William and Mary
Isshin Teshima
Isshin Teshima '11

About  Posts

Hometown: Midlothian, VA
Majors: Government & Chinese Language and Literature
Currently: Graduate Student, Waseda University; Tokyo, Japan

Archived Blogger

Into the metropolis

September 13, 2012 by

September 10, 2012-Gakushikaikan: Jimbocho, Tokyo, Japan

Even though we left Dulles 20 minutes late due to “CVV cleaning” (whatever the heck that is) we still arrived at Narita International Airport a few minutes ahead of schedule by some miracle. That’s what I love about taking Japanese airlines, they always say “sorry” and they’re always on time!

After a brief stint through immigration with some slight confusion due to the new policies implemented in July, I was out the door some 15 hours later.

But there’s a problem…

Narita International Airport is about as far away from Tokyo proper as Dulles International Airport is to the White House. It’s REALLY far away, but no need to fear, Isshin here will teach you the three easiest ways to get to where you need to go.

Narita Express
Perhaps the most popular method of getting into the city rests with the most established method. Narita Express, run by Japan Railways (JR), has been ferrying Tokyoites to Narita for several decades now. With a recent revamp in 2010, the trains now run to Shinjuku, Ofuna and others, basically taking you to wherever you need to go in Tokyo proper. An added benefit for anyone with a foreign passport, there’s a Suica & N’Ex option where you get one N’Ex ticket and a ¥2000 SUICA card. With a ¥5,500 value this is probably your best bet if you want to get into the city for cheap. (www.jreast.co.jp/e/suica-nex)

SUICA cards are plastic cards imbedded with IC chips that you can use at most metro systems throughout Japan. (Most cities with public transportation have this kind of system, if you’re from DC, you’ll realize it as basically a SmartCard) With the myriad of train companies running in and out of Tokyo (Toei, Keio, Seibu, Tokyo Metro, JR, just to name a few), it’s basically a must for any Tokyo traveler.

Keep in mind a few pointers with N’Ex though:

  • Route: The way that the N’Ex route is structured, it takes you to Tokyo Station first, then around the southern part of Tokyo before ending up in the west at Ikebukuro. If you need to get anywhere North or North-east of Tokyo, refer to the Keisei Skyliner below.
  • Stations: Keep in mind that other than Tokyo and Shinagawa, you may need to wait a fair bit for trains that go to farther stations (i.e. Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, etc.) the trains basically separate into two after Tokyo to go to their respective places.
  • Bullet Trains: If you are going to take the Tokaido Shinkansen anywhere (towards Nagoya, Kyoto, or Osaka) take N’Ex, but consider going to Shinagawa, also a bullet train station, instead of Tokyo. Tokyo can get super crowded (Trust me, I know…) and it’s very confusing to get from place to place for the unacquainted.
  • Reservations: All N’Ex trains require a reservation, there will be signs at Narita when you arrive, make sure you follow them.

Keisei Skyliner
Keisei Skyliner, which opened last year, is Keisei Railway’s response to the virtual monopoly that JR holds over rail transport to and from Narita. It was highly lauded when the train was launched as being the fastest route into Tokyo. And at ¥1,200, the price is very reasonable compared to the other options. (http://www.keisei.co.jp/keisei/tetudou/skyliner/us/)

However, the Keisei Skyliner’s biggest attribute in my opinion, is its route. With its terminus being Ueno with a stop at Nippori along the way, it’s by far the fastest and most preferred way into North/Northeast Tokyo.

The newly designed Keisei Skyliner. (Photo from Wikipedia)

A few pointers with Keisei Skyliner:

  • Compatibility: Keisei is NOT Japan Railways (JR). If you have a JR Pass or a JR East Pass, it will not be compatible with Keisei. You will have to pay separately for the reservation.
  • Route: North/Northwest Tokyo is especially popular because it’s where old world Tokyo and many sights like the famous Ueno Museum, Senso-ji and others are.
  • Bullet Trains: If you are trying to travel to northern Japan such as the Tohoku region, Akita, or even Hokkaido, like Shinagawa, most of the bullet trains run through Ueno also on their way north. This can be an easy way to avoid the hassles of navigating Tokyo Station.

Airport Limousine Bus
No…contrary to popular belief, I am not recommending you rent a limo-style bus like one of those ridiculous limo hummers to make your way into Tokyo. (Though talk about an entrance!) Airport Limo is the Japanese way of saying “public bus transportation” and there are more than a few buses that will take you to various places in Tokyo. (http://www.limousinebus.co.jp/en/)

Usually, the price for an Airport Limo is around ¥3000, but this could differ depending on location, fuel costs, etc. However, oftentimes, these buses will go straight to several well-known hotels in the Tokyo area. If you are staying at or close to one of these, you won’t have to go through the hassle of navigating the hectic train system.

A few pointers for the Airport Limousine Bus:

  • Location location location: Taking the bus will require you to plan your trip out accordingly. It’s no use taking the bus if your hotel happens to be miles away from where the bus leaves off.
  • Station Access: Buses will also often drive to specific stations along their route. Check to see if the hotel you book at is near one of these exits.
  • Convenience: You’ll save both time and stress by taking a bus, of course, the downside is that buses are a little on the expensive side given the options out there for foreigners. You’ll see a lot of locals take the bus though since it’s usually a very convenient option.

The Long Awaited Voyage

September 10, 2012 by

September 9, 2012 – Dulles International Airport, USA

As I patiently waited in the terminal at Dulles International Airport for my flight to Tokyo, I found myself pondering the events of the past few months that got me moving back to a land I had not experienced since I was five. What had made me want to go back? A sense of nostalgia? Remorse? A feeling that something wasn’t quite right in the cultural imbalance that was my heritage?

Who knows. All I knew was, in 13 hours, I would land feet first into Tokyo, one of the biggest metropolises ever to grace the Earth.

Here’s my flight! Looking me straight in the eye…

The story of how I got here is a long and arduous one. The Sparknotes version is that I’m going back to Japan to continue my studies on East Asian foreign relations at a graduate school in Japan. That I applied without really any hope of getting in, and that I accepted admittance into Waseda University (Keio University/W&M’s Japanese sister school’s direct rival) are just kind of fluff, the type of flow-y language that Sparknotes would just label as “not important” in that random work of literature that you never wanted to read. (Thus the Sparknotes, of course!)

But like all works of literature, my story goes a little deeper than that. And it all started well before the application process on my first-ever visit to Tokyo last year. Whether it was my random talk with a Japanese CEO or the sights and sounds of Shibuya, I don’t quite know what caused it.

But something clicked.

It was one of those moments where for the first time, I felt I actually belonged somewhere. And this wasn’t one of those foreigner induced “oh I belong in Japan because sumo and geisha and origami” feelings either. For the first time, I felt that this was the long-awaited metropolis I always wanted to live in. The type of place where small, out of the way joints were everywhere (Refer to the Beijing Blogs) and everything was strict, clean, on-time, in-order. Whatever career choice I chose afterwards, this is where I wanted it to take me…Japan was where I belonged.

Oh why thank you Narita, I feel good to be here. ^_^

Of course, getting there was another story. For the past year, I spent my days applying to jobs related in any way to Japan. A Virginia law firm with a newly formed Tokyo office, a news co-op, a Japanese news channel. But each time, I was left in disappointment and sometimes taken advantage of, and I slowly realized that the hiring environment, whatever the politicians may advertise, is not one that turns a friendly eye towards new college graduates, however optimistic and goal-driven the graduate.

And as my ambition for a career straight out of college burned dimmer as job after job opportunity passed me by, the next option I soon found, was grad school. Fast forward to today, 13 hours away from a new life, or an old life. I’m not really sure yet, but I’ll be sure to let you know.

The Evolution of Democracy

February 10, 2012 by

Fukuyama's 1989 thesis in the wake of the fall of Communism created ripples throughout the international relations community.

In 1989, international relations scholar Francis Fukuyama published an academic paper titled “The End of History” in The National Interest that literally took the IR community by storm. In the paper, written while the Cold War was literally on its deathbed, Fukuyama argued that with the defeat of communism, there was no longer any challenge to liberal democracy in the world and subsequently, there would be no longer any need for evolution of political thought.

Democracy had been weighed, measured, and been found wanting and the end result was that it had won the battle for supremacy and bragging rights globally. (Bonus points to whoever can name the movie that quote’s from)

Or has it?

Recently, as part of my interest in politics, I had become interested in not only the legislative processes of our own country, but also those of others. And the more and more I read about political processes today and the carrying out of democracy in its purest form around the world, the more I can’t help thinking that democracy, at least in the form that we’ve known it since the 20th century, is on the verge of an evolution of its own.

That’s not to say that Fukuyama’s thesis is not valid or timely. If anything, his argument still holds true in countries such as Egypt, Libya and currently, Syria, where they have thrown away old, dictatorial regime and replaced it with democracy. Even today, democracy is being seen as the ultimate form of government, the supreme “superhero” if you will that wins against all villains and prevails in the end.

