Build the Tools First

4 Feb

My adviser once told me a story he said he usually shares with undergraduate Japanese students. 🙂

Once there were two villages separated by a very high and steep mountain. Every year, a lot of people die while crossing the mountain. A monk thought of a brilliant solution to the problem – dig a tunnel through the mountain! So he and some villagers started to dig through the mountain. After 20 years, they have successfully finished digging a hole. After then, people were able to safely cross to the other village and their travel time have significantly reduced.

After sharing this story, my sensei would then ask the students what a good engineer would have done to solve the same problem.

What do you think?

He said, a good engineer would have designed and built a tool during the first 10 years. Then, he would have used the tool to dig a tunnel through the mountain within the next ten 10 years. It would have taken him the same number of years to solve the problem but he would have had two things at the end – the tunnel and the tool. 🙂


A short background story to the story: my sensei shared this story with me during the early stages of my research. I had to calibrate 4 parameters in one of the models I have used for my research. Being a newbie in modelling and programming, I manually calibrated the model. Hehe! Okay, it was not the smartest thing to do. I have done more than a hundred iterations until I’m finally convinced that I’ve had the “optimized” parameter set. It wasn’t so bad… Hehe! I got 90% NSE at calibration point and about 65%-86% at 8 out of 9 validation points. Not bad at all! However, since I still don’t have a tool for automatic calibration, I would have to redo everything again when the inputs have significantly changed. That’s learning the lesson the hard way for me. Tsk!

So for engineering students out there, you know what to do. 🙂 Invest on building your tools! Don’t think it will be a waste of time in the end. 😉

On the side note: Happy 28th month-sary to me and Japan! Yay! Now back to building tools and reviewing for an exam!


Hello again!

3 Feb

Hi! It’s been so loooooong since my last post! I became busy for the past months and year that I forgot to blog. Reading my previous posts, I’ve realized how therapeutic it is to write and share my own thoughts. Many times during the past months, during conversations with friends, I would have a nagging thought or an inspiring idea and say, “I should write this in my blog!” I never did though. Tsk! Procrastinating me.

Anyway, past is past. 🙂 The past months (year) had been wonderful and exhilarating although I must admit I’ve also had depressing and really confusing times. I’ll try to unearth those that are worth sharing from my memory bank and share it with you guys. There might be someone out there who might find my thoughts helpful, inspiring, uplifting, or maybe just worth reading while waiting for the next bus or train to arrive. 🙂 I can’t promise to write regularly, but I’ll try.

So what’s up with me? There’s a lot of catching up to do! For one, this blog just got extended! I thought I’ll have to document my journey in Japan for 2 years. However, I’ve just decided to pursue PhD here. To cut the long story short, I told my sensei about it, submitted several documents, made several presentations, took (very difficult) exams, appeared in interviews, prayed really hard, and voila! I got accepted into the PhD program! I’ll write a more detailed post about it soon. 🙂 So, basically, I’ll have 3 more years of stay here!

That being said, I have lots of stories and insights to share. I hope I’ll have lots of time to write about them. I’m currently busy writing my first journal paper. Blog writing and journal writing are very different from each other. Journal writing is more precise, straight to the point, unemotional, and as my sensei puts it, very sober. Hehe! I’m having difficulty writing my first journal paper (I’ve finished 3 for conference proceedings but I still can’t finish the one for a journal paper). My first draft was just too chatty. Hehe! Anyway, I’m almost finished with it, now in the results and conclusions part. I’ve realized that as I venture into this new kind of writing, I might lose whatever kind of writing (giddy, chatty, or whatever) I use for my blog. Thus, I find it necessary to start blogging again. During my down times, at least I’ll have something more refreshing to read other than my scientific writings.

Lastly, I’m thinking of revamping my blog. I’d like to make the contents richer, covering day-to-day activities, travels, graduate student’s life (perks and disadvantages), research, love, and so on. I’m still figuring out how to put tabs as categories instead of just using categories, if possible (do you know how?). I’m also considering a better layout. Since I’m really very thrifty, I would obviously stick with free ones.

