I got my PhD!

In the news article on the website is a photo of me receiving my PhD from JAIST university president. I finally graduated!

My name is up on the wall! No, Savvy Kenya is not the name on the wall LOL.

Three weeks ago, on the 21st of September, surrounded by my family and friends, I finally received my doctorate in Information Science. It was a culmination of 4 long years of hard work.

My family and friends turned up to help me celebrate this special day!

However, a few days before that, I had gone to Tokyo to receive my parents, brothers and friend at Narita Airport. We spent a day in Tokyo sightseeing at Tokyo Skytree (the tallest tower in the world) and Asakusa.
Family photo outside Tokyo Skytree

Family photo outside Tokyo Skytree

A moment at Asakusa

A candid moment at Asakusa

  We took the shinkansen to Ishikawa, and then a university shuttle bus to JAIST for the graduation ceremony. After graduation, it was no time for rest! We took a road trip along the scenic Hakusan White Road to Gokayama Traditional village. We were lucky to catch some traditional gun performance in action.

At Gokayama

A day after the road trip, we took the express train to Kyoto (thank God for JR train passes, right?). We went to Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine and Nara Park the following day.
At Fushimi Inari Taisha

At Fushimi Inari Taisha

My family left for Kenya on Sept 25th. They must have spent more times on trains than actually sightseeing, and next time I should definitely have a less intensive schedule. They experienced culture shock of course, and I had forgotten how hard it was at first to adjust to Japanese food. I moved out on the same day my family left. I had to move out of student housing to a new short-term apartment, so it was a really busy time for me. It is now almost 3 weeks since then I feel like I am just coming to terms with the fact that I’ve finally finished the formal education journey (of course actual learning never ends). I’m finally PhinisheD!  
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Tinder in Japan: A Rural Experience

So the blues have passed, and I am really excited because I’m graduating next week on Friday (that’s what the timer on the right side of the blog is counting down to)! My parents and bros are coming over to Japan to celebrate the big day with me and I’m looking forward to spending some time with them and showing them a bit of Japan. I haven’t seen them in over one and a half years so I can’t wait. In the meantime, I remember I promised you guys a post about my experience using Tinder in Japan. You are in for a ride, so get the popcorn ready!

Dating in Kenya

Before coming to Japan, I knew little of Tinder except that it was a smart dating app. I’m very outgoing and I have a lot of friends, so meeting new people was easy. I had no need for online dating. It is possible to meet dateable people at weddings, funerals, in the bus, at the bus stop, at Kenya Cinema, while walking down the street,  at churches, at a club, at a restaurant, at work, at a football or rugby match, hey, the possibilities are endless.

But this post isn’t about dating in Kenya, which I could write a book about. So let’s skip ahead to 4 years ago, when I packed my bags and came to Japan. I assumed it would be the same thing – I would make friends, and through the new friends I would meet their friends, and friends of friends of friends, and so on and so forth, so I would have a wide range of options in the hypothetical dating pool.

Boy, was I wrong.

You know the expression, there are a lot fish in the sea? To mean there are many men in the dating pool. Yes, there is a lot of fish in the sea, but in rural Japan, we (foreign females), are living on LAND! Dry land. A desert of thirst.

The thirst is real.

Making friends with fellow Japanese students in the uni proved harder than I thought. Until now, I only have one Japanese friend my age. The weird thing about Japanese young people (in my experience living in Ishikawa) is that you can meet them and talk today, but tomorrow they will act like they don’t know you. The next time you meet them, you think you will pick up from where you left off and “deepen” the friendship, but no, you start again from zero. Who has the energy to do that, repeatedly? Hey, they will always be nice, polite, but will always maintain this cool distance. So initially, and even until now most of my friends are fellow international students.

Six months after arriving in Japan, I signed up to meet people on Tinder because it wasn’t going to happen IRL. I couldn’t speak Japanese very well and a lot of Japanese guys can’t speak English and even if they can, they are extremely shy about it so perhaps they would be different online? Let’s see what happened, shall we?

The Coffee Date

It didn’t take long to get a few matches.

It is so exciting getting your first match on Tinder!

But most of them never messaged. Somehow it’s like an unwritten rule that girls wait for the guys to message them first. I don’t know. Anyway, I don’t remember who messaged who first.

So we got talking with this guy and we communicated in English. He was a couple of years older and was working in the nearby town. We agreed to meet up for a coffee date on his lunch break. Even if it worked out or not, at  least I would get a much needed break from research and enjoy a Latte and a pastry at a nice coffee shop.

It was a pleasant afternoon when we met. We said hello and that was when I discovered he could hardly speak English. He had been using a translation app the entire time. No matter though, I could hold  a basic conversation in Japanese by then. He then led the way to…… the roadside vending machines!

You know how along the major roads in Japan, they have these rest stops with a couple of benches, vending machines and bathrooms? Yeah. So that’s where we went. So much for a coffee shop atmosphere. But hey, at least he paid for the insipid-vending-machine coffee.

Coffee at a vending machine in Japan

Coffee at a vending machine in Japan. Image, courtesy.

We sat on a bench and soaked in the afternoon sunshine. It was during the ensuing conversation that I realized why he didn’t take me to a coffee shop. Turns out he wasn’t single (!!) and this being rural Japan, I realized he didn’t want to be seen in public on a date with a foreigner because well, it’s a small city. Everyone knows everyone. I can literally count the number of black girls in Ishikawa on one hand!

So yeah, that was that. Unmatched and blocked.

The English Date

No, this isn’t about an Englishman.

The second Japanese guy I met on Tinder was a medical student. He spoke English well enough –  he wasn’t using a translation app. I prefer meeting people face to face instead of endless chatting back and forth, so we set up a  lunch date one Saturday. Time, noon.

Knowing how Japanese people are strict about time keeping – even for casual social events, they will be there 5 minutes early, I turned up 5 minutes early too and sat in my car in the parking lot, waiting for the confirmation message that he was there too. 10 minutes went by. No word. So I texted him asking him what was up. He said he was sorry but was running a bit late. So I said it was ok, I would wait. (By the way it is extremely rude to be late in Japan; if you know you’re going to be late you of course must do the decent thing and let the waiting party know. So was this a sign of disrespect? ) 20 minutes went by. Again, he said he was on the way. I decided to go in and wait at a table. At 12:30 I decided to go ahead and order, he would catch up when he did. He finally arrived a few minutes after 1pm. We said hi, he sat down opposite me, and when the waiter brought the menu, he ordered dessert.

