Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pre-flight Blues

So, it's two am, 15 hours before my flight back to the N. America, and I am sitting in my room, listening to Boston and reflecting on more or less everything I have done since last year. This past month has been extremely hectic, but everything is more or less settled - tomorrow I get on a plane, spend the night in Toronto, and by Friday I am back home, beginning of my summer break. This is just like last summer (pre-Korea), the summer after my freshman year, or perhaps more accurately -- the summer before my freshman year, when I came back from my first trip to Japan. The same pattern is set for me again: relax, try to find a job, hang with my friends, maybe travel a bit. A tad mundane, but for the first time that normalcy is what appeals to me most. After a year of being the obvious outcast, I am returning to home, where I can blend in or stand out almost solely on my own whim. Curly hair, body hair, facial hair speaking-english natively all are common enough to not turn heads (well, maybe those first three still will). I won't have to bend over backwards to try to speak in a language I'm uncomfortable with, or to conform to customs I only have an academic appreciation for. I will get to see all of the people I have missed, eat the foods I took for granted, be able to read street signs, have a summer vacation, perhaps see my brother on his 18th birthday. Clearly there are a lot of things to look forward to, and I certainly am doing so.

However, as the date comes closer and closer, the more crap I've had to deal with these last few days, and the more my friends here have been there and made their presence known, the more I find myself having to remember why it is I wanted to go home so badly. I definitely still do, but the general comraderie exhibited this past week, all of the tiny details about my friends that I am seeing for, in many cases, probably the last time just serve to remind me over and over again who I am leaving behind, which is the entire "what" to me. Bang, Niko, and especially Jason have been putting way more effort to hang out and make my last few days in Tokyo as wonderul as possible than any reasonable people should. Tama-chan took the few minutes she had before class to go to a bakery with me, Aleks looked visibly distraught at the thought of not seeing me before I left, Damon and I joked about him being the last representative of American masculinity (and America in general) in Sodai Ryo, Rike has been even sweeter than one would think possible of her always-friendly attitude -- I'd keep going so as not to leave anyone out, but the list is practically endless. Really I just want to give a glimpse of all the grattitude I feel towards the Sodai Ryo family, without you guys I'm not sure I would have lasted a week here.

Anyway, from this point on there is very little I personally have to do in Japan. I cancelled my health insurance today, I returned my Student ID, tomorrow I'll cancel my phone service, and I need Nakamura-san to check over my room and take my keys, and I need to get to my plane. Besides that, I just need to see some of my friends in the dorm and say good-bye, and perhaps grab lunch with Bang and Jason before I catch my plane. I'll have a 17 hour or so stop-over in Toronto, to further relax and gain my compsure, than Friday (Jeremy's 18th birthday) I go home to my family, and possibly take a short road trip to see Jeremy at his school...we'll see how I'm feeling. Really, once I'm back in NY I just need to relax, find a job, and catch-up with everyone, everywhere. As for this blog, I think I will post once or twice for Toronto/my flight home, and then I will likely end it. If I feel really inclined I might make some posts I meant to make earlier, describing cultural aspects or just events I wanted to talk about and never did, but I'm not sure I really want to do that. However, I do want to thank my readers (and the people that suggested keeping this blog, even if they didn't all follow it at all). I am really happy I kept this blog, it's been a great sort of release, especially during some of these more stressful times. I actually have liked doing this so much I might keep a more general blog (besides the stuff I contribute to Procrast-Nation). I'll post something here if I follow up on that!

Thank you so much, everyone!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Farewells and Farewell Party

A lot of things I can talk about, I don't feel like talking about anymore. Mainly I mean my medical state and tests, and I will explain bluntly: I feel I have spoken more about the medical system and my medical state than is interesting or syncs up with my current vision of this blog's purpose. I want to express things as they happen, partially in ways that allow family and friends to know what's up, but largely to allow potential and current residents or tourists to prepare for the sort of stuff they will deal with. This means everything from travel suggestions and warnings (this sort of place has these sorts of things going on) to support (this stuff is awful, but you are not alone in dealing with it) and honest experience that could be lost otherwise (this thing is terrible). In this line of thought, my family and friends tend to get health updates off the blog, so it seems unnecessary to repost every little detail. I'd rather talk about my experience in the withdrawal and leaving process, it is a rather unique process and aspects of it are applicable in a lot of different ways, ways that I hope can be helpful to other people, or at the least interesting. That said -- I will note that everything points to me being more or less alright, so if there are some people that have been out of my other loops you should not worry too much.

Moving on, I was iffy on how much I want to talk about the Stance Punks concert, but I think that night fits in well with the rest of this post -- both the venue and the night itself are individually worthy of mention, afterall. The venue, Shinjuku Loft, is a rather tiny basement, apparently used mainly for hardcore/punk shows (Guitar Wolf has played there!). It is kind of dirty, dark, cramped...basically the type of venue I have always wanted to go to! The show itself was kind of mediocre for my tastes, the music was good, but much more poppy than I was hoping for. It was really odd hearing loud feedback between songs, only for it to drop and the guitarist to go into down-tempo, smooth and melodious riffs. The fact that the singer shouted does not really make the rhythmic flow of his singing sound less like a pop song, nor does the fact that the crowd was going WILD change what the music was actually like. It was so weird seeing people (and joining in) mosh to ballads! Actually, the crowd was moshing but it was in a rather weird/dull kind of way...they were kind of crowd-surfing and pushing towards the stage. There was some pushing and jumping around, but it was basically a bunch of guys and gals in leather and plaid trying to get near the stage, or make asses of themselves. I feel it was only exhaustive at all because I went there sick and the venue was hot, if I would have had too much energy and just pissed people off (I kind of involved people vaguely outside of the pit, so I may have done this anyway...which is dumb as crap). Basically, what I wanted to say was the band and show itself was less than stellar, but the venue was fantastic. If I had the opportunity to see a band like Guitar Wolf there I would jump on it instantly (actually, I think the pillows were playing there when Jordan was in...I guess it's too bad we didn't go then!). Though, I am really happy that Viivi invited me to go and had as good a time as she apparently did (she was pretty into the band, from what she says).