But, back here in the United States, the “bastion” of democracy, the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, are we really happy and content with the government system that we have? Is “democracy” really the final form of government, never to be replaced with a system more innovative and new?

As totalitarian regimes were toppled in what became known as the "Arab Spring" last year, society showed that even today, Fukuyama's thesis still holds its relevance. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)

I’m sure there are some who would vehemently answer no.

In the past year, events such as the Occupy Wall Street Protests showed the world just how discontent our public had become with the economic status quo following the recent recession.

Although much of the protests were aimed at the top 1% of earners, part of the protests also voiced discontent at the government’s inability to keep the promises they had made to fix the recession. (Not to mention the extreme disappointment and mistrust of authority in places like Portland, and although not an Occupy protest, at UC Davis.)

The protests eventually snowballed into a global phenomenon, with especially heavy protests in countries such as Spain and Greece, whose economies were especially hard hit post-recession.

On Capitol Hill, things aren’t looking much better. In an effort to prove that Congress can compromise, late last year, legislators attempted to form a “super-coalition” to tackle the issue of rampant government spending and to trim the budget. That failed. Then came the elections in November with a whopping win for the Republicans in the House, causing a mixed party government and, thanks to party polarization, the virtual inability to pass anything resembling legislation geared towards one party or another without bickering and infighting.

Part of the OWS Protests focused upon lawmakers and their inability to solve the economic woes of the American public.

It might be an understatement to say that Americans are becoming rapidly disgruntled with politics and government, as well they should be.

But what does this mean for democracy? Or rather, the evolution of democracy?

In America, we’ve reached a point in our political timeline where the basic facets of democracy are being challenged by party warfare. On the one hand, our representatives are supposed to represent the interests and needs of their respective constituencies and act for the greater good, on the other hand, they have a loyalty to the party and to ensure party legislation gets passed.

For some lucky members of Congress, these sides correspond with each other. Their constituents agree with the party line. But for the great majority of them, they conflict, and the sad part is, all too often, they choose the later as more beneficial to their overall career as lawmakers.

When our nation was first being founded, it was exactly what opponents of the Constitution like Thomas Jefferson (a W&M alum) and Patrick Henry feared. As history moved on, groups only caring about their own self-interest (or “factions” as they were referred to) would put their own interests above those of the public good and, in essence, destroy the very meaning of democracy.

Democracy as we know it today is increasingly sowing discontent and will need to adapt and innovate to meet the needs of the 21st century citizen.

That theory seems all too real right now.

So ready for the million dollar question? What happens now?

As we go into 2012, we find democracy on the edge of a pretty large hurdle. Democracy, at least in America, has gotten to a point where it is having a hard time solving the problems of its constituents. And an ever growing portion of our public, larger than ever before, is becoming more and more discontent with the system by the day.

And that brings us back to Fukuyama. Is democracy the ultimate form of government that countries will end up adopting? Looking at the global events of the present, it seems so.

But does that mean we’ll stop innovating at finding better forms to govern? Absolutely not.

In fact, as Americans move further into the 21st century, we’ll have to innovate. If we don’t, we’re going to have to be prepared for some extremely dark times ahead.

Whatever happened to America’s free press?

January 26, 2012 by

On a recent trip back to my high school for an alumni reunion, I found it interesting how I was able to rediscover where I had started to foster my interest in pursuing journalism. I vividly recall that after a high school summer program I attended at VCU’s School of Communications, pursing hard-news and feature stories started to greatly interest me.

Headlines

News is constantly evolving ... whether we like it or not.

In particular, I think it was the human aspect of things that intrigued me the most about this field of work. The fact that people all around you have their own special story, a verbal historical record that just requires the right questioning to discover. Sometimes you’d be surprised. I’ve met war heroes, novelists, aspiring dreamers, people who had huge ambitions, and by some random occurrence ended up what they’re doing today (and are perfectly happy with what they’ve become). In a sense, it was also perhaps my own personal journey that made me realize that there really is never such a thing as a “dull” human being.

But recently, I’ve done something that I never thought I’d ever do: question whether or not I want to even pursue my own dream of a career as a journalist. And more and more, one particular question rises above the rest:

What exactly has our “free” press become?

