The first week in Japan was… quite challenging. Even though I was at work most of the time, I still had enough time in which I was left on my own to get the hang of things. One of these things I had to do was successfully communicate with the cashiers at the konbini.The first time I went to the konbini to buy a meal, I didn’t know that you had an option of letting them heat the food, and the 30-second conversation that occurred for me to learn about that somehow managed to involve three languages: Japanese, Chinese and English. In addition, I had to figure out was what to do during the weekend – should I head off to Tokyo on the first weekend or should I see more of what Tsukuba had to offer? Despite advice from Kou-san to do something on one day and rest for the other, I ended up going around Tsukuba and going to Tokyo during that weekend.
On Saturday, Shin-san, one of the girls on my dorm floor, invited me to go to a nearby mall. “Near” was about a 30-minute walk, but it was a good way for us to get to know each other better and learn that our Japanese levels were comparable (she moved from China just this year, but being immersed in the language forced her to learn it more quickly). We had a bit of trouble figuring out whether to stick with Japanese or switch to English, but we eventually decided that sticking to Japanese would lead to less switching around throughout the day.
When we got to the mall, all the really cute clothes, fancy-looking bags and the shiny electronics (plus the ‘sale’ signs right outside some of the stores, heh) caught my eye. Shin-san said that there were better places to shop in Tokyo, so I held off buying anything beyond an umbrella.
The first time I saw this, I thought it was quite cheeky.
In the midst of all the stores, the mall had a robotics museum. There were a few displays showing the history of robotics in Japan and how robotics is currently used in daily life. The museum also had Wakamaru, a robot that supposedly responds to you if you give it certain commands. Unfortunately, it was recharging when we tried talking to it. :(Afterwards, we went to a bookstore, bought some things at the supermarket (bananas are relatively expensive in Japan), grabbed some lunch and walked back, during which the umbrella came into handy since it started raining halfway through our walk home.
Wakamaru and I - you can see the list of commands behind me.
The next day, I met up with Nakazono-san and Banerjee-san, two of the people in my research group, at the train station. We took the train from Tsukuba to Asakusa and headed off to Senso-ji. One thing I ought to clarify (since it took me several weeks to remember this distinction) is that *-ji*refers to a Buddhist temple and *-jinja* refers to a Shinto shrine. After going in and admiring the elaborate paintings on the ceiling and the Buddha inside the temple, we went over to Asakusa-jinja, which was beside Senso-ji. One of the interesting things about Japan is that it's common to have both a Buddhist temple and a Shinto shrine on the same grounds.
The gate leading towards the main hall of Senso-ji. So many tourists!
After visiting these places, we walked through the crowds of Nakamise-dori (a road containing a LOT of shops) and briefly passed by Kaminarimon (the gate to Senso-ji where everyone gets their picture taken). We were considering taking a river cruise on the Sumida River, but this was at about noon, so my co-workers were worried that we wouldn't be able to eat lunch. Instead, we decided to walk along the riverbank and then eat. The weather was rather dreary that day, so it wasn't too bad of a decision. We caught a view of several buildings, including that of Tokyo Skytree, the tallest tower in the world. Given its height, Tokyo Skytree was quite ubiquitous; I saw it several more times that day.
I still have no idea what that building with the horn-shaped thing is.
My co-workers had asked me what was something I wanted to try in Japan a few days prior, to which I unequivocally answered 'okonomiyaki'; with that in mind, we headed off to find a place to eat okonomiyaki! The indecisive person I am, I ordered the combo, which consisted of one with cheese and mochi in it and mentaikoon top (I know it sounds like a weird combination, but it tasted really good) and another one with the more conventional combination of pork and vegetables. The okonomiyaki was already served to us ready-to-eat though, and from what I know from my friends' stories and Japanese dramas, part of the fun of eating okonomiyaki is making it. Good excuse to eat it again, don't you think?
This didn't look very big, but it surprisingly filled me up.
Afterwards, we took the train and went to Mukojima Hyakken, a garden which, as the name implies, has a hundred types of flowers that bloom inside it (though not at the same time). Since it's summer, there weren't as many, but it was still quite lovely! Oh, and I could also see the Skytree from there.
I can only wonder what this pathway looks like during the spring.
Afterwards, we took the train to Ueno. It was already late (around 5 PM), so the museums in the park area would be closing soon, if they were even open on Sundays to begin with. However, the park is really big, so there was still quite a lot to see.
This could easily take up half a day.
One of the more interesting things we passed by was a monument for... eyeglasses.
We also passed by Ueno Zoo, and although we didn't enter, I can now say that I passed by the place where Domyouji and Makino went on a date in the j-drama *Hana Yori Dango*. :D My co-workers wanted some coffee, so they went to a cafe and I walked around a nearby fountain. At the fountain, there were these two girls who asked me to take their picture in Japanese, asked me to take another one in English, and then thanked me in Korean. At that point, I understood why Shin-san wanted to stick to one language, because that was *slightly* confusing.
Shortly after, it started raining, so I joined my co-workers in the cafe. After they finished their coffee, we headed back to the station, had some udon for dinner, and headed back to Tsukuba... but not without passing by Kaminarimon one last time on the way to the station.
This summer I had the incredible opportunity to do a 10-week internship at Gilead Sciences in Foster City, CA. For those unfamiliar, Gilead Sciences, Inc. is a research-based biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery, development, and commercialization of innovative medicines.
With 45 Nobel Laureates on its Faculty Roster, it’s not surprising that research is an integral part of the Caltech undergraduate experience. One of the programs that promotes such research is the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). There is no minimum knowledge or experience required to participate in a Caltech SURF. In fact, students can participate in a SURF as soon as the summer after their freshman year. It is not difficult to get a SURF. All you need to do is find a mentor who is working in an area of research that interests you and willing to mentor you through a research project. The mentor can work in a Caltech lab, at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), or at another participating institution. Once you find a mentor, you work together to write a project proposal that you later send to the SURF office for review and approval. About 98% of the SURF proposals get approved. This fellowship is a great way to explore various fields of research and obtain real, hands-on experience where you get to apply the theoretical knowledge you’ve learned in class. Not only do you get to work and learn alongside your mentor, but you also get compensated for your time. The length of the SURF is ten weeks, and it starts at the beginning of the summer. However, it is not uncommon for many students at Caltech to continue their research project throughout the academic school year.
Like many students at Caltech, I suffer from a slight boba addiction, where side effects may include over caffeination, minor sugar highs, and of course, a large toll on one’s wallet. This addiction is not helped by the fact that there are at least three boba shops within walking distance of campus. So, after an entire term’s worth of boba runs, I came back from winter break with a new year’s epiphany: it was time to get a job. Rather than try to curb my addiction, I decided to find a way to subsidize it.
Research at Caltech looks different for every student, and can often vary term by term. As a chemistry major, my course requirements are on the lighter side for a Caltech major, and many chemistry majors take advantage of the lighter course load to join research groups. This can be whenever the student wants, but many people join labs during their freshman or sophomore years. Some may work in one lab only, and some may switch between labs during the course of their undergraduate studies, depending on if their interests change.