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Exploring Tsukuba

When Ishida-san* told me that Tsukuba is in the countryside, he wasn’t kidding. While there are quite a number of modern establishments, especially close to the downtown area, a fairly noticeable portion of the area is still farmland, as evidenced by the view from the window right outside my dorm room:
Now that we’re on the topic of nature, why are ants here so large?

I decided to spend my free day before the start of the internship to walk around Tsukuba. Having been given a map of the city the night before, I decided that I would walk to Tsukuba Center, since the train was in that area, and not getting lost on the way there is essential if I want to go to other places in Japan.

Before doing all of this, however, I had to eat lunch first. My rental phone had arrived, so I also had to buy some prepaid credits for it. To sort both things out, I went to a konbini (convenience store). In Japan, the konbini really lives up to its name – the 7-11 I went to had tasty and fresh food (they drop the prices for things likeonigiri as the day passes because they’re not as fresh),an ATM, a photocopier, and – most importantly, at that particular moment in time – free wi-fi! After assuring certain people in the U.S. that I was still alive, I procured my first konbini stash. Unfortunately, there weren’t any plug adapters – they had at least five types of mobile chargers though, which I’ll keep in mind just in case. Here’s a picture of the things I bought:

Carbonated water tastes really strange.

Getting from the dorm to the city center involves walking along the main road closest to the dorm and then walking between two universities, followed by walking along the side of a couple of parks.At some point during the walk, I thought I was lost because there was suddenly a rocket; two minutes later, I realized that it was part of theTsukuba Expo Centerand that I was still on the right path. Phew.

Across the Expo Center, I passed by what initially seemed like a memorial for Pluto. I thought it quite fitting that this existed in a place advertised to be a "Science City."

It wasn’t until I reached the vicinity of Chuo Park (a park across the road from Tsukuba Center) that I realized it was a part of a set of monuments. The distance between two monuments is relative to how far the actual celestial bodies are from each other, which is why the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars were this close to each other:

Pluto isn’t a planet anymore, so they ought to update that one! 😛 There was one about the history of the earth with a similar type of scaling on the other side of the path, which I thought was pretty cool.

Shortly after, I crossed the bridge, which brought me to my destination. Besides the station, the area has a couple of hotels and a few malls, one of which had a Mister Donut. (Wikipedia tells me that Mister Donut and Dunkin Donuts merged in the U.S. a while ago, which is why Mister Donuts stores in the U.S. are as ubiquitous as Tim Hortons stores are in California, meaning that they don’t exist and that makes me sad.)I reached the vicinity of the station at around 3 PM, so there weren’t that many people. Almost everyone in the station was rushing to catch a train or bus, which made me feel a bit out of place since I was just leisurely strolling around.

There aren’t that many cars on the road either.

Afterwards, I decided that it was time to walk back. As the sky throughout the whole day may have implied, rain was inevitable. I brought a rain coat, but it wasn’t very effective. When I got back to the dorm, the rain and the heat caught up with me and I fell asleep, waking up just in time for a company party. It was a combined welcome party for me and a farewell party to Kou-san, a university student from China who was about to finish his internship. The research group I’m in has three teams; the party included people from two of the three teams because he worked with the molecular structure and microanalysis team and I was about to start work with the computational materials science team. (For the record, there’s also the solid state analysis team.) It was good food and good fun, though at some point they asked me to introduce myself and I may have messed that up a bit, oops. They planned to ask me a few things, so it worked out anyhow.

With regards to remembering names, there are people who are bad at it, and then there’s me. As much as I am grateful for mostly open-book exams at Tech, not having to memorize things has not helped my ailing memory at all. However, this time around, at least one name actually stuck! Once it came up that I grew up in the Philippines, someone in my group said to call the head of of the other group President Aquino (the current Philippine president), which made a lot of us laugh. While this association was very helpful for name recall, whenever I see Akino-san in the office, I have to resist the urge to call him Akino Daitouryou (President Akino).

At the end of the party, Kou-san gave each of us a gift. In Japan, giving gifts to everyone in the group is customary as a thankful gesture. After he gave out his gifts, we all took a group picture. I’m the one in the green and white shirt, Kou-san’s the one with glasses beside me, and Ishida-san’s the one on the other side.

The thing some people are holding is Kou-san’s gift. The gift contains several handmade paper cutting designs (剪纸), which, according to the package, is a "Chinese intangible cultural heritage." Everyone had a different set of designs; mine were of fish:

Kou-san’s gift!

After having some fun, I went back to the dorm, because tomorrow… The real work begins.

*To the confused, -san is an honorific that is roughly equivalent to addressing someone as Mr. or Ms.