All around the world, we flaunt our ideals enshrined in the freedom of the press and laugh at the absurd reporting of less freer countries such as China or North Korea. “Our media might be biased, but at least we’re not like them,” we argue. “At least we don’t report that our world cup team lost to Japan because they were struck by lightning…”

But is our news media really that much more different? I look around at broadcast news today, and with the exception of a few programs, I hardly ever see a non-biased news program. Every single one seems to have their own agenda, their own set of viewpoints and ideals that they want to instill on their viewers until death. Ironically, it’s the gag news shows like the Daily Show and the Colbert Report that end up taking a “common sense” approach to news. Perhaps that’s why they’ve gotten such a huge following.

How many of these words apply to news media today?

What happened to the days when news reporting was news reporting, not some bunch of biased “experts” spouting their own opinions about what will happen? What happened to the idea that the press was supposed to be the unbiased fourth branch, constantly checking to ensure the stability of politics? What happened to the Woodward and Bernstein of a bygone era?

At the rate that they’re going, more and more, I feel like the media just continuously adds fuel to the already volatile flames of politics, what part of that is a check?

Then there’s also print journalism, or rather, the lack thereof. As the field that I was initially trained in, I’ve developed a certain love for the newspapers of lore, of the breaking news journalist that’s willing to cover the hard investigative articles. Yet, unfortunately, the reality is that there’s a saying in the newspaper industry that newspapers “are a dying breed.” With the advent of the internet and ever increasing digital mobility, newspapers can no longer support themselves with simple ad revenue and subscriptions. Why should people buy a newspaper when they could easily do a Google News search and find what they’re looking for, often faster and more importantly, free of charge? Perhaps the most famous example was the recent fall of the Los Angeles Times, a newspaper giant that, in the face of bankruptcy, fired off editor after editor, reporter after reporter, in an effort to make a profit. But the eventual downfall of the newspaper industry is one that is facing all newspapers around the country, not just the giants.

How many of these will exist in 20 years? 30? 40?

This is the industry I want to enter. And I’m a bit worried. Wouldn’t you be too?

In the 21st century, more than ever, the basic ideals of which the structure of journalism upholds its integrity is constantly being challenged and in some ways defrauded. Traditional forms of journalism can’t compete with newer, more innovative digital formats, and journalists, good journalists,  those willing to spend the time and money to cover the important stories are a rare and rapidly disappearing breed.

But in a certain sense, perhaps I’m looking at this situation the wrong way. There’s a saying that every college student enters college to learn about the world, and exits college wanting to change it. Perhaps this is my personal challenge that I need to face in order to change my part of the world bit by bit.

 

… well, I’ll see what I can do …

Water clear as day

September 2, 2011 by

July 29, 2011 –Asuke, Aichi Prefecture, Japan

Now that I’d finally made it to Japan, sadly, my family came to the realization that this may be the last time all three of us would ever be together for a family outing in Japan. With me going off to find work in the next couple months and living on my own, we decided to make the best of it while we were here.

Asuke town proper during dusk. Tetsuo-san's old family residence can be seen to the left.

Soon after the ceremonies my parents decided it would be nice to go visit family in Japan, especially extended family that we really didn’t get a chance to see very often. One of the people we visited was my uncle Tetsuo, who lived way in the mountains of Aichi Prefecture in a small town called Asuke.

What strikes me as particularly interesting about this town was that it could easily be mistaken for a Japanese version of small town USA. Everyone in the town knows everyone else. But at the same time, for the countryside, it was a much different environment from what we in the States would call “country.”

Everything about the Japanese countryside just had a much greater sense of “cleanliness” and “quality” than anything I’d ever seen before in the States. For one, I’d never seen such clean water or such green trees in my life. Water was so clear that you could see to the bottom of creeks and rivers, something unheard of unless in the deep recesses of the Rockies or Appalachians.

Another example lies in just the sounds of nature that you hear around the Japanese countryside. What struck me as particularly interesting was that the sound of birds in Japan is actually quite rare. In the summer, cicadas drown out much of the noise of normal nature and to hear a bird call is a blessing indeed. Yet, even the sound of cicadas in itself is beautiful.

Gates leading up to Asuke's mountaintop shrine.

I think there was something in the green overgrowth of trees surrounding you and the noise of cicadas and the sounds of the rushing river by you that just screamed out peacefulness.

In essence, it really is hard to put into words. The Japanese have such a saying for food called “甘み”(umami), in a sense, I guess you could say that this was the umami, the good essence and vibe, of the natural forest around us.

Oh and the food, don’t even get me started on the food. There’s just something about Japanese food whether it be in the city or even out in the countryside that’s genuine and delicious. I think that some of it could be the fact that Japan is such a small country, that it’s not hard to ship local products in and around Japan. In a sense, it’s like Vermont, everything you eat in Japan was grown domestically and locally, and the result is a much more delicious, more organic, more genuine taste I suppose.