“Aren’t you going to eat?” I asked him.

“Oh, I already had lunch with my friends.”

Wait a minute, he was late because he was having lunch with his friends?

He didn’t even apologize and straight away he started asking me:

“So you speak English in Kenya.”

“Yes.” I mumbled.

“I need English because I’m going to become a medical doctor. From what age do you learn English?”

“Um..” before I could answer.

“Are you like a native in English?”

English this, English that, English X, English Y.

This guy just wanted to use me to improve his English. I told him to an English school. I then updated my Tinder Profile by adding the Line “I am not an English teacher” in Japanese (英語の先生じゃないよ).

So again, that was that. Unmatched and blocked.

The Are-You-Poor Date

A few weeks went by. I was busy in the lab, writing papers for conferences, planning travels and applying for visas, keeping J alive and all that. Then on some days, loneliness or boredom would strike or I would feel the need to take a break from the humdrum of research life. So on those days I would be seen swiping on Tinder. Left.  Left. Left. wait a minute, pause..hmm let’s check profile, no, left. Oh, what do we have have here, right. Left. Left. Right. Right. Left. You know, how swiping works haha.

So another coffee date (at a real coffee shop) was set up with this guy who runs his own business, he was only 28. It’s hard to be an entrepreneur in Japan so I thought that was impressive. I was running late so I texted him to say I would be 5 minutes late. Luckily, I arrived on time. Perfunctory hellos were exchanged. He then walked ahead into the coffee shop and ordered his coffee without checking back to see if I had even followed him into the restaurant. There was no polite “what will you have?” or idle chatter. While he waited for his order, I scanned the menu while the cashier waited patiently. I settled on the usual Latte and opened my wallet to pay. Empty!

I literally was looking into my wallet like that

Listen, Japan is so cash-based. Everywhere you go, it’s cash cash cash. No credit cards, no debit cards. I don’t even have a debit card, so I have to go to the bank every few days to withdraw piles of cash which run out immediately because everything is so expensive. I had money in my account but if I had stopped to withdraw it, I would have been late for the date. So anyway, I took out my coin wallet. It had a solitary 100 yen coin in it. The coffee was 300 yen.

The guy was watching all this and didn’t offer to top up the 200 (~2dollars) yen difference! I am quite happy to pay my bills but come on, it was 200 yen.. so I took out my credit card and had to go to a different terminal that can handle credit card payments and then they printed out long receipts and gave me to sign, so much hustle. By then, the guy had got his coffee and was sitting on the terrace outside. I had already paid for my coffee so might as well enjoy it, right? So I joined him at the table.

He didn’t bother asking me if I was ok with it before lighting a cigarette and I hadn’t even settled properly in my seat before he asked,

So did you come to Japan to make money?

What??

“No, I’m a student,” I answered.

So how are you making money?

“I’m not.”

So how do you live?

“I get a scholarship from the Japanese government.”

“So you do get money from Japan.”

Er.. well.

You are studying so you can make money?

“Well, I am doing a PhD. If I wanted to make money I would have stopped after the first degree.”

I never went to university but I am making money.” he answered. “So do you have money in Africa?

“No, I live in a tree.” I answered sarcastically.

He didn’t get the sarcasm. He honestly thought that we live in trees in Africa. This guy’s image of Africa is what you get when  you type “Africa” into Google Images: an empty expanse of savanna stretching for miles, dotted by wild animals and a few humans with hungry faces looking into the tourists’ cameras. He probably thinks Africa is a country.

This is the first image result for "Africa" on google images

This is the first image result for “Africa” on google images

I couldn’t stand that level of ignorance and Googled images of Nairobi. I told him I had bought my Samsung Note 4 (the hottest thing at the time) in Kenya and he didn’t seem like he believed me. He probably thought those images of Nairobi are fake. Whatever.

The questions he was asking me were just a runaround to the real question he wanted to ask, “are you poor?”. That empty wallet didn’t help the African image.

For those wondering, of course I want to make money. But I came to Japan to study. Can’t a girl get some education?

The Chatting Club

Actually, many of the Japanese guys on Tinder are just content to have an online “foreign” friend to talk to. You’ll be like a therapist that they can chat (or even call you to talk) with at the end of the day. However, every time you suggest a meet up, they’ll give excuses  like, and these I have heard: “I am reading the newspaper” or “I am getting a haircut today.” I am usually too busy to chat anyway and would rather watch a movie or read a book. Plus I hate talking to strangers on the phone.

The Dates That Went Well

Not all is doom and gloom. I have had 2 dates with two Japanese gentlemen that went well. The first one was actually quite nice, but I think he was more curious to know about me as a “foreigner” and less as a “woman” individual. We ended up being friends, well more like friendly acquaintances.

The other date with a Japanese guy that well was a lunch date. He took me to a lovely Italian restaurant, then we went for a drive and coffee.  I had a really nice time. He had a great sense of humour and we were laughing throughout. Unfortunately, I just didn’t feel the chemistry. Again, we ended up friendly acquaintances, at least on Facebook.

In Conclusion Cultural Divide

If the culture gap is a crevice/gap that we have to bridge, here is what it looks like for an African woman in Japan:

  • Dating a fellow African – it’s narrow enough that if you reach across, you can shake hands. However, in my area of Japan, out of 100 swipes, there will be 1 black guy (who then must meet the swipe-right criteria), and he’s probably not African.
  • Dating a non-Asian Foreigner who speaks English – the gap is too wide to stretch out and reach, but it’s easy to build a bridge across it, especially if there are some interests you have in common. They will also say exactly what they are looking for. The cards are laid on the table. It’s up to you if you want to play the game.
  • Dating an Asian Foreigner/non-English Speaking Foreigner – the gap is now wide enough to need a team of engineers to build the bridge.
  • Dating a Japanese – the gap is the Grand Canyon. You cannot build a bridge across it, you have to hike down, then hike up to other side. You have to be willing to understand all the non-spoken nuances in their language and culture. In Japanese culture, no one openly states their intentions, all their cards are held close to their chest, and it’s up to you to “read the air.” Who has the time? 🙄🙄🙄

Anyway, below is a picture of my friend and I at the Grand Canyon in July for your reference.

