My Magical Japanese GRE Journey

For those of you who are unfamiliar, the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) is a lovely 4-hour test necessary for entrance into many graduate programs in America. These include most of the veterinary schools. It’s also responsible for the strange butt-bruise I’ve been sporting for three days that is making it impossible for me to flex my glutes.

(Which I’m now realizing I must do quite often.)

Despite our complete lack of desires to return to the U.S for graduate school, a friend and I forfeited $200 each and signed up for the test. Why? Well because nothing brings me more joy than spending a third of my rent on a voluntary test. Plus you never know when you may need the score. I’m not sure how much the test costs in America, but I feel like we may be victims of extortion. Maybe.

Truthfully, I’m pretty lucky that the test is offered in Japan at all. Granted, it was only held in two cities remotely near mine– Osaka and Tokyo. Both are about 1-3 hours away depending on the method of transportation. We chose to take the cheapest option, a bus,  down to Osaka.

And, that is where our story begins:

Oops, wait. Before I begin, I should include that my friend actually cancelled her test a week prior due to being accepted to her dream school in Iceland. After witnessing my utterly tragic dismay at the thought of having to take the test alone, she reassured me of her commitment to the trip in order to fulfil my seemingly undying need for emotional support in every area of my life. Good friend.

Now, back to the story.

It was a dark and stormy night. Literally. I got no sleep the night before the test because the wind was so damn insane that the flimsy walls and balcony doors of my apartment were on the verge of being torn from my building. Or, that’s what it sounded like anyway. It was then I was convinced my apartment was trying to sabotage me. I knew it had been harboring a vendetta against me ever since I blew a fuse trying to microwave some gyoza during my one-man underwear dance party back in February.

Fortunately, I had to be up at 6 a.m. anyway because we aimed to be at our bus station in downtown Nagoya by 8. From there it would be a three-hour bus ride to Osaka. Armed with my umbrella, my bus ticket and my test confirmation, I went out into what I now call “Typhoon GREta.” Get it? I actually just made that up. Also, it wasn’t a typhoon. But it was raining heavily, and this is my anecdote; so, let me embellish some.


This is actual footage from my  iPhone of Typoon Greta. Notice how the woman at the end is OVER it. What you can’t hear is me screaming in the background, “I LOVE TESTS! WHAT A BEAUTIFUL DAY FOR TRAVEL!” Or, something along those lines…

After filming my nature documentary, we decided to grab a quick bite before embarking on the next quest: finding the correct bus! Finishing our food, we readied our umbrellas and ran into the downpour, taunting Greta with our determination and laughter. Except our umbrellas almost immediately inverted in response to a huge gust which told us that Greta was not happy with our defiance. The hundred or so more intelligent Japanese people taking shelter under the awnings watched us in what I can only imagine was horrific interest. Two white people running through Japan like hysterical toddlers with upside-down umbrellas does not make for a pretty picture. And you can only imagine what our hair looked like. Not good. It’s safe to say that by this point, my friend was strongly regretting her decision to join me on my magical journey.

We continued on, my one hand carefully gripping my phone and a screen capture it guarded. The bus company supplies its customers with the following set of photos, which upon initial inspection, I presumed would help us locate the bus terminal easily.


I presumed wrongly. The inclusion of big red and yellow circles certainly makes you think someone rather capable designed such a masterpiece; doesn’t it? I thought so until we arrived at our “destination”, only to realize it was a bus terminal for a different company.

Trying to explain to three very confused Japanese staff members in broken Japanese that you are lost in a typhoon is difficult. Trying to explain this by repeatedly pointing to a  soggy, deteriorating bus ticket that isn’t even for their bus, all while having the wind-guard of your expensive Samsonite umbrella repeatedly fail you is even more difficult.

We realized we were not going to receive a solution to our dilemma, and with only 15 minutes until departure, we had no choice but to quickly retrace our steps and locate the bus ourselves. Fortunately, we did not need to go far because, of course, it sat innocently only 5o meters in the direction we had come, but on the opposite side of the road.

We sprinted toward it, received approval from the driver to board, and welcomed the dryness that greeted us. We didn’t realize at first how wet our clothes actually were. It wasn’t until heat from below the seats mixed with our dampness that we began to feel the symptoms of a condition my friend aptly diagnosed as a bad case of “moist warmth”.

Enjoying a luxury bus when you look and feel like the sweat-drenched foreigners that no country actually enjoys hosting was made easier by the amenities that our bus offered. In fact, here is a photo of my friend enjoying one of them.


Nothing says comfort like pretending you’re a baby in a stroller.

We both ended up falling asleep peacefully to the rain outside, but nothing could prepare us for what we would be met by in Osaka. As we woke from our princess-like slumbers –more Ariel (mermaid form), less Snow White– we witnessed the most beautiful blue skies and white puffy clouds probably ever to have been witnessed in human history. I vaguely remember seeing a single tear gently caress the side of my friend’s face. That’s not true.

But, we had arrived at the Promised Land, the Osaka bus stop.


Isn’t it glorious?

