Mother and Child

What you see here is a peaceful scene of a baby macaque (Japan’s native monkey species) clinging desperately to its mother’s back. What you don’t see are the hundreds of other monkeys descending from what I refer to as “Monkey-poo Hills”, as they do every winter, to frolic in the hot springs (onsen). This was taken in Nagano in February.

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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.






Giraffes, Koalas, Shapes and S#*t

Awhile back, I made a blogger friend from WordPress.

Long story short, she is a huge, huge fan of mine. But, ahaha, who isn’t?

That is a very rhetorical question.

Last year, I changed my blog URL, and due to this, my friend thought I had taken it down. As expected, she was utterly distraught. With nothing left to live for, she took it upon herself to seek me out and harass me on the only other platform we were connected by, Instagram.

Flattery prone as I am, I took this as a sign that we should be good friends. Plus, I was also a fan of her poetry. Manic and emotional people always get along well. Right? Right? No, I’m really asking this time.

Our bond over “Bachelor in Paradise” and blogging grew, and last fall, we thought it would be a good idea to take up computer programming. Because why not? We decided to meet once a week over Google Hangouts to learn together. (Screenshare is the greatest invention.)

It’s winter now and, we have done it twice. 

In our defence though, the new season of “The Bachelor” has aired, and we simply cannot be bothered.

Last Monday morning (Sunday Night- EST), we signed into our Khan Academy accounts and attempted to review and practice the great deal of codes we had learned during our first session months prior.

We like this website for a few reasons. But, we mostly like it because it’s free. We also like how easy and fun it is to navigate the plethora of courses. I’m pretty sure it’s designed for people much younger than us, but I will continue to identify as 16 until my 50’s, so that’s no issue. The site is also very attractive, which is important because I’m just so extremely shallow.

Khan Academy is not sponsoring this blog post, by the way. However, if they would like to start doing so, I’d be more than happy to oblige.

The course we chose to start with is called “Hour of Drawing with Code”, which is ironic because it’s taken us at least six hours to complete. In this lesson, we were introduced to codes for shapes, lines and colors. Our final challenge was to create an animal of our choice using our new skills.

I chose to make a giraffe, not for any particular reason. My friend chose a koala, mainly because there was already one created as an example.


Notice the great detail in the spots and tongue. Notice the Koala’s one eye.

Triangles are a pain to program by the way. There are three x and y points, and it took me 10 minutes to get the giraffe’s damn head positioned right. My friend didn’t feel adventurous enough to try any shapes other than circles, and while she continued to struggle with her many layers of ellipses, I decided it best to add more to my masterpiece.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 12.34.34
This is also when I remembered that MacBooks have a screen capture command.

I mean, it’s almost so realistic it’s scary.

I am selling prints for $50.

I’m grateful for my friend for taking this journey with me of learning a new language. So far it’s been one full of laughter, and I have no doubt that it will continue.

Hit up Mental Poise here for some amazing poetry.

If you do, I’ll promise never to use the term “hit up” ever again.



New Things in 2016

Well, the title almost rhymed.

Capitulum mitella “Japanese Goose Barnacle”

I took this on Himakajima, and island in Central Japan, not knowing what the hell it was. A fellow Instagrammer was able to tell me, and now I’m more intelligent because of it. And it’s all thanks to Steve Jobs. RIP.

When Instagram first became popular, I swore I would never join. Eventually I was convinced, and for the last year, I have been completely obsessed- my Facebook has been mostly abandoned.

(I would like to say that my computer autocorrected my mistyping of convinced to convicted and I am very glad that I heavily proofread these.)

Having spent a lot of time traveling, I have been honing my once nonexistent photography skills, and my Instagram is prettier than ever.

But, I’ve decided in this New Year, that I also want to begin sharing my photography on my blog, and am excited for this addition to Phil’nFree.

I hope you enjoy my photos, and if you do, I’ll take it as a positive sign to finally purchased a real camera to replace the abuse of my iPhone 6.

And to start, here is my first photo to officially share in 2016!!


You can follow my Instagram at philnfree !


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.


Japanese Bathtime Wisdom

I began writing this post from the comfort of one of those coin-accepting massage chairs that sits in the lobby of a hotel that I never stayed at.

I had spent the previous hour outside in a state of mental isolation while soaking in the steaming, mountain-spring water of an onsen in a small town in Hokkaido. …accompanied by four naked elderly Japanese men.

My kind of night.

The town of Sounkyo in the Japan’s Northernmost Prefecture.

It was only fitting that I finish my self-love session with a cheap 10-minute. chair massage – it lasted 40 minutes. [Only 100 Yen ($1) for 10 min!]

It was in the unexpected and complete relaxation at having finally felt the touch of another (whether the source be animate or not is unimportant), I came to a revolutionary epiphany. I decided that I am buying a hot tub.

It will not happen this year. It may not happen next year. It likely won’t even happen in five years. But, mark my words, one day I am buying a hot tub.

And, it’s going to be placed on a balcony, overlooking a mountainside, at the end of a secret passageway, which extends from behind a bookcase in my circle library. Oh yea, and I’ll have a fireplace in that library. And a pet crow named Archibald that fetches me wine from my cellar! Muahahaha.

I will do all of this just to capture the pure bliss I experienced at that Japanese bathhouse. Sitting in the pool only neck deep, so that my face could remain exposed to the brisk, late-afternoon air, triggered a calm in me that I’ve never before experienced. This, paired with the stunningly imposing mountains resting only 500 meters away, was pure magic.

Plus the naked Japanese elders brought me champagne and salami whenever I snapped my fingers. (Pun intended.)

My only regret is that I was unable to get a picture of the onsen view for you all.  Unfortunately, guests to the hot springs are not permitted to bring their phones in because there has been a serious epidemic of “Peeping Tommery” in Japan recently. It’s so serious that you are not even able to disable the annoying camera sound on Japanese phones anymore.

This was done to dissuade creeps from taking photos of others in public places. But I have an American phone, so this doesn’t apply to me.

I didn’t want to upset the naked Japanese elders though, so I refrained.

People in America do this all the time anyway. I can’t even count the number of “train-hottie photos” my friends and I have sent each other.

For the record, I have never used the term “train-hottie” before today.

If there is a lesson to be learned, it’s that there is likely a photo of you on some strangers phone, somewhere. And it’s ok. Unless they are building a shrine to you in their basement. In which case, call the police.

And if this upsets you, just take the next plane to Japan and relax in an onsen for awhile. Your worries will magically disappear, just like a ninja.

Get it? Ninja – Japan. Ninjas are in Japan….ok.

Here’s a picture of Sounkyo Shrine to make up for my blogging fail.

Until next time,