Thoughts About My Second Day in Osaka

Yesterday, as I roamed the city, I discovered that people in general tend to be nice.  I also discovered the city!  I only walked around small streets in my first night out, but now I actually saw banks, etc.  Many many big things.  I went to the post office to take money out of the international ATM, etc.  Of course, I had my second gaijin moment while I was walking at this ‘J-mall’ or ‘Friendly Street’ which is like a mall, except that it’s not really indoors.  It’s more like, many shops in the street and then there’s roof between the buildings, so you get the feeling that it’s sort of indoors, but not really.  The streets look like they are only for walking, but they are not.  People walk, bike, and drive in the same streets, so you have to be careful.  I, being a careless gaijin, crossed a street without paying attention and realizing that there is actually a traffic light that you, as a pedestrian, need to obey.  I only realized by the honk of an angry woman who had the right to go.  I learned my lesson, pay more attention.

After that I walked the streets paranoid that I was in the way of someone (some bike, or car, or something) so I looked to the sides and behind me as often as once every 5 seconds.  After a bit I calmed down and just enjoyed the mall.

My breakfast that day were two rice balls, with the seaweed cover and a filling that I didn’t really ask what it was.  They were both delicious, and each cost me 100 yen (which is ~$1.05), while a bottle of tea cost me an extra 100 yen.  My breakfast was a total of 300 yen.  Not bad.  I think the woman from that shop is going to become a good friend of mine by the time I leave Osaka. 😀

For late lunch, at around 3pm, I had some ‘grilled’ noodles with soy sauce and chicken.  These cost me 450 yen (~$4.75) and I thought they were pretty good.  I got them from one of the random food shops on the street nearest to were I live.

I went to a supermarket called ‘Don Quijote’ and it seemed like a merge of a supermarket, a video store, and a electronics store put together.  Oh, and an accessories shop, too.  There was food (I got a big bottle of tea of about 2L for less than $2), detergents, alcohol, batteries, alarm clocks, TV’s, purses, glasses, watches, etc. etc.  The electronics were quite cheap compared to the comparable ones you get in America.  A really nice flat TV of I think 26” was something like $550, I think.  An alarm clock which also displays the humidity, temperature, and date, was no more than $30.  What I found interesting about this store was that they had a mix of expensive things and really cheap things.  There were $20 purses next to $400 bulgari purses.  And that trend was repeated among other things, watches, wallets, etc.

In the afternoon I went back to the Internet Café and checked for Free Wi-Fi spots around Osaka.  I luckily found one close to the ‘Lucky Street’ area, so I ran down there and used the internet for a  bit.  That’s how I was able to post my first blog entry and set of pictures.   I was also able to get in touch with a few people over e-mail, reply to a few e-mails, and talk to Jess Kim online about how she was doing in Tokyo.  That one is living at a sakura house so she actually has internet access in her room!  Lucky.

Anyway, a few hours later I went to the bank to get some more cash, and I came to my room in the afternoon somewhere around 7pm.  I fell asleep on my bed soon after and woke up at midnight, so I just rolled over and went to bed again.  I woke up at 4am to bathe (yes, not shower, bathe), and go through my morning routine.  I got floss yesterday, so I was finally able to floss.   Now I have a beautiful, healthy gum once again.  Now it’s almost 6am, so I’m going to head out to the free wi-fi spot to check my e-mail and see if I got one from my lab supervisor with the information on how to find the lab I’m supposed to report to, today.  For some reason I feel I should have figured that out earlier…

I’m also calling my mom, cause last time I called her it was after midnight at home.  It should be 5pm now so she must be awake. 😀

Thanks for reading!  I’ll try to not make this posts gigantic any longer.  Pictures again posted on facebook at:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2085364&id=712370&l=3769d32933

御丸

First Entry from Osaka, Japan

I’m sorry this entry is a bit long, but it was an eventful day!  This entry was written this morning (June 2nd at around 6am) when I was in my apartment with no internet access.  Now that I found a Wi-Fi spot, I share it with you all.  I’ll write another entry soon, to update on many things, but let me just say that I’m liking Osaka so far!  🙂

Photos posted here (no editing done yet, didn’t have picasa on this laptop):
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2085324&id=712370&l=472baa7a3f

Adjusting to the Time Change

In preparation for my cross-pacific flight and in order to adjust to the time change of 13 hours I did not sleep much the night before my flight to Japan.  I was not going to sleep at all, but I fell asleep for about 3 hours the night before.  I woke up panicking because suddenly everything was bright “OH MY GOD I LOST MY PLANE!”, but no, it was 6am.  I got to the airport on time and everything seemed just fine.