Look at the sunshine. The flowers. The people who must be suffering so seriously from typhoon Greta induced PTSD that they can’t seem to close their umbrellas.

This bus stop was amazing. It had a cafe, a nature trail, a fishing pond, a children’s park, a fountain, and a 20-foot high wall of flowers that I had to resist climbing in my extreme glee. I won’t lie; I was nearly ready to cancel my test as well if it  meant I could spend an incredible day hanging out at this bus stop. Yet, I stuck to my plan.

After enjoying a much deserved lunch, my friend escorted me to the test taking center. After registering, the rather harsh GRE woman inside made it very clear my friend was NOT allowed to spend the four hours in the testing center waiting for me. As if my friend had any desire to do so. I was then ushered into the scariest room I have ever entered, and my friend made her way back to the bus stop for a day of fun. Just kidding, she went to a castle, but the bus stop would have been just as great; I’m sure.

After the test, we found a restaurant that offered a plethora of red wines and pasta dishes. A few glasses in and I was feeling real chatty with the waiter who struggled to understand me as I attempted to explain in Japanese that I had just completed a big test. I repeated myself about four times before my friend interjected with, “Nagoya ni sundeimasu.”, which translates to “We live in Nagoya.” He understood and forgave my tipsy Japanese ramblings. We settled the check, finishing what actually did end up being a pretty magical journey. Though, that may entirely be the wine’s doing.







We Bought A Zoo!

Hey Readers! Sorry to get your hopes up with the title. Unfortunately, I don’t make nearly enough money as a massage therapist to purchase a zoo. However, if I ever do have that much money, my first purchase will definitely be a zoo for all the little children of the world to frolic around.

This post is really about my recent trip to the Lincoln Park Zoo!

One of the many entrances into the zoo off of Stockton Drive which runs parallel to the Beautiful Lake Shore Drive!
One of the many entrances into the zoo off of Stockton Drive which runs parallel to the Beautiful Lake Shore Drive!

My friend Annette, who you will see in my follow up blog post, joined me in this adventure! We know each other from college, and I am lucky enough to be able to hang out with her while she is back home in Chicago for her Summer vacation. Which means… that I have a personal tour guide of Chicago! Muahahaha.

For those of you who have yet to visit this zoo and plan on it — Don’t worry, I am not going to ruin the experience of the zoo for you. I will not be posting any of the 80 pictures of animals and scenery that we took during our three hour expedition into the Chicago wilderness.

Except For This ONE!!:

Only because I love Hippos!
Only because I love Hippos. We are alike in too many ways.

The zoo is completely FREE to the public, but offers donation stands all around in case you wish to offer some money. As the name implies, it is located in the most beautiful (my opinion only) of the Chicago neighborhoods, Lincoln Park. I would love to go into a full discussion on why I love Lincoln Park so much as compared to the main downtown area, however I will save that for its own post one day so as not to bore you all now.

Isn’t it Beautiful here. The Conservatory is the building shown, which we also visited. I highly recommend
The view of Downtown from the zoo isn't too shabby though. That's Annette pictured.
The view of Downtown from the zoo isn’t too shabby though. That’s Annette pictured. She came with full camera gear, while I used my dinky iPhone to take photos.

As soon as you enter the zoo, there are multitude of paths to choose from to start exploring. Obviously, so we would not get lost, we took pictures with the map of the zoo.:

We are so resourceful, AND well prepared I might add.

Warning: If you have a terrific fear of spiders or cockroaches, I do not recommend you visit those two exhibits. Trust me.

There are also tons of places to eat situated all over, although the food can be a bit pricey. However, that is expected from an amazing, free zoo. The zoo kind of sits wide open to the rest of the neighborhood, and runners jog right through the area. It is a very welcoming area. There is also a boardwalk that leads you to Lake Shore Drive, which holds the beaches.

Next time I go to the zoo, which will most likely be very soon, I want to order food from this guy:

How cool is this food truck?

A Seat Fit for a King


IMG_1431Sometimes it’s fun to just post a little picture of something funny or cool I find in the city. Here is some graffiti I found while exploring downtown. Notice the great detailed work done for the butt cheeks. I’m assuming they are butt cheeks.

Friends on a Ledge

We're so mysterious looking
We’re so mysterious looking

I’m happy to announce that I’m finally beginning to feel less like an outsider in Chicago. I mean I’ve yet to make any close friendships, don’t work full time yet, and I still get lost walking more than 10 blocks away from my apartment, but at least I’m not completely homesick anymore.

This past week has been a lot of fun, mainly due to my friend having some visitors. From this past Tuesday until Friday, I have been able to distract myself from my loneliness by going on plenty of adventures. A few of the next blog posts will be covering these events.

This post will cover our trip to the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower). If you’re in Chicago, it can easily be identified because it is the tallest building there, and it has two large antennae protruding from the top. It was regarded as the tallest building in the world up until a few years ago, and it is still the tallest in the United States. The main thing that draws people to the Tower is the amazing SkyDeck that you can pay 18 dollars to walk onto. It is a glass cubicle that extends a few feet from the building so you can have the most amazing view of the city, the sunset, or both.

