Friday, September 26, 2008

Blending Dichotomies....

Can it be done?  And, if possible, what would it be?

Lately I have been thinking a lot about dichotomies and if they are really necessary.  Well, I guess they are necessary for some things (like a girls and guys bathroom...I don't like the idea of combining these two!), but why must we be so quick to apply them to ALL things.  For the love of God, let's BLEND a little and rejoice in the gray.

For example, why must we have salt separated from pepper?  I have never thought about this until I went to a Japanese restaurant and they gave me "pepper" to put on the food.  I thought, "Holy cow...this is the best pepper I have ever had in my life?!"  Upon further investigation, the "pepper" really was a mixture of salt and pepper, which is SO smart and efficient.  Ah, Japan.

Granted, this is a little dichotomy that exists, but there are much bigger, badder, and uglier dichotomies that exist in this world.  Even in Japan.  Even if they don't qualify as meeting the true dichotomy definition, they are things that might be perceived as mutually exclusive.  Here are a few:

1.) Women and politics - Hillary Clinton is a fan of the gray.  
****Check out this video (thank you, Ellie!):

2.) Kindness and Stress - the random citizens of Japan who helped me set up my life here are fans of the gray (or at least they can fake it like nobody's business!)

3.) Eastern and Western philosophy/culture - The Japanese women who prey on the giajin (foreign) males are LOVERS of the gray. Man oh man.  I do not have enough room on this friggen blog to document the specific people who I know have delved into the gray here.  But, props go to my mom and dad for making me gray ;)

4.) Women in science - Sally "the genius" Temple is a fan of the gray.  The "old boys club networks" out there are, however, not.  To which I say, BRING IT!  I'm not hatin' on the playa, I'm hatin' on the game.
****Check out this video:

5.) Efficiency and resources -  Thank you, Japan, for being a fan of the gray here!  Japan has to be one of the most efficient nations in the world.  If a train says it is going to arrive at 3:52 pm, it will be there at 3:52 pm.  It has almost been a game to see if the train will, in fact, be late. Come 3:51 pm and I don't hear the grinding of a train, I think "HONTO (really?)"  Then, like clockwork, a train hauls butt into the station, cause you know the conductor was racing to meet the 3:52 pm deadline.  Impressive.  Moreover, Japan does not sacrifice the environment or resources in order to meet this high expectation of efficiency.  Japan shows us that you can get it done well and on time, while also thinking about the environment.  Mother nature thanks you.

Instead of people using tons of energy on driers, Japan hangs their wet clothes outside to dry.  Instead of trying to burn trash that is non-combustible or merely hiding it in reservoirs that future generations will have to deal with (thank you, Wall-E), Japan separates their trash.  Instead of purchasing huge gas guzzling cars, Japan has mini-cars.  Moreover, the majority of people utilize the subway/metro system anyways.   Very cool.  Believe me, I am not a huge environmentalist, but Japan has caused me to think twice about things I may not have even thought once about before.

6.) Success and kindness/integrity - I have met a few AMAZING people who have shown me that this can exist. I have met an even greater number of people to show me otherwise.  Cheers to the rare birds out there!  You are an inspiration.

7.) Moving to Japan and having it be easy - Unfortunately, these two are meant to be mutually exclusive.  Sorry.  It has to be one of the hardest places to move.  Not only is everything takai (expensive), but trying to do it all via awkward hand gestures has been an experience.  Try getting national health insurance, a giajin (foreigner) card, a multiple re-entry visa, a bank account, an operational phone, utilities, etc. set up with strange grunts and body language.  I make the Flintstones look like the Jetsons. It is my own fault for not being fluent in the language, but then again it does add a certain spice to my experiences ;)

8.) Cultural comparisons of Schizophrenia AND genetics/developmental approaches to studying Schizophrenia....all rolled up into a PhD project - I would like to be a fan of the gray, but all I can see right now is the darkness of a tunnel, dangit!  Where is the light ;)

Hahaha....that last one is awesome.  I am not sure if what I want to do can be done.  Oh well, it has never stopped me in the past.  Just gotta keep going and do what you love.  In the end, you will be better for it. By no means is it easy, but it is always more worth while to fight the good fight. Lately, I have been spending at least 12 hours a day in front of my computer working....just trying to stay on top of my commitments.  Though it has been challenging, I do love this stuff!  As my dad always says, "Of all the words of tongue and pen, the saddest are 'it might have been.'"  

