Friday, September 2, 2016

Welcome to Kyoto!

And now, for something completely different - I’m in Japan! As a part of my PhD studies, I’m spending the next three months working in a research group at Kyoto University. In some ways this is rather ironic, since I swore I was done moving around and would stay in Oslo for more than a year this time around (in the past four years I’ve lived in Grenoble, France, then to Oslo, Norway, then to Trondheim, Norway, and then in Oslo again). But when life offers you an opportunity to move to Japan for three months, you have to take it! So once again this blog is back to its origins as an exchange student blog.

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Thank God for Latin characters on the signs!

The first week (well, half week, since I arrived on Wednesday) has been exciting and challenging. Professors and students at the University aside, very few people speak English. I will try to learn some Japanese while I am here, but it is a challenging language, especially due to the mixing of two different phonetic alphabets (hiragana and katakana) and Chinese characters (Kanji) in the written language. For now I am getting by mostly on sign language and big smiles.

Upon arrival, I had to navigate the complex train system on four hours of airplane sleep. It was mid-morning in Kyoto, which meant the middle of the night in Europe. I had printed out a train itinerary to get from the airport to my apartment, and dutifully switched trains three (!) times. Each train required a new ticket, which needed to be purchased on a series of esoteric vending machines. Rather than buying a ticket to where you are going, you have to determine the fare required to get to that station, and buy a ticket representing this fare. Sometimes there is an ‘English’ button on the ticket machines, but it is often well hidden.

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This is what jet lag looks like. Harder than running 55K in the French Alpes, I tell you!

I survived the train trip, got to my apartment and commuted to the University to meet with my professors and research group.

On my first evening in Kyoto, I decided I would try to cook dinner in the small kitchen in my apartment. A visit to the nearby grocery store proved more difficult than expected, as there were so many things that I simply didn’t know what were. 

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These are all different kinds of soy sauces. I think.

I was also surprised at the shear proportion of packaged food and instant dinners at the grocery store. This is in addition to convenience stores located on every corner, selling cheap snack food. As someone who typically makes food from scratch, and eats mostly vegetarian at home, this is definitely a different style of eating. I think it will take some adjusting to start cooking ‘properly’ here - I have to figure out where to get good ingredients, and how to cook with some new ones!

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What would you pick?

So far I’ve been eating out a lot - no one brings their own lunch at the University, and I’m enjoying the food, even if I couldn’t tell exactly what everything I eat is.

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Noodles and tea for lunch at the University cafeteria

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Out for a welcome sushi dinner with my research group - the Shinkansen train brings you your custom sushi orders on its own little track!

And then there is my name. ‘Molly Bazilchuk’ doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue in any language I speak, but it’s down right hilarious watching the look on Japanese peoples’ faces as they try and pronounce it. I’ve had to fill out some forms to register at the university, buy a train pass, etc, and I’m fascinated watching them transliterate the roman characters into Japanese Katakana. Here’s what it looks like:

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The Japanese letters above my name are the katakana spelling Bazilchuk, Molly. Go figure.

Stay tuned for an update of the running situation in Kyoto, and more details of my crazy Japanese lifestyle!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

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