Friday, November 28, 2014

Japan 3.0 - First week

Third time in Japan. As my contract ends next year, unless a new project gets funded, this might be the last time for me as guest of the National Institute of Polar Science. For sure, this is the last business trip in 2014, before going home (= wherever my parents are) for Christmas. I booked the flight months ago. My boss has strongly recommended not to get stuck again (see what happened last time) in a random airport, so I decided to reinforce my love story with Lufthansa. Here is the summary of this experience.

The shortest night.
Why do I always book early flight? Because I like having a bus service only for me. No, I’m kidding. It was cheaper and I preferred a safe transfer in Frankfurt. Well, 3 hours have been more than enough. I had even time to be entertained by a good pianist on the free Bechstein at the airport and by a funny episode of overbooking: two volunteers were asked to travel in economy from business class, with a compensation of €1500. Incredibly none wanted to accept and a second option was offered: travelling the same evening, with €200 of compensation. They lost a great opportunity, because the renewed economy class was really good, with room for the legs and individual screen (mine didn't work properly, but I slept for most of the flight). For the first time I chose the window seat and I enjoyed the sight of Berlin from the sky, the stars in the Siberian night, already white for the snow, and the Japanese coastline. Everything went fine also after landing, including the long ride by bus to Tachikawa, the hotel checking in and the lunch in a nice tempura place, recommended by V. Overall, I slept a lot. That’s quite uncommon for me. Am I getting used to long flight?

First week: lonely, but having fun with science.
Wow! Bananas Del Monte are sold in the 7-Eleven supermarket! For non-Italians: when I was a child, there was a famous tv spot about these bananas. Except for the imported bananas, the food I bought was 100% Japanese (or perhaps Chinese). I had to figure out how to cook things by guessing japanese instructions. I’ve got a PhD, that’s easy. Kidding. It's not. But the result was edible.

Actually, one of the host almost complained that at the third visit I still do not speak (or read) any Japanese (excluding a few basic words). He’s right, but I must complain that most of the people here do not speak any English, although they work in an international institute. Honestly I can speak Italian, understandable English and German, basic French and Dutch, not mentioning Latin and Veneto (OK, the last two do not count, the first is spoken by none and the other one is known only locally). I feel bad not understanding what people say, but learning Japanese just for fun would require a big effort and a lot of time that I do not have right now. 

This “short” week was quite productive. During the day I played with powerful instruments at the NIPR (notice that here I’m fully trusted, whereas at the VUB I wasn't allowed to work alone with the SEM despite 11 yrs experience and a very cautious attitude) and I continued to learn something about meteorite classification. Dinners have been a bit lonely because alone in my tiny micro-apartment in the Akaike Guest House, which is in fact fully furnished, even with cooking facilities in Western style.

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