China Research

2008

Mong Kok: Produce to Prostitutes

MONG KOK, HONG KONG- Walking the streets of Mong Kok, it is not hard to validate its claims of it being the most densely populated area in the world. Traffic is nearly always at a crawl; so many locals depend on bicycles and handcarts to navigate its congested streets. Mong Kok seems to be an exception in Hong Kong, where street venders have mostly been moved to enclosed markets. Its streets are tightly zoned according to merchandise sold. Large designer stores, such as Coach and H&M, line the major streets. The touristy Lady’s Street, sells cloths and souvenirs. Fish Street, the Flower Market and Bird Garden cater to a local cliental, but attract many tourists to see exotic pets and flowers. My favorites were the produce and fish markets, where I was clearly the only tourist (rare in Hong Kong). Few young people shop at these markets anymore, preferring larger malls and groceries. Continue reading this entry »


Forget it Eric, it’s Hong Kong

7/26/08

HONG KONG- This week we treated cultured gill epithelial cells to determine the effect of DEX (synthetic cortisol) on Cl- cell expression. Cortisol is a hormone produced when an animal is under stress. It is thought that expression of structural proteins used in Cl- cells will be higher hypertonic environments. Gill cells in isotonic and hypertonic mediums were treated with five different [DEX]. After six hours of treatment a Western blot was performed to determine the presence of signaling proteins, that may induce a change in expression.

Looking back on the internship, it was far form what I had expected. It was more than a little frustrating seeing the other students work on their projects, and move to a conclusion on them, with out initiating one myself. While I never had a project with specific goals and objectives, I did practice some molecular biological techniques I had not done before. But I feel the growth of my scientific knowledge over the past two months has been minimal.

I am fortunate that everyone in my lab were: kind, gracious and all around cool people. From the beginning they assisted me in experiencing the culture of Hong Kong. They provided ideas and logistical support for weekend trips, and took Dean and I to restaurant we never would have found (ushering us through an ally, past hawkers and drug deals, to an amazing Indian restaurant - for example). On Friday, the undergraduates asked Oscar to keep me busy in the lab late, while they snuck out. When they returned they surprised me with Best of Hong Kong, a book on pop culture in the city, with a photo and note from them placed inside.


Finishing Up

As our research time came to an end we each took turns presenting the work that we had completed. For my presentation I was able to talk about the external and internal changes in the white spotted bamboo sharks as they developed. I had tables and photographs displaying the external changes, such as body color, yolk color, and body shape. I also noted distinctive features for the different stages. I was able to show changes in the tissue of the heart and the liver as well. I had five different hearts to show and many different livers. For the liver I focused on the section that contained the gallbladder. I also had a few different slices of the first and second dorsal fins. The presentations all seemed to go well and it was nice to get to see the work the other students completed. We presented for the professors we worked with, other professors involved in the program, and the students from the labs we worked with. It was good to get everyone together and see how much we were able to accomplish during our time working in the labs.


New Results and Mixed Emotions

The beginning of this week brought another surprise! On Monday I went into the lab to go over my results with my advisor Elsie. We noticed consistent and very alarming figures from the data of sample site HIR, a reservoir which we expect to have the highest concentrations of HAAs and THMs. The data showed to be the exact opposite showing consistently the lowest levels of DBPs of all sites. Once we noticed this we immediately contacted doctor Liang. We looked over the TOC (Total Organic Carbon) percentages which had been previously determined and came to the conclusion that these numbers were very unlikely. By Wednesday we were retesting TOC values by burning samples and measuring the carbon emitted. The new overall results are much more pleasing and this will completely change my data. I have realized when doing experiments how important it is to be meticulous about every step and carefully review results you come across because the smallest miscalculation or reading can change the outcome of an entire project. With my new results I hope to make a significant contribution to the overall project.

This week has been both exciting and somewhat sad. I had a farewell lunch with my lab on Thursday and very much enjoyed it but was also saddened by the fact I probably will not see these people again once I leave Hong Kong. I will especially miss my advisor Elsie who I couldn’t have had a chance of success at this project without. I feel the same way about Eric’s lab as we have spent many hours with them going to various restaurants and enjoying some finer points of Hong Kong Eric and I would not have found on our own. Not only have I enjoyed the Hong Kong culture but living in a city like this I have had the opportunity to try Islamic, Indian, Japanese and most every other type of food I can think of. I will be sad to leave the constant stream of new experiences as sometimes life in the USA makes a person a creature of habit.


Research Begins and Ends

On the 10th I was finally able to go collecting for my samples. Although I was supposed to collect 20, as this work is eventually for my senior thesis, I was sadly informed that I would only be able to collect 15, which half way through the cruise dropped to 13, and then to 11, I was however able to convince the captain to stop one more time so I could walk away with 12 samples. After collecting the samples were then placed into the freezer until the next day. I was also able to convince my lab of the need for 20 samples, and how I could not write a thesis with only 12 samples. After weeks of explaining this and telling them this is why I came to China, they finally understood that I did perhaps need 20 samples. I was unable to collect the remaining 8 samples myself, someone from my lab collected them for me since there was not enough room on the boat for another person and my lab did not want me to go alone. I then analyzed all of my samples using the same methods as in the beginning of the research using the Atomic Absorption spectrometer. For my zinc I used the flame and for the copper, cadmium, chromium and lead I used the furnace to analyze the concentration of the metals in the sediment. Before I could analyze them however I had to grind, sieve, weigh, and digest all of the 20 samples, and let them sit for two days. I did the first 12 together and then the last 8 together. The concentrations show good variation in the individual samples which means that conclusions can be made about why the concentrations are higher in certain areas, such as industry, or freshwater input. The original 12 samples are mostly marine or brackish in origin and they have lower concentrations overall compared to the last 8 which were collected in a man made lake, where mostly sewer and garbage are released. I am glad that I finally got to work on part of my thesis, although disappointed that overall I worked much less than Calvin and Lindley.


Good Friends

4/07/08

On Friday I took a late night bus to Hong Kong to renew my China visa and stay there for the weekend. I would be staying with my friend Edward who I had met through Kim. He was nice enough to offer me a place to stay in his family’s apartment. I arrived in Shenzhen early Saturday morning and then took the KCR to Kowloon Tong. I met Edward in the Kowloon Tong station and we then took the MTR to Khun Tong, a stop on the light green line not to far from Kowloon Tong. We got to his apartment and I dropped off my stