Tuesday, October 7, 2014


August 5th:

August 5th was a day of preparation. I had planned a 6-day trip, along with Emilio, Erika, and Kitty, to visit Kagoshima and Hiroshima. We managed to budget the trip beautifully thanks to Peach Airline's summer deals. Our flight down to Kagoshima only cost about 70 dollars. Hostels and hotels ran about 20 dollars a night as well. Anyhow, in order to catch our early morning flight on the 6th, we had to take the last train down on the 5th and spend the night in the terminal. It was pretty hot inside the terminal, but we managed to find some benches to assemble into a makeshift bed. And after a lovely McDonald's airport dinner of four 1-dollar burgers, we crashed until sunrise.

McDonald's selfie. 
August 6th:

The first day of our adventure and we were all pretty wiped out from poor sleep. We made our way through security and finally boarded the Peach Airline Airbus A-320-200. The inside of the airplane, like for my flight to Taipei, was all pink, with chairs alternating purple and pink leather. The flight attendants also wore fully pink outfits. Everything was just so darn cute..

Tada! Peach Ailines

Takeoff from Kansai International Airport
I managed to sleep in a really strange position in the cramped airplane. I was just so tired. We arrive in Kagoshima around 9:30 and didn't waste time. Erika had planned a pretty precise itinerary for our arrival. We took a bus in the Kirishima area, which can be described as a high-elevation, highly volcanic region in Kagoshima prefecture on Kyushu, the southernmost island of the main 4 Japanese islands. We stopped at a visitors center to drop off our luggage from our flight and plan out a hike for the day. The area around the mountain village reeked of sulfuric gases coming up from the volcanic vents. You could see the hillsides marked by trails of sulfur climbing into the air, and you could trace each trail of sulfuric gas down to a natural hot spring. Despite the awful smell, it was a beautiful sight. Some people even used the heat from the gases to cook food. Here are pictures from the hike we did that day.

Stinky, but looks fresh and tasty.

A mountain stream.

The first of 3 caldera lakes we hit. The pH in this water was somewhere around 5 I think, so it was pretty acidic.

The trail through some high elevation forests.

The second and much larger of three caldera lakes we hit.

A mountain shrine.

The third. For this caldera lake, we stood with our waists at water level from behind a small natural damn. 

Tons of water bugs on the surface.

A hillside where lava used to flow.

They were troopers for hiking the whole day with Emilio and I. I told them "pretend you are having fun" for this shot.

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Emilio with the another peak behind him. At this point we were shooting for the highest peak. 

You know me and my animal fascination by now. 

The peak Emilio was pictured in before.

Another nearby peak. At this point, some bad weather was starting to roll in, and Emilio and I still wanted to see the massive crater at the top, we starting running.

This was the crater at the top. EPIC!!

Had to get a shot at the top. Look at the houses in the valley in the backdrop. EPIC!!!

How many trails of gasses can you find?

After the hike, we found a place to take a foot bath. Basically, it was just another naturally heated pool to stick your legs in after the hike. And it felt incredible, considering we had run a good little chunk to the top of 韓国岳 Mount Karakuni. Oh, as a funny back story, the mountain is called Mount Korea in Japanese because in ancient times, it was said that the mountain is so high, you can see Korea from it. Anyhow, beautiful place, but we needed to head to Kagoshima city to find out hotel. So we stopped by this tiny village. The people living there rarely saw foreigners, so they were extremely friendly and helpful in guiding us to the local train station. The train was this tiny 2-cart local train that took us through some beautiful places. And after some rounds of card games and some sleep, we arrived in Kagoshima city and walked to our hotel. The hotel had lovely complimentary robes, which we had some fun with before going to sleep.

Looking seductive with my "Coolish" vanilla ice cream. 

Emilio turned up the swag and popped his collar.
August 7th:

The second day of the trip. We slept relatively early because we were dead tired. In the morning, we planned to go to a beach in Kagoshima. Before that, we got a hearty ミスタードーナッツ Mister Donuts breakfast.  Here are pictures from the day:

Across the street from the Mister Donuts was a huge Pikachu moon bounce. Could it get more classic Japan? 

The landscape around the buildings consisted of steep tree-covered hills. 