Gotta love dichotomies. I am sure there are so many more interesting ones out there!  Suggestions?

Anyways, special thanks goes to:

1.) The random Japanese guy who helped me in Shinjuku to buy my washer, microwave and refrigerator. If I hadn't of met you on the street with my beat up map and broken Japanese, lord knows what kind of appliances I would have purchased!

2.) Iijima-san for taking me to TRY to open a bank account two times, a cell phone 3 times, and taking me grocery shopping.  Oh, not to mention showing me how to use all the appliances in my house that are written in Kanji.  Wouldn't want another toilet misshap.

3.) Numakawa-sensei for hooking me up with a TV!  I haven't had a chance to tune in just yet, but I am gonna search for Law-and-Order as soon as things calm down.  Arigato!

4.) Mizuho for taking me to successfully open a bank account (third times a charm!).  Also, for informing me that I needed to get a multiple re-entry visa to get back into the country from Rome.  Oh, yes, I am flying to Rome today for a week-long training course in behavioral genetics.  I am SO excited to attend and not JUST because it is in Rome (really).  I have so many questions and I am sincerely hoping people can help me blend culture, genetics, and behavior into a nice PhD project.  Yikes.

(Here is the brief bio of the program:
The aim of the school is to foster learning in an interdisciplinary symmetrical environment. It is intended for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows engaged in neuroscience research or in historical or social studies of neuroscience.

The topic of this year’s NeuroSchool is behavioural genetics. Together, we will critically assess the current methodologies of experimentation in this branch of research and will discuss its implications in the context of contemporary society. Lectures will cover the history of behavioural genetics, the latest scientific evidence in the field, as well as the history and sociology of psychotropic drugs.

Tutors and lecturers include Cornelius Gross (EMBL), Klaus-Peter Lesch (University of Wuerzburg), Nikolas Rose (BIOS, London School of Economics) and Ilina Singh (BIOS, LSE).)

5.) Hori-sensei and Kunugi-sensei- for collaborating with me on the fulbright project!  Yes.

6.) The random Japanese girl at the Mini-Mart who literally hooked up my phone for me!  She called the phone company, spoke in Japanese, AND made sure the phone was operational before I left.  It is amazing how far the look of utter confusion can get you in Japan.

7.) My new Japanese sensei for taking on the biggest project of her life: teaching me Japanese!  Oh yes, and for driving me to the police station to pick up my transportation card that I lost (and was later found!).  This bad boy had $90 on it!  

8.) The JCOM guy who was a little TOO nice in setting up my cable and internet.  Does it really take 2 hours to turn on a TV...or multiple visits (without the proper tools) to get it wired correctly?  Hmmm.  Wakarimasen ('I don't understand'...a valuable word in my vocabulary).  I think he just likes hanging out to practice his English, but to him I say 'thank you and good night!"

8.) Keicocco (the most talented artist ever) for meeting with me (and the cable guy...don't ask) over dinner to discuss her artwork.  I am going to buy a few pieces!  And, thank you keicocco for taking one look at me and saying in broken english, "Ret's go shopping."  Hahaha...oh man, I am a fashion train wreck!

9.) Theresa Weinman, Anny, Mom, Steph, John, Susan G., Jackie, Ing....(the list goes on and on) for all things Engeye.  You have brought this little clinic-that-could (Engeye) to life and we are so grateful for your energy, enthusiasm, and passion.  Oi!