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Gazing upon the #grandcanyon

A post shared by Savvy Kenya (@savvykenya) on

Maybe Tokyo will be different? *shrugs.*

What’s your worst Tinder date (in Japan or elsewhere?)

Posted in Blog, Life in Japan, Relationships | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

2018 So Far: Taking Stock and Post PhD Blues

I just want to stay in bed all day!

I have been feeling pensive lately. You would that think finishing my PhD will leave me feeling nothing but ecstasy, every step I take feeling like I’m walking on sunshine. I thought so too. That I would be elated, high on endorphins all day. So the dip in the mood was unexpected. When you work so hard for something, and then you achieve it, it can be hard to move on from what you have held onto for so long. You reach the goal and then realize you forgot to think, what next? It can be terrifying knowing you are approaching the end of one familiar chapter of your life. And you have to open the next chapter, not knowing what it will bring. I have followed a fairly predictable life the last 4 years; but now that it is time to move on, I am a mixture of anxiety and excitement. I am not sure which one I feel more than the other.

Being my own shrink, I always try to find out could be the cause of whatever I am feeling. I talked with my friend Vi who told me it could be because I’ve finished school. After decades of schooling, it’s finally over. This morning, I decided to google “post PhD blues” and I hit jackpot. Post PhD Blues are real so if you are a PhD student, be aware and be prepared. Imagine you are Frodo and you’ve journeyed all these years to destroy the ring, you’ve done it, it’s over. What next, Frodo, what next?

It’s over

It’s been over 3 weeks since I successfully defended my thesis and I am kind of slowly getting out of the funk. There is so much to look forward to, including my graduation next month. My parents and brothers are coming to Japan and I haven’t seen them in almost 2 years! I am also going to change apartments in late September (I hate moving so this is  not really something to look forward to!) and then going to Kenya in late October for a long overdue holiday (I’m coming home!).

In an attempt to get over the blues, I decided to look back at the year so far and reflect on what I have achieved so far. In other words, to take stock. I don’t do new year’s resolutions, I just set goals for the year. Here is what I set for 2018:

1. Take Care of Jeremy

Well, he’s still alive, isn’t he? 😀

Jeremy playing with his friend Joe at Kibagata Park in Komatsu.

He’s a really friendly, energetic and smart boy. I’m not just saying that because I’m his mother. I should  make more of an effort to teach him English though; Japanese has now become his primary language. He even dreams in it. Really can’t be helped because he spends most of his formative time in the kindergarten where everything is in Japanese.

2. Write my thesis, defend it and graduate 

Done, done and almost done!

Exactly

3. Do Japanese Language Proficiency Test (N2 Level)

I did the test in July and passed! There is still so much learning left to do though. It is one thing to pass the JLPT, it is another thing to navigate the real world in Japanese. I still can’t read the newspaper, I have a hard time following the news (whenever I catch a glimpse of it) and the business environment uses a formal level of Japanese that even natives struggle with.

My JLPT N2 Test Result

My JLPT N2 Test Result

4. Go to Las Vegas

I spent a week in Las Vegas in July and I had the time of my life guys! From getting 2nd row seats in a Mariah Carey concert to a bus trip to the grand canyon. Las Vegas for me lived up to its image.

Bathroom selfie in the mirror with my friend Bern before the Mariah Carey concert.

5. Get a job

I got my dream job guys! At a top global company with HQ in Tokyo. In RnD: Cloud computing/IoT Research. I’ll start in April next year. In Japan, it is common for students to get jobs one year before graduation. Japanese companies invest in their new employees and will retrain them if necessary, because you are expected to be employed for life. Until I start at the company, I’ll be a post-doc researcher in the same lab, so I’ll still in JAIST for another 6 months from October.

6. Take care of myself

Haha this post is making me sound like a braggart.

It’s just that I am reporting the results of years and years of hard work. I don’t blog about the tears, the sweat and the blood. I don’t write about the sleepless nights, the cups of coffee, the stress over bills, the hustle of waking up at 4am to catch the bullet train to Tokyo in time for my interview then coming back the same evening to Ishikawa so I can pick Jeremy up from school. I don’t tweet about the anxiety of whether my thesis is good enough. I don’t inform you, dear readers, that the cost of going to Las Vegas was taken care of by my school because of I was mainly going there for a conference. Perhaps I haven’t let it slip that I have worked several part time jobs just to make ends meet and to save a little on the side. For sure, I haven’t mentioned that there are days when I can’t seems to get out of bed, when after I take Jeremy to the school bus stop, I go back to bed for the rest of the day asking myself what’s the point of it all. I’ve probably consumed more caffeine, alcohol and tobacco than’s good for me. So don’t buy all the hype!

It is important to take care of ourselves. Mentally, physically, emotionally. My escape is books, I read a lot whenever I can. I should start exercising again, it’s been months since I was last in the gym, but I swim from time to time.

This summer (on Aug 4th) I finally went paragliding. It was only about 15 minutes long but totally worth it.

Paragliding at Sky Shishiku

Paragliding at Sky Shishiku

Two weeks after that, together with 3 of my friends, we climbed Mount Haku, one of Japan’s 3 holy mountains. (The other being Mt. Tateyama and of course Mt. Fuji). It was tough going. Our legs were jelly by the time we came down from the mountain the following day. But it was definitely worth it and I would do it again.

The sunset was nothing short of stunning.

The sunset was nothing short of stunning.

In the weeks since the final defense I have kept busy attending several festivals that are common in summer in Japan. I’ve even been to a 3-day kids camp with Jeremy, and we’ve been to an amusement park, the pool, the beach… Now I feel like I need a day off to just do nothing. To think about my future and what I plan to do in my 30s. It’s like I had put my life on hold during the PhD but now it’s time to live again.

Bonus
(Read 12 books. A book a month.)

