Thursday, December 4, 2008

"We Are Hardcore"

....there is something so refreshing about hearing these words from a native Japanese person.

Mind you, this was after 10 hours of injecting rats with God-knows-what and restraining them in a tube to induce depression. Awesome.
So, when we were checking out the latest and greatest on PubMed (snazzy scientific search engine), I could feel myself slipping away into lala land. This basically means I laugh uncontrollably about everything (mild version of hysteria). So, when the post-doc I am working with says, "Whew....we are haldcole" I lost it. Had to leave the room. Definitely the highlight of my week.

So, if that was the highlight of my week, I must lead an incredibly action-packed life, right? Thanks. Let me show you what I have been doing lately at work:

This is me, flashing the oh-so-classic peace sign in my space suit.

Here are my babies - there are 24 of these bad boys, and I ADORE them. Honestly, it was so incredibly hard for me to give them their first injection. The poor post-doc I work with must think that I am crazy. I literally will speak to the rats both before and after I inject them. I will explain the procedure, tell them why it's necessary, and hold them afterwards. Best bedside manner ever! If one is really scared, I will even sing Beyonce songs to them. Yeah, it gets ugly.

Before the madness (yes I feel bad and pet them....while also explaining the procedure).

This rat's just over it. Maxin' and relaxin'

And this rat is clearly American (I am just sayin'!)

This pic is for anyone who *really* thinks they are having a tough day. But look...freedom at last!

For anyone who ever wanted to know a great human model of depression - this is it. Injecting and restraining rats for 10 hours a day 7 days a week will do it. I'm taking that straight to the patent office, people! Luckily, I have also discovered the most effective anti-depressant known to man. Actually, there are two. One is called Beyonce and the other Britney. Currently, I have been taking Britney, as this medication was just released YESTERDAY folks (yes, she is making a comeback). It's amazing how much of a mood stabilizer music truly is!

So, my life over the past 3 weeks or so has been intense. Work, work, work. A mixture of research, teaching English, going to the gym (where they did some sort of whole body assessment....apparently my left thigh needs some work?), the Engeye Health Clinic, as well as the American Medical Women's Association will do that to ya. I get up two hours before work and write emails/work. I go to my labo for 8-12 hours a day and work in a dark room with rats. Then, I come home and write emails/work for 4-6 hours a day. Yes, we are haldcole. I feel like the thalamus - getting all these inputs and just trying to process them and send them off to the right part of the cortex. Ah, but I love this stuff.

I think the people at work think I am nuts. When I get into something, I don't like to waste time and do silly things like eat or go to the bathroom. Most days I completely skip lunch and then grab some chips at 3:00 pm and snack while I work. I won't even go into the details of my sprints to the bathroom. People best watch out ;)

There are 3 major projects going on right now in my lab - holy schnikes! Work hard, play hard, right? Right.

Wanna see where I work and who I work with? Ikimasho (wet's go!)

This is what I see on the way to my lab....can you tell we work in mental health research?

This is the departing gift I got for my labo two years ago. This animal is supposed to bring good luck and fortune to an establishment and is often placed in front of restaurants. So I got it for my labo. It is actually a type of animal that the Japanese call a "raccoon dog." Right-o. Can you tell it's gender (for the LOVE of God).

This is the view from the 5th floor (my lab is the penthouse suite, baby). So beautiful, ne?

Did I say that my coworker saying "We are hardcore" was the highlight of my week? I lied. This, without a doubt, has to be the highlight of my YEAR. This is a picture of Naoki chanting "YES WE CAN, YES WE CAN, YES WE CAN." God bless America.

This is my lovely work environment every day - paradise.

And this is where the MAGIC happens (aka: my work bench). Love me dem negative results ;(

Everybody hard at work (notice the peace sign in the back)

Here is the current superstar of our labo - Numakawa sensei. Da-da-da-dahhhh! Now he is hardcore. He just got a paper into PNAS, one of the most prestigious scientific journals, if you ask me. The highlight was the party we had in the lab to celebrate his success. Imagine a bunch of Japanese folks gathered around talking about "PNAS." Go ahead, read the ENTIRE word ("P-NAS").....oh man, I am so immature! But it had me laughing hysterically and at one point I, again, had to leave the room. Help.

