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.

CROEM Q&A

For the people that don’t know, CROEM is the specialized in Science and Math high school that I currently attend. In order to attend CROEM, every student has to compete for 150 spots against many more applications. This sometimes makes students anxious. In this post I will answer some questions from a prospective student about the school. I hope that my answers are useful for her and any other student applying.

1. How is the school? How does it look like?
CROEM
used to be a military base before it became a school in 1968. Most of the buildings are original, which means that you will notice the Military Style. The buildings aren’t that pretty, they are very practical. There are some students that don’t like the environment and by October they decide to get out of the school, but the majority will stay and keep studying because of the opportunities that are only found at CROEM in Puerto Rico.
You can know more about the school if you visit it! For this the only thing you have to do is arrange a visit with the school counselor. Just call 787-832-0854 and ask to talk with Mrs. Magaly Hernández, which is the school counselor. You can also e-mail me and I can personally arrange a visit for you with her. Just contact us! Groups visits are encouraged because when students come in groups we can give the whole group a more thorough tour and orientation at the school library. You can talk to your teachers so they arrange a group visit for you and your classmates. If that isn’t possible, you can always visit on your own and we’ll do the best in showing you all of the facilities.
I will post pictures later when I can. You can see some pictures taken at CROEM in my May 2005 entries.

2. What courses are offered?
The courses offered are:
Sciences:
– Biology
– Microbiology*
– Human Anatomy*
– Genetics*
– Chemistry
– Biochemistry*
– Organic Chemistry*
– Environmental Chemistry*
– Physics
– UET (Uses of Energy into Transportation)
– Astronomy*
– Environmental Sciences*
– Earth Sciences*
Mathematics:
– Geometry
– Elemental Algebra
– Algebra and Trigonometry
– Pre-Calculus
– Calculus
– Integrated Math III
– Analytical Geometry*
– Linear Algebra*
– Mathematics Topics (Investigation and reasoning)*
– Statistics*
Social Studies:
– United States History
– Puerto Rico History
– Universal History
– Sociology*
– Puerto Rican Geography*
– Puerto Rican Government*
– Electoral Process*
– Criminology*
Languages:
– English 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, and Advanced English
– Spanish 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, and Advanced Spanish
– Online French (given online) *
Physical Education:
– Fitness*
– Volleyball*
– Softball*
– Basketball*
– Soccer*
Arts:
– Paint*
– Drawing*
– Sculpture*
– Manual Arts*
– Graphic Design*
– Engineering Pre-Graphics*
– Applied Arts*
Domestic Economy:(that’s like cooking and stuff!)
– Bakery*
– Cooking*
– Gourmet Cooking*
– Responsible Paternity*
– Some others!
Courses marked with an asterisk (*) are electives with are taken only for one semester and have a 1/2 credits value.
CROEM students have the opportunity of choosing their curriculums and the courses they want to take as long as they can fulfill the graduation requirements, which are the following:
Science:
Three of the following:
Biology, Chemistry, Physics and/or Environmental Sciences
Mathematics:
3 credits, including Geometry
Spanish:
3 credits
English:
3 credits
Social Studies:
3 credits including:
U.S. and P.R. History
Health:
1/2 credit
Arts:
1 credit
Physical Education:
1 credit
Domestic Economy (that’s like cooking and stuff)
1 credit including Paternal Responsibility

Students have to fulfill the requirements above to be able to graduate from High School; all of the students are oriented the first week about the different ways of fulfilling those requirements while still taking all of the courses they want to take. The requirements I posted above are the High School requirements, but if you come since 9th grade you’ll have to add the following: Earth Sciences, one math credit, Spanish 9th, English 9th, Universal History, 1/2 credit in health, 1 credit in art, 1 credit in Physical Education and 1 credit in Domestic Economy. If you already have those courses from grades 7th and 8th then you might choose other courses. It is a requirement by CROEM standards that you take AT LEAST 9 credits per year, including 1/2 credits in art, 1/2 credits in Domestic Economy, 2 credits of Sciences and 2 credits of Math.

3. How are the rooms?
The rooms are big, I don’t know the exact measures but I do know that there is enough space. If you are a girl, you will have to share your room with 3 more girls (there are 4 girls per room). If you are a guy, you’ll have to share the room with 5 more guys (yup, six guys per room). At the beginning those numbers sounds too big! I mean, I was used to have my OWN room. But you’ll realize that having many roommates is a key part in your development as a CROEM student and you will probably not mind having 3 or 5 more persons in your room after you get to know them. Those roommates will probably become like your brothers/sisters.
There are 3 residences, two for the girls and one for the guys. Girls’ residences have 10 rooms each, and every two rooms share one bathroom. The guys’ residence has 12 rooms and only one HUGE community bathroom. The residences are cleaned by the students (us) every night and they stay clean most of the time.