That was my goal for 2018 and so far I am on track.  If you are interested in what I’m reading you can check out my goodreads profile. So far I have read The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Steadman, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts One and Two (Harry Potter, #8) by John Tiffany, Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah, When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro, Freeing Shadows by Lucia Kombe and most recently Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

I am not sure what I will read next, but most likely a compilation of short stories by Roald Dahl.

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Looking for a Husband: On Single Parenthood in Japan

looking.jpg

Looking for my husband. Have you seen him? Image, courtesy.

Alright guys, buckle up. I am going to tell you my single parenthood experience in Japan. I prefer the term “single parent” to “single mother”; semantics, I know, but married or not, a mother is a mother. The parenting bit is the one that is single.

Where is your husband?

Whenever I am with Jeremy and I meet people (mostly old ladies) in my neighbourhood in Japan – the pool, the supermarket etc, the first question out of their mouths after remarking just how cute Jeremy is, is:

やっぱりご主人は先端大学ですね。

Which roughly translates to:

Your husband must be (studying or working) in JAIST.

So JAIST, my uni, is the main ‘source’ of foreigners around; about half the student population is made of international students and maybe 30% of the faculty and researchers. It’s a valid assumption. However, the assumption that it must be my husband studying or working and not me, that I have grown tired of.

“No, I am the one studying there.” I always reply.

This is then inevitably followed by a shocked face because how can you be studying and you are a mother?? This is Japan after all. Everything, even the path that people are supposed to follow in life, has a certain order. As a woman, you work hard, go to good schools so you can meet a husband with potential, and once you get your first kid you must drop out of work to look after your child. (Everyone works to ensure this order is maintained. “Many institutions incentivize this arrangement: Japanese corporations often give husbands whose wives stay home a bonus, and the Japanese tax system punishes couples with two incomes. “ – and recently on the news, it emerged that at a Tokyo medical university lowered scores of female applicants because it didn’t want too many women in the workplace.)You are supposed to finish school, even PhD if you must, before you start a family.

Anyway, back to my conversations. Once the old ladies process the shock of me being the one in school, the next question almost always is:

Your husband is Japanese?”  as they try to catch a second or third glimpse of Jeremy to see if he’s “half”.

“No.”

Your husband is in Japan?

“No.”

Where is your husband?

“I don’t have a husband.”

This usually ends up leaving them so shocked and confused that most of the time, they stop talking to me altogether. Maybe they think I misunderstand the question. Mostly, they will repeat the question in another form.

You mean your husband is in your country?

“No, I mean I am not married.”

Their voices drop to a whisper, as if to ask some embarrassing secret.

Are you divorced?

“No, I never got married in the first place.”

Most single parents in Japan are as a result of divorce. Rarely are any kids born to unwed parents.

To go to a foreign country, live there, study there while bringing up a child, as a single parent… that’s so out of order with the Japanese set way of life that this ends the conversation, because they just can’t comprehend it.

Why Didn’t I Get Married?

Of course, I think that it’s better for a kid to be brought up by both his/her parents. Better yet, by a community, as it used to happen a long time ago – older siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents. But this is the 21st century and it’s nuclear families all the way.

In my case, I couldn’t marry Jeremy’s dad for many reasons including the fact that I wasn’t ready to get married then to him or anyone else, and he was also married at the time anyway. So I knew from the very beginning that I was going to be a single parent. He doesn’t support us in any way and I have no expectations. However, I do want Jeremy to have some kind of relationship with him, because he (Jeremy) is already asking me where his father is. Lines of communication are open and maybe they will meet soon.

On Single Parenthood (in Japan)

So the other day at this part time job I do, a colleague asked me:

Your husband is in Japan?

“No.” So tired of the question by now, lol.

Your husband is in Kenya?

“No. I’m a single parent.”

Heeee… taihen! taihen! taihen!” she exclaimed. That’s like saying “oh, terrible, terrible! terrible!

WTF?

I know a lot of married women with kids. Are they living in heavenly bliss?

Do they put their feet up, sipping tea and enjoying massages while their husbands do everything?

(Most of) the married women I know have to do even more housework than I do, in addition to school/work. They have to do an extra set of laundry, dishes, have to plan meals for one extra person. They have to provide emotional, psychological, etc support for more people (including husband’s side of the family maybe).

They do not have it easy just because they are married. I have nothing against marriage and in fact, I look forward to someday enjoying some nuptial bliss myself, but I enjoy my life as it is right now, with the freedom and responsibilities alike that it embodies.

I guess there is one important difference between being a single parent in Japan and in Kenya: income disparity. The economic gap between married mothers and single mothers  is huge here. (Please see this article on why Japan is the worst place to be a single mother, aside from Islamic countries I guess). I read somewhere (can’t find the link now) that the average savings for a married household is 10,000,000 yen, while for single mothers(most single parents are women so I am back to using “singe mothers”) is 500,000 yen. Imagine that, 10million vs 500k!

This is because Japan is very discriminatory towards women in the workplace. People work reaaaaallly late hours here. For example, my neighbour in JAIST stays in the lab until 3am every single fucking day; because of pressure to get results from his supervisor. People stay in the workplace until 8 or 9pm, then leave for drinking parties with business partners where they bond etc until past midnight. As a mother, you have to leave work at 5pm or earlier, so how can you keep up with the overtime or networking?. Taking maternity leave could also hurt your career as it’s hard to rejoin the workplace. Single mothers are left with no choice but minimum wage/part time jobs, and these jobs not only pay very low wages but they have no benefits like health insurance, pension, housing allowance, etc.

Unlike in Kenya where we can hire nannies for cheap (because the unemployment  and poverty rates are really high), here ordinary people cannot afford nannies full time to take of their kids while they work. In Kenya, being a single mother will not harm your career as you can have a full-time nanny so you can even travel for work. In Japan, even finding a babysitter is impossible. I have never found a babysitter I could pay in rural Japan – I mostly rely on my network of friends.

This obviously puts the single mother in Japan at a disadvantage. If a woman is married, the husband can work all the long hours, and his salary will go to his wife’s account (yes, this is true in most cases) who will then budget it and give the husband a daily allowance for the train etc. The wife stays at home and looks after the kids. Everyone is happy, right? The husband is basically a walking ATM who never sees his family. I think the Japanese housewife enjoys this life more, no?

