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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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One Desperate Comedy Blogger to Another: Help!

GAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

I had hoped that screaming through my keyboard would be equivalent to screaming into a pillow, but that was so surprisingly difficult to type, I’m now more annoyed that before.

I held down the ‘H’ key awaiting an infinite tail for my “GA” to appear. Instead, my sadist computer responded by freezing. When it finally allowed me to resume, I attempted it again in further frustration, but only one H pooped out. For whatever damn reason, this site does not allow you spam a single letter. It’s like they’ve kid proofed WordPress, and I have no time for that right now!!! I wanna I wanna I wanna I wanna.

This is surely Murphy’s Law at its worst. Oh God, spare me the suffering; I beg you.

sfhdufhduhfuishfgiufhgiufdgudfhgdfhgufdhgfdhgufdhguhfdg

So there, I’m taking it back to the days of AIM– Showing my frustration through a random assortment of letters typed as fast as possible. It’s actually pretty fun.

shfhdofhdffhiudfhdshksnvksfbdffkjdsfsdf iuodchfidsh fcfdh idfhgiudfhgjdfhkjdfnkjvdfgdf

Uhh, that feels good.

I have been so exhausted from work for the last two months, that I haven’t had the mental or emotional abilities to develop a post worthy of going onto this blog. I have high expectations for myself, and this post is about as bottom of the barrel as I will allow.

I did just spend the afternoon drafting a thoughtful post detailing work and all of the exciting new ambitions I’ve undertaken in 2016. But, two hours in, I realised that it was such an immense pile of dog dung, I had no choice but to scrap it.

Woe is me! Isn’t there some ancient Greek Saint I can pray to for comedic inspiration? The only one I know of is Ayios Phanourios, whom my mother taught me to ask for help when I lose something. Well, I’ve lost my talent, so it’s worth a shot I guess. The downside is that after he finds the thing you’re missing, you are supposed to light a candle for his mother in church; and there are NO Greek Orthodox churches in Japan, rest assured.

What about the Greek God of theater and wine? Dionysus; I think that’s his name. I know it’s old school, but if anyone can help me, I’m sure it’s him.

I’m sincerely hoping that somehow this unplanned and unorganised mess of a post will somehow break my inability to be funny. If anyone has any idea of how to solve the crisis that is writer’s block, please; I am all ears. And they are very big ears, I might add.

Yours Desperate,

Phil

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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

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.

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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.

-Phil

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.

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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.

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

Until next time,

-Phil

Ghost Hunting For Beginners

I did something fun last weekend, and I want to talk about it. But, I don’t feel very funny today, so now I’m sitting on my couch eating black bean burgers I smothered in yogurt. The things we do during tough times..

No, I’m not a vegetarian. No, I don’t know why I bolded “black bean”.

Ok I’m fed up with this introduction, so now I’ll just get to the ghost hunting. But first, I need a spoonful of Nutella…


I believe in ghosts about as much as I believe in my great uncle Larry, a more than likely fictional, multi-millionaire who one day plans to pass on his fortune 500 company to me. By this, I mean two say two things:

(a) If ghosts and Uncle Larry do exist, then they are really good at evading my efforts to contact them, and I’m a bit insulted.

(b) If ghosts and Uncle Larry don’t exist, then it’s time for me to grow up because these child-like fantasies are not at all healthy.

Last Saturday, I drove my cousin and myself to my step-sisters’s home. Her house is, allegedly, very haunted. It has been verified that one very unintentional homicide and one very intentional suicide took place there years ago, prior to her moving in as a young girl. The most common reports of haunted activity consist of: cabinets opening and closing (the cabinets have since been removed), a little girl’s laughter (mainly in the middle bedroom but also underwater in the pool), footsteps throughout the house, a vision of a man in the hall, and a figure in the small bedroom.

Now, I love ghost stories. I love telling them; I love hearing them. I want life to have mysteries that need solving, and I like letting my imagination run. But, even I can’t help but become skeptical when I hear stories like this.

The only sensible thing to do then was to investigate the house myself. Here is a step-by-step account of my first ghost hunt.

This is just the intro to Fargo.
Just Kidding. This is the intro to “Fargo”.

1) Every great ghost hunter knows that the most effective ghost hunting gadgets can be found for free on the App Store. Search for “ghost detect”. I downloaded Ghost Radar: Classic. The 3 1/2 star rating means it’s good. Also, it was created by the company Spud Pickles. I was sold!

2) We arrived at the house to the smells of a delicious nacho dinner being prepared. I’ve never eaten nachos for dinner (is that weird?), but I loved it!

3) Every great ghost hunter knows that wine makes you more in tune with the spirit world. Or, at least that’s what it felt like after my third glass.

4) Any ghost hunter who has watched Ghost Adventures knows that ghosts don’t come out unless it’s so dark in the room that it’s impossible to see them anyway. Luckily, this app included night vision that utilized the phone’s flashlight, rendering it entirely pointless.

5) Kid ghosts like toys. We placed some chalk and coins around the house. Then, we decided to turn on the app to see if any activity was happening in the den. Here were some of the results from Ghost Radar Classic:

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If that red download circle doesn’t make this look official, then nothing will.

There are no instructions included with the app. Different colored dots would randomly appear at no particular pattern. We decided these were ghosts moving around. I’ve still got no clue what the numbers mean.

6) I had read an article on using Tarot to speak to ghosts, which made me an expert. We lit a candle to help communicate via yes or no answers. We asked questions, and I had to determine if the flame was flickering yes or not. I pretty much made up every answer, but don’t tell them that.