The other point about that night I wanted to make is that is the same night I received word from my advisor that AU accepted my withdrawal from SILS, marking it the point after which I was willing to talk about leaving Tokyo. Telling people and dealing with the consequences is basically what I have been doing this past week, and what I really want to talk about. Really, I was terrified of talking to people about it because I was worried about how they would take it -- my expectation that, even if my friends can come to terms with it they would be pissed at least in the moment for me basically hiding it, as well as just generally sad to see me go. What I have found is that with the exception of maybe one person, everyone has been super cool and understanding beyond anything reasonable -- for which I am grateful beyond words. What's more, I find myself not having much trouble telling people I'm close to, I know they will understand, would feel worse not saying anything, and general experience shows it will likely go well each time (though I hope I have told most everyone by now). The people I find it hard to tell are those people that have given me good impressions, but I hardly know. Even people that I don't like that much, or have known for months but not really gotten to close with, are hard to tell. When I talk to these sorts of people I feel that there was a mutually, unspoken understanding that we either would or could in the future become closer (especially those I just met) and that I am sort of abandoning them, or dropping this unspoken contract. It is kind of irrational, and perhaps overly harsh on myself, but I have a pretty good eye for people I will become friendly it is hard to turn off this pang of guilt. Honestly, most of these people do not know, and I don't expect to be able to tell them...which is probably for the best as I really don't owe them any sort of explanation. It was just a feeling I didn't really expect to have, so it's hard to deal with.

As for actually telling people, again it has largely gone over well. I spoke to some professors this week, and they both basically were either able to guess the circumstances (Prof. Sidoli) or guess what was going on with no information (Prof. Pinnington). Sidoli and I had a pretty long conversation about his courses/how to improve them, came to the conclusion that SILS basically makes them impossible to do well, spoke briefly on me leaving, and then just kind of each ranted, shortly, about the problems with SILS. Prof Pinnington and I just kind of wished each other the best. Both situations were real easy and nice, I am pretty glad I ended up seeing both of them before I left. I hope I will remember how I felt talking to them next year and maybe pursue some sort of relationship with my various professors (this may be easy as I already have taken two of them before), but it has not really happened too well in the past. When I told Laur I was leaving, it was pretty straight forward and kind of sad, the emotions only really amplified by Ben being there (and knowing already). It happened as it happened, but I probably should have known better than to tell her infront of Ben, as it just made her feel like we were both in on a secret at her expense. She still took it better than I may have expected, though...Ben too. Of all the people I am leaving, it is really just these two I am really abandoning -- anyone else that I see again after this trip is kind of an unexpected awesome occurence, whereas the three of us entered this together with the expectation of leaving together too. I did not hesitate to withdraw without their approval, and have no regrets about that (nor about presenting Ben and not Laur the option of joining me), but I could see it being taken as a personal hit...whiich neither of them has really done. I guess Ji Won could have felt this way too, but oru situation was much more of a "It is cool that we are both going, maybe we will see each other around." rather than Ben, Laur, and my, "Oh man, you're going on this program too? We should keep in touch and hang out while we're there. It will be cool knowing we have friends there, too."

Finally I feel I need to mention what happened just this past night -- my farewell party! People totally talked about the possibility of one, but I basically spent this last few days thinking I was expected to set something up if anything were to happen (which I have not really have time to do, though I have been thinking about...) Well, I will describe what actually happened. Bathusi was going to take me to church with her tomorrow (Sunday), which from my understanding was legitimately undone by a church opening in Saitama (faaaar away). So, instead she suggested we go to the Saturday evening service (This sounded weird, but not totally unreasonable. Jewish services are typically Friday and Saturday evenings, afterall...) So I waited out near the Genkan, and kind of chatted with Mesa about the possibility of the party at some point (even this didn't really tip me off too much, as I thought the church thing was weird and honest, and had seen Niko and Jason leave...who I basically felt are too close of friends to not have any involvement in a potential party). Bathusi came down and was just like "Change of plans, we're going to 5th floor" which really killed any doubt (I could only respond "So I guess I don't need my jacket, huh?") All the lights were out, they turned them on when I entered the actual dining hall -- basically (almost) all of the girls of the dorm that I am friends with were standing around me in a half-circle and shouted "Surprise!" I mean, at that point I knew it was happening and was still just completely taken aback, it was just so nice and worked out so well. I have been a lucky guy in that a lot of my friends and family feel inclined to do sweet things for me, but the sheer number of people involved in this (and the stuff that actually went down) may put this at the top. Most of the girls there wore some amount of purple, Zsuzsanna even made a purple soup, due to my nickname from Halloween: Purple Tomodachi (It is because I wore that purple trenchcoat). I think nearly everyone either made or bought some food for the party (Toto made tapioca tea, as I have mentioned a number of times my love of it...I want to go through what everyone made but there was a LOT of things, all of which delicious!). They had me give a quick speech before we ate, and we generally just had a fun night chatting/musicing/eating/hanging around. Hakley (Cambodian guy I helped with some essays) surprised me with souveniers from Cambodia, Asta brought some amazing chocolates, and Bang somewhat teary-eyed offerred some Bul Gogi (I told he we can eat it together later). Eventually Jason and Niko joined the party for a bit (we played some darts). I feel bad my only real contribution was this picture for the dorm of myself, but it gave some conversation, and is now overlooking the dining hall (two more pictures were requested from me, too...). I could go on and on, really, but I just wanted to give an idea of how amazingly overwhelmed by this gesture I am. Not everyone was there, sure, but way more than I'd have expected were -- it kind of grounds me to just how amazing the people I'm leaving behind are, and how lucky I am I have met them.