I wouldn’t enjoy being a housewife though. But I can understand why someone would make the choice.

The Japanese government tries to support single parents by for example, providing full cover for health insurance. We of course pay a monthly contribution depending on our income , where in the usual case the national health insurance covers 70% of the cost. For single parents, it will cover 100% of the cost. There is also a discount on the cost of nursery school. And a monthly welfare cheque. However, these are peanuts compared to the cost of living in the real world in Japan, especially if you are forced to do min.wage hourly or part time jobs.

However, I think that my case is different.

I am a PhD student living in a remote campus. Rent here is quite low. I don’t spend anything on the commute as I live within the campus itself. I have a scholarship that is just enough to keep a single person on the poverty line, but with the little welfare from city hall, Jeremy and I can stay afloat and even afford traveling sometimes.

Yes,I have spent long hours working on my PhD, but unlike my colleagues in physics and chemistry, I don’t have to be physically in the lab to do my work.  I can work on my laptop even when at home. I usually go to the lab from 9am to 4pm, pick J up and spend time with him till his bedtime at 9pm; then I can go on working till late in the night. I am very lucky that I have a very understanding supervisor who even changes meeting times to accommodate my schedule, and also gives me jobs like RA or TA so I can earn some extra income.

Some time next year, I may join a major company for a professional career, where I hope to make (more than) enough money. However, I don’t know how life as a single mother in the industry in Tokyo will be like, even as Jeremy will be joining elementary school. I can only say that am cautiously optimistic.

Social Life? What’s That?

Because of my busy schedule – PhDing and single parenting, I don’t have any semblance of a social life. There are no babysitters here, so Jeremy and I spend all evenings and weekends in each other’s company.  My social life wouldn’t be better anyway even if I were married (a social life in rural Japan while doing a PhD, haha), but at least I wouldn’t be swiping Tinder at 3am on nights when I can’t sleep. Should I blog about the horror stories from the Tinder dates I have had with Japanese guys? (Update: I did the post).

Anyway, my busy schedule is soon coming to an end as the PhD is almost over (I defended my thesis yesterday). I will soon move to Tokyo and I hear social life there is vibrant.

Looking for a Husband

But wait a minute, could my colleague who said it is “taihen” to be single be right? Is marital bliss so good? Perhaps it is time I found a husband so I can finally continue the conversations with the Japanese ladies whom I left frozen in time, “unable to process”. A husband’s companionship  and support – financial, physical, emotional, etc. – would be welcome. I don’t want to get cats just yet.

When I googled for an image to accompany this post, I found out I am not the only woman looking for a husband on the internet. I am seriously considering it though :P.  Any interested candidates (men) should send me an email through the contact page.

I suppose I should list some requirements.

Age– as I am not an ageist, 21+ ~  ∞ lol, Dracula is welcome to apply. Must be smart. At least taller than me. Spiritual maybe ok, but not religious. Must be willing to share household duties. Should love traveling, it is the one thing we can do together. Enjoy the occasional drink. And some dancing, doesn’t have to be good at it because I’m not either.

Must be willing to relocate to Tokyo for now, because otherwise being in a long distance marriage is like being a single mother all over again.

On a serious note though, it is very easy to enjoy single parenting when you have financial security (or the promise of it based on your career). I am happy single, I don’t think I would be any happier married, but it would be nice to have companionship.

To my fellow single parents(mothers), remember you are the one who turned up and took responsibility. Single mothers are not the problem, absent fathers are.

P.S. If you are going to leave a comment on this post, please leave your religious dogma at the door first.

P.P.S Questions are welcome 🙂

Posted in Blog, Japan, Life in Japan, Motherhood, Relationships | 36 Comments

Living in a Bubble in Japan

If you live in Japan but have never learned to speak or read Japanese, you are definitely living in a bubble because you are limited in your interaction with the world around you. If you live in a university campus, then you are in an even thicker, more insulated bubble. You have no idea what’s happening in the news, no idea about the events or discussions in the society around you, or you could even be clueless of the disasters in other parts of Japan because you probably don’t watch the local news (or any news at all). Your only source of information is social media. It is not impossible to first know of an earthquake in another part of Japan through a friend from your home country asking you if you are alright. People outside of Japan know more about what’s happening in Japan than you do, yet you live here.

Living in a bubble may be drama-free, but it's no way to live. Or is it?

Living in a bubble may be drama-free, but it’s no way to live. Or is it?

 

I live in a university campus. What this means is that I am living in a bubble with my fellow international students. We’ve created our own little community and we barely have any interaction with the “real” Japanese society except the drives to the supermarket, restaurants or petrol (gas) stations. The few times we do get invited into Japanese peoples’ homes, it is to the homes of our friends. These are Japanese people who are welcoming to foreigners, and who understand that there exist other cultures, norms and societies outside of Japan.

However, in a few months, I will be leaving this campus behind and joining the real society. In Japanese, they call it 社会人 “shakaijin”. I had a rude awakening the other day when I had this uncomfortable encounter with a Japanese lady; which made me realize that I have been in a bubble all along because I’ve spent the last 4 years in campus, relatively drama free. Literally, never even had a single argument with anyone.

Then the other day (was it two months ago?), I got a call from the nursery school that J had damaged the bike of kid who lives next to the school. I was called there to apologize. I had no idea what they were talking about as I myself had put the bike back in place after J was done playing with it and it was in mint condition. So anyway, we drove back to the school to apologize for the damage. The kid’s mum came out to show us the damage and I was looking for a bent spoke, deflated tyre or something like that. I couldn’t see it.

That was when she indicated the scraped plastic on the basket of the little bike.

The "damage" on the bike

The “damage” on the bike

Now, I am not sure if Jeremy did cause the scrapes on the plastic basket, but for sure he did ride the bike for a couple of rounds. So of course, I apologized.

The exchange went something like this (summarized, because we went round in circles):

“Oh you can’t call this damage. It’s a small thing, I am sorry.”

I thought that would be the end of it.

“But I don’t want my son to ride a damaged bike.”