10.) Olivia - For your generous donation towards Engeye - and for just being you!  I am floored.

11.) Dad - for being a rock amidst all the craziness. Thank you for managing my life in the US while I am way over here.  LOVE YOU.

12.) My AMWA ladies - for bringing your passion to life with this year's leadership.  We are doing damn good things!  While the slope is steep and slippery at times, you all have chosen to persevere.  Yay to this.

13) The Japanese little old lady who cleans the outside of my building - Thank you for helping me take out 9 bags of trash....while smiling!  And, thank you for accepting my gift of Skittles with glee, and then making me a fantastic Japanese card the next day.  So cute!

After reading this, otsukaresama (you must be tired).  Thanks so much for reading.

I feel like I am trying to tie together so many dichotomies in life right now...both professionally and personally.  Not sure if it can all be done, but one thing is for sure....never a dull moment.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

MacArthur Genius Award Goes to Sally Temple!

....I can't contain my excitement right now.  I am so giddy, that I feel like I am going to laugh myself silly because I am so happy.  Sally Temple is proof that you CAN have it all....and still be a GREAT person at the end of the day.

She is an amazing mother, wife, mentor, leader, researcher, and thinker.  Even without this award, she is an inspiration to me and to all women pursuing careers in academic medicine and science.  It has been a long time since I have been completely floored by someone - so impressed that I have to take a moment just to understand that they are, in fact, real.  

Sally Temple is a hero.  Check out this link:

One for the good guys ;)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

This is what TALENT looks like.....

I'm going to meet Keicocco later today. Sugoi!

Just experienced my first Japanese earthquake. Am I scared?! Ha! California has broken me in....I'm going to bed ;)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008



I am back, after an intense and amazing 18 days of charades and pictionary. It is amazing how talented one becomes at these games when forced. Long story short, I need to learn me some Japanese.

A great deal has happened since I last wrote. I am going to upload a bunch of pictures so that you all can see what I see.

So, I have officially moved into my new place in Kokubunji. I love it. LOVE IT. Why do I love it? Well, it is located 5 minutes from Kokubunji station, which is part of the Chuo Line (a line that goes directly into the heart of Tokyo). On the way to my place, you pass a McDonald's, KFC, Starbucks, and 99 Cents Store. Need I say more? In addition, the room is quite spacious by Japanese standards and is classified as "designer." Heehee...this just means that there are really cool ceiling lights and the doors/cabinets are painted red. My kinda pad.

The place is now fully furnished, thanks to Bic Camera and the random Japanese guy who spent 2 hours with me to "make sure everything was daijobu (okay)." They are sweethearts here! I have been spending more money than the Bush administration. Well, not really, but I am doing WAY better than Lehman right now.

Anyways, Bic Camera is one of the main discount stores in Tokyo. They sell just about everything, including the kitchen sink, at this place. The best part is that they deliver all appliances *directly* into your home, even going so far as to plug it in and test it out. That is what I am talking about. Cause lord knows that I would have a heck of a time trying to do that on my own. I am not even sure how to use my new rice cooker, because all of the buttons are in Kanji. Something tells me that it shouldn't take 2 hours to cook rice. Hmmmm.

Yes, EVERYTHING is written in Kanji. Rightfully so. All instruction manuals, all appliances...even my toilet has Kanji writing on it. Yes, and that brings up a great point. I have a Japanese toilet. These bad boys are incredible. This is truly a toilet meant for Inspector Gadget, even including a butt warmer. Moreover, I took the liberty of testing out all the buttons on the side of the toilet. I wouldn't recommend this for everyone, but let's just say that I wasn't expecting to get a shower while I use the toilet. Fortunately, there are no pictures of this incident and I will spare you the blow-by-blow details.

So, I have officially moved EVERYTHING out of Ai's place in Wakabayashi. Below is a picture of my "room" in Ai's house. Safe to say I sabotaged the place.

