Falling into an optimized routine

Osaka Travel Blog

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Random Observation/Comment #: Fruit is extremely expensive in Japan. Why would you spend more than 50 cents on a Clementine? $30 for 12?!?
The scribbles in the notepad begin to subside as I fall into a comfortable image of how my day ought to be. It’s not that anything around me has changed in any extreme way – I do not miraculously know how to speak Japanese, nor have any of the appliances and accessories grown to fit my needs. But, I feel different in this strange and unexplored land. Everything is exotic, but nothing is overly exotic anymore. It’s very hard to explain this transition from the unknown to the less awkward. If it did happen overnight, I couldn’t begin to sift out which day it was. Maybe it was a certain event that made me feel like I’ve been in this situation before. I’m always doing the same nothings, just surrounded by different people. Still, in some way, only the task at hand becomes my world, and this focus pushes time forward much more quickly than desired.
The Internet social networks, news broadcasts, and my gmail account become a default browser window to frequently update for the newest feed. So much is happening and so much new information is accessible. The ability to filter this to my interests is the only weapon I have against procrastination. I’ve already RSS fed everything and optimized my machine to help me, but it’s still such an immense amount of data to process. Every day we take this same path – reading new things, yet going through the same mouse clicks. I think I am so much more productive at night when all I have is a word processor and a book.
So how do I avoid this life of boredom? Familiarity and comfort are such desired things, but in a new world, I want to fight my natural instincts to adapt and take things for granted. I want to keep my senses sharp and my observations continuous as to maintain my learning curve. What good would I be if these random observations and comments (of which I’ve already comprised about 100) slowly decay? It gives me a sullen feeling of even-polynomial mental capacity. Yes, my wisdom will continually grow as my body and mind subsides, but I want to make sure that I maintain this health as long as possible.
The day starts with “good day sunshine” harmonized by The Beatles at 7:45AM. The sun already shines brightly through the half open shades and my eyelids, and I start the morning with the fun idea of “what should I wear?” (Maybe metro-, but definitely not homo-). This question used to be more interesting when I had more combinations, but I only packed 10 t-shirts, 5 jeans, a belt, 10 boxers, and 10 socks for my 3 month stay. Laundry is literally outside my door (and it’s free!) so doing laundry once a week is not a big deal.
I’m a 4 minute walk away from the bus stop, but I’ve found that each day I need to wake up earlier and earlier to get a seat in the morning. It’s a 20 minute bus ride, and no matter the human traffic during rush hour, the driver will not leave until everyone is packed into the bus. I heard stories of people actually lying across the top of the rear seat of the bus because there was no room to stand (forget about your personal space because it has been revoked by overpopulation).
If I get the privilege of sitting, I take out my laptop and start reading over the entry I wrote the night before. One page of the tomorrow’s entries are usually finished in the rest of the time it takes the bus to reach suita campus. I’m beginning to write faster and faster, although my random quirky ideas are diminishing by the entry. (Don’t worry – the addition of these parenthetical inside jokes or unnecessary comments will remain.) I’m just finding less ways to be unique in my writing. We’ll see what comes to mind.
The walk from the bus stop to the lab is another 4 minutes, but I always stop by a vending machine to get a 500ml can of coke or aquarius (like pocarti sweat) for 100 yen. I’m glad that the prices of food and drinks on campus are greatly reduced to fit the need of poor college students. I’m in my seat in front of my laptop, extra monitor, and debian machine by 8:45. The next hour or so is usually spent catching up on Colbert report, engadget, techcrunch, sinfest, dilbert, social networks (such as travbuddy, xanga, myspace, couch surfing, facebook, wordpress, twitter), and then email responses. Most of the time is spent on random IMs and reading comments from facebook. Even half way around the world, I fail to escape the addiction of injecting myself with a daily dose of instant messaging and facebook. What a terrible time waster.
By 10AM, I’m usually doing some sort of programming, if not looking around to see who is in the lab that I can start a conversation with (basically bother for 10 minutes). This is not procrastination – I am being productive by expanding my social network in a new environment. Yes, this may be seen as me avoiding work and doing worse by spreading this disease of idleness to another one of my fellow researchers, but in the long run, a short conversation with a stranger is much more useful than the 10 minutes spent on the computer trying to figure out the solution to my problem. I could possibly ask the person if they knew how to solve the problem (Who am I kidding? We’re probably just shooting the shit about random Japanese culture). There’s at least a 3 year difference between me and everyone else in the lab, so I’m always trying to prove myself to them positively, without making them feel like I’m the new hot-shit. It takes a careful choice of words and pitch angle to draw the fine line between bragging and showing competence.