When I got on my second plane, from Washington DC to Narita Airport in Tokyo, I slept around 6 hours, and then I decided to spend the rest of the trip (around 9 hours) reading and somehow keeping myself awake since at that time it was around 7am in Japan.  I finally went to sleep at around midnight local time, after having slept 9 hours in two days.   For some reason I’m now awake, at 6:30am.  I was expecting to sleep about 9 hours, but I guess I’m still adjusting.

Airport Experience

Being on a plane for 15 hours wasn’t as horrible as I thought it would be.  The longest I had been on a plane before this flight was ~5-6 hours from Boston to California, compare that to 21 hours traveling from Boston -> DC -> Tokyo -> Osaka, and adding to that the time it took us after that to get some cash and to make our way to the apartment building, it was a tiring day.

Something interesting I noticed, in all of my flights I was seating by non-Japanese people.  It was interesting considering how many Japanese people there were in my flights.  On my flight from Boston to Washington DC I sat next to a lovely woman from South Africa who was flying back home a few days after, but in the meantime she was going to explore DC.  In my second flight, from DC to Tokyo, I was between a girl from Thailand  and an American guy who lives in Japan.  In my last flight I was next to a friend from MIT and next to him was another non-Japanese woman.

I must point out, the food on the plane was quite good!  The service was also great.  The seats were normal, which was sad considering we had to seat there for such a long time.  I wanted to seat in one of those comfortable seats in business class… they looked nice.  I traveled with All Nippon Airways (ANA).

Apartment

‘My god, they do not lie when they said apartments are tiny in Japan!’ was my first thought as I walked into my apartment.  I felt like a giant considering that the front door is exactly my height.

That being said, the apartment is actually quite nice.  In my room there is a twin bed, a couch, a table, a TV and VCR (there were also some movies left here), a TV stand, a shelf, and a closet.  The kitchen has a stove, fridge, microwave, and there are assorted bowls, plates and eating utensils.  I thought that was quite nice.  The bathroom is probably the tiniest bathroom I’ve ever seen if we exclude the ones inside airplanes, maybe.  It is interesting that it’s setup to encourage baths rather than showers, which is quite a Japanese thing to do I‘ve heard.  I think the last time I took a bath rather than a shower was last summer at home after I was exposed to direct sunlight for too long at the beach and it was possible to fry an egg on my back.  I might take a bath tonight ~

I also have a small porch, and there is a washer there so I don’t have to g to the Laundromat.

Convenience Store

Although I was quite tired when I got to Japan, I wasn’t ready to go to bed until I found a convenience store to get essentials (shampoo, soap, toothpaste) and more importantly an Internet Café so I could check my e-mail.  I walked down the street and found out that there are many places to eat around here.  They seem quite nice and also cheap!  The average small place seemed to have meals priced at around $5, and they seemed fine to me.  There are also two small convenience stores within ~5 minutes walking, and I found an internet café there too.  There’s also a train station, an arcade, and a Laundromat.  It’s quite a convenient location.

I walked into this convenience store which had a quite interesting dynamic.  There were maybe about 4 employees and about 6 customers in the store when I walked in.  The interesting thing is that at every second one or various of the employees would say something out-loud in a very energetic tone.  The most common thing they’d be saying was ‘Irasshyaimase, konban wa’ which is a common way to say welcome to customers, they seemed to be saying this at everyone and no one in particular simultaneously.  They seemed to say it even when no one was walking in, it was just a constant stream of ‘welcome’ and ‘would you like something?’  I recorded a short video in which you can’t see all that much since I wasn’t too bold about recording, but you can hear the crazy dynamic going on.

Here’s the video I recorded:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHqdiypaScE

Internet Café

Soon after going to the convenience store, I had my first ‘Gaijin’ (foreigner) experience in Japan when I walked into an internet café and just roamed around.  Contrary to most places, a lot of people seemed to be smoking in there.  I was not expecting that!  Then, after walking around for a minute or so, an employee came my way.  It was a young, nice Japanese guy with brownish/orange hair, and told me that customers were not allowed to enter that area until they placed their order in the front desk!  I apologized quickly and walked out to the lobby a bit embarrassed and just looked around in confusion for a second and he told me “hai, sore deguchi desu” pointing out to the exit.  I wasn’t ready to leave so I finally said: “How expensive is the internet?”  And quickly realized that I was asking quite a broad question.   How much does the internet cost?  I wasn‘t really planning to invest towards buying the whole internet.  What I wanted to ask, instead, was how much it costs to use the internet there.  The employee could figure it out, though, so he pretty much just asked me for how long I was planning to use it, ‘about 1 hour’, and said that that cheapest would be 400 yen for an hour (~$4/hour).  Since I didn’t know of any other way I could get online, and it seemed that the place was quite popular, I said that it was fine.  I immediately took out a 1000 yen bill to pay, but the employee told me that I should pay at the end after using the service and he proceeded to show me where the computer was located.