“Damaged? I don’t understand. This bike still moves, the small scratch doesn’t affect its ability to move in any way.”

“No, my son cannot ride such a bike. “

“But your son will soon put scratches on it anyway. It’s a kid’s bike, that’s what kids do.”

“Yes, if it were my son riding it and caused the scratch, that would be okay. But another person’s child…”

“But your kid won’t notice.”

“But I do notice. I worked hard to buy that bike for him.”

Silence. The conversation was deteriorating, and fast.

“What kind of society do you expect to live in when you cannot forgive such a small thing?” I was fast losing the little Japanese I have mustered.

“So you think it’s ok to take the bike and ride it even though it’s not yours.”

“The bike wasn’t locked. If you don’t want other people to ride it, you should’ve put a lock on it.”

And on and on it went.

There wasn’t going to be an end to this. She wasn’t being reasonable, I thought. I was yet to understand that this isn’t Kenya. I was yet to see the bigger picture, to understand why this was a big deal.

In JAIST, our kids play with one another’s toys and bikes all the time. The toys and bikes might get scratches, or even get damaged or destroyed. All in a day’s play. No big deal.

But in Japanese society, there are people who value their stuff. They take great care not to have a single blemish on their items. You will be surprised at items in second hand stores that are still in mint condition. Japanese people also never touch anyone else property, especially if the owner is unknown. That’s why if you drop your wallet somewhere, it is possible it will lie there untouched for weeks. Unless someone picks it up and takes it to the police station. Usually, by picking it up, it means you are assuming responsibility, which is not something a Japanese person wants: making an individual decision. This is something I am understanding in retrospect. At the time of the bike incident however, I still couldn’t wrap my mind around the supposed “damage”.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I had more important issues on my mind that week.  This included a work-related trip to Tokyo the following  Friday for a second interview at the company I am hoping to join after graduation, and a preliminary defense of my thesis on the following Monday.

In the end, I understood what she wanted. The lady didn’t want the basket replaced. She wanted a new bike. No one in Japan (and other first world countries with such kind of first world problems) would be surprised by such a request. I could’ve ignored her and opened a whole can of worms. It wouldn’t be unheard of for the police to be called for something as trivial as this. And they might just come out not in one, but in 2 or 3 police cars. Maybe even with some detectives. (This may be a story for another day.)

The following day I went to ToysRUS and luckily, they had the exact same one.

ToysRUS bike for kids

Got the same exact bike.. cost about $100

 

I know some Kenyans may be reading this and wondering, WTF Savvy? You actually went out and bought a new bike because of a scratch on a plastic basket?

No way, WTF?

No way, WTF?

I also know that some Japanese people (and others from a different realm that isn’t Kenya e.g. Swiss)  may be reading this and wondering at my audacity, letting Jeremy ride another kid’s bike…

Really Savvy? How could you?

Really Savvy? How could you?

I now understand both sides. I stand in the middle of the cultural divide. It’s not an easy world to navigate.

Some Kenyans could do with a little more respect towards other people’s property. And some Japanese could do well to relax a bit, be less anal. After all, they are just that, things. I come from a culture where relationships with others matter more than things.

Anyway, once you venture out of your bubble you start to realize there’s a whole new side to “friendly” Japan. You start to understand that Japan as a country is suffering from OCD. The slightest variation from the normal routine could upset everyone. It’s like a robot nation sometimes. If it’s not ridiculous for a hotel to waste paper printing emails for a 1 minute internet outage, or for a rail company to apologize for leaving the station 20 seconds earlier than planned, then it shouldn’t be surprising to be asked to buy a new bike to replace a scratched one.

I guess in Kenya we have real world problems, like corruption of the highest, grandest order.

Anyway, I can no longer say that my life is boring. Especially since I am days away from defending my thesis and beginning a new chapter of my life, which might entail venturing outside of the bubble I’ve been living in.

Posted in Blog, Japan, Life in Japan, Work | Tagged | 12 Comments

A Week in Las Vegas, July 14th to 22nd

This was my first trip to Las Vegas, (first time in the U.S. as well) and I had the best time ever. I had no expectations going into the trip and I have discovered that in life, the best way to have fun is to have no expectations. It was a little sad saying goodbye to Jeremy at the airport, but I was leaving him in the safe hands of my “Japanese parents” so I wasn’t worried at all.

Saturday July 14th : Departure for Vegas

Saying goodbye to Jeremy at Komatsu Airport

Saying goodbye to Jeremy at Komatsu Airport

I was going to Las Vegas to present at a conference (HCII208)which was to be held at Caesar’s Palace. This was the my final conference as PhD student. I had already submitted my dissertation and was (and still is) just waiting for the final defense exam in early August. We first flew to Tokyo, then to San Francisco and finally to Vegas. Everything was smooth all the way. We checked into Flamingo Hotel, which is just opposite Caesar’s, at around 6pm local time on Sat 14th. We’d traveled 16hrs back in time! I hadn’t slept much during the flight so I immediately got into my bed and slept for almost 10hrs.

 

 

 

 

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The view from my room…

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Sunday 15th July: World Cup, Pool Party and Mariah Carey

I woke up around 6am on Sunday morning. Initially I had thought I would be arriving on  Sunday night and would’ve missed the world cup, but I was wrong… so I watched the final between France and Croatia on the TV in the room. I was supporting France but I found myself celebrating Croatia goals! Only in the latter half did France  finally score some convincing goals to win their second world cup. Then I got dressed and went to Caesar’s Palace to register for the conference. It was the first time I was venturing out of the hotel room. One thing all the Vegas hotels have in common is casinos on any available space on the ground floor. They are a maze of slot machines, blackjack tables, poker tables… and going from the lobby, to the restaurant, the pool, the rooms, basically going anywhere means navigating through this maze. I did make it to the conference venue, registered and consulted with my supervisor about my presentation.

 

 

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Checking in for the conference

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It was about 38deg Celcius outside when I walked out of Caesar’s Palace at around noon. When I went back to my room, I could hear music from the pool below and when my friend Bee finally arrived, we went down to the pool to join the party and cool off! And it was like that all week.. the DJ would put on the music at 10am, waking us up, and the pool party would start until 6pm.