鮎(Ayu) or "sweetfish" in English, is a famous summer-time dish in Japan

For Asuke in particular, the delicious food came to us in the form of Ayu, commonly referred to as “sweetfish” in English. It’s a type of freshwater fish that has two conditions for growth: first, it can only be caught in the summer when the fish thrive in country rivers, second said rivers must be clean, clear and otherwise pollutant/pesticide free for them to thrive. Seeing the quality of country rivers in Japan, I’m not surprised that Ayu can be caught so easily come summer time.

Maybe I’m wrong when I try to compare the countryside of the U.S. with the countryside of Japan. Both are unique in their own special way. But in a country that is known worldwide for the bustling metropolises and super-efficient (and sometimes loud) trains and cars, the countryside, only hours away, was surprisingly serene and peaceful.

A different kind of Funeral

September 2, 2011 by

July 28, 2011–Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture, Japan

Greetings readers, long time no see, I hear that the weather over in America right now is blistering hot, I hope that all of you are doing your best to stay cool and dry during this heat wave.

Actually, I’m currently in Japan right now in a (rather large) prefecture called Aichi Prefecture. You guys might recognize the name, Aichi is home to the global HQ of Toyota Motors and was the location for the 2005 World Expo all those years ago.

Although I’d visited this prefecture numerous times in the past as a tourist, I found myself over here for a completely special reason this time around: to attend my grandmother’s funeral.

Japanese funerals differ from American ones in a great manner. In America, when a loved one dies, there’s a huge funeral ceremony that ends in the burying of the casket and that’s it. It’s up to the loved ones from there whether or not they want to visit and how often. Japan’s a country that believes that our ancestors help make a family who they are. Thus, after every funeral, there are ceremonial rites to help the spirit on its way to an afterlife and every year, there’s a festival named “Obon” in August which invites spirits of the deceased back to the living to honor them for a week.

But not only that, as I’ve grown to see more and more as I’ve stayed here, the Japanese have a firm belief that the spirits of those that passed are watching over us and guiding us in several ways. In certain ancestral homes, there’s often a shrine to the family spirits, and every gift given to the family must first be honored in front of the ancestors before the actual family can enjoy them.

For me, attending a funeral of any kind, let alone a Japanese one, was a first. I’d always seen funerals as a sad occasion, a time to mourn a loss. Instead, in the Japanese funeral, I found a ceremony that honored the living and helped them to pass through to the next stage of their lives.

To be honest, I first hesitated when considering whether to write this blog. My grandmother touched the lives of many people over her 86 year life, and emotions ran very high during the funeral ceremonies. Yet, the more I thought of it, the more I realized that it was stupid to be sad. Funerals should be times to mourn the loss of a loved one, but also to take a step back and admire one’s accomplishments in life so why hesitate?

I think what struck me as the most emotional time during a funeral was the cremation. Pragmatically, because of the lack of land to bury bodies, most Japanese families choose to have their remains cremated. The living family members then carefully place the burnt bones in the urn that will later be buried in the family grave.

At first, and to many of you reading this blog from the States, that may seem quite ghastly to be honest. Who wants to see the dead charred remains of a loved one? But lemme tell you, it wasn’t disgusting at all. In fact, there was something very touching and heart-warming about having your closest and most loved family members finally carry you off into the final resting place for your physical self.

And in writing this, perhaps you’d like to know more about my grandmother, the whole reason why I’m here in the first place.

My grandmother was a kind-hearted, warm lady who I regrettably did not see enough of during my life. As I had moved to America when I was five, we really didn’t have many chances to go back to Japan. Japan was just too far and too expensive to take a casual trip to every now and then. Even now, I look back and am saddened at the fact that my grandmother only got to see me really two times since I moved to America: once when I was six and the next when I was 14 and now, as a 22 year old in spirit.

One of my biggest regrets in life, even at the age of 22, was the fact that I never even knew grandmother’s first name. For me, she’d always been, and always will be, Okazaki Obachan, my grandmother from Okazaki, Japan. Yet, she didn’t hesitate to have a huge influence on my life to make me who I am.

