Musings of a Gaijin MD

Life in Japan as a Foreign Doctor

The Ihla Formosa May 30, 2012

Filed under: Sightseeing — GaijinMD @ 8:52 AM
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Given the strategic location for trading of Japan’s previous colony, Taiwan, or Ihla Formosa (beautiful island) as the Portuguese dubbed it, it has undergone a tumultuous history with the initial aboriginal inhabitants, then Chinese settlers/governing, then “discovered” by the Portuguese, followed by the Dutch, a little bit of Spanish rule, back to Chinese, on to the Japanese for about 50 years, and now the present-day Taiwan, Republic of China, not to be confused with China, the People’s Republic of China.

While the Japanese occupation of Taiwan was harsh, it did help in modernizing the island with the development of infrastructure, such as highways, railways, hospitals, and schools.  The end of World War II in 1945 also brought an end to the Japanese occupation.  With less than 100 years since the occupation, one can still see much of the Japanese influence in Taiwan, such as the city layout, Japanese stores/restaurants, food, and the number of students studying the Japanese language.

Although the capital, Taipei, is a booming metropolis, it is surrounded by the lush greenery of its jungles and mountains.  Indeed, it’s also known for its tropical fruits, but the mangoes were not in season yet, unfortunately.

Overall, Taiwan has an abundance of inexpensive food and shopping (night markets galore) with friendly locals and plenty of “nature” to go around.  Next time: hope to see more mountains, visit during the “floating lanterns” festival, and eat more mangoes.


That’s a Hairy Crab May 29, 2012

Filed under: Food — GaijinMD @ 10:19 AM

On a recent trip to the local fish market (nice although nothing compared to the quintessential Tokyo fish market), my family and I tried the local steamed crabs.  In addition to the larger size in comparison to the standard US “large” crabs, it was also very hairy.  Yes, my friend, hairy.  If we weren’t so busy trying to dig out the meat, we probably would’ve been more disconcerted.  As it was, the crab was easily the best I’ve ever had.  The meat was so sweet and juicy that no sauce (not even butter) was needed to savor it.  Needless to say, the table was silent as we concentrated on our treasure hunt.


Kyoto May 28, 2012

Sorry for the lack of updates recently.  Anywho, I’ll try to update what I’ve been doing recently.

Two months ago, I was able to visit Kyoto for the 2nd time.  The first time, we were just 2 weeks too early for the sakura, or cherry blossoms; this time, we were 1 week too early.  *Le sigh*  One of these days, the timing will be right.

Instead of traversing our way through Kyoto by bus this time, we were able to maximize the most of our time by having a private taxi tour/guide, courtesy of my friend’s boss.  While quite pricey, it should be a consideration if you have at least 4 people to split the costs.  The guide does a good job of explaining things in English, and the biggest benefit is that one can save a lot of time by not having to take public transportation.  Unlike other Japanese cities, Kyoto’s many tourist attractions are usually mainly accessible by bus, instead of trains and subways.  We were, therefore, able to see 1.5-2x as many sites compared to using the bus.

Overall, it was a lovely time in Kyoto, despite only seeing 2 trees with sakura and some rain.  Kyoto really is the epitome of “Old Japan” with its numerous (thousands) of temples, shrines, castles, and Gion (was actually lucky enough to see a maiko, apprentice geisha, walking these streets).  Would love to visit again!


Fresh Interns April 8, 2012

Filed under: Hospital — GaijinMD @ 11:38 PM
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This past week heralded the start of the new academic year in Japan with the orientation of the interns.  One of my goals was to instill in them all the basic information they need before they officially start next week.  Of the “necessary” skills, I tried to teach them how to make a good and thorough case presentation, especially the HPI.  I even made a game out of it by making strips of paper with all the different symptoms and signs and have the interns (who were divided into 3 different groups) place each of the strips under either the HPI, ROS, or PE sections depending on the given chief complaint.  I must say I was so happy and excited to see them huddling, discussing, and thinking.  Ah, I had a moment a la proud mommy-duck leading her lil’ ducklings.  🙂  Hopefully, my padawans will not be led astray by bad habits (yet)…  *crossing fingers*