Actually, I guess the real significance of this party is how perfectly it mirrors the beginning of my Japan trip -- an aspect that, very unfortunately, seems to have avoided a post as it took place in the US. Right before I left (literally days) I visited DC (stayed with James). While there, Blaine hosted a party for basically my favorite Tenley kids and Anderson Terrace kids, which inspired in me these same feelings, and unfortunately made it very hard to leave America (actually, these guys took me around to three different parties and I ended up having to leave without doing everything and seeing everything I wanted to, making it a tad different). In a way, this final party cements my thoughts of Waseda into a place I can consider home more than any of my other experiences or the general duration of my stay can, as it acts as the final sort of proof of the friends I have made here, and how close we have become. You simply can't have a home without people you care about, or at least some sentimental thoughts, and although I had them before this party, the party definitely brings all of these good feelings and memories to the surface. I guess, in this way, I'm both reminded of how sad it will be to leave everyone, but it also acts as the real last event necessary for me to leave, satisfied. Without this last piece, I fear I may have looked back and wondered if staying as long as I did, or coming at all was worthwhile -- perhaps regretted the whole experience. Now I know, with certainty, that I can never have those sorts of feelings. For this too, I am grateful beyond words. Thank you so much everyone!

Monday, April 19, 2010

End of the Road

Actually, I am not fond of that metaphor - it is less like this road is coming to an end, and more like I am crossing a border. A prime example from my past voyages comes to mind; Scavone, Cassidy, Zach, and I were driving through the redwood forests of Northern California. Eventually this road made it to the shoreline, curvining and winding up and down hecticly, the night descending on the already ark forest -- when suddenly we burst past the trees, the ground levelled in a plateau, and the uncovered twilight brightened the car significantly. Suddenly the road straightened significantly; we could see the sea, further inland, and the cloudly sky all very clearly and things levelled into a sort of comforting, beautiful and bland kind of barren landscape. This is allusion is much more fitting, despite some clouds and one or two obstructive buildings, I am heading into a more level and calm, much more familiar and endearing time. The previous setting, wild, nerve-wracking, but fun in an intense way will fade into the background...

...But, as those obstructions are so few, let me quickly mention the most prominent. Although I have a date set to return home, in my mind that I am happily telling everyone, I have just learned it is not completely certain. Basically I have been counting on Steve (my step-dad) starting his job with United this week, providing me cheap or free tickets, but they are somewhere between unorganized and messing around with him. I will probably still leave on Wednesday, but if he gets a call saying he needs to start a bit later...well, maybe I'll be here for another few days. It's not a huge deal, but it is discomforting for me to go from thinking I'll have my tickets today and that I can tell NASIC my check-out date tomorrow, to hoping I can give them a definitive date by Friday. Oh well, what can you do?

Now, the astute will notice a big difference from my last two posts -- I am not just openly talking about leaving, I am openly talking about leaving in a week. What happened here? Well,...since about last Thursday or Friday (depending on your location) I have been kind of disputing with AU over a tuition refund. The details are a tad hazy, so I am uncomfortable delving into too much detail. Basically I was getting fed some news that the AU Abroad policy was not to do refunds, which kind of goes against everything AU Abroad supposedly stands for. Added to this Waseda is totally willing to do refunds for students if they apply on time, I basically got annoyed and argued a lot. I also felt insulted by some parts of the exchange, and in turn may have hurt my advisor's feelings...inspiring him to prove my statements against him were unfounded, by (supposedly) taking up my case. Which kind of leaves me at a point where I don't know how far my argument got, and how far my advisor's support got (either way thank you!). In anycase, the result is a partial refund and confirmation from both schools that I have withdrawn from Waseda for this semester. Tuition was the main contingent holding me back since about Thursday, and was resolved as of Saturday or so -- after that I was only unwilling to talk about it as I had not received any sort of official confirmation until Saturday evening.

As for the other part, why I am leaving next week rather than a month from now as originally planned, there are two reasons. First...I just don't feel comfortable continuing in the care of the Japanese health care system. For those that did not read my last post, I will truncate most of my woes into this summation: Stubborness and Language Barrier. It is not important how much of this is actual, this is what my experience so far has told me exists (I am finding myself doubting how bad some of the doctors/nurses' English actually is, though there seems to be an obvious and surprising lack in English medical vocabular for most of them). I want to have an check-up/physical in both a language and context I am familiar and comfortable with. The second reason is that I want to work for three solid months (May, June, July) if I can, which requires returning home well...before May. Actually, let's add a third reason -- my little bro's b-day is on the 30th, I doubt I'll see him for it but it is a possibility.

I have more to talk about, primarily about this concert I went to (Stance Punks) and how my medical exams went today (special thank you Ben for helping a drugged-out me back to the dorms), but I feel this post has already become pretty long and cumbersome. Instead, I think I would just like to say hello and thank you to all of my dorm mates (and anyone else) who has recently started reading my blog! Hello! Although this blog is coming to an end time-wise, content-wise it should still have a bit to go. So, please stick around until the end! Who knows, when I return to the US I may choose to continue the blog with more general travels, or focus more strongly on that other blog I contribute to.

P.S. I'd also like to note that just about everyone has been pretty super cool about my leaving, even those that had to find out over facebook (or, in at least one case, twitter). I can't really express how grateful I am to everyone for that. My friends, my family, and even I kept telling myself I shouldn't have to worry about it too much, but it is kind of my nature. Anyway -- huge shout out to everyone who has been supportive, thank you so much!