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Is there a better way to beat the heat than cocktails in a pool? 😉

At 6pm when the pool closed, we got changed and got ready to attend a Mariah Carey concert at the Colosseum, Caesar’s Palace. We’ve been hearing her music since we were kids and this was a chance for us to see her live! We were running a little late, which actually turned to out to be a good thing. We had bought the um.. cheapest tickets at the very back and we were joking that we would need binoculars to see her. Luckily, there were some empty seats on the second row and we got moved there! How awesome! We could literally touch the stage.

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Of course we got dressed up for the show!

The concert was awesome. She sang some songs from her new album, then did some of the hits that we knew and could sing along to. We were on our feet most of the night.

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We were sooooo close to the stage. At one point, we even got a glass of champagne handed to us  by one of the dancers…!

It was an awesome end to our first day in Vegas. We went out for some food then went to sleep as we had an early start the following day.

Monday 16th July: Hoover Dam, Route 66 and The Grand Canyon

We had booked a bus tour to take us to the Grand Canyon and they picked us up from the hotel at around 6:30am. It was a pleasant, if monotonous, ride through the Mojave desert. We made the first stop about an hour into the drive at Hoover Dam, which “is a concrete arch-gravity dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, on the border between the U.S. states of Nevada and Arizona.” This was a chance to get out and admire the dam, take some photos and stretch our legs.

 

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At Hoover Dam on the way to the Grand Canyon

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The next stop was along the famous Route 66 but before that we had a stop at a convenience store and we decided to get a couple of drinks to tide us over the long drive. We still had about 3 or 4 hours to go. I like going on drives in which I am the passenger so I can get to sit back, relax, and enjoy the view and maybe a drink as well 😉

We got to the famous stop along Route 66 and looked around, taking some photos as usual….

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Finally, after more than 4 hours on the road, we got to the Grand Canyon!

It is something you need to see for yourself. Photos cannot capture the “grandness” of the canyon that lay below us. We walked for about 4 kilometers along the South Rim, stopping often to admire the view. If I ever go back there, I will definitely trek down and maybe camp at the bottom before hiking back up.

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Gazing upon the Grand Canyon

We made back to the bus stop just in time for the 5pm departure back to Las Vegas. We were beat and again went straight to bed.

Tuesday 17th July: Gordon Ramsay Burger, Shopping, Conference Reception and an attempt at “Clubbing”

On Tuesday, we were woken up by the music from the pool at 10am. We had some free time after and decided to go shopping at “Ross Dress for Less”, which was about a 15 minutes walk from Flamingo. We took the chance to take in the sights along the strip, the hotel architectures imitating famous cities from Paris, to New York to Venice and Rome. We hadn’t had any breakfast so we decided to have brunch because it was approaching noon anyway. We saw a sign for Gordon Ramsay’s burger restaurant and decided to go in. We shared one burger (it’s big enough for two people) and it was really good. I wouldn’t say it is the best burger I’ve ever had.. I am reserving that honour for a lamb burger I had in Christchurch, New Zealand.

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It might not look like a burger in this picture because it’s been cut in half…

We now had the strength to go browsing for clothes and shoes in our sizes. We both live in East Asia and it’s hard to find stylish, fitting clothes for our body shapes and sizes, so we kind of went crazy… but then I had to leave early in the afternoon to go attend the keynote speech at the conference and afterwards the conference reception.

It was interesting meeting people from all over the world at the conference and the keynote speech by a Microsoft Research employee about technology in support of healthy habits was an insight into some current trends in HCI. Then it was time to open the bar and the buffet table, socialize and network.. I finally left Caesar’s Palace at around 10pm after a few glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon.

I met up with Bee in the room who was lamenting that it was our 3rd day in Vegas and we had yet to see the inside of a dance club. We both love dancing, maybe it’s an African thing. There are a lot of “party promoters” on the streest of the Vegas and earlier that day we had been added onto a guest list of the Omnia Club  at Caesar’s so we had free entrance. She hadn’t eaten so we went out for some food but when she was done eating, neither of us had any energy left to hit the club. So again, back to our beds we went. We were asleep by midnight.

Wednesday 18th July: Conference in the Day and Some Fun in the Night

In the morning, I attended a mentorship session for PhD Students like me who would like to transition into the industry after graduation. While I was away, Bee was also catching up on her work. In the afternoon, we met up and chilled by the pool. In the evening, we decided to explore the city separately. I met up with another friend for dinner at a Mexican restaurant. We had a view of the High Roller (the Ferris Wheel that could be seen from my room at Flamingo) lit up behind us and decided to go up in it. So after dinner we walked down the lively street between the Linq and Flamingo Hotels, and got some drinks as we waited to go up. The other thing about The Strip in Vegas  is that the streets are teeming with people moving up and down, carrying all manner of cocktails, beer, water.. drinks were in plenty. It is quite normal, in fact it is encouraged, to walk around with open drinks. Vegas is a playground for adults and although I missed J, I knew I had made the right decision to leave him behind on this particular trip. I’m digressing..

We went up the High Roller in a “party pod”. The pods can actually hold up to 20 people so the queue to go up was only about 10 minutes long and we had an open bar in ours. We enjoyed 360 degree views of Vegas from up there. It took about 30 minutes to go round.

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We could see Flamingo, Caesar’s Palace and other hotels along the Strip from up here

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Having a wonderful time in the High Roller

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More views

After coming down from the wheel, I decided it was finally time I gambled. My friend, who is pretty good at poker, led me to O’Sheas, where we sat down at a blackjack table and played for a couple of hours. I don’t know much about gambling, obviously, but it was good fun all in all. I think we won 50 dollars by the end of the night. When we finished our 2nd or 3rd drinks at that table, it was time to move on. I wanted to try out slot machines, but it was quite boring as all you do is push a button and hope you get the 1 in the nth billion alignment.. impossible odds.

So we walked The Strip towards a 3D simulation place I’d seen earlier, where people were screaming their heads off. We were ready to spend “our winnings” from blackjack.  At the 3D place, they make you wear the headset and then you go into this simulated world. We started with the shortest movie they had, which was a roller coaster. It felt so real. I’ve never been in one so high before, but now I feel prepared for my next ride at Universal Studios or Disneyland. It only lasted 3 minutes so we asked for their scariest one, which was 6 loooong minutes. It was a horror movie, only you aren’t watching it but you’re in it. I think I had nightmares that night.