My place is approximately 1.5 hours away from Ai's via the subway. It was quite an experience lugging two 75 pound suitcases from her place to mine. Good thing I did this over the span of a coupla days, or else bad things coulda happened. Well, actually, bad things DID happen. I ended up going to the hospital last week due to my ridiculousness. I tried to carry a 75 pound suitcase by myself during rush hour (this, my friends, is a no-no), and ended up ripping off my big toenail in the process. Ha! I didn't even feel the pain, really. I did, however, feel something wet on my foot, but we were all so packed isho ni (together) that I couldn't even look down to see what was going on. Once I could, all I saw was red, and it wasn't my toe nail polish folks. So, I went to lab and showed them my toe. More than anything, I thought it was funny. The pain was not a big deal at all. Yeah...well they didn't take it so well and freaked out! They take such good care of me at this is un-beri-bable. They would not let me work until they took me to the hospital. we went to the local hospital. What an experience.

There I was, sitting there with a broken toe nail, while people were being wheeled in on stretchers attached to an IV. Boy did I feel lame. I almost wanted someone to break my toe, at that point. Everyone was staring, probably thinking, "Oh man, not another foreigner." I ended up getting an x-ray and the most thorough foot exam of my life. In the end, they sent me home with a bandaid. Right.

Also, over the weekend, I did a whole slew of things. I went to Roppongi. Enough said about that. I will add that I got home (well, to Ai's house) at 7am the next day and looked like a drowned rat due to the sweat from a night of dancing. Oh, and we ate sushi at the same place where they filmed the crazy fight scene in "Kill Bill." You know, the one where Uma Thurman kills like 400 people by herself and blood is shooting all over hell and half of Georgia?

Also, I went to Ai's fashion show, where she modeled a lovely dress just for fun (pictures of course). I met with some friends in Shibuya (Spencer and Natsuko) and we all mozied on over to the show together. Here is a picture of where many people meet in Shibuya. The spot is called "Hachiko," which is the name of an akita who demonstrated extreme loyalty to his owner. Apparently his owner passed away suddenly, leaving poor Hachiko all alone. So, Hachiko traveled to the same spot everyday for 30 years...waiting for an owner that would never come; this spot was where he had usually gone to wait for his owner when he was alive. The statue you see is of Hachiko. Below it is Shibuya.

The talent show was truly a sight to see! This did remind me of Sex and the City....Japanese women are keire (beautiful). I had a good time! A few pictures and video of Ai shaking her thing are below....

I must say that this transition would not have been possible without the help, concern, and sheer determination of my labmates. They are so fantastic, I can't even begin to express how lucky I am to be a part of this group. So many members took entire days off to help me: find a place, buy appliances, obtain bank accounts, grocery shop, try to get a cell phone (emphasis on the try part), and just about everything else that goes into moving across the world smoothly. If any of them are reading this, THANK YOU. Especially you, Iijima-san! Arigato ;) Pics of my pad are below....oh, and I bought plants ;)

I will save my opinions about the sexual melting pot that is Tokyo for some other time. Let's just say that if you are a foreigner, you will be very happy here. Gross. I have definitely experienced a fair amount of drama during my stay thus far.....I can't claim it as my own, but let's just say it has been interesting.

Another interesting thing has been the whole trash situation. The Japanese have to be the most organized trash taker-outers in the world. Really. Here is a picture of my trash "schedule." You probably can't read it, but you really wouldn't want to. Let's just say that every night I plan on digging through my trash to sort it all out into combustible, non-combustible, recyclable, plastics, you name it. This is pay back for everything I've ever done wrong in my life. At least it's good for the environment, right?

Now that everything is set up, it is time to get cracking in the lab! More on that, of course, as the story unfolds. In the meantime, I have been working around the clock on transitioning to Japan, moving all my stuff, kicking butt with the organizations I am still actively involved in (AMWA and Engeye), and trying to keep you all posted. Bless my little blog's heart.