7) We checked on the chalk and pennies. We got excited when we thought that the pennies had shifted, but then realized that my cousin just didn’t have his glasses on when he positioned them “equal distances apart”.

8) We went to a few of the rooms to get more data. The door to one of the rooms kept closing by itself. It was clearly an issue with the foundation, but the others were convinced it was supernatural. I let them have a victory.

9) In the farthest bedroom, blue dots kept appearing directly where my  step-sister was sitting. I loved watching her freak. Until the two dogs came charging into the room and barking wildly for no reason. Lucy, the german shephard, started attacking pillows where the app said the ghost was. Between that, and the words “appear” and “Andy” (the name of the man that died) appearing on the screen, I could no longer control my laughter at the looks of utter terror on my cousin and sister’s faces. Good times.

10) Nothing else of real significance occurred the rest of the night. I wish I could say I had acquired any real evidence of ghostly activity, but I’m pretty sure the spirits must really have just hated my cousin’s presence.

If you ever decide to hunt ghosts yourself, then you’ve learned one very important thing today. Don’t be cheap like me; invest a dollar on an app. 

If you have any ghost stories, I want to to hear them!

The Day I Lost my Charm

For the last three weeks, I’ve had an important announcement to make. I would have made it already, had there not been so many other fun things for me to talk about. Now the information is a little stale, but as I always say: If something is stale, then at least it was valuable enough to buy in the first place… (I’ve never said that.)

So, here we go! My announcement is, I’m Moving to Japan in August! And it’s entirely voluntary. You may be thinking, “Wow, he’s leaving every person he loves and every comfort he has to live on the other side of the world in a country who’s language and customs he barely understands?”

And my response is, “Yes, I am. Thank you for reminding me.” As if I don’t already know that this could be one of the biggest mistakes the universe has ever known! It’s practically on par with Adam and Eve eating that damned fruit and forever cursing us all. And yes, I am Eve in this scenario. (We all know it was her fault, plus I can see her being a real diva).

With that aside, let’s move on to today’s story. In honor of the amazing fantasy story I helped my goddaughter write yesterday (humble brag), I am going to tell you a fairytale. A tale about a charming young man.

Long Ago, there lived a charming young man. He was also really attractive, smart and had a great sense of humor, but that’s unimportant. The charming young man was well-known for non-other than, you guessed it, his charm. He was able to smooth-talk his way out of fights with the most fearsome of ogres. Just one smile would cause even the most wicked of witches to change their evil ways!

Until he went to Washington D.C. and met Yukionna, the woman in charge of visas at the Japanese embassy. The end.

I am still really bitter about the encounter, and it was three days ago. So let me tell you my completely unbiased opinion of what happened. And, I know; I technically can’t offer an unbiased opinion, but I never ever lie, so just trust me that the following is 100% accurate.

The drive from Virginia beach to D.C. is only 4-5 hours maximum, but for some reason I thought it would be less stressful and costly to take the bus. $90 and six hours later… I arrived. I then decided that I would impress all of D.C with my public transportation skills, so I chose to take the Metro to the embassy instead of an Uber. Another $15 later, I reached my stop and checked Google Maps. I still had another 20 minutes to walk.

And now for my Public Service Announcement: I understand the rumor that D.C. was apparently built on top of a giant swamp, but that doesn’t excuse the ridiculous 105 degree weather I was forced to suffer through.

Being the masochist that I am, I decided to ignore every bus that passed me by. I trudged along the streets of one of the wealthiest D.C. neighborhoods, looking like I had just spent the last week drifting up the Atlantic on a raft. Which, would still have been faster than taking the bus.

That’s when I finally stumbled inside the embassy and met Yukionna at the counter. I knew things were off to a bad start when I smiled at her and a drop of sweat fell from my forehead onto my lip. She didn’t smile back, and then said, “Drop off for visa only 9:30-12:30.” It was 2 pm.

I looked at her. Batting my lashes, I replied. “I live five hours away, PLEASE I’M BEGGING YOU.” ….Ok, maybe I was a tad less desperate.

She repeated herself. With the eye batting not working and my frustration at my lack of power growing, all I had left was my instinct to nervously smile at her as widely as possible. I’m pretty sure this disgusted her into submission because she suddenly allowed me to hand her the paperwork.

As she gave me instructions on things to fill out and sign, she began to speak Japanese to other women behind the glass. They began to look at me and laugh.  Rude right? I’m pretty sure they took my profuse sweating as a sign of fear, and I wanted to shout, “I’M JUST HOT!”.

When she checked on my progress, she noticed my struggle as I attempted to place my stamp in the correct area on the express mail envelope ($20). As she took the stamp and envelope from me, she offered me some great advice in return, “This is YOUR Country.”

I thought Japanese people were supposed to be polite. Yukionna was more aggressive than I am when there’s only one french fry left at the bottom of a Five Guys take out bag. I just laughed at her non-joke. I then thought it would be a good time to break the ice by saying something cute in Japanese to her. There’s a Japanese expression people say when they meet each other that roughly means, “please look favorably upon me”. Well, I said it to Yukionna, and she didn’t even look at me. I told myself she must have just not heard it.

Everything was finally finished, and I thanked her about four times. It was then that she finally took interest in me. She asked when I had to leave Washington. I told her I had another bus ride that night. That’s when she said , “Oh wow.” I took that as the greatest sign of sympathy she has probably ever extended to another person, thanked her twenty more times, and left that office, hoping never to return.

The important thing is that there is a moral to this story. And that is, don’t be mean to me, or I’ll turn you into a blog post for the world to read.

(or at least 80 people to read).