Also, if you have seen Harold and Kumar II (the movie), you might appreciate this comment. Remember when Kumar flashes back to his college years when he used to be a nerd studying in the library? There is one scene where Harold walks through the library all gothed out and looks creepily at Kumar as he passes by. It is a CLASSIC scene (if you have seen the movie, you know that this part is HYSTERICAL). There is this guy in my lab who does the EXACT SAME THING. Oh man, it gets me everytime. In between all of my scientific breakthroughs I am plotting how I can secretly capture this on video for your viewing pleasure.

Also, there is one really interesting fellow in the lab (who, no doubt, is reading this blog right now. Yikes!). One day when we were hard at work, he confessed that he had 400 Japanese porns and 4 American porns. Granted, his cross-cultural comparison is a little skewed and may not get published in a good journal, but he gets an A for effort. His observations were enlightening (message me if you are truly interested). I didn't have much to contribute, except the occasional "Holy cow!" Hahaha.... the whole lab is saying that now. Ah yeah. Bringin' it back like that, ya'll!

Wanna see what fall transitioning into winter looks like in Tokyo?

Lovely, right. Ah.

It has been such an interesting time in Japan so far. Truly, I have had SO much time to think about life, what's important to me, and what's important in the BIG picture. I feel so fortunate to be experiencing this in the midst of medical/graduate school. Sometimes medical school can act like a vacuum - it can literally make you feel cut off from the rest of the world while simultaneously sucking every last drop of compassion out of you. You become a machine in medical school, because that is what you need to do to make it through. It is tough folks! It is inevitable to lose perspective along this journey and to sacrifice a bit of your "mojo" during the process. Well, Japan has enough mojo for 10 lifetimes, so I am stocking up!

It is really liberating walking around Tokyo by yourself, listening to your favorite music, taking in the beautiful scenery while navigating through the crowds. Though it looks hectic from the outside, it is unbelievably tranquil on the inside. There is something so refreshing about the deja voi-type of vibe I get from seeing novel things in Japan - It does not make me nervous, but it seems so familiar, as if I have seen it before somehow. Maybe it's just because everything here makes SO MUCH more sense. Really. They have to be one of the most environmentally friendly countries in the world. They separate their trash religiously (trust me on this one), they ride bikes everywhere and take public transportation, they recycle, they do their best to realize that the decisions they make today will affect future generations to come.

I went to United Nations Day with Lily-Loo (a fantastic Fulbright friend of mine) and we learned all about Climate Change and the future (the theme of the conference). Scary stuff. The industrialized countries of this world are pissing off mother nature. And you don't wanna piss momma off by releasing the highest levels of CO2 into the air that this world has ever seen, do you? Oh wait, we have. And it's growing. Check out this site: and DO SOMETHING. Granted, I am not an environmentalist by nature (again, no pun intended), but I do want my grandchildren to be able to breath while playing soccer. And, yes, they will play soccer....;)

Wanna see some of the Fulbright folks I have been hanging with (sorry, the pic is kinda blurry)? All hapas, too. Funny.

Yes, I know I am killing the photo with my cheesiness, but whatareyagonnado?

Also, I went to see one of the most inspiring and amazing movies ever with my Japanese sensei and Lily Loo. War Dance. Watch it. It will seriously tear your heart out, infuse compassion and knowledge into it, and put it back so it can be bigger and work better than ever before. Here is the link:

Also, a friend of Engeye's just sent us this amazing mini-documentary.  If you want to be inspired, please click here:

If you want to learn a thing or two about Africa, HIV, and the reality of the situation, please click here:

We are planning another medical mission to Uganda this February, which is why the Engeye team is submerged in some of the issues mentioned in the above videos.  Stories like these just add fuel to the fire and give us hope that we can help DO SOMETHING. You can too.  Okay.......