My fondest memories of my grandmother came in two forms. In first grade, I visited Japan for the first time since I moved to the States. At the time, my grandmother owned a liquor business in Okazaki, a family business that had been handed down generations in the town. I remember fondly that one day, I was helping my grandmother with the store and someone paid a ¥500 coin for something (rougly $5). My grandmother, noticing that I had never seen a ¥500 coin, handed it to me, saying it was a gift. I still have the coin in a piggy bank at home, but, looking back, I admire her the fact that she could notice such small things in her grandson. Maybe I was being a bit obvious, I guess I can’t really remember…

Like most grandmothers, she also loved to spoil me. One of the clearest memories I have was of her taking me to a department store to buy me my first game boy. It was a special edition green one, and back in the States, no one had ever heard of such a thing. Another fond memory was when, for my 10th birthday, I opened a package from Japan to discover the newly released Pokemon Gold game lying there. Apparently, my grandmother, knowing I loved games and seeing the hype about “Pocket Monsters” had lined up all night on the release date of the game to get it for me. Perhaps that’s why when they remade that very game last year, I was one of the first in line to get it…it brought back a lot of fond memories.

As I said earlier, I’m of the opinion that it’s a person’s actions and ability to positively (or negatively) affect people’s lives that define who a person is. For my grandmother, the memories, (what’s left of them anyways) are all I have left, but that’s what I’ll keep with me for the rest of my life.

(Hu)man’s best friend

July 11, 2011 by

Recently, I saw an episode of the science show “NOVA” which showcased an interesting research question in the field of biology right now: are the animals that we choose to live with, smarter than we think they are?

The program showcased several cases of extreme intelligence in animals where, if trained, dogs, birds, and dolphins could do amazing things and even think creatively on a toddler’s level. A New Zealand shepherd dog was showcased with over 300 words in his vocabulary, with the ability to learn new ones. Several dolphins were shown on the show that had the ability to create and develop ingenious new maneuvers with each other, all marks of “animal intelligence.”

Normally, some simple thing I see on television would not inspire me to write a whole blog post, at least until this morning.

What if we're just underestimating the true intelligence of animals around us? (Photo by Per Harald Olsen)

Last night, I spent the night at a friend’s house whose parents are currently pet-sitting a bird and a dog both of which have the same owner.

I watched this morning, as the bird and dog seemed to almost talk and communicate with each other. In one instance, the dog was in dire need to go outside and was clearly troubled. The bird was actually the one that let people know since his screeching alerted the household. In another, when the dog was trying to sleep, the bird screeched a little at her, and then was quiet for the rest of the morning.

Now, most of you will think this a stupid, silly post. I mean, these are two instances, totally unrelated, and probably coincidental. And for all of you, I say, YEAH! I know, I even felt silly writing the very words I just wrote above. But what if…just what if, we may be underestimating man’s best friends. And what about animals communicating not within the same species, but cross species?

ARE animals really more intelligent than we give them credit for? We’ve spent our whole civilization automatically assuming that we’re the ones on top, we’re the ones who’ve mastered nature, cultivated fire, and dominated the top of the food chain. But honestly, are we really just taking for granted the intelligence of other animals around us?

Until we can decode how they talk and what they do, that question might never be answered in full. But in my opinion, never underestimate that which we do not know.

And it makes me wonder. What about animals not of our world. I believe it was Steven Hawking who contemplated whether or not humankind could take it if we ever encountered life more intelligent than our own. So long, we’ve come to believe that our ingenuity and resourcefulness and our ability to adapt to the environment and climate at hand is what sets us apart and makes us the ultimate race.

What happens when humankind looks around one day at the groundbreaking realization that we’re not number one? That we’re really not as big and great as we say we are. What a sad day that might be.

But in the meantime, enough about aliens and extraterrestrials. As for man’s best friends, I’m genuinely convinced there’s much much more than meets the eye.

Life after graduation

July 8, 2011 by

Long time no see to all of you blog readers! I know that I haven’t been the most frequent of blog posters, and for that I apologize to my readership. (Assuming I still have a readership) Well, it sure has been quite a while since my last foray into the blogosphere and a lot has indeed happened since then.

For one, I graduated. Yup! Look at me, properly commenced (if you can use that term) and minted with the title of “Class of 2011.” To be honest though, other than a tradition filled ceremony filled with pomp and circumstance, I don’t think it’s really sunk in for me that I’ve left William and Mary at all. Perhaps, when August comes along and it turns out that I don’t have to go back to Williamsburg for the first time in four years, it’ll finally hit me.

But yeah, I graduated, with a double major in Government and Chinese Studies no less and my grandparents even drove half the country to watch me with proud eyes. I hadn’t seen their faces light up that brightly in a very long time.

So yeah…I graduated….NOW WHAT?