Friday, April 16, 2010


Now, I am sorry to not conclude the situation from my last post, but the situation is still being resolved. Basically, I do not want to make the situation much messier than it already is. I still do not want to say for certain what I want to happen, as it greatly influences how I will describe this event afterwards - either as an interesting moment in my Waseda career, or else as the end of it. I cannot stop rumors from spreading, but I will state that, if I am to leave early, I would prefer to tell people myself, in person, so as to offend as little as possible. I certainly am not so idealistic as to think I can tell everyone, but I would like to try. It is less important to me to tell people myself if I end up staying, but it would be nicer if I could. I am at my readers' mercy.

So, instead I would like to talk about my various encounters with hospitals and health centers in Japan. I don't know how much everyone knows about this, but I have been in and out, and have plans to be in and out, of more Japanese health centers than any Gaijin ever should. In a sort of sick way (pun intended), it is already becoming one of the major focuses of my Japan experience, rather unique to me. So I would love to share, at least a little bit, of what that has been like.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I have not really been back to the hospital I went to in this post. Instead I have been going to both the Waseda Health Center and the "KokuritsuKokusaiIryou Senta-," or "National International Medical Care Center," both totally different ordeals. Let's start with some general hospital/health care information.

Like everything else in Japan there is a procedure to Hospital adventures. Like every other building or office in Japan, this means going from one counter, to another, to another, until, at the end, you are back at the beginning. Every hospital requires various information forms to be filled out before you can do anything else, but afterwards you receive a card specialized to that particular center. Once you have this card, entering the hospital is a matter of handing in this card and proceeding to your appointment, or answering questions about why you are there (often in the form of a survey -- having my dictionary was very useful so I knew what symptoms I was checking). For general sick appointments, my experience has been pretty consistent. They ask my symptoms, feel my chest, and check my mouth....and that's about it. Regardless of what my symptoms are, my first visit to each hospital has been identical. Afterwards they will either proscribe pills, set up a later meeting, or kind of just tell you to come back if you get worse. From here you go to a counter and pay, and from there either get your pills or go home (sometimes you can get them right there). The doctors seem pretty one-track on what they think you have, and once they decide this they are hard to budge -- to the point of more or less ignoring symptoms if it does not fit what they want of you. I am pretty positive this is why I am having the EKG this week instead of last week, it is rather nerve wracking. The other noteworthy aspect pertains only during the day -- all of the staff will constantly say in a sweet voice "Odaijini" (take care of yourself). It is like how shop owners say like "Irashaimase!!!!" only rather than obnoxious, comforting and sweet.

Moving on, I guess Emergency (night) hospitals should be next. It is an experience I have had twice, at two different locations. Both times were scary. I still feel I owe everyone for help the first time, and last time I feel I really need to thank Negishi-san -- he walked me down again, which took until 4 or 4:30am (the first time we were back by like, 2, which is bad but not quite as bad as birds chirping). This experience of being sick actually makes me long for a roommate, I never realized how hard it is to be sick and have nearly no interaction before -- it is much more disquieting than an a roommate is aggravating, I feel (this is a total 180 as to how I felt even 6 months ago, which I find really funny). Anyway, the only real difference between the emergency hospital and the first visit to a clinic is that the options in terms of tests and medication are much more limited -- not that tests seem very common for the first visit, anyway. This first time this was alright since the medicine worked, the second time it was not alright at all and I went to the health center the very next day. However, these centers are significant in that regular hospitals are closed so frequently - nights, weekends, holidays. Real hospitals also seem to have limited outpatient hours, at Kokuritsu just 8-11am. Pretty crazy.

Next I will talk about real hospitals during the day, to which I have had only one experience with Kokuritsu. Basically, the first floor was very open with different sections. You would check in, than go to the sector to service you -- in my case it was Internal Medicine or something. There are swarms of people just sitting around, waiting to get to different parts (most at the check-out/pay area, though). I guess the coolest part of the place is that there are these aluminum medical cases attached to some belt on the ceiling, that go everywhere in the hospital. I'm not sure what is in them, but they seemed pretty neat. The most disturbing aspect was that all of the rooms where doctors meet patients is really just one room, separated by curtains. It is really odd and awkward. Also, I think I would recommend going to a hospital that advertises speaking in your native tongue, if possible. Using a dictionary to point out symptoms is just not fun. Anyway, the health center is much more interesting so let us move on.

Much like at AU, the building is rather hidden away. Unlike AU, the building is BIG as in TALL! It has many floors, though each floor is kind of small in and of itself. The set-up is much more simple and straight forward than the hospitals -- each floor has a clerk, you start on the second floor to check-in, go the floor you're told to and wait. Do your stuff, go to the next floor you're told to, etc until you're back at the second. Normally it is just a visit to third then back down to second. The real interest here is my EKG story from yesterday, which may well be beat by the story of taking it off tomorrow.