And of course, the view on 桜島 Sakurajima, a lonely, but triumphant active volcano island in the middle of the sheltered bay. This was the view from the beach we were at. Absolutely gorgeous.
The beach itself was really nice (duh!). The waves were nonexistent, but the life guards insisted on keeping us from swimming out too far. I realized that the average Japanese seems to have a pretty deep fear of waves. Understandably so, considering the history of devastating tsunamis. Anyhow, it was interesting weather, sunny at first, but as noon crept in, we could see a massive wall of rain heading out way -- quickly! Instead of finding shelter, we walked out and embraced the cool, heavy drops pelting our bare bodies, something that is rare in southern California. After a nice lunch, we started heading back towards the city center, where we had a delicious dinner. Kagoshima is very famous for its 黒豚 Kurobuta (Black hair swine pork). Luckily for us, there best 25 restaurants in Kagoshima were placed right near the station in a charming, traditional style mini-village. I mean there were a bunch of tiny restaurants with outdoor eating areas, as well as some bars and entertainment in the decorated outdoor area. Here are pictures of what I mean:

All the employees and chefs even dressed in traditional style. 

And it was pretty empty when we got there. Look at the contrast of the building in the background to the village's style. 

Check out those beautiful lanterns.

And of course the beautiful people. 
Dinner was delicious. I had a delicious bowl of 黒豚ラーメン Kurobuta Ramen and the girls had 黒豚しゃぶしゃぶ Kurobuta Shabushabu. We fell in love with the place. After the dinner, we made way for a nice view point in the city. Atop 白山 Shiroyama, there was a big hotel with a nice 温泉 Onsen bath house and view of the Kagoshima city area. It was a bit of a hike up the steep hillside, but we managed with some 7-11 ice creams to energize us. Here are pictures from the spot:

Hiking along the river to get to the hill. 
 Kagoshima: drink it up, always go down easy.
This was the entrance to the hotel at the top. If I imagine the entrance to heaven, I'd imagine something like this with a dirt path. 
What a great of day of sightseeing. And there was still so much to see. We had walked more or less everywhere we went, another perk to Kagoshima. It's a pretty small city, so within the main city area, you won't have to walk more than 40 minutes to get around. This fact also left us exhausted at the end of a day. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014


August 2nd:

A day of recovery for everyone. So just to let you know, my program was officially over at this point, as in I would no longer be attending the lab to do research. We all got a month to explore Japan at the end of our exchange. This means from here on, I am on vacation. Nothing special happened on August 2nd. The days I don't write much means I either did cleaning, laundry, tennis at the dorm, or some work that wouldn't entertain you all too much.

August 3rd:

A day for a brewery tour! About 8 of us got together and reserved a tour at the Suntory brewery, where they offer half an hour open bar after the tour. A bunch of the guys had gone to the Asahi brewery wearing suits.. Why? Who knows... I just went along with it, so we had about 5 of us suited up hitting the train towards Kyoto. Here are pictures from the brewery and the rest of the day.

Huge distillation tanks.

Lager tanks 
Crazy piping system.

The bottling wheel. It's too bad it wasn't running. 
At the open bar. Pretty good beers. And we made sure to kill em. 
As a side story that's just too funny not to tell, the German guy with the glasses in the picture above got pretty drunk. So after the brewery we decided to take a train to the heart of Kyoto to explore shrines and temples. He ran to try and catch the closing doors of a train and in his rush, he jumped and hit his heart extremely hard on the entrance. So hard, in fact, that he fell straight to ground from the contact. Fortunately, the girl next to him, Youngji, took him to the hospital. Pretty classic..

Meanwhile, we were looking much classier than we were acting.

Cool shrine.

伏見稲荷大社 Fushimi Inari Taisha. 

And the bug Joon found in the forest while hiking... in suits...
That is a nest of baby birds.
The whole group

It was cool how the gated trails would part like this. Almost as cool as duncan looks in that suit..
The day was unforgettable. The weather wasn't perfect but it certainly brought a mystical feel the Kyoto mountain shrine and its foresty, gated, paths. I recommend this place to anyone visiting Japan.