Every place you work, walking around the office and socializing is the key to success. A great man once said, “it’s not about who you know – it’s about who knows you.” You never know when the network you build will be useful in the future. Hopefully they know me for something other than my larger body type, cultural differences, and horrible Japanese.
Up until lunch time, I bum around and try to figure out my problem for the day. It’s mostly programming of sorts and connecting servers with different protocols. (It is hush-hush top secret and nothing too interesting to write about anyway.) 30 minutes before lunch, I head over to Ishiguro lab and juggle my ball – you know, the way Jake and James do it (I’m talking about soccer – you sick minded imaginary audience that I’m pretending to write this entry to, which probably reflects how sick minded I am for writing it this way). I’m trying to practice and it’s another break from doing actual work. I’ve get an “I” for improvement =D.
Bento boxes are relatively cheap for a meal – about 400 yen for a premade lunch box. Either that, or Indian curry with nan (!(not a number) – lol) from this little shop in the cafeteria. I’ve had so much curry these past few weeks, probably because it’s the only thing that I can order. I just have to say curry udon with a Japanese accent. Sometimes I find communicating with Japanese people makes my English worse and worse. I wind up putting a Japanese accent on everything (like pronouncing the L’s as R’s the TH’s as D’s). My words are chosen very carefully and I pause often to give them time to translate what I’ve already said. I hope I don’t sound weird when I come back home.
The afternoon is more bumming and working on problems. It’s a 13 hour time difference (meaning Osaka’s 10PM is NY’s 9AM) – basically, I’m in the future. The future has very squinty eyes. I can make the joke because I, too, am able to see through these slim apertures – it actually helps our vision if you’ve taken optics (you can’t tell, but I am sticking my tongue out at you ::cough::).
The work ethic is extremely well trained in the lab. Everyone stays on weekends and they tell me they don’t leave until midnight. These Masters and PhD students are also taking classes, so maybe they need to stay the late nights. It’s good to know that I’ve lived that life, survived, and now don’t have to repeat such torture. Cooper taught me well. If there’s anything that I wanted during these hard working hours is for someone to come by and say “Why don’t you take a break and come with me to get some ice cream? It’s a beautiful day.” This is my new job for the lab – reminding students that taking some time off is more productive than you can ever imagine. Only a small bit of wisdom from four years of sleepless nights.
Dinner is sharply at 6PM and this is usually quite uniting for all of the students to just eat together and chat about random things. I make my small origami butterfly from the receipt, which also tells me the number of kilocalories I’ve ingested (I didn’t mean that the butterfly talks to me, but rather the receipt has this information written on it – I know this could be a common misunderstanding because I am famous for making some crazy things happen). The cafeteria food is very cheap and very delicious. I don’t spend more than 1600 yen a day including lunch, dinner, and drinks throughout the day.
At 7PM, I’m walking to the bus stop with Rodrigo chatting about something about Japan sight-seeing or interesting philosophies from TED talks. He’s told me the most about the lab’s purposes and different unique projects he’s been involved in. I’m constantly impressed by how much he knows about everything. One day I will say something he hasn’t heard of, but until then, I will keep trying to pick topics that are completely random to catch him off guard. So far, he’s 5 for 5. Who knew he would be able to talk about Minoh monkeys, TED talks, high school science Olympiads competitions, consciousness/language psychology, and photography?
The next 3 hours are completely open to whatever I want to do. I usually write an entry, work out, shower, read a few chapters of an eBook, and then sing myself to sleep. Recently, I’ve been playing ping pong with my neighbor until 9:30 and then learning a few more kanji characters. I wish I knew how to say these words in Chinese too. The night ends early and I repeat for the weekdays. Weekends are so much more exciting to write about. As you can tell, I’m not doing that well in avoiding comfortable routines. Maybe I’ll go out jogging tomorrow night, or start heavily drinking and smoking (I kid, I’m kidding – I leave this lifestyle for home =P).
~See Lemons Transition Nicely

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photo by: yasuyo