Trust me, the previous three paragraphs are what I’ve been mulling over constantly ever since Commencement Day May 15th, 2011.

It seems almost weird. I feel like, all this time, my life had been planned out for me: go to school, study hard, pass SATs, go to college…that I never even realized what I would do after the guided tunnel that was my education finally let me out into the open.

I don't think it's sunk in for me quite yet what life has in store for me.

I will admit, I was and still am to say the least, dumbfounded. Here I am, bottom of the social food chain again, diploma in hand and ready to change the world…except…how?

All around me, I look at my graduating class and see a hodgepodge of mixed emotions. Some, with deadly intent, know what they want to do with their lives, know what they want to become and how to become it…perhaps that’s what makes them so successful. She wants to be a lawyer and will start law school in the fall, he wants to be a banker and will start working for Morgan-Stanley come July….

While others are just as lost as I am, thinking to themselves, “is this really what I want to become?” and second guessing. I guess 16 years of schooling never did prepare us for this moment…And let me tell you, that feeling and pressure is ridiculously scary.

But while talking to a close friend of mine, he explained to me one very important thing. Right now, in our lives, is the only time in our entire lives, where we’ll have the opportunity and freedom to do anything we choose. And in the end, it’s better to take your time, and choose a life that you want to live, rather than a life you need to live.

And it was these words that stuck with me, and got me over the stress of not knowing what tomorrow may bring. And it’s also these words, which I hope will also help others who may be in a similar predicament as me to get past the fear of not knowing about tomorrow.

I take pride in knowing that what separates me from those individuals who know what they want, is that now may be the only time in my entire life where I’ll get to take a few steps back, and ready myself for the sprint of life up ahead.

Writing from Maine-Part 1

January 10, 2011 by

(Sudbury Inn—Bethel, Maine)

Hi readers! Long time no see, I guess that’s quite the big understatement since I seem to have not written a blog entry since August. That’s completely my fault and I apologize. Senior year at W&M is filled with all sorts of fun, or it can be filled with all sorts of work and one never has time to get around to nearly everything on his checklist (including blogging), unfortunately, the latter just happens to be me.

To tell you the truth, I’m blogging to all of you from all the way up north in Maine today. And I figured the story of how I got to be in this northern, cold, state is in and of itself blog-worthy.

This is a blog entry to prove to all of you non-believers that William and Mary students have fun and we know how to have fun. In actuality, I’m up here skiing and freezing my butt off, but having a great time and I’m doing it for college credit through a 1-credit kinesiology class I decided to take this year aptly named: skiing and snowboarding in Maine.

For all you non-W&M folks, there are certain classes that you can take at William and Mary on a “pass/fail” basis. These are usually electives for certain departments ranging from government to religious studies that are offered in addition to the major 3-credit courses. Kinesiology just happens to have the most fun, active ones around.

I mean, in all honesty, who wouldn’t want to ski around for credit? Or throw people around in Judo? Or do team-building exercise in Adventure Games? Or climb sheer cliffs in Mountain Climbing? Or…you get the picture.

So here I am, (thankfully by a warm fireplace AWAY from the freezing cold) blogging about Maine.

Our class has been quite far. The nearly 16-hour bus ride up here was a bit of a pain to handle. (Might need a massage once I get back south) and the slopes have been a bit icy.

But our instructors have been amazing. Each day is basically a lesson filled day from morning, a couple hours of free-ski during lunch, and then lessons again in the afternoon.

I personally am part of the intermediate ski-group, with an instructor named Paul, who I think is completely awesome. He knows what he’s doing, and will give you very accurate advice as to what you need to improve on.

In my case, I am incredibly slow going down slopes. The rest of the group speeds down at mach 3 while I’m in my little dinky vespa taking my sweet time down slopes. Not to mention my right turn is also horrendously bad, think wedge shaped skis, and that wouldn’t be too far off from the truth.

All in all though, that’s what I’m here for. I know how to ski like a beginner, but I don’t know where to go from here. And, as Paul has so graciously taught me so far, there’s really nowhere to go but up from here. (Or, in the case if being on a slope, down.)

And so here I am, in the lobby of the Sudbury Inn (which is the only place with wifi ack!), sipping on hot chocolate and writing about a class I’ve been looking forward to for the greater half of a semester.

Oh it’s going to be a great week.

To support a medical center

August 15, 2010 by

Over the summer, William and Mary students can be seen globally doing a myriad of activities. From service trips to study abroad to internships in foreign areas, it’s hard to plan any decent get together with my on-campus friends when my on-campus friends are in locations like China, Japan, Ireland, and France.