By the way that night, I think we had over 5 dudes whispering near us… “cocaine”, or asking if we wanted to “coke”.. and then fading into the shadows like they hadn’t said a thing. There were also plenty of offers for rides to strip clubs. Of course we declined. Stay away from drugs, kids.

After the 3D simulation ride, we went to this tattoo shop I’d seen earlier in the day and I got a tattoo of the letter J I had been meaning to get for a while. I was in Vegas after all 🙂

The tattoo of J on my left shoulder

Next, we walked into a “Rock Bar”  at Planet Hollywood that was actually playing hip hop and RnB hits. It had a fake rodeo bull that customers could ride for free. I didn’t go up on it because I was in a dress but who knows, maybe some other time. By then it was nearly 2am. It was time to call it a night.

Thursday 19th July: No Show Bellagio Fountains and Finally at the Club!

It was Bee’s last day in Vegas and we just chilled out during the day, doing last minute shopping and hanging out at the pool. Again while walking the streets of Vegas during the day, Bee and I received invitations to Tao Nightclub at the Venetian. In the evening, we  waited for over 30 minutes for the fountain show in front of the Bellagio but because of strong winds, they weren’t turning it on. So we went out for some food and showered and changed, ready to finally go dancing at Tao.

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On the way to see the fountain show at the Bellagio. This photo op cost us 20 dollars!

The Venetian is soooo pretty. Even if you never stay there, you should definitely take a walk inside the hotel. They’ve got shops complete canals and gondolas, in imitation of Venice. The ceilings have got replicas of what I suppose to be famous Italian ceiling paintings.

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The Venetian. Image from the web

After admiring the architecture, we finally arrived at Tao. There was a long queue outside and I think it’s the first time I’ve been in a club with that long a queue. After a couple of checks and stamps, we were finally ushered into the club which was tightly packed with gyrating bodies. There was literally no standing space and the music was mostly EDM/electro which isn’t what we were really looking for. So we did one circuit around the club and then walked out, back to our room. Bee had been on the road for 3 weeks by then so she was just too tired; and I had my conference presentation that Friday morning at 8am.

Friday 20th July: Conference Presentation, Absinthe Show and Last Night in Vegas

I had to wake up early on Friday morning for my presentation at the conference as our session began at 8am. I listened to other talks carrying out related research and then also got a chance to present mine. There was only one question asked. There wasn’t enough time for discussions, unfortunately. After our session was done, I went for a coffee break and checked out the posters, saying bye to a few researchers I had met there.

Bee having already left, I decided to just take a walk along The Strip, there is always so much to see. I finally caught the fountain show at the Bellagio. It was beautiful, as expected. Here’s a little taste…

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It was beautiful!

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Later that night, the friend I was with on Wednesday got us tickets to Absinthe, a show that is a mixture of comedy, burlesque, acrobatics and dance. The show was amazing. I was thoroughly entertained and couldn’t ask for a better way to spend my last night in Vegas. There is a brother and sister skating duo that I have seen before on America Got Talent and they performed that night. It is much scarier live.. it felt like at any time, she could go hurtling into the crowd or slam her head on the stage. Scary shit but thrilling all the same. I didn’t take the entire video because this is something you need to see for yourself live! They did even crazier spins after this.

 

 

 

After the show, we got an Uber to a dance club called Gold Strike or Gold Spike in downtown Las Vegas, which played the kind of music that’s good to dance to.. popular hip hits, rnb, etc. Finally, dancing! It was so much fun and time just flew.. it was past 2am when we left. I had an early morning flight (8am) out of Vegas and barely got a couple of hours of sleep.

Saturday 21st, Sunday 22nd and Monday 23rd: On The Road

I woke up at half past 4 so to check out of the hotel and get to the airport in time, only to find out that the flight out of Vegas to San Francisco had been delayed by 7hrs. There was no way to make the connection to from SF to Tokyo that day.

I spent most of the day at the airport in LV on standby for flights to SF. They were all fully booked anyway so we eventually got on the very same flight that we were scheduled on at 3pm. Luckily, I got upgraded to 1st class on the 1hr flight to SF. It was underwhelming lol.. At SF, we were put up in a hotel and finally made the connecting flight on Sunday morning to Tokyo, arriving on Monday afternoon local time in Japan. It felt good to finally be home.

Las Vegas surpassed my (zero) expectations. I’m never going to forget my first trip there.

I don’t think I will be making any more trips this year, except a short visit to Kenya after my graduation.

 

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Summer in JAIST

I love early summer. So many sunny days. The chill in the air is gone. Everything is green and beautiful. The summer rains haven’t started. The unbearable heat and humidity that plagues us mid-summer is still a month away. I will enjoy these days that remind me of my childhood.

JAIST in winter

JAIST in winter. Photo by me. Again, no filters.

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JAIST in Spring. No filter.

 

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Summer in JAIST. So nice and green. No filter.

[Edited to add a pic of JAIST in Autumn (my favorite season), to complete the cycle of seasons]

JAIST in autumn. Photo by me. No filters.

JAIST in autumn. Photo by me. No filters.

Turns out this probably won’t be my last summer in Japan, yay! But it’s definitely my last in JAIST so I am going to make the most of it. Now that Jeremy is old enough to go cycling, we’ll go on long bike rides. We’ll go to the beach, and we’ll join friends for barbecues. We’ll have barbecues on the beach. We’ll swim in outdoor pools with slides. We’ll go to festivals and watch amazing firework displays. We’ll eat, drink, play, sleep, enjoy the sunshine. We’ll go hiking, I will go paragliding, finally (because Jeremy is too young for it). We’ll go to the park and I will sit in the shade reading a book while Jeremy clambers about, making new friends and enjoying his childhood. I will defend my thesis and then I will make preparations for my parents and bros to come over for my graduation. I will got Las Vegas in July for a conference and for the whatever-happens-in-Vegas-stays-in-Vegas. I hope to meet Elon Musk there, for some reason.

We went biking last Saturday:

 

 

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