So there. Hello again! It’s nice to be back! I’m happy I haven’t forgotten my password to this blog. Haha! See you and hope to hear from you!


Less than 250 yen meal series (2)

3 Feb

Since I missed blogging so much, here’s post #2 of the less than 250 yen meal series:

2013-02-03 12.06.11

Shrimp fried in garlic and butter with green salad (and cherry tomatoes)

Shrimp fried in garlic and butter: 178 yen bought from Isetan at 50% off (originally 356 yen); has 5 medium-sized prawns sautéed or fried in garlic and butter. YUM!

Green salad: 50 yen; remember the half of the 100 yen pack I bought from Seiyu in post #1? Well, they’re still fresh so I ate them the next morning. Hehe!

Cherry tomatoes: about 15 yen; again, part of the pack I bought less than a week ago. Cherry tomatoes don’t expire easily and are very tasty!

No cheese this time. The garlicky and buttery taste of the shrimp is good enough. 🙂

Here are some tips I have for enjoying cheap but healthy food in Tokyo:

1) Cook or prepare your own food. Okay. Cooking might take more time. I’ve found this a problem too, especially during very busy days and thesis days. My solution? Buy cooked food from the super market or grocery stores at night or before going to school. You don’t have to prepare everything yourself. 🙂 You’ll have more variety and food choices too! I find the food in the school cafeteria or coop quite boring, predictable, and expensive. They’re tasty and filling but not something I would like to eat every meal of everyday.

2) Buy your groceries when the store is about to close. If you are not very particular about reheating food and eating them the next day, then this wouldn’t be a problem. 🙂 As for me, I just check the time when the food was cooked or the day when it will expire. I’ve never had a bad experience in eating such pre-cooked meals as long as I eat them within 1-2 days of purchase. 🙂

3) Avoid buying from convenience stores. I used to be a big fan of 7-11 and Daily Yamazaki because they are the ones nearest the places I’ve lived in. Of course, I still buy in convenience stores for the sake of convenience (hehe!). But whenever I can, I try to buy consumables from grocery stores as items are usually cheaper by about 20%! Good thing there is a 24-hour supermarket (or grocery store) right outside our train station (Seiyu)!


Less than 250 yen meal series

3 Feb

Almost everything is pricey in Tokyo. Well, it’s one of the most expensive cities in the world! For a student receiving less than 150,000 yen of monthly allowance, saving is a challenge. In this series, I would share my cheap food finds and recipes to help those who want to save but still live healthy. 🙂

So here goes post #1:

2013-02-02 22.28.08

Sweet and sour pork, green salad with cheese and cherry tomatoes

Sweet and sour pork: 179 yen; bought at Isetan at 50% off during sale time (usually past 7:00 pm); has breaded pork (about 3-4 chunks), carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes, onions, and bell peppers

Green salad: 50 yen; half of a 100 yen pack bought at Seiyu; has lettuce, bell peppers, and some other greens I don’t recognize. Hehe!

Cherry tomatoes: about 15 yen for 2; bought one pack of about 12-15 pieces at Seiyu for 198 yen

Diced cheddar cheese: well… I got those from the Philippines. 🙂 Relatively cheap.

Salad dressing: 1 250ml bottle costs 105 yen(?) at the 100 yen shop, if I remember correctly

PS: I rarely eat rice nowadays. I’m on a low carb diet for health reasons and to support my special someone who is on Atkins’ diet. Try it! It’s not so difficult. 🙂 If you can’t let go of rice, you can always replace the salad with white or multi-grain rice. The price wouldn’t change so much.

Ang aking drawing board

5 Mar

Life is a quest.

Ang blog entry na ito ay isang drawing board. Drawing board ng mga bagay na bumabagabag sa akin. Sinulat ko ito nang nangangarap na sana ay mahanap ko ang mga sagot sa mga tanong ko dito. Umaasa ako na sa pamamagitan ng pagsusulat, tuloy tuloy na pagsusulat, makakakita ako ng pattern, ng kasagutan.