IMG_1404 IMG_1411

Kind of Scary, huh?

When you walk into the lobby of the building designated for entrance into the SkyDeck, you are greeted by the elevator pers–well, greeter. Our greeter was a large black woman who I am assuming had one too many visitors act rudely to her. A female tourist, who appeared to have spoken very little English, had apparently accidentally walked into our greeter without apologizing. As my friends and I exchanged awkward, yet amused, glances at each other, the greeter ranted to no one in particular that she is a human being with feelings. I had to admit, it must be frustrating to be rudely disregarded the way she was, but she also blew it way out of proportion. Anyway, the elevator takes you to a floor with a more important elevator, which leads you to the SkyDeck. Before getting there though, you must pay the fee, go through some metal detectors, and take obligatory pictures of all of the cool exhibits and signs in the Tower.  We took many goofy photos while overlooking the city, but I won’t show those all on here. Instead, I’ll encourage any of you haven’t been to the Willis Tower to visit and take your own :).


We are standing in front of a giant "103" which stands for the 103 stories of the building we are to ascend
We are standing in front of a giant “103” which stands for the 103 stories of the building we are to ascend

St. Patrick’s Day Celebration (Boring title, I know)

I am so sorry readers. I have failed. I had one goal during this holiday, and it proved much too difficult. This was to watch the Chicago River get dyed green (this is the major river that runs through the city, dividing it into North, West, and South sections — Lake Michigan is in the East). The river is dyed on the Saturday of St. Patrick’s Day weekend. My friend and I woke up early Saturday to head  down to the River at 9:30 to join the masses and watch the event take place. Apparently it was 80 degrees the previous March, and the Chicagoans and visitors were able to watch this process from the comfort their shorts and t-shirts. That didn’t happen this year. It was cold. Cold and drizzly. The kind of drizzle that sort of turned into snow, but not quite, so it just left you wet without any of the beauty. My friend and I found a vendor along the way selling beads for a dollar each. We purchased some, and continued our rapid journey to the river. It wasn’t long before the crowd became larger, and we were soon stuck behind a giggling, skipping couple. I hate skippers, but they really knew how to work their way around a crowd, so I put away my disdain and we followed their trail. Eventually we made our to the Riverwalk. This is like a minni river balcony that overlooks the Chicago River on Wacker Drive. You just descend the steps, and you are overlooking the River. You can overlook the river from the street also, but this gives a better view. We had secured a spot amongst the spectators. It was now about 10 o’clock. This is when we began our wait.

We waited a long time, in the bitter cold. It wasn’t until about 11 that we saw any action. First we saw some tour boats go by. The people on them would smile and wave. All we could think in reply was ‘WHEN ARE THEY GOING TO DYE THIS RIVER? IT WAS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN AN HOUR AGO’. As our hands and feet slowly achieved frostbite status, we watched some bagpipe players ride up to use on a boat.


That was the best image my frozen hands could muster. Sorry. We all applauded because we were so excited that something interesting had finally happened. Next came the paddle boarders. And they brought t-shirts.


The funniest thing about this was when a spanish woman from the audience tried to put one of the t-shirts on over her giant jacket. There were also some woman’s rowing teams that paddled by. I would like to say that something really exciting happened next! But nothing happened. An hour and a half and nothing happened. But, I did meet this girl standing next to us, and as my friend and I left to go find food, she followed us to a bathroom.

Now the place we wen to eat was amazing. It may have been just because I was starving, but the burger I had was one of the best I’ve ever eaten. The restaurant was Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse. The waiters were all very friendly and Italian. Here’s a pic of my burger.


Now I don’t want to leave you all hanging. Just because I didn’t get to see the Chicago River dyed, doesn’t mean it probably isn’t worth waiting for. Just go to a different area than I was at. Anyway I did manage to acquire a picture of the river that my friend’s acquaintance snapped. So here it is for your viewing pleasure:


Phil’s First Steps

After an hour layover in Detroit, I arrived in Chicago at 11 yesterday morning. With just four pieces of luggage and a heart full of dreams, I made my way to the nearest taxi. I quickly learned that my 50 foot walk outside would be no easy task. After struggling to carry all four pieces of luggage, an employee finally offered me a cart. I graciously accepted, and began my journey yet again…until I realized one of the cart’s wheels was extremely uncoordinated and I could not get the darn thing to go straight no matter how much I tried. After spinning in half circles several times and running into three walls, I made it to the sidewalk! The taxi drivers and female security officer, who looked very much like a Rhonda, all eyed me in utter contempt. I thought to myself, ‘well better to make a bad impression than to not make an impression at all, and hopped into a cab. My taxi driver was from Panama. We spoke a lot about Panama and alcohol and hookers. Well he did anyway. I just listened on, like a young boy listening to his grandfather’s war stories. He was actually an engineer, and I also picked up a lot of useful knowledge concerning the reason the Titanic sank and how a building is built so it can float on water. I now understand that it all lies in the layering of the structure. With this new intellect, I was helped into my apartment building and began the next portion of my first day in Chicago.

Check back soon to Read More!