Basically, I was told in advanced that the EKG technician spoke really good English, so I was looking forward to having a doctor I could talk to. Instead, I end up following my doctor whose only word of English is "excuse me." She had me sit down, and then immediately grabbed my shirt and said "Sumimasen" (also excuse me) and lifted it. Without saying anything else she just swabbed my chest, took a sticky EKG node and tried to shove it on. Now, for those unfamiliar, I have a rather hairy chest. Stickers do not stick well to hair. I had expected the clinic to need to shave it, or the woman to try to avoid the hair parts, but no -- she stuck to her guns. Essentially, I went in feeling fine, and found myself under going 30 minutes of a crazy doctor pressing hard against my chest, putting on and tearing off (along with my chest hair) the nodes, swabbing manically my chest with fluid to help the nodes stick, eventually taking a pair of scissors and trying to cut some areas clean (she cut very few hairs, and not all the way, in effect not helping at all), and eventually putting both the bigger back stickers on as well as some sort of medical tape to keep them in place. The scene was frantic, and right out of a medical comedy/horror movie. It was ridiculous. This was immediately followed by an explanation for how to use the device (ie: press the button when your chest hurts). I was afraid to ask if I should press it then, as all of her prodding indeed hurt my chest (I was in pain for at least an hour in a way I feel comfortable believing was from her prodding). After the explanation she went through this paper-diary thing with which I need to record how I am feeling throughout the day -- which resulted in a dictionary search for basically every character on the page. Another doctor even came in to help the search, and collectively they tried to act out different symptoms. Most notable was "Memai," which resulted in a sort of coughing and hammering action by the male doctor in a manner I can only describe as surreal (it means dizziness, if you could not tell).  "Ikigire," shortness of breath, resulted in similar antics from both doctors, and a rather long search on a computer's dictionary. I tried afterwards to ask what to do if the nodes, which I could feel tugging as soon as I stood up, and which also never consistently were connected well enough to give a reading before I put my shirt on, undoubtedly fell off. I could not ask in Japanese, so I tried in English and did my own acting (it looked a lot like pulling them off, unfortunately). This question was repeated three or four times, sometimes by request, before they got it. Basically they kept saying like "We'll take it off." then "We'll take it off tomorrow morning." and so on, before I finally got them to understand. The response? They handed me a roll of tape and I walked out, thanking them, as fast as I could. Needless to say, I dread going back later to have these removed, as from the short preview I was granted from the doctor removing and reapplying the nodes over and over again, the experience promises to be excruciating.

Well, there really is not much to say about hospitals. Like anywhere else, you should strive not to need them. At the very least, if you have a hairy chest and require an EKG do yourself a favor and shave beforehand. What I would not have given if she had me go home and do so rather than try her own way!

Sunday, April 11, 2010


First off, I feel I should maybe apologise for taking so long in posting -- a few interesting things have happened, but I have been sick basically for the last 3 weeks. Over the last week this has taken a serious toll on me to the point that I only managed to goto classes one day last week. This is a direct influence on this post and the current of my thoughts.

Basically, I find myself standing at a crossroads of my Waseda experience. Wednesday is the last day I can choose to end early and still get my tuition for the Spring back, which for me means that it is the last day I could reasonably turn around and go home. I do not really like that I am viewing this experience in terms of ending it, and was sincere in my optimism with my last post, but I cannot escape the simple reality of the situation. Every few weeks I find myself confronted with a disturbing thought: I should be home. Sometimes I took this as fact, sometimes I rejected it, typically I ignored it as impractical. I was not willing to leave mid-semester, and knew I could not pick up spring-classes at AU, so I could not find the utility in going home early. Yet, the thought still persists and if I do not confront it now I will have little choice but to suffer through the next 4 months, wondering if I should have left.

I hope my post on Waseda from the other week makes it a little more clear why the question keeps coming up, but I will sum up my major problems now; most of my time was spent in or preparing for Japanese courses, which I found awful and irrelevant to my academic interests, I had essentially no extra-curricular activities, the dormitory I live in is rather terrible, I have rather limited/non-existent money making prospects, causing my money to pretty consistently go directly into my food budget, and really all of my friends here are international students - mainly in this dorm or people I knew before I got here.

A lot of these issues look like they are being improved, either by my own actions or things beyond my control. The Japanese course system has been changed, replacing an hour and a half one day with another elective, which themselves now look more interesting. I also find myself on track for a Japanese minor if I choose to stay. I find myself involved with an extra-curricular organization, possbly two, even if the future of these prospects are not the most certain. My room has been converted into a single, and parts have been renovated, making it slightly more bearable (though it should be telling that turning a room into a single only manages to make it "slightly" more bearable). There is not much I can do about my food situation that I didn't try first semester, so I won't really consider this too much. As for friends, extracurriculars help this, so basically if I can keep my optimistic awareness and positive energy it should work out alright - though there's no guarantee of that happening.

Of course, the situation is a bit more complicated than all of this. I have had some guilt about leaving the country at the same time my little brother was heading out to school, I have wanted a break from school for a while, and it would make finding a place to live a tad easier. On the other hand, my little brother might be able to take a trip out here if I stay, going home now would really be going home in a month, giving me only a few weeks on a normal summer break, and I have started reaching out in ways that tie me a bit more to Waseda this semester than last. I mean, bigger than all of that, I've only seen two of my classes so far. I have no idea how this semester is tilted to go, just that last semester (which I entered in a bad mood) wasn't as good as I'd have liked.

Really, I don't know what I'll do with either decision, and I am torn basically 50-50. In terms of my experiences in Japan, as in more general adventures, I can guess this: if I stay adventures will be on hold much like first semester. I will likely go somewhere for Golden Week (last thursday or friday of april ~ end of first week of may), but it would have to be a cheap trip. A week after that my little brother would *possibly* come visit, for who knows how long. He would stay in my dorm too, so I'm not 100% how it would work out, but it would be cool to see him. After that it'll be more or less a straight shot of classes, with maybe a short trip before heading home the last week of July. On the other side, if I choose to go, I will probably stay in the dorm for the next month due to issues with rent (if I don't give a month warning I get charged, and I am basically paid through early may anyway). I would probably end up using my spending money, that is supposed to last 4 months, all in that one month, likely on day trips and gifts and potentially cut into my rent money (my rent money = money from loans, so I'd potentially just give it back). If I could time it right, I would try to stay long enough to host my brother for about a week and go home with him, but I'm not certain that would be possible. Afterwards, well, I would likely stay at home and try to work through the summer, or perhaps do something down at AU - it is hard to say. Either way, I will probably keep this blog going until I am legitimately back in the US (actually, if I go home early I will probably travel around NA a bit. If that's the case I might post throughout the summer - thank my love of the road trip and my step-dad's potential job with United!).