1) Bakit ako nasa Japan??

Sa isang party ng mga estudyanteng Pinoy sa Tokyo, tinanong ako ng isang kaibigan: “Bakit pala Japan?” Sinagot ko siya sa pinakamadaling paraang alam ko – isang body wave sabay tapik ng kamao sa noo. Natutunan ko yun sa streetdance. 🙂 Siyempre, joke lang ‘yun. 🙂

Hindi lang minsan, kundi maraming beses na akong tinanong kung bakit ba pinili kong mag-aral sa Japan.  Marami namang madaling sagot sa mga kaswal na usapang tulad niyon. Ang madalas na sagot ko ay binigyan ako ng scholarship ng The University of Tokyo, ang pinakaprestihiyosong unibersidad sa Japan, at sa mga nakaraang taon, sa Asya. Bakit ko naman ito tatanggihan, ‘di ba?  Pero sa totoo lang, nabababawan ako sa rason ko. Oo, pinili ako ng University of Tokyo. Pero bakit ba niya ako pinili? At bakit ko ba tinanggap ang hamon niya?

Larawan ng isang batang Pinoy, street child, malaki ang mata at malungkot, nakapila sa isang charity feeding center – nakalathala sa isang artikulong internasyonal. Nakakadurog ng puso, nakakaiyak… Sa mundo, ito na ba ang makabagong mukha ng Pinoy? Gutom, mahina, at desperado? Hindi ko maintindihan pero parang tinatanong niya ako – bakit nga ba ako nasa Japan? Bakit ako naglalaro sa facebook? Bakit petiks nanaman ako? Ano bang magagawa ko para sa batang iyon? Ano ang papel na dapat kong gampanan?

Flashback… isa nanamang larawan. Nagpakita ako ng maraming larawan ng kadugyutan sa Maynila – mga barong-barong na nakapatong sa mga sira-sirang kawayan na nakalubog sa maruming tubig. Itim ang tubig, maliban na lang sa makukulay na tambak ng basura sa ibabaw nito. Nanlilimahid sa kahirapan… Karamihan sa mga yaon ay ako mismo ang kumuha. Isinama ko sa isang report na ginawa ko para sa research laboratory ko. Ipinakita ko dahil parte ang mga larawang iyon ng pagpapakilala ko ng aking sarili – dahil sumali ako sa mga proyekto para bigyang solusyon ang mga problemang iyon. Isinama ko rin para makita ang reaksyon ng mga Hapon at foreigner na palagay ko ay hindi nakakakilala ng mukha ng kahirapan. Ngunit pagkatapos ko sa aking report, nagpakita ng isang larawan ang isa sa mga ka-laboratory kong Hapon – isang larawang di ko malilimutan. Grayscale. Luma. Larawan ng dikit-dikit na barong-barong sa ibabaw ng maruming tubig. Mukhang larawan ng Maynila. Pero larawan ng Tokyo. 50 taon na ang nakakaraan. Nakakatindig ng balahibo… Parang bumubulong siya, tila nang-uudyok: “Nagawa namin. Magawa kaya ninyo? Ikaw, ano’ng magagawa mo? Bakit ka andito?”

Sa Lunes, makikipagkita ako sa sensei (guro) ko. Gusto ko nang simulan ang thesis ko. Hihingi ako ng payo. Dahil hindi ko pa alam kung ano’ng dapat kong isulat. Lagot ako. Sa totoo lang, wala pa akong ideya. Kung mayroon man, alam kong hindi pa iyon sapat. Ang alam ko lang, gusto kong gumawa ng thesis na may kinalaman sa water and society. O kaya ay water and sustainable development. Kung tatanungin mo ako kung ano tungkol doon, ang totoo, hindi ko pa alam. Keyword: “pa“. Aalamin ko palang. 🙂

Found: Happy Chef

3 Feb

It has been almost a month since my first post here. And soon I’ll be celebrating my 4th month-sary here in Japan. 😀 I have been planning to write about a foreign student’s day-to-day life in Tokyo but I haven’t found the time to do so. Not yet. I still have 3 papers to write, 1 report to finish and 3 exams to review for. Then after that I’ll have to make my research proposal. And then after that – okay, enough with blabbering and enumerating what I have to do in the future. 😀 Haha! I think I’ll never run out of things to do anyway.