Using the computer was an experience on its own.  I didn’t ask if I could use my own laptop, so I was using their computer with an interesting Japanese keyboard.  The keyboard was OK to use when typing roman letters since they keys were positioned in the same way, but when typing Japanese it was completely different.  Rather than what I usually do, which is type the romaji (roman letters) and let it convert to Hiragana/Katakana/Kanji, in this case the keyboard had one key for each hiragana character.  It took me the longest time to figure out where a few keys were, and I couldn’t even type beyond the first two lines of a message when I gave up and decided to write it later.  It reminded me of my first time typing, when writing my name would take me 10 minutes just cause I couldn’t find the keys even when they were right there in front of my face.

O… m… … a… r… space bar … e… back space… E… d… u …, etc.

Something interesting about the Internet Café is the wide-range of options you have.  The computers you can get can be in the not-so-private section, in which your computer is on a small cubicle and you have someone right next to you and behind you, etc.  You can also get a separate cubicle with a door which is completely private.  In those you can have a computer, or a computer and a TV, and maybe even a video game console, I think.  It was quite interesting!  You can also have more than one display or TV, etc.  I think there’s also a non-smoking section, I’ll ask about that next time.

Another thing is, there are food and drinks you can get while you are there.  They have a wide range of appetizers and drinks for you to buy inside the café, and I saw it was quite common for people to get something.  I didn’t try the food or drinks, though, cause I was already a bit reluctant to the idea of having to pay more than $4 to use the internet for an hour.

There was also a manga section in the café, and that was probably the 5th place with lots of manga that I had seen that day.

Finishing thoughts

One thing I must say is that the quality of customer service in Japan seems to be quite superior to that in the states.  Employees are always smiling and attentive, and they are very polite.  I also found that as soon as they noticed that my Japanese is just okay, they would always point out at something or show me something to indicate what they were asking.  At the internet café, for example, they asked me if I had one of those ‘frequent customer cards’ while they held one in front of me.  I said no while simultaneously the employee who had attended me at the beginning pointed out that it was my first time there.

It‘s all been a very different and good experience.  It seems like this will definitely be a very enriching experience and I’m excited about it.  I just need to figure out how to use the internet at work so I don‘t have to pay at the internet café.  I also heard that there are some wi-fi hot spots, so I might look into that.

Today I’m looking for the Post Office, which according to the information I got should be nearby as well.  At the post-office there should be international ATMs so I can withdraw some more money.

Oh, something else, Japanese seem to be very interested with the whole GM bankruptcy and what Obama decided.  It’s been on the news since yesterday night.

Gearing up before flying to Japan

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ll be flying out to Osaka, Japan for a summer research internship that will go from June 1st until August 21.  I just want to share a few things I’ve learned/noticed so far.

–  My trip from Boston to Osaka, Japan has two layovers.  The total flight time is over 20 hours long, including a stop in Washington, D.C. and another one in Tokyo.  It was interesting to see that I had to fly out from D.C. rather than straight from Boston… maybe that made my plane tickets cheaper?

–  On the way to Japan I lose 13 hours because of time zone differences, for that reason I leave at 9:30 am, but don’t get to Japan until 6 pm the next day.

–  In Osaka there are not as many short-term housing opportunities as there are in Tokyo, for that reason I will be staying at an apartment complex which requires a daily commute to work of ~40 minutes.

–  The apartment I’ll have doesn’t include internet access as part of the rent, and if I’d like to have it I have to pay ~$125 for installation fees, and ~$60 a month.  Quite expensive for my budget.

