s crazy.
That being said, my commute to work only was quite pricey! The reason is because I have to take the Hankyuu train line first until I get to the monorail, and then switch to the monorail for which I have to pay a different fare. My trip to work added up to 480 yen, which is about $5.05 using today’s exchange rates! After that, my trip back home was 500 yen (it was a slightly different route), making the round trip over $10! I was quite chocked… so this is where all my money is going to go!
That being said, I’m trying to figure out what’s the cheapest monthly commuter pass that I can get in order to make my trip not so expensive. I saw online at the monorail website that they have some ‘link passes’ that let you use both the Hankyuu line and the monorail, which is exactly what I need, but I couldn’t figure out what the monthly price would be for that! I also need to go to a specific station to buy it, so I should probably figure this out cause it’s costing me $10 a day.
Anyway, I got to the station near my lab, and while I waited for the person who was going to meet me there this man, who was probably around 60 years old considering that he looked 40 to me, stopped and asked me where I was from. He then proceeded to ask me how I learned Japanese and we had a nice conversation right there in front of a conbini (convenience store). Turns out the man spent a year in the US many years ago, and he then spent a year in México! That man knew English, Spanish and Japanese. I thought that was amazing. He even sang a piece of a Mexican melody he remembers and asked me after every sentence if it made sense to me. It was perfect. I thought he was great. He was there for his daughter’s semi-annual health check at the hospital, and said he doesn’t go to that area more than twice a year. I thought it was amazing that I met him the only day I would have had a chance to meet him (he lives about an hour away from there).
Soon after that I made it to my lab with the post-doc I’ll be working for. He introduced me to the secretary and they explained me how a board, that says if you’re in the lab or not, works. When you’re in, you move a magnet to the left, when you leave, you move it to the right. All of our names, including mine, are on the board. Now that I’m talking about this… I think I forgot to move the magnet when I left last night! L I hope my post-doc or the professor in lab moved it when they left since I said good-bye to them. I have to be more careful with that today.
After meeting the secretary I was told that I have to take my shoes off and put on these flip-flops that they had for me at a small stand. Of course you keep your socks on. I don’t like wearing shoes all day, so I loved that. I was also given a key to the lab, and got introduced to the professor in charge of the lab, who then went and introduced me to the PI (Principal Investigator, or Professor). The PI knew that I was coming to the lab, but wasn’t even sure who I was or when I was coming. He was, however, extremely nice to me and quickly made me feel welcome. He also gave me this book, which is like 450 pages long, that is the lab progress report from 1990-2005. I was just given 15 years of work, and I only hoped they didn’t expect me to read that anytime soon! After that I went to the lab and the assistant professor explained to me the projects that are going on in the lab, and the important things that have been recently published by them. He explained all this in English, so my brain stopped burning for a little bit.
After the professor finished explaining these things to me I went to the post-doc I’m be working with and he decided to forget that no, I can’t do science in Japanese, and proceeded to explain to me a lot of things in Japanese. He could see my face of… what are you saying?… so he explained a few things using some English keywords. I understood most of it because I had studied it already, but my brain was about to give up and go to sleep. After that I had a lab tour, and observed one step we had to do that day for our project. It was great.
Meanwhile I got my computer online, which was a relief, and was able to do a few things like communicate with people and check my e-mail frequently. I missed being connected to the world. I then kept reading papers, manuals, etc. and talked to my post-doc a few times. We had lunch together with another guy in the lab, and it was nice to see that he talked to me a lot, he showed some interest in knowing things like where I was from, what year I was, what was I studying, etc. We talked for about 30 mins and then headed back to lab.
In lab I talked to my post-doc about working hours. Turns out, he works from ~9am-9pm Monday through Saturday. That’s more than 70 hours a week! I was like… oh no. But he quickly said that I could leave at any time during the afternoon since he knows that I am not there to publish papers like most of them are. Well, he said it a bit differently, but that was the essence of it. He also said that a 9-5pm schedule for me would be just fine since that’s normal in the US. I don’t think we discussed if Saturdays would be part of my weekend or not… so I guess that’s something we’ll discuss Friday.
Anyway, the people in my lab are great. I really like the atmosphere. At 6pm my post-doc told me that I could head out if I wanted, that it was perfectly fine, but I just kept looking for information online, mostly about prepaid cellphones, train passes, and wireless internet services in the area. I finally gave up on some things and left at 8:30 pm.
On the way back home I missed the train I intended to take based on the directions I got from Google Maps, so I freaked out for a second, but I quickly realized that the train system is actually quite intuitive, and I made it to Juso Station (the one near my place) by 9:30pm after having to figure out the trains at each station. I also figured out that the semi-express train from Umeda Station stops in Juso, which is great. 😀
I walked home then, and stopped at a conbini to get dinner. I realized I was being lame because there are so many restaurants around, but I was too tired to care since I had woken up at 4am, and the food in the conbini is actually really cheap and good. I had dinner for $3.
I came home, ate my dinner, had some tea, and went to sleep. Concluding my great day. I’m looking forward to go back to lab today, since I’m actually very interested in reading more about the project I’m working on. Turns out that taking both biochemistry and genetics this past term were very wise choices since they have come in very handy when understanding the concepts of this project. Genetics has been more handy, but biochem also helps. Also, that bio lab I took sophomore year is the best. Every technique we are doing these next few weeks I did back then when working with DNA and E. Coli back in sophomore year.
Thanks for reading!
More pictures at: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2085364&id=712370&l=3769d32933
Oh, as a bonus, I was able to upload the video I took while at the convenience store my first day here in which the employees were randomly shouting “Irassyaimase Konban wa!” etc. You can’t see much, but you can hear it, it’s great. J
It’s posted here: Family Mart near Juso Station, Osaka, Japan