Let’s do things one at a time. 🙂

A Foreign Student’s Day-to-day Life Chapter 1: FOOD! 😀

Tokyo is a very expensive city. I remember my dad worrying about me when I was still in the Philippines. We don’t talk a lot about my 2-year stay in Japan so I was quite surprised when out of nowhere, he blurted: “Anak, mahal daw ang mga bilihin sa Japan… Ang itlog daw, nasa 150yen ang sampung piraso. Ang gatas daw…” (I heard that commodities are quite pricey in Japan. Ten pieces of eggs cost about 150yen. And milk costs…) Haha! I bet mom and dad were worried about their most kuripot (thrift-monger/ stingy) daughter. Mom confirmed my thoughts by saying “Anak, huwag mong titipirin ang sarili mo sa pagkain ha?(Don’t skimp on food). Haha!

Before I even went to Japan, my professors told me about the sky-high price of food here in Japan. A 50-peso (about 100yen) meal in the Philippines would cost about 200 to 300 yen in Tokyo. Bentos (lunch box set sold in convenience stores) normally cost 500 yen. Gee! That’s around 250 pesos – enough to buy me a big plate of Italian pasta in a good restaurant in the Philippines! A 250ml bottle of water costs 150 yen! 75 pesos. Enough to buy me a meal at Jollibee or McDonalds in Philippines. How can I save money when food, a necessity, is very pricey? My solution: stock up on instant noodles – those in cups and the popular Lucky Me! (instant noodle, Filipino style). Haha! Kidding! 😀

For my first week in Japan, I depended on bento lunch sets or the cafeteria in school. I spend 500 – 600 yen a meal. It’s not so bad. Bento gives you a complete lunch set – soup, veggies, meat, rice and sometimes fruits. However, I can’t finish the entire meal. The serving is too big for me (yeah, even the SS size).

Okay. I know. I have to cook. The problem is that I haven’t cooked for several months. In our house, my brothers and my dad do the cooking on weekdays. My mom cooks for us during weekends. As for me, well, I eat. Haha! It’s not that I can’t cook.  It’s just that I always go home late. 🙂 I do cook when nobody else could cook. Without practice at home, I call my first attempts at cooking here in Tokyo “experiments”. Haha!

Experiment #1: Pork Adobo – a typical Filipino meal – pork with soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and some pepper. It’s simple! Almost anyone who can cook in the Philippines could make Adobo. It should be easy. The problem is that I really don’t know what I’m buying because I can’t read kanji at that time. So I just bought something that looks like soy sauce (for practice, I asked the guy in the counter: “Kore wa soy sauce desu ka?” He answered: “Yes”). I didn’t buy vinegar. I just can’t figure out which among those bottles with transparent liquid contain vinegar. I bought some canned pineapples instead. I thought they’d be good substitutes for vinegar. Just in case my Adobo is not successful, I’ll have something that tastes like Pata Tim (another Filipino favorite) or Sweet and Sour pork. Haha! And I didn’t put garlic, one of the essential spices of the dish. So how did my first experiment turn out? 🙂 My judgment: FAILED! :p Too bad I cooked a lot, I have to eat my “experiment” for 3 days. And I have to smile while eating it and pretend it’s good. Haha!

Experiment #2: Chicken Adobo – same thing, but this time I used chicken. Big difference? Nothing. I still didn’t buy vinegar. I thought: “maybe I just need to put some salt and sugar…” Hahaha! And I decided to put more pineapples. Result? Ma, ma.. (So-so). Again, I have to eat it for several days. By that time I was getting a little frustrated. I can’t cook adobo! Gee… Then I thought: “Okay. Back to basics. Cook simpler dishes, Cherry.”

