Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Lab Stories

Last night, at dinner:
Taketani-san: Hey, during Open Campus, why didn't you tell me about the girls who stopped by to see our exhibit?  You promised me you would introduce me to them.
Okochi-san: The girls who came by were not of the quality worth introducing to you.

Everyone then looked guiltily at me, clocking my reaction.  I couldn't do anything but nod.  It was like the phrase I laughingly used to use when people asked me what it was like to attend classes with so many men: "The odds are good but the goods are odd"  I say laughingly because I honestly think that engineers are usually pretty well-rounded and engaging individuals and also because it was sometimes my only recourse to let my friends leave my colleagues well alone to remain as colleagues and not as potential dates.


Last week, with my sister in town, I had a chance to see my life in Japan with some new perspective.  It was refreshing and quite hilarious.

Sister: Your lab has some very attractive men.

On a pretty typical day in the lab
Sister: They're all on Twitter?!  Hahaha.  What are they going to say? Here I am, sitting at my desk just like I have been for the past eight hours.

Sister: You work long hours.  Do you actually enjoy your research?
(For the first time in a long time, I could honestly say: I do, I really really do)


Determined to learn Japanese, I have gotten in the habit of asking lab mates how to say terms in Japanese.  It goes something like this

Me: How do you say Reynolds number in Japanese?
Kitashima-san: Reynolds su.
Me: That's it?  Oh.

Me: How do you say Stainless steel in Japanese?
Makino-san: Sutenresu suchiru [This is simply the Japanese pronunciation of the same word and it sounds basically the same]
Me: So, the same thing?  Oh.

Recently, though, it has gone something like this.

Me: You need tape?  Here's some electrical tape.
Yoshino-san: Wait, what do you call it?
Me: Electrical tape.
Kitashima-san: Oh, we call it binyl tepu.  (as in vinyl)
Me: Well, what do you call this tape? [I point to duct tape]
Kitashima-san: Gumu tepu.  [She peels it back to show the gummy adhesive side] (gum tape)  What do you call this tape?  [She points to Scotch tape]
Me: Scotch tape.  It's a brand of tape but we use it to call all tape like this.
Kitashima-san: Oh, we call it cellophane tepu.

So, I started to wonder if maybe when it came to certain names in the lab, items were called after their materials rather than what they use them for like we do in America.  So I tried again the next day.  

Me: Makino-san, what do you call this?
Makino-san: It's called kamiyasuri.   'Kami' means 'paper'.  'Yasuri' means 'filing' (abrasive).
Me: Really?  We call it sand paper.

I guess not.  The one thing we would call by its material rather than its use, they call by its use rather than its material.  But it does make me laugh that they use American pronunciations but for some things it ends up being radically different words for the same thing.

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