Last weekend Maxine and I went to Beijing to visit her family. What a difference Beijing and Xiamen are. Xiamen is very local based whereas in Beijing you can have Subway for dinner and Cold Stone for dessert. It was really neat to see the difference in cities. Beijing is more westernized than Xiamen with all of the shops you can find in the United States and its modern architecture. There are more temples and traditional architecture styles in Xiamen. While there I had some delicious sea food including my first taste of lobster, prawn sushi, and raw fish. The food here is incredibly diverse. There are so many options and styles from across the globe.
Saturday was filled with sightseeing including the morning at the Beijing Zoo and Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City in the afternoon. What a day that was! I saw everything from giant pandas to pacific white-sided dolphins to a dinosaur looking bird with a horn similar to a rhino on its blue head, a red gobbler on its neck like a turkey, and a large black body that could be compared to the size of a small ostrich! I have never seen anything like it! I also had a Chinese woman (about 45 if not older) shove me out of the way so she could throw herself over the side of the sea turtle enclosure to reach her hand in the water and touch them. And as the officials were screaming at her, she laughed like a child who just got away with something and walked off. I was speechless. The respect for animal welfare disappointed me at the zoo, especially seeing one tiger (1 of the 5 white tigers they had at the zoo) resting under a tree that had countless plastic bottles thrown at it to get it to move. I have been to many wildlife parks and this was by far the most shocking.
On a lighter note, I climbed the Great Wall while in Beijing! It was incredible! I almost died going down due to how steep the steps were, but it was certainly a site to see. It extends as far as the eye can see, swaying in and out of the mountain tops. Maxine and I took a cable car up the mountain about 100 ft off the ground with an amazing view, and took a toboggan down. What a ride that was! It lasted for a solid 5 minutes twisting and turning all the way down the mountain. Maxine took a video of me screaming the entire way down! It’s quite hilarious.
My research project officially started this week although progress is a lot slower than I anticipated. There are many restrictions on chemicals that require licenses and paperwork before purchase that has slowed us down. And with so many students graduating this week and the last professors and students alike are scrambling to get last minute things done. I am very excited about my project. Wenbo and I will be comparing melatonin levels added to culturing mudskipper gonad fragments with the amount of sex hormones they secrete over a period of 24 hours to determine if there is a direct correlation. It is very interesting and had potential for a broader environmental purpose since increases in the melatonin hormone, secreted by the pineal gland, has a parallel relationship with light and dark cycles. Pollution could be limiting the light intensity that is used by the mudskippers to synchronize their spawning cycles and could have interesting impacts on their populations. But who knows, that is just me thinking as an environmental biologist J
The lab setting is very different in China. It is much more casual and I don’t sense a hierarchy among the graduate and PhD students I am working beside as I would in the U.S. I am one of them and the fact that I am about six years younger than some of them doesn’t matter. They are more than just lab mates…they are friends. We go to lunch together and even plan shopping trips on the weekends. I introduce them to goldfish snacks, and they introduce me to “Chinese hamburgers.” I help them with English for their 27 page manuscript, and they give me a Chinese name-Jin Guan meaning? Turtle of course! Yuan and Wenbo even taught me how to draw it in characters. When I look like I’m struggling with my chopsticks, they tell me it’s ok to use my hands, which has been happening less often lately. I am getting quite good using chopsticks!
As the youngest in my family and the first to travel abroad, this experience is bittersweet. The places I go and sites I see are marvelous, but I certainly do miss home. Immersing myself in such a different culture has opened my eyes to so many different aspects of life that I cannot wait to share with everyone back home. Challenge the myths, correct the stereotypes, educate those who haven’t been what this remarkable country is like.