Experiment #3: Blackened Salmon – People laugh at me when I mention the name of this recipe. It’s a good excuse for burning my salmon, they say. Haha! But since this is experiment #3 and in stories, case #3 always turn out to be different from the first two cases, I’d say my blackened salmon is a SUCCESS. Haha! Actually, I got the recipe from the internet. It is “blackened” not because it is burned but because of the pepper and basil crust. 😀 I just put a twist to the original recipe by marinating the salmon in pineapple juice before dipping it to the basil, pepper and salt mixture. It’s very easy to cook because you just have to fry it either in butter or oil. 😀 Easy, delicious, classic! If I want to put a Hawaiian twist to it, I just put pineapple rings on top. 😀

After experiment #3, I got my confidence back and I was able to discover some magic ingredients. Basil is one of them. I won’t tell what the other magic ingredients are. Haha! Because I can’t read the kanji. :p Just to prove that I do cook now, say “Mom! I’m not skimping on food! :D”, and offer my cooking and (ehem!) cake-making skills (for a fee) to friends who will go to Japan, here are some pictures. 😀

Just Buttered Veggies

Just Buttered Veggies

Baked potatoes, Buttered Veggies, Chicken Burger Patty

Veggies, Chicken burger patty, baked potatoes

Blackened Salmon w/ a Twist









My Christmas cakes! One I brought to Japanese class, the other one I gave to my aunt in Saitama.

Kurismas ke-ki desu!

Cake for Tita!











Here are other easy-to-do and successful experiments. 😀

Baked Potatoes

Salmon, Veggies and Potatoes for Lunch!

There! Sorry for the bad picture quality. My cellphone camera doesn’t give justice to my creations.

No food for thought for today. 😀 Just food. Simple, easy-to-prepare, healthy, colorful food. Itta dakimasu! 😀

Lost: Cellphone, Water bottle and Tumbler

22 Jan

Remember when I said that Japan handles lost-and-found things well? Well I just have to share my story/ misadventure about some things that I’ve lost.

First thing that I’ve lost in school is this:(Check image to the right)  Haha! Ok, it’s just a water bottle… And it’s not really that cute.

Next thing that I’ve lost is my cellphone (sorry, no picture of it). I absent-mindedly left it in the computer room while I was charging it.

Just recently I have lost is this: (Check image to the left). My very cute SB tumbler I bought in Taiwan. I have left it in the Philippines so I asked my mom to send it to Japan. 😀

Why do I have photos of them, you may wonder. Obviously, I was able to get them back. I used my once-lost cellphone to capture these pictures. Nope, I did not find them in some lost and found corner. The amazing thing is that I have found them at the exact places where I have left them. 😀

So what did these lost and found things teach me?

1) I’m not in the Philippines. Those things would have been gone in less than an hour. Just stating a fact. 🙂 It’s not that I’m trashing my country. 😀

2) I’m scatter-brained. Again, a fact.

3) In Japan, if you leave something somewhere, you’ll probably find that thing at the place where you left it (well, not always but maybe 80% of the time). Good thing: it’s not really lost and most likely, it will not be damaged. Japanese are not very fond of scrutinizing other people’s lost things. Bad thing:  if it takes days (months or years) before you find it, your lost thing would have lost some of its value due to passage of time even if you did not actually use it (remember depreciation? :D).

Number 3 is also applicable to people, to students like me :). Be mediocre. Just sit and stay where you are as if you are lost. That way, you’ll be safe and undamaged. However, two or three years from now, you’ll realize that time have passed you by, you’ve gotten old but not necessarily wiser or more valuable and that you’ll do have some space especially reserved for you – an old dusty, suffocating place. It doesn’t seem so nice but you will seem perfectly fine so people will leave you as you are. No one will pick you and keep you away from that miserable state.

It’s a good thing that unlike those lost inanimate things, people are completely capable of changing their state. So choose to leave that small place where you’ve stayed for a long while. Don’t depreciate yourself and be more determined in increasing your value. Expand your horizons and be more aggressive when it comes to finding your self.  😀