But for me, this summer, there were no exciting foreign excursions or exploring funny quirks of people from abroad like last year. I decided to stay right here, at home, in good ol’ Richmond, Virginia.

You see, ever since the beginning of this year, I’ve been exploring a new aspect of journalism at W&M, a broad field called Public Relations, and it only seemed natural to me that I continue it into the summer as a student intern at Virginia Commonwealth University’s medical campus in downtown Richmond.

Before this year, I had only worked as, what many communications professionals refer to as “hard news journalism,” reporting objectively on news as it happens for a newspaper, eventually making my way up to co-news editor, and managing a section.

Then, in January, I decided to pursue this new field, serving mainly as a writing intern at William and Mary News, writing feature articles and “positive” news stories as they occur around campus.

Public relations often get a bad rap from hard news journalists, who often refer to the field as the “dark side” of journalism. In a sense, that’s true. One of the many jobs of public relations officials is to find ways to promote a specific label or message to the general public using the media. Thus, articles that often come out of public relations bureaus are often press releases slanted towards promoting one thing or the other.

Photo taken on a shoot on the last day of internship. Funny how the first and last story I covered this summer was out of that building behind me. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Gordon, VCU Public Relations)

Photo taken on a shoot on the last day of internship. Funny how the first and last story I covered this summer was out of that building behind me. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Gordon, VCU Public Relations)

Photo taken on a shoot on the last day of internship. Funny how the first and last story I covered this summer was out of that building behind me. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Gordon, VCU Public Relations)

But it truly wasn’t until this summer, where I realized that being a “public relations specialist” is more than just simply writing positive news articles. It’s maintaining an active relationship with existing media entities, it’s ensuring the safe and effective communication in the case of an emergency, it’s planning and carrying out press requests while simultaneously ensuring the safety of your own organization, all the while promoting the positive message of a label to the local community.

In a sense, my interning at William and Mary taught me about these facets of PR as a foundation. But it really wasn’t until this summer where for the first time, I was put into a situation where I needed to do public relations for a medical center, where I realized just how important the role of a public relations specialist is.

Having a hospital as your label complicates things much more than having a liberal arts college.
Suddenly, you’re thrust into a situation where it’s not just the safety of students, but potential safety of patients that’s also at risk. In addition, because VCU Medical Center, being a Level 1 trauma center, is where they take most victims of gunshot wounds or serious car accidents in the greater Richmond area, as a PR professional, your contact with the local media is unusually higher than at a small school like W&M.

Thus, the importance of having effective PR professionals is suddenly much more important in a hospital setting than ever before.

True, there were certain aspects of PR that I came in knowing. I came in knowing how to write feature articles, how the PR professional relationship with the local media works, and how important promoting the VCU medical center label was.

But there were also several hurdles I had to overcome. For one, getting over the challenge of having to think of patient safety in addition to student/faculty safety in media relationships was especially challenging for me. William and Mary is a relatively small campus with students and faculty that understand media, for the most part anyways. VCU, likewise, but add to that fact patients and their families that have just undergone serious stress, and you have yourself a firm PR challenge when trying to organize the press and promote an image. Perhaps, most importantly, patients in the care of the hospital are the hospital’s responsibility until discharge, which also means it’s the PR professional’s responsibility to ensure their safety too.

I think, for me, another huge challenge I had to get over was adjusting to writing in a medical sphere. At William and Mary, sure, I covered complex articles, but never something that involved terms like “B-cell lymphocytic leukemia” or “hematopoesis” or “hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.” Understanding and gaining a basic understanding of the terms I was writing about, was just part of the obstacle I had to overcome as an intern. Researchers had spent several decades trying to understand a specific topic, I had to learn it in a little over an hour and simplify it for the general public: that was a challenge.

Thirdly, and most importantly, working at a hospital, you deal with miracle-like stories of success most of the time, but unfortunately, you also deal a lot with death. It’s unavoidable, it just comes with the territory. At William and Mary, deaths do happen, but usually less than once a year, if you’re lucky. At VCU Medical Center, death happens almost every day, and it’s how you deal with the deaths that could affect how the media views a particular death. I don’t think I’ve still mastered talking about something like that….

People too often paint a picture of public relations as a bunch of spin-doctors that care nothing about the objective reporting. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The job that PR professionals do in the field to promote a message is indeed important, but they do so much more to ensure the safety of individuals that really made me value my time at VCU’s Office of Communications and Public Relations.