Anyway, it is a really tough decision, but I felt my readers should know it is happening. I have already spoke to my mom about it, later tonight I hope to speak to my dad. There is a deadline, though, so there really can only be a few days of suspense.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sempai Project

Some stuff has happened since I returned to Tokyo, but really I just want to talk about "Sempai Project" as it is a circle (club) I may end up joining. Before that I feel I should mention this concert Ben invited me to, if only to make him cringe at the thought when he reads this.

Basic set-up: Thursday we disembark, I think both of us spent signficant amounts of the day asleep. Friday Ben is supposed to come grab some junk I made him leave in my room, and there is some other stuff we decided to exchange during the trip (including some of my mom's coffee!). Instead, he calls inviting me to a concert - I ask what type and he says probably pop music. On to the concert: I must premise this with the ticket was free, so I can't really complain too much. However, I will say this is basically the only time I can think of where I left a performance of anything early. It was some Siena Wind Orchestra, so I came somewhat underdressed (though I anticipated this with a button down over shirt thing), opening act a MIDDLE SCHOOL BAND. The actual orchestra was at least capable of playing their instruments, but it was a show comprised solely of American TV Show and movie theme songs. The highlight of the first half was the theme from Mission Impossible. It all just kind of felt like a joke, so I took intermission as a good chance to dash.

Less depresingly, the next day I was involved with the Sempai Project's English Shower. This is a pretty neat introduction for Study Plan 1 (national Japanese students) to English lectures, even if it did not work fully that way. The break-down was a short lecture, in English, followed by everyone breaking into kind of discussion groups led by sempai (older classmates), such as myself. Our discussion group ended up combining with another, where we basically just had everyone go around and introduce themselves, then say their favorite musician, and then their  favorite movie. I guess the goal was a mix of English practice and meeting new people, but I think it really only accomplished the latter. In anycase, there were a lot of interesting people both in the Sempai and in the freshmen - so I will help out with their picnic next Monday, which has a similar sort of goal (plus free food). Depending on how that goes I may join up officially, but I don't really know what they do after this. A lesser concern is that my Japanese is still kind of poor, which in theory should not matter, but in from the last event it feels like it could be. I'll have a better idea of it all after the picnic, I guess.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Thoughts on Waseda - 6 Months In

Pre-post: Sorry this took a while. This is a mix of descriptions of Waseda stuff for those curious, either for pure interest or because they're going to Waseda at some point (I hope it might be that useful, anyway). It is rather complaint ridden, as I had a lot of complaints this year, so I apologize in advance.

I am now about halfway through my 11 month stint as an international student in Tokyo. I've had so many experiences, a plethora of frustrations preceeding ecstatic triumphs, that is is hard to believe I still have more to go. The emotional toll has just been so heavy, it is like the cliche where my mind has been on a roller coaster, and I can only now be thankful that the second hill is always smaller,...and ignore for the moment that we always would prefer it were bigger. For now, I want to focus on the source of a lot of my day-to-day stress: Waseda University.

I really don't talk about Waseda as much as I can, and it perhaps does not come through how big a role it has. I really only talk about the school when I feel something important or confusing happens. Yet, I am always thinking about it. Even during my break I am thinking about school, it's really just my nature. One of the reasons I enjoyed going home so much was how hard it was to think of Waseda -- I could just forget about it for a while. Let's now look at what exactly it is I was forgetting.

Classes at Waseda are at once familiar to me, as they take place in rather similar formats to those at American University. The major difference is that classes are all an hour and a half, with fifteen minute breaks between them, instead of an hour and fifteen with ten minute breaks. On paper, no big deal, even my high school courses were longer than my AU courses. Unfortunately, in practise, this is much harder to deal with and I pretty consistently felt class was over at least 30minutes before it actually was, nearly every class, about every day until the very end of the semester. Once you feel class should be over, it is impossible to regain full composure - it's just a nuisance. Add to this my morning Japanese course was three hours and took place nearly everyday I had any class whatsover, I was already warn down by the start of the day. Basically I would wake up and dread going to class solely due to the length of each individual class, except for on Fridays where I only had two courses, with significant time between the blocks. I guess the main problem I have with course length was that my Japanese course was so very long and everpresent. Yet, course length is meaningless next to course content. If you enjoy the course content, it really does not matter at all how long the course actually is, though it is also reliant on the professors, who are hit or miss anywhere. So I will take a quick moment and examine each course. I will put the department the course is in in ()s.

Japanese Language: Level 2 Core (CJL) -- there is absolutely no reason for this course to be three hours. It really is set-up so you learn from the books doing homework, so going to class feels like a pointless exercise. I would much prefer this course broken up into meeting 5 days a week, for one block each (the course has been reduced to 5 blocks instead of 6 this coming semester, but still meets in 3 day blocks). It would make focusing so much easier and force us to get at least some practise everyday! Really, I learned some grammar points and kanji with the help of this course, and did somewhat improve my reading aloud abilities, but I think it fell flat in helping me express myself in Japanese. Mostly I just felt like my language abilities were unsubstantial, and took a huge drain to my self-esteem day after day. I am willing to admit this is in part my own fault for transfering up a level, but I feel it is also Waseda's for not placing all of the students in the proper level to begin with -- a signficant amount of the students in my class could have been a level higher, but were advised not to because their level 2 abilities were not 100%. This kind of led to a situation where half the class felt the course was too slow/easy, and sped it up, and half the course feeling it was too fast and could not keep up...who were basically ignored. There was literally a time where our teacher asked a student the answer to a problem from a tape we were working on, the student said she did not understand at all, so the teacher promptly moved on to the next student -- and the next, and finally the fourth asked knew the answer. Then she moved on to the next problem as if nothing happened. There were two professors teaching this...I don't know either of their names.