Even though Tokyo still feels foreign to me, there have been a few folks who have really gone above and beyond to make me feel at ease. Special thanks to Ai and Mauricio, my lovely labmates, my Japanese sensei, all my newfound friends in this little city, and the little old lady outside my house who cleans the common area. She comes once a week and I LOVE seeing her. She speaks hardly any English, but she will come up to me and say, "You make me happy." Aw. And then I give her Skittles. ;) Sweet deal, right. She reminds me of a much older version of my grandmother, so she has a special place in my heart for sure. Here are some pics of these folks (and a few extra fun shots):

Shibuya at night! Shibuya and Harajuku are pretty much known for being the fashion capitals of Tokyo.

I experienced my first homecooked meal at the home of the First Secretary of Political Affairs for the Embassy of the United States of America (that's a mouthful!) and his wife. It was so lovely. I met them at a fancy Fulbright event and we immediately hit it off. Though they are "important people," they really made me feel at ease. Plus, the wife is a Bruin! Also, they invited some other Embassy friends to dinner, where we talked so much about Obama, we might as well have been in a campaign commercial! Here are pics:

After dinner at their BEAUTIFUL home in Roppongi Hills (all the embassy folk live here), they took me down the catwalk that is Roppongi. Quick fact: Roppongi Hills has to be the Beverly Hills of Tokyo. If you are famous, loaded, or P-Diddy, you live in Roppongi Hills. Roppongi is obviously near Roppongi Hills and is the "hot spot" for all the foreign dudes who want to pick up on Japanese women. It is grimey, it is sleazy, it is Roppongi. You have to see it to believe it. I feel like there should be a special show called "The Hills - Roppongi Style." I guarantee it would be way cooler than Lauren Conrad's silly show that is giving California a bad name (I'm not bitter). Check out this article. E - this explains a little bit more about the "sleaziness" I have been meaning to explain to you:

Also, this year Ai and Mauricio planned a little Thanksgiving celebration that was SO AWESOME. Together, the 3 of us make the best functionally dysfunctional family of all time. Woo-woo! Thank you so much, guys! We had a full on feast in Shimokitazawa (say that 10 times fast). It was so nice to be with good friends on this day, though I still miss my Big Fat Greek Wedding family back home (hugs guys!)

Natsuko, me, and Ai

Fuse (from Thailand!) and me

They totally messed this picture up (really, it's not me)! We were supposed to look like space cadets and I am the only one posing. Just want to expose their lies for all to see ;)

Americans getting their drink on!

Ai cooking us thanksgiving dinner. Ah, she is such a little okaasan (mother)!

Natsuko made homemade apple cider....yummmmmm.

Ready to transition into Christmas? Cause Tokyo is. That's right, they don't call this the most efficient country in the world for nothing. Literally, as soon as December 1st hit, all the Christmas decorations in the world went up. Literally, Tokyo is glowing. And I love it! Here are some pictures of one of the busiest areas in the world - Shinjuku.

In the midst of all this beauty, I see, perhaps, the most glorious site of all - KRISPY KREME DONUTS. People often wait a couple hours just to get one of these donuts....omoshiroi (interesting).

So, there you have it folks! I have seen and lived so much while in Japan. Though I am still doing everything I did in America, it is so fun to have a change of scenery. To answer people who have asked, "Have you seen anything odd while there?" Oh MAN! Instead of turning this blog into an encyclopedia (though it is close now), I will tell you the top 3 "oh my gosh" highlights:

1.) A man on the train doing something he should NOT be doing in public! This is actually a problem in Japan...during the morning rush hour (where people are packed in like sardines), they had to create a "women only" car to prevent any foul play. Man oh man! Some male characteristics permeate all cultures...

2.) The cable guy who thought it would be cool to offer me drugs in my apartment ;(

3.) The halloween costumes in Japan - Wow!

And for good measure, I want to post a video of one of my friend's in the states showing off his skills (WOW!). You go, Matty!

So, walk home with me now, so I can get in my bed with my heating blanket and sleep. Oh yes, I am getting a haircut tomorrow. Cross your fingers that I don't emerge with a Japanese mullet due to the language barrier.....

Alas, we are in Kokubunji!

That's all, folks! ZZZZZZZZ.

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