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.







By the Time You Read this, I May be Comatose.

About ten minutes ago, I was bleeding profusely from my head.

For once, this isn’t sarcasm. I legitimately looked like Carrie after a bucket of pig’s blood was poured over her at the school prom by some bullies.

My head hurts too much to pick between the 1976 and 2013 version. So, take both.

Did You Know: It takes the skull approximately 90 percent less time to stop bleeding than it takes a paper cut. Those aren’t actual statistics, they are just numbers I guesstimated based solely on this experience.

Oh, do you hear that tapping? That’s the sound of my mom’s fingers on her laptop keyboard as she frantically searches one-way flights to Japan. She somehow sensed my blood loss from 7000 miles away, and she’s coming.

 NEVER underestimate the over-protective nature of a Greek mother.  .

Which is exactly why these lips will NOT be notifying her of my injury.

Once, long ago,

a 16 year old Phil was on a two-week school trip to the lovely island of Grenada. One very sunny day, young Phil very stupidly decided to “dive” (he can’t dive) into the ocean; and upon doing so, he immediately and stupidly collided headfirst with a sand bar. The sand bar won. After a medic assessed the damages to young Phil’s spine, he was forced to call his parents and relive the embarrassment. No amount of effort could assure his parents that his inability to rotate his head past 20° meant that he was perfectly fineeeee. The following morning, young Phil mortifiedly received a phone call from his parents stating that they had just landed in Florida and were at the ready to heroically fly to the Caribbean…. Fortunately, they did not. But to this day, Phil struggles with any activity involving holding is head up from a supine position.

The End.

Common sense tells me I should head to a doctor. Pronto. But, I think common sense is for pussies. I like a challenge!!! I just got kinda dizzy.

The show must go on. I have to record this moment while it remains fresh. After all, I may wake up tomorrow with no memory of who or where I am. Not only that, but my ego often becomes too inflated, and I need a safe spot to return to that will remind me of how utterly stupid I really am.

The sacrifices I make in the name of blogging.

With that, I offer this series of images detailing tonight’s events:

Jeans 1 Jeans 2 Jeans 3

You may still be confused as to what happened, as you should be.

You see, I have a small body frame. Therefore, I am best suited to wearing pants that are more slim fitting. And, as most of you can attest,  pants become much more snug after they dry. Years ago, I adopted the custom of “jumping into” my jeans when I know they will be tighter fitting.

That custom stopped tonight.

If you take anything from this post, let it be this message:

Look before you jump.

I’m going to finish cleaning the blood off now. And go pop several aspirin.

Hopefully I wake up in the morning. If not, at least I gave you fair warning.


It Took Me an Hour to Change a Lightbulb

Don’t expect some epiphanic message behind this very bluntly titled post. I’m merely retelling my account of an entirely too annoying battle with this lightbulb fixture:

I knew you were trouble when I walked in--and by "in", I mean down the hall.
Fig 1. I knew you were trouble when I walked in–and by “in”, I mean down the hall.

I am not usually the designated lightbulb changer in our office. Mainly because I am not a fan of ladders. I’m not afraid of heights, I just hold a strong grudge against objects that pretend to be stairs. I’m looking at you Stairmaster SM916!

She understands.
She understands.

Do you want to know how many Philips it takes to change a lightbulb? Just 1. 

It takes one Philip, a pair of pliers, a divine level of grace and balance, eagle like eyesight and precision, a chiropractor, five sets of said chiropractor’s nimble fingers, and a broom.

Ok boys and girls. Look back to Figure 1 above. Do you see the screwythingydoodle (STD for short) that the lightbulb inserts into? You know how under normal circumstances it’s supposed to stay in a fixed position as you tighten the lightbulb? Well this one failed to understand that concept entirely. Instead, it retreated back up into the hole anytime the slightest amount of pressure was added to it. Kind of like how a child does when you tell it that you are going to steal its nose purely out of the pleasure of terrifying small children. Hence, my need for pliers to hold the STD in place. Except that I couldn’t fit the pliers and the lightbulb in the fixture at the same time. Believe me, I tried for 30 minutes.

Luckily, I was given a five minute intermission as a coworker came to grab me due to my having a visitor. One of my good friends unexpectedly stopped by the office to say hi before leaving Chicago for the weekend. Normally, such a surprise would induce me into a chorus of childish giggles. But as the STD could attest to,this was no normal day. After wishing my friend safe travels, I returned to my work.

I think I spent the next two minutes repeatedly shoving the lightbulb into its designated space hoping that it would suddenly just attach itself. I then decided I would do some investigative work and undo the entire structure in hopes of finding out why I couldn’t accomplish this simple task. Now, turn your eyes back to the figure and notice how the flap of doom!!! holds the external surface in place via the annoying springs. The trick was to unhook the ends of the springs without allowing them to detach from the opposite end. That’s the trick. That doesn’t mean I succeeded. After taking everything off and still failing to screw the lightbulb in, I spent another 15 minutes reattaching everything. I’m highly doubtful that the annoying springs are attached correctly, but I was not and still am not concerned about that.  It had been about 55 minutes since I started the task, and our chiropractor Magdaleena decided to come check on me. I explained the struggle, and she decided to give it a go. I helped her to remove the entire structure again, and she used her dextile, majestic chiropractor fingers to reach behind the flap of doom and hold the STD in place as she effortlessly screwed in the lightbulb. “I could have done that too if my fingers weren’t so pudgy from stuffing my face with chipotle five days a week”, I thought. I pretended to be helpful as she reattached everything once again, and I swept up the mess I made. Mission accomplished.

Moral of the story: this is why I am the chiropractic assistant, and she is the boss.