Monday, August 24, 2015

Celebrating a successful Ph.D. defence

The French guy in our lab was defending his Ph.D. thesis recently. The presentation went well, and he answered the questions from the committee members well, or at least I think so. There were some questions where I did not understand what the question actually was. Everything was done in English, which made some of the committee members hard to understand...

The process here at our university is very different from the process at Swedish universities. When I got my Ph.D. back in Sweden, there was about an hour or so of presenting the contents of my thesis. Then there was about an our or so of questions to me, asking why I had done things in this way and not in that etc. Then the committee that decides if you pass or not asked me questions for another 30 minutes or so, and then anyone who was there (the Ph.D. defense is open to the public) could ask questions. In Japan, my friend only had 20 minutes or so to present his thesis, and then there were something like 10 minutes for questions. The whole affair was very short.

In Sweden, the committee members are usually from other universities, and are at least not from your own department or research group. Here in Japan, all the committee members are professors of our department, more specifically they are the most closely related professors. Perhaps not the best way to get an unbiased view of whether the research is good enough.

In Sweden, you also have to print your thesis three weeks in advance of the defense, and send it to various libraries and universities. The public needs to have at least three weeks to read the thesis so they have the chance to come to your defense and say that they do not think your research is good enough or to come and ask you to explain some points they are unclear on. In Japan, no one outside the committee ever sees the thesis, as far as I can understand.

After the defense, the committee deliberated for a while and I waited around outside together with my quite nervous friend. A professor came out and said that the committee was finished and that my friend could go in and collect his stuff now (his bag and laptop). He also mentioned that he thought the presentation was good. When my friend went in to get his stuff, all the other professors were still there, but no one said anything at all to him, which was a bit weird to me. In Sweden, everyone would say "Congratulations!" to you when this was finished.

In Sweden, you then celebrate and everyone keeps congratulating you during the day. Here, our professor rode the elevator together with us and he did not say "congratulations" or anything like that. He instead kept mentioning how bad the answer to some question had been, how he had found a spelling mistake on page 25 of the thesis, how the section numbering in the thesis and on the slides in the presentation were out of sync in one of the chapters, etc.

I thought this was a bit sad for my friend, so I mentioned that my thesis had the first spelling error (that I am aware of) on page 3, so if he made it to page 25 before he had any errors that was very impressive. We also went out to celebrate in the evening at a Chinese place my friend likes (I like it too).

All in all, I prefer the Swedish system, that seems to give a pretty fair review of the work (plenty of time, hopefully unbiased committee members) and ends with happy doctors (people congratulating you and celebrating), haha.

Police parked in front of my building

People tell me I live in a "bad neighborhood" (by Japanese standards), and I do see the police quite often. One time some police officers and an ambulance crew came out from the apartment two or three doors down from mine in the corridor carrying a stretcher with a (full) body bag. They asked if I wanted to cram into the elevator with them, but it was pretty packed already so I said I would take the stairs instead.

One time, some police officers asked me to open the (locked) entrance door and let them in when I was coming home, and then they ran very fast out of the elevator towards some apartment down the hall on a different floor than mine.

This time, there was a patrol car parked in front of the building, but nothing out of the ordinary was going on as far as I could tell.

I also get stopped by the police quite a lot, but they are always very polite and nice to deal with.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Not a good time to have to go to the airport

Our administrative office thinks that if you have nothing work related to do in Tokyo, you should leave very early to get back to Sapporo. This meant that I had to try to get to the airport in the middle of Tokyo rush hour. Despite starting at the first station of the monorail to the airport, and thus having a completely empty train to try to board, I could not get on the first train that arrived. Nor the second. I got on the third, but it was pretty uncomfortable being in train that packed.

Strange place to leave your shoes

Outside my hotel, someone had left a pair of shoes. They were still there a few hours later when I left the hotel to fly back to Sapporo.

Juggling and spicy food in Toto's bar

I had time to stop by Toto's bar (near my hotel) if I skipped sleeping before going back to Sapporo, so I did. There I saw some magic, of course, and also got to see one half of the Kikyo Brothers juggling team. He did some very impressive juggling despite the ceiling being very low. I talked to him afterwards and mentioned I had seen them perform in Sapporo, at the Daidonden street performance festival. He said he was going to perform this year too, so I will try to go and say hello to him in Sapporo too.

I was also served something that was an extremely spicy pepper fruit in miso sauce. It was very spicy indeed. Since I have grown used to spicy things after our crazy Russian roulette with spicy chicken in Sapporo, I finished my plate, which impressed the other guests in the bar.

Hanging out with balloon artists in Tokyo

After spending a few hours in the Trick Art exhibition, my friend was going to meet her balloon artist friends (they were all in Tokyo for some balloon artist event) and have dinner with them. I tagged along.

One day before we met in Tokyo, my friend put a photo of this balloon artist on Facebook with the title "taking photos secretly now". I commented that if I take photos of people in secret, I am told that it is a bad thing to do, and when she did it she got hundreds of "likes", a very unfair world. She said it was OK if I did it of her. So I took a photo in secret of the same balloon artist (who I had never met before) and put it on Facebook with the same title. The girl in the photo commented that if I kept doing things like that, she would find me and take photos of my underwear. So I uploaded a photo of me showing my underwear in reply. Japan, crazy country.

