Friday, September 16, 2016

On finding routine

Somewhere between emigration and vacation, there is the three month stay in a foreign country. I’m in Kyoto for long enough to develop routines and become accustomed to my surroundings, but not long enough to truly fit in. This week, week 3 of my stay, has felt like the turning point where everything goes from novel and strange to more or less familiar and routine. Since my every day is in Japan now, I will take it upon myself to write about the every day.

I start most days with a run. Given my lack of a bicycle, I’m definitely seeing an uptick in the number of kilometers I run. The first week I came here, it was unbearably hot and humid, and the best way to avoid the heat was to start early. Now the temperature is more bearable, but I still run early to fit my life around the ‘Japanese work hours’.

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Intervals around Nijo Castle. I’ve been doing a lot of pavement pounding, but at least I can run to beautiful, historic places!

The Japanese work a lot, and (at least at the University), they start late and end late. Really late. The PhD students I work with seem to be nocturnal creatures, which I most certainly am not. I’ve been getting to work between 9 and 10 o’clock, but my colleagues think I get to work early.  I live downtown, and it takes about 40 minutes to get to work by train and bus. Every time I swipe my commuter pass on the train I feel like a pro, like I blend in and am doing something right.

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The bakery on campus. I haven’t gotten through the entire selection. Give me another couple of months.

I’ve developed a bad bakery habit, hopefully offset by my running. There’s a bakery right near my apartment run by a charming elderly Japanese couple, and another on campus. The Japanese have managed to adopted Western baked goods and found a way to make them utterly Japanese. At the bakery, you pick up a tray and a set of tongs, and use the tongs to select baked goods before paying. I recognize very few pastries, so usually I just pick whatever looks good. You have to have a certain willingness to eat mystery food item when you live in Japan.

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My desk at the university, complete with the mystery pastry of the day (it was like croissant dough with a vanilla cream fill and cinnamon apple on top!) and iced coffee. Because it’s too hot for hot coffee.

My office is tranquil, and I only share it with one other postdoc despite there being 10 desks. In some ways, these exchange months are starting to feel like a sort of meditation retreat for my PhD. I’ve escaped the hustle and obligations of my ‘real’  life and am able to focus completely on one thing at a time. It’s pretty nice.

I also spend a lot of time in a (windowless) lab. I sometimes wonder at the choices that brought me, an outdoorswoman at heart, to a lab like this. But then I realize that I am using a machine that uses a focused ion beam to do the equivalent of carving my name on a single strand of hair. Science is cool, people!

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At the focused ion beam.

Although I don’t work nearly as much as my Japanese colleagues, it’s still usually dark by the time I go home. This week was the harvest moon festival, and the moon has definitely been showing off for the occasion. I’ve missed the bus a couple of times because I start gawking at the beautiful view our out-of-the-way campus affords at Kyoto city.

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Kyoto city as seen from Katsura Campus, illuminated by the harvest moon.

Here’s to finding a sense of every day in strange and new places!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

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