August 4th:

My friend Izawa from the lab was going to northern Japan to get his driver's license on the 5th, so he wanted to grab a dinner with me before I left. So I headed to the northernmost train stop, 北千里 Kita Senri, and met him, Ishizaka, and my senpai, Kariya at a small restaurant there. Boy was I in for a surprise. This place is called 栄ちゃん Ei-Chan. It's a small, rustic restaurant owned by a guy named Ei. For starters, the guy was this 5'6" guy wearing soccer socks in sandals, a large apron over shorts that made it look like he's not wearing anything under the apron, and an oversized black and white Juventus jersey under the apron. You reserve a table in his restaurant, and the guy cooks whatever he feels like cooking for you, but however much you want of it. Oh, and there cold beer on tap. Before we even went in, he stood outside and ran a couple laps back and forth in front of his restaurant to warm up for us. This guy was a character. We sat down on our table and he started serving food. It was all pretty good food, but I think the experience tops it. At one point in the meal, he came up to our table and asked Ishizaka and I to go pick up ice cream to restock his freezer. He gave us 20 bucks to do it and told us to buy ourselves our own ice cream while there too. At another point in the meal, he started rolling おにぎりOnigiri riceballs and threw them at all his customers to eat. For the guys, he made us stand against a wall in his restaurant and he would chuck them at us at high speeds. Here's a brief video.

And here's a picture of one part of the meal.

Left to right: Kariya, Izawa, and Ishizaka. And some delicious fish on the grill.
It was a nice dinner and we shared some sad goodbyes afterwards. Turns out we would see each other one more time after this.


July 30th:

I focused on my presentation all day, working out the fine details of it. In the evening we had our last farewell party for the people leaving in August. This picture basically sums up the night.

Ending it right with a feast. 

Denise (my German friend) trying her first Dr. Pepper. The taste of American freedom, liberty, and justice is strong. 
July 31st:

I was in semi-panic mode the day before my presentation. I had no idea what to expect. And despite everyone from the previous semester telling me its graded very lightly, the nerves still set in a little bit. To release some tension, I went out to play some tennis with Felix. And check out this massive praying mantis I found on the court!!
Look at those alien eyes. Amazing..

And all the little spines on its limbs. 

For size reference.
In the evening, my good friend Eunju invited me, Felix, Duncan, and Yo to eat home cooked Korean food and watch a movie at her place. We couldn't pass on her hospitality, so we made our way over by bike and brought some beers and candy. It was a great success. Though the apartment was a single room (like many in Japan are), we all fit on her bed and desk and ate enjoying each other's company. The nice thing about going to hang out with Eunju is that we always had to speak in Japanese. She doesn't speak much English, so all of us strained ourselves to deliver our best Japanese, and it usually worked. And she's incredibly kind, patient and easy-going. Anyhow. We watch Insidious (excpet Yo, he covered his face with his shirt and hands for half the movie cause he was scared... XD). After the movie, I practiced my presentation in front of everyone, and Felix gave me a bunch of useful advice. Finally, after saying our goodbyes, we went back to the dorm, where Felix further critiqued my presentation until about 2 in the morning. It was great practice for me, so thank you Felix for the guidance.

August 1st:

Presentation day! Suited up ready to rock and roll:
I guess I tried to capture my stiff, competitive attitude in this picture.. lol!
Some people didn't wear any suits, but I was shooting to win a presentation award. Moreover, there were tons of professors watching the presentations throughout the day, so I felt it was important to look professional. Unfortunately, it was hot, and my presentation wasn't until about 4 in the afternoon. So I sat through countless presentations, most of which I knew absolutely nothing about because the topics were deep in biology or chemistry. Finally, it came time for me to present. It was a successful presentation. I even managed to slip in a sexual innuendo that a couple people snickered at. Overall, I felt I delivered my data in a digestible manner, no matter what you are studying. And I answered questions pretty well during the Q & A section. I believe, this is what won me my presentation award. That's right! Woohoo!! I got the 1st place prize for my presentation. And everyone pressured me to deliver a speech after I shook hands with the chief of the Frontier Lab program. Thankfully, my public speaking has improved since the last time I was forced into that position. I somewhat gracefully managed to express myself and my appreciation for what everyone had done. I genuinely meant it. I have grown so much thanks to this experience. I learned a lot, not only about the science I was studying, but about myself.
I dropped by my lab to share the accomplishment with my professor, who was super excited for me. 
His support is unreal. Looking forward to going to conferences with him.
And on the way home, I was just so overwhelmed with happiness. There is simply no greater feeling than working really hard for something and having it pay off. Really makes you feel on top of the world. I tried to capture it on my camera on my bike ride home.
This is my happy face.
So what do you do after you finish a huge load of work? Party!!
But first, the "after" selfie.

I taught everyone how to play beer pong that night too.

This is precious. In their defense, everyone got super drunk this night.
It was a wild night. Some people passed out in bathroom stalls, some on the table of the 2nd floor study room, and some even in their own vomit. In the end, no one got seriously hurt, and I was in jolly spirits the whole evening.