Kanji Level 2 (CJL) -- again, the actual class was rather unnecessary considering the material. Basically we came in, took an exam, and then drew kanji with brush pens for an hour or so. There was some reading practise, and more review than in my core class, but the amount of useful work done in class could have been reduced to about 20-30 minutes. Thankfully, it was only once a week and the professor was really enjoyable, so I feel the pluses outweigh the minuses. The only way this could have been better is if the teacher dismissed us early all the time, which probably would have lost her her job. I do not remember the professor's name.

History of Russian; From Lenin to Putin and Medvedev (SILS) -- this course was fantastic. For the most part we covered a lot of history, the readings were interesting, and the professors lectures were interesting. The professor tried a few activities, that were rather hit-or-miss, but the course was pretty consistently enjoyable. This was basically the only course I consistently looked forward to twice a week. Taught by Prof. David Holley.

Movements in Japanese Intellectual History (SILS) -- this course was very interesting, but dreadfully long. I felt a lot of the information covered in class was rather dry and biographical, highlighted with interesting tidbits and some actual analysis spread out somewhat thin. The professor was pretty charming and delightful to talk to, and really knew his stuff, but was using way too much dry and uninteresting filler in his lectures. I dreaded going to class, for the most part, but it was not uncommon for me to enjoy being there once I was there. Basically I felt class only served to sporadically offer me new reading material to look into, as there was no required reading for the course itself. I think a large part of my dread in going was due to one of my classmates, though, who I would rather not publically belittle and so I won't. Taught by Prof. Adrian Pinnington.

History of Mathematics (SILS) -- I felt I learned a lot in this course, and really enjoyed it. I kind of had a mixture of dread and joy in waiting to go to class, as it is out of my field, but very interesting. It was a little tough, but not too tough. Taught by Prof. Nathan Sidolli.

Here I should also address a common complaint - that the courses at Waseda are too easy. This, for the most part, is true. Although I typically put a lot into the work I do, I found an overwhelming lack of outlets to put this effort. In the cases where I held back on putting my full work ethic in, I was rewarded more or less as well as if I had given it my all. Granted this is avoidable with a luck and research in choosing classes, it seems rather guaranteed that some courses will feel like you were short-changed in expectactions. Dissappointing as it is, it gives us international students an easier time in getting the most out of Tokyo, so I would feel hypocritical if I complained too much.

Another large aspect of Waseda is how it connects back to your home university. Here was another mixed bag. Everything I take transfers back to AU, as is (exception: A+ becomes an A), credit for credit, with the virtue of an easier grading scale (a C at Waseda would be a D at AU, so the range for an A becomes 80+ which is amazingly sweet). The downside is that what courses are actually offerred are rather odd and not necessarily useful (referring to SILS). This is kind of worsened by the fact that SILS  is a majorless system, so there is not really any need to offer any particular courses at any particular time. For someone like me, who is trying to graduate a double-major, this should make things easier but often doesn't. Basically I find I need to take rather particular classes to count for my majors back home, giving me an extremely limited selection as opposed to studying back at AU, and leaves me forgoing a lot of really intersting courses. This is in part due to an incomplete planning on my part, but is also due to some incompatabilities between schools - they are just trying to do different things.

This leads to another aspect that is important - the Japanese school year starts in the spring, rather than the fall. This has caused a few things to be rather inconvenient or uncomfortable. Most signifiicantly, (most) clubs do not give a crap about recruiting new members. As a fresh student, you need to try and join clubs that are not in anyway advertising themselves, join the clubs that are catering to you (in my experience: they just run really expensive events and outings), or go without. I have basically chosen to go without, though I will look into it more next semester. The other issue this has presented is that they decided to change aspects of the system...which means that things will be done differently this second semester when compared to the first. This is a blessing and a curse. A curse because we are guinea pigs and the system still has some faults, a blessing because it means I will see the result of a lot of complaining my group and previous groups have lobbied at the school. Most prominently, course selection has switched from paper only to digital only. This is kind of nice, but the system still has some issues. An example is that when you register for courses, if too many apply for the same course you will be put in a lotto and either enter the course or be declined. This is normal. What is not, is that you get no notification if you are declined entrance -- this means there is no explanation for why you are not in that course. The way to find out whether or not you got entry is to search for the course on the syllabus, if it does not show up it is filled. This happened to me, and was magnified due to the results of registration coming in early -- on a day where a different registration result was supposed to come in. Likely this would not have been a big deal if it had been properly done by their own system, the problem is that we have to use a buggy new system.

As for the old system, I feel there is little reason to criticize it now that it's gone. It was a hassle to have a tiny window of registration, and to have to do it on campus. The system still provides a tiny window, but at least now there is improved freedom with add/drop. Really the only dissappointing aspect is that paper registration is completely gone, which is probably for the best anyway.