–  I don’t think I will have a working cellphone while I’m in Japan — I would have to buy a cellphone while I’m there, which would be expensive, or find a way to crack my iPhone so that I can activate it with a Japanese provider.  😦

Now, no internet access & no working iPhone?!  I decided to find ways to keep myself distracted during the commute to work and my long cross-pacific flight to Japan.  I got two new gadgets in preparation for my stay in Japan:

–  I got a beautiful Canon PowerShot SD780 IS digital camera with an 8GB SD card.  The camera features not only a great 12MP power, but also the capacity to record HD video, and the clip length is limited only by the storage capacity.  I’m quite happy with the camera, and I’m looking forward to using it to document my stay in Japan.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=omareduardoco-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=B001SER47O&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

–  I got Amazon’s Kindle reading device.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=omareduardoco-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=B00154JDAI&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

I reasoned that, even though it’s a steep initial investment, there are many advantages to owning the Kindle. First, no need to pack books and make my luggage heavy, rather just carry one device that weights 10 ounces.  Second, the prices for kindle books are usually a few dollars cheaper than the cheapest paperbacks, sometimes even more than 50% cheaper.  Also, the books are delivered immediately (less than two minutes!) so no need to wait for deliveries or to wait at home for the UPS delivery guy.  Lastly, it’s GREEN!  No need to feel bad about paper and ink being used to make my book, or gas being used during delivery.  Oh and also, Oprah loves it!  Her endorsement of the product obviously closes the deal.

I’m flying out to Japan in a few days, so I need to work on packing everything and getting things in order.  I’ll be blogging about my experiences in Japan! (When/If I find a good, reasonably-priced internet connection in Japan.

御丸

Full Control

There is exactly about one month of classes left for me, and I feel like I already ran out of motivation to get anything done.  That being said, I’m still pushing through cause this last few weeks are quite important, and with my Junior year being over in a month, I feel like there are many changes approaching my near future. 

I’m spending the summer in Osaka University, Japan, doing research in immunology.  After that, it will be time to finish my education (I’ll be a senior in the fall…) and find a job.  I’m hoping the economy will be recovering by then and there are good job opportunities for me.  I’m sure, however, that things will go well one way or the other. 

In a not so related note, I was thinking about my Japanese kanji name.  My first name in Japanese it’s written オマル (omaru).  Some people translate is as オマール (omaaru) but I don’t like the elongated ‘a’ sound because it doesn’t resemble the original pronunciation of my name in Spanish.  That being said, I also have a kanji name, a Japanese name written with Chinese characters.  My kanji name was suggested to me by my friend Masato-kun, who was in Boston until March and used to be my language exchange partner.  One of the most fun people I’ve met.  That being said, he wasn’t sure how to translate the meaning of my kanji name, but many people agree that it’s a really good name. 

The kanji name he suggested is 御丸 which according to Google Translate it means “Full Control”.  Not bad, huh?  I’m trying to get inspired and really feel my name, and keep everything under control this term.  Wish me luck.  🙂

It was all worth it

Monday night was the MIT finale of Campus Moviefest, event in which I participated with the video (dis)CONNECTED. This video was made over a weekend, and pretty much involved taking a whole bunch of photographs, and an hour or so of videotaping. The painful part was, of course, the editing, in which we* spent literally days in front of our computers.

I cropped hundreds of pictures that were taken in front of a green screen, while Jenny worked on the animations. René put most of the video together to create the final product. It was a pretty exciting (and intense) weekend; I stayed the whole weekend over at Rene’s place working on the video.

Now, back to the MIT finale. The way the finale works is that no one knows who’s going to win (so that everyone shows up). First they present the top 16 movies in no particular order (there were 47 submissions). Since our video is so… abstract in a sense, we weren’t sure how it was going to be reviewed by the judges. But, we were excited to see (dis)CONNECTED among the top 16!

After presenting the top 16 videos (all 5 minutes or shorter) there were some highlights of the other 31 movies and then the winners were announced.

AT&T picks to showcase in their mobile video platform:
Ultimate Origami Challenge and I think the other one was Lost and Found.

Best use of Mobile (Winner gets $100 AT&T gift cards for each member of the team)
(dis)CONNECTED !!! 🙂

Best Comedy (Winner gets an iPod Shuffle for each member of the team):
Miss Resiel’s Students ! (a movie made by a group of Puerto Rican students) 🙂

Best Drama (Same prize as Best Comedy):
(dis)CONNECTED !!! 🙂

Nominees for Best Picture:
Miss Resiel’s Students
Lost and Found
(dis)CONNECTED
Ultimate Origami Challenge
The Love of Lint

Winner of Best Picture:
Lost and Found (a very nice and professional video, you should check it out at OurStage.com)

So there you go! (dis)CONNECTED got two nice prizes and a nomination for best picture! We were very happy with the results since not many people like that kind of film. We loved it all the way though. 🙂

Thanks to all of you who watched the video.

-Omar

*”we” refers to myself, and the two other people who were there making the video at all times, René and Jenny.