4. Which are the responsibilities with your roommates?
The most important thing is not to bother your roommates. Don’t be noisy if your roommate is trying to sleep or studying! There are residential teachers all the time. Those residential teachers are in each of the residences to make sure that the students behave properly and respect every other student. They are also there to inspect if the students have done their daily tasks.
Each room has to do a community task and a room task. Community task might include cleaning the residence halls, the study room, the outdoors (picking up some papers), and in the guys case the bathroom. Room tasks might include sweep, mop, clean the doors, or in the girls case the bathroom. Those task combined usually take no more than 30 minutes and are done from 8:30 pm – 9:00 pm.

5. Which activities are available in the school?
The school has a variety of activities including baseball, basketball, volleyball and even soccer teams. You can also play those sports with friends in the school facilities and other sports like chess and table tennis. The school also has a Gym available for all of the students. Some students also play different types of card games and board games.
The school also has different clubs that you might join since your first year including the Counseling Club, Chemistry Society, Future Medical Society, GLOBE (hosted by NASA), Literature and Art Association, Math Club, National Honor Society, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers Jr. (first chapter founded in PR and the Caribbean!), and the Solar Team among others. You might find yourself joining a couple of these clubs since they have many different activities for its members. If you know about a club that is not here and want to make one, you just have to talk a teacher and start a new club. An example of this is the Literature and Art Association which is in its second year and was founded by a student and the Advanced Spanish professor.
There are also other activities that include the Prayer Circle. The Prayer Circle host meetings every Tuesday and Thursday for 1/2 hour during the launch period to praise God. It’s not affiliated with a certain religion and it has members of all the different Christian churches and the Catholic Church. It is a good time to relax and you can join them without asking! Just go to their meeting place when you feel like it.

6. Who are the professors? How are they?
CROEM
teachers/professors are very qualified in the field they teach. CROEM faculty currently has 6 science, 5 math, 2 history, 2 Spanish, 2 English, 2 art, 1 health and 1 physical education teachers. There are approximately 150 students in the school, which means that the student-teacher rate is 7:1. This guarantees that most of the teachers you take classes with will know you by first and even last name.
Some of our teachers hold Master degrees and some of them are currently working on their Doctor degrees! The quality of the teachers is extremely superior to many of the other High Schools including Private Schools in Puerto Rico. It is thanks to those great teachers that CROEM High School is such a great institution for all of us. CROEM prepares you for college life as no other High School can. 14 out of about 60 students who took the PEAU test during the 2005 administration, which is commonly known as the College Board in Puerto Rico and is used for admission to universities in Puerto Rico, were among the Top 100 scores in the. Also ALL of the CROEM students have scores higher that the average scores in those tests.
Another important quality of CROEM teachers is that they are very supportive. They are there to help you and guide you in the process of adaptation to the new environment. Along with the school counselor and the social worker, the teachers makes it easier for you to get used to CROEM and will make you feel more confident of living by your own. Many students develop great relationships with teachers and teachers often become the student’s confident and even psychologists! It’s awesome having such a great teachers that really care about the students.

7. How is the schedule/program?
You will be in CROEM during the whole week. You will get to CROEM every Sunday from 4 to 7 pm and will go back to your house on Fridays after 12 in the midday. This can change if there are holidays during those weeks.
Now, about the class schedule you will take 9 classes minimum. Classes taken on Mondays and Wednesdays are 1:00 hour long, Tuesdays and Thursdays are 1:30 hours long and Fridays are 30 minutes long. Some classes have to be taken Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays OR Tuesdays and Thursdays, while others have to be taken every day of the week.
For example, science and math courses that are worth 1 credit are taken everyday, while every other class has to be taken Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays OR Tuesdays and Thursdays.

8. How are the test and interviews?
The admission tests are prepared and scored by the College Board office of Latin America and the Caribbean, which ensures the quality of the tests. You should not worry about those tests because they are reasoning tests. You might want to review the material of your math, Spanish and English courses but you shouldn’t try to study everything. My recommendation is that you review the material of those courses and then sleep a lot! The most important thing is to be very alert and awake during the tests because they are long and you will need lots of energy to complete them. But don’t stress about it, they are mostly used for seeing if you remember basic concepts of your courses, not advanced stuff.

You should not worry about the interviews. There were no interviews last year and I think this year there will be no interviews again. If there are interviews, you just have to be yourself in them and let the interviewer know why you are a great student and why you deserve to be in the school, but you don’t want to sound arrogant at the same time. Just be humble but point out your good things.

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Thanks Anairy for your questions. Any other question you might have just ask, same for all of the other students that are considering CROEM for their High School studies!