The balloon artists all had dinner at a cheap but good restaurant near the hotel where the balloon event was taking place. In the end, one guy ended up paying for everyone else, because they had helped out at the event. He paid for me too, despite me not helping out. But he thought I was funny, I guess.

All you can eat salad
Cheese, rice, chicken
Frozen mandarin orange, very nice in the Tokyo heat. Balloon artist fingers, not nice when trying to take photos of your food.

My friend wanted me to do some magic to her friends, so I did. She also said that people always kept taking photos of my underwear (which my friend indeed also had done back in Sapporo), so they all did that too...

Underwear and t-shirt in similar styles.

Not sure what is going on here.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Tokyo Trick Art Museum

In Japan there is something called "Trick Art", which are optical illusions/3D paintings that you can interact with and take photos that look interesting. In Sapporo there are Trick Art exhibitions from time to time, and I have visited three such exhibitions. There is also a permanent exhibition in a Trick Art museum outside Sapporo, that I have not been to yet.

Dodging a ninja coming up through the floor

In Tokyo there is also a Trick Art Museum. I finally found time to go there this month. I was in Tokyo for work and during the meeting I noticed that a friend of mine complained about the Tokyo heat on Facebook (she is normally in Sapporo). I commented that I was in Tokyo too, and she said we should meet. I said that since I was working it might be difficult but if I could get off work before she had to go to bed (midnight?) I would get back in touch.

Hiding above the door

Work turned out to finish way earlier than anyone expected, and I was free already at 19:00 or so. I sent a message saying I was heading to the Trick Art museum and if she still had nothing better to do, we could meet there. She showed up 15 minutes after me and we spent two hours taking funny photos.

Jumping out of the water to avoid the kappa
Skinny Jonas

There were quite a few other visitors in the museum. Everyone stops and takes photos, but most people that entered at the time we did disappeared way ahead of us and at one point there were four groups of visitors all waiting behind us, because one of us (me) spent so much time at each exhibit trying to take good photos and come up with interesting poses. We said we would let them pass ahead of us, because "we are super slow", but they kept waiting behind us...

Trying to steal a hairpin outside the museum
Carrying a surprisingly heavy lady

There were staff available that could help you take photos or suggest poses for different exhibits. They were all very good at posing. Some of them were not that good at taking photos, though, and many of my photos are very blurry...

Balancing on some poor guys bucket
Small Jonas
Big Jonas

The Tokyo museum had very many exhibits. Many more than the Trick Art exhibitions that come to Sapporo. Many of them were very good too. Interesting themes like rooms with ninjas, or haunted houses. I want to go there again, haha.

A mirror but no reflection of me
A mirror, but the reflection of me is strange

Trick Art is best if there are at least two of you. Some exhibits would be best with even more participants. And you might want a cameraman too. And some work best with kids. Sadly, I don't have enough friends that are interested enough to tag along, haha.

The museum also had a small museum shop. I bought some small toys there. When the visitors before us were about to leave, the cashier said: "Ah, you dropped something", and behind the leaving customer there was a 1000 yen bill on the floor. Which turned out to be a trick art painting, of course. But it looked very real, haha.

This was the standard pose here
This was a non-standard pose

The cashier asked me if I like dragons, since I had a huge dragon embroidery on my shorts and a bag with dragons on it to hold my magic props. I replied that I like dragons but normally wear mostly sakura (cherry blossoms). The shorts have sakura too.

Standard pose, attacked by skeleton
Second try, imitating skeleton
My favorite idea, proposing to the skeleton

Suggested pose: trying to hold the rokurokubi down.
Pose that made the people behind us laugh a bit

Trying to escape the mouth
Being swallowed

Pulling the painted tablecloth
Feeding the penguins with painted fish

Original idea for the finger painting
This person in a red shirt is just a painting, but looked real even when looking at it with your own eyes.
Stealing a polar bear baby

Standard pose
Pose taken by young girls also visiting the museum

Koala climbing on your head

Slipping into the shark's mouth
This was supposed to be me keeping the shark mouth open with my legs, but the angle/position is completely wrong...
Almost saved by my friend
Almost saved again

Trapped in a glass
When we took this photo, the guy helping us told my friend over and over small details of her posing. "Left hand more to the right". "Hands more forward". "Knees more towards the wall". To me he said nothing. But my pose required less attention to detail perhaps?
Next, we switched poses. And he kept telling my friend what to do. And said nothing to me. Maybe I am just great at posing?

In this exhibit, I first stood on both hands. My friend suggested that "surely it looks better if you lift the left hand". And then there were lots of "A little bit higher" "Too high." "A little bit more forward". So I ended up doing pushups on one hand for quite some time. No wonder I always end up with sore muscles the day after I go to these exhibitions...

The head of Jonas in a box. 
Jonas producing a head in a box

For this photo, the guy working there was very helpful in posing us, but the resulting photo that he took is so blurry you would guess it was taken by a child not used to cameras...
More animals climbing on me
Tickled by a gorilla
The suggested pose was "feeding the giraffe", but this was funnier, I thought.

The stuff I bought in the gift shop