Attack of the Crows March 26, 2012

Filed under: Daily Life — GaijinMD @ 7:13 PM

On a recent trip to one of the city’s parks, I encountered a truly fearsome creature: the crow- believe it or not.  On initial arrival to the park, my friend got fascinated by the immense size of the crows in the park; they looked to have had excellent sources of nutrition to have grown to their 1 foot size with their prominent beaks.  This fascination in turn led to multiple camera shots.  Before long, the crow also reciprocated our fascination by starting to hop towards us.

At this time, I made the unfortunate decision to take out my bag of cookies from my purse because I was hungry.  It was this movement along with the wrinkling sound of the plastic wrap that further attracted yet another crow.  I, therefore, had 2 giant crows start to hop and fly menacingly towards me and trying to usurp my cookies.  By that time, I was already backing away with my friend’s yelling at me to throw them a cookie.  After 1 thrown cookie toward a crow, the other “neglected” crow continued to hunt me down until I threw another one (which he caught in mid air).

With the crows occupied by their new-found loot, I made a quick escape.  Needless to say, I didn’t bring out that bag of cookies again in the park.


Graduation/Reunion Party March 25, 2012

Filed under: Hospital — GaijinMD @ 1:36 AM

Several weekends ago featured the residency graduation reception party along with the 10th Anniversary of the hospital’s collaboration with the American hospital in providing a full time American faculty at the Japanese hospital in order to bring a more Americanized teaching style to Japan.

As with most parties, the highlight lay in the preparation and primping before the actual event.  The party was held at the hotel with everyone dressed up in cocktail attire; it was quite refreshing actually to see people out of scrubs.

The R3’s (3rd year residents) filed up on stage to receive their certificates of graduation from residency.  The R2’s also received certificates for completing the Japanese mandatory 2 years of post-medical school “transitional years” training.  Afterwards, all of the 30+ graduating residents of the current year and of years past proceeded to give speeches a la the Academy Awards with the running time also rivaling the esteemed awards show.

Since all of the speeches were in Japanese, I decided just to focus on the 10 course Japanese meal to my great enjoyment.  The night was also made more amusing by having my visiting American friends sitting next to me and trying to mock/tease each other into trying the more “exotic” foods, such as shark’s fin soup.

After the plethora of speeches, I made a quick trip up the stage (all the while trying not to trip over my feet or have a wardrobe malfunction) to announce the awards for the best intern and best teaching resident.  I must say that I’m quite grateful that I didn’t fall flat on my face although I did have some moments of stuttering that I hope was not too noticeable, at least to the mainly Japanese audience (wishful thinking).

After the main hospital party, everyone relocated to a lounge for the after-party which provided a more convenient venue to mingle as the hotel party was more of a scripted program where the audience just sat quietly while eating and paying attention to the stage.

Overall, I’m glad to have attended such an event (and feel quite proud of the graduates and glad that I’ve had a chance to contribute to their education) although I wouldn’t mind for a little more liveliness.


Yuki Matsuri February 12, 2012

Filed under: Sightseeing — GaijinMD @ 6:25 PM
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The annual one-week long yuki matsuri, or snow festival, of Sapporo wrapped up this past weekend, and I attended on the last day.  Both native Japanese and foreigners flocked to see the ice sculptures lined along Odori Park; many food venders also provided plenty of hot food and drinks in order to help spectators keep warm.

The Japanese military trucks hauled tons of snow from the mountains into the city center in order to create these massive sculptures.  While I had initially wanted to keep my expectations low in order not to be disappointed, I was happily impressed by the intricacy and magnitude of the sculptures.  A happy combination existed of traditional sculptures, such as castles and marine life, and cute cartoon characters; some were just about 5-6 feet tall while others were 2-3 stories high.

It’ll be nice to come again next year although my frozen fingers and face may not appreciate such prolonged frigid exposure.