I will leave you with some of the latest pictures from the Engeye Clinic in Africa. Everybody loves shoes!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Sex and the City

Tokyo city, that is.

The moment I stepped off the plane in this glorious city, I truly felt like Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City. This is not to suggest that I am a size 0 or fashionable in anyway (that would be the day), but because I feel a sense of accomplishment and energy when walking down the streets of Tokyo that Carrie Bradshaw seems to feel when walking in Manhattan. I love this city. I love it`s energy, I love it`s people, I love the culture.

Perhaps my Carrie Bradshaw thought stems from the fact that I watched the Sex and the City movie on the 13 hour plane ride over here. I watched this near the end of the flight, marking at least 20 straight hours without sleep. I was delirious. It definitely showed. While other people were sleeping comfortably or enjoying a glass of complimentary wine, I was crying hysterically at scenes that wouldn`t normally faze me. In fact, I had to pretend I was asleep multiple times, as the flight attendants made there way down the aisle offering coffee, water, and food. Luckily, due to my crafty skills, they did not have to encounter my psychosis directly, though I am sure this was due more to their avoidance than anything else.

After the flight, I stepped out of the plane and navigated my way to Tokyo city. Keep in mind that it is more humid than any place I have ever been right now, which is sort of messing up my Carrie Bradshaw vibe. It is much busier than NYC though, and Tokyo truly does have a heartbeat of her own. How do I feel? Light as a feather, prancing down the streets of Tokyo, finding the stares comforting in some odd way, and excited for the future. How do I look? Well, I`ll describe it....I am at least 5 sizes larger than the average woman, my hair is matted to my sweaty face due to the humidity, I am gasping for air while trying to keep up with the pace, while people are staring at the giant white lady who is obviously lost. Okay, so I am not as hot as Carrie Bradshaw, but I feel like her ;)

Long story short, it has been nothing short of a whirlwind here. I have not taken time to recover from jet lag (and am just gonna keep going until I shake it out of my system!). I have met with the lovely Fulbright folks here as well as my coworkers at the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry...they are truly taking care of me. I have found a place with the help of my coworkers in the city of Kokubunji, which is located on the periphery of the heart of Tokyo. Though it is a bit expensive, it is SO BEAUTIFUL. I love it. I am moving in today. Big thanks to Ai Fujimoto, who has allowed me to invade her home this week. She will be a great friend in this city, for sure.

I have literally traveled all over Tokyo at this point and am a master of the subway system. Master as in I haven`t gotten completely lost. I feel like a person who has just jumped into roaring rapids with vertigo. This scenario fits perfectly. I have chosen to jump into this sea of madness willingly, and am loving the excitement of it all. I am completely disoriented, though, and am blowing bubbles to see which way is up. Sometimes it is hard to tell which way is up. My plan is to follow the bubbles to the top. Not rocket science, but still an important accomplishment. Thank goodness for bubbles.

If there is one lesson I have learned this past week, it is to dive right into new experiences. Instead of shying away from them, just go for it. Life is a series of transitions all the time. The better we get at transitioning, the faster we can adapt to the excitement that change truly offers. Though I am not a graceful diver, I can at least keep my bathing suit on. And I love this stuff.

I will meet with my boss next week to hit the ground running with research. I am excited to get the ball rolling. Everything administrative should wind down as of next week, which is pretty darn fast! By this time next week, I will have moved into my place and started the routine that will become the next year of my life. Well, not a routine perse, but an adventure.

I wish I could end with something witty (as a tribute to Sex and the City), but instead I will end with one of my favorite Carrie Bradshaw quotes (the one I try to live by!):

`Later that day I got to thinking about relationships. There are those that open you up to something new and exotic, those that are old and familiar, those that bring up lots of questions, those that bring you somewhere unexpected, those that bring you far from where you started, and those that bring you back. But the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you find someone to love the you you love, well, that's just fabulous.`

Kanpai to that.

p.s. - Pictures to come soon!