The next aspect of life at Waseda worth talking about is the campus itself. It is a really weird mix of design, parts of it are utterly gorgeous, other parts are exceptionally gross. most of the buildings are kind of not designed-well, functionally. I will explain. Most of the buildings are really plain, brick buildings set to a sort of grid -- it is like walking through some sort of factory or warehouse complex. The exceptions to this are without a doubt the clocktower and the library, both of which are gorgeos, and perhaps the cafeteria...which is kind of a hidden glass building. The library and clocktower are both gorgeous brick buildings, that kind of have the charm of older european towers and such. They also really well placed, they kind of glow when the sun rises or sets. They both are pretty inside, too, with library being enormous and modern, the clock tower being a big auditorium (ok, not too gorgeous but it is functional and nice). Other buildings do not have such pretty insides, such as building 11 - where I take my SILS courses. There is a large stair case going from the first to second floor, but half of it is blocked by a wall. Those two floors, and every other floor, is then only connected by really tiny escalators -- causing huge traffic jams between classes. The first floor is kind of pretty, but the rest is kind of plain. There are also elevators, but you can only use them if you are going to the professor's offices -- on the 9th floor and above. There is a sister building set up the same way, and then all the other buildings have similar eccentricies. Building 22, where I take my Japanese courses, is has a very pretty lobby, and at least has stairs and a few elevators between every floor, but is filled with really plain looking hallways and rooms (which is completely fine). The the other aspect effecting the campus's aesthetics are these kind of wooded areas and grassy areas, which greatly improve the look of the parts of campus where we do not have class buildings. They are gorgeous to walk through to and from campus, but you don't really see them going from building to building (at least not 11 and 22, which is where I am normally going). Kind of unfortunate. There are also less pretty set-ups, like this big dirt field, but it is kind of out of the way, surrounded by trees, and normally only used when it is set up for a festival -- in which case it is covered in tents/booths. The only part of campus I feel deserves particular criticism is the main quad, between buildings 11 and I think 12 or 14 -- it is a very small, steep hill with some dying grass on it. Maybe it will look better during the spring, but it is just kind of sad as the only real grass on campus. That does not make it any less fun to sit or lay on, but it is kind of a hassle to get to. It does look really pretty, in the right sun, and it is fun to look down from the top, or at some of the large towers, but when I see it from the bottom it is typically just sad.

The final juicy piece I want to talk about is campus life. I live in an International Student House, which I was not expecting when I was applying to the program. My major problem is actually that -- a lot of the information AU has and Waseda provides is out-dated or not meant for SP3 (study plan 3 -- one year/semester abroad) students like me. Basically the information we were fed was that we would be in buildings up to an hour - hour and a half from campus, no visitors allowed, curfew set, but that they would be guaranteed singles, a tad cheaper, and breakfast and dinner would be provided. Now, I think other schools had more up to date information, but this is only the case for full on Waseda Students -- Japanese or SP2 (international, not abroad). What we get are International Dorms, which are much more conveniently located, and tend to have nicer rules...though 2 of the 3 have rules against outsiders, at least now (I think they all used to have freer access). My main issue moving in was that I did not have free meals. Daily life in the dorms is alright, often I feel it barely tolerable. My dorm is rather dirty, it is often cleaned poorly or not at all. It is hard to complain too much about the old state of the building as it just now is undergoing rennovations, but first semester was pretty tough. I guess my biggest problems now are in regards to the water. Each room has a private bathroom (toilet and sink), but the sink is only cold water...which is apparently pretty common in Japanese households, but really uncomfortable. I would use the public toilet for its warm water sink, but it is always locked. The other issue is the showers -- our dorm and our dorm only has this kind of lever shower, that I have complained about before. Basically you push the lever down, and get about 5 to 10 seconds of water. If you keep it pressed you get a continuous stream, it is rather uncomfortable. On top of that, the water pressure on most is either extremely powerful or extremely weak. There are showers with a longer water flow time, but they all either have weak pressure or fluctuating pressure, and all have fluctuating temperatures (they are also underground so are way colder in the morning). I feel kind of spoiled complaining about all this, but it makes for rather uncomfortable day to day life, which messes with the nerves and adds stress. Kind of a problem, though I think most other people are better at dealing with it than me.

Other than this, there's not much to say. Tokyo life is city life, pretty isolated from other people -- you really don't need to speak a lot of Japanese, or any, to get by. I find Waseda life rather unpleasant a lot of the time, but I came into it in general upset about leaving AU and the US when I did, and just generally sad at the prospect of being in Japan for a year. Despite that, I still feel I have had a rather good and pleasant experience overall, I have met some really cool people, done some really cool things, and just generally been having a good time when I let myself. I think I am in a better state of mind for this second semester, and expect it to paint a better picture. I am interacting a bit more, likely to have some sort of tutoring job (that I may or may not want anymore), I may join a club, and, after all is said and done, I come back home for good pretty soon (not to mention I have finally had my break and trip back home, though I would have felt more refreshed if I did my trip before I went home -- still feeling pretty good). Basically my hopes for this coming semester is to be a little less neurotic and just enjoy it more than I have been. I'd say expect a lot less complaints in future posts, but it is kind of my nature to complain and poke fun at negative things that bug me. We'll see how it goes!

Actually, that is not a very satisfying description of the future. I have picked my courses for next semester -- for Japanese I am taking a core, which should prove the same as the previous one (though it is dependent on the professor), an expression of basic grammar course - which I hope will aid my expression and my grammar skills, and a novel reading course - which I hope will improve my reading. I feel kind of odd not taking a Kanji course, but they aren't that useful, really. As for clubs, my hope is to find and join the fencing club, but at the same time I don't want to find them as my lack of equipment here could keep me from being eligible. On the other hand, I have started interacting with some of my classmates more, and may end up joining this "Sempai-Project" organization, aimed at helping integrate younger classmates (Sempai are basically older students). All of my SILS courses should count for something back at AU, and I basically have my next semester there planned out, so I am much less concerned about all of that than I was last semester. Housing is still proving tricky, but I haven't pulled out all the stops to find a place. Finally...I can't do much to make my dorm more pleasant, but I am in a single, which is a significant start. I am buying more variety in groceries, and able to store most of it here in the room with me, which is pleasant, and I have been willing to replace various necessities that do not necessarily need to be replaced, but generally make life here easier and more pleasant (I got a new bowl, some more containers, a bigger cup, etc). I also may decorate the room a bit, maybe get a plant or hang up one of these "Noren" (the cloth you put in front of a room) I got as gifts for people. Basically, I am at a state where I recognize there are a lot of problems with Tokyo and Waseda, but I instead of just whining about it, I hope to turn it around and see those areas that can be improved upon, and counting the rest as less big a deal. And, again, worst case scenerio -- I can count the days 'till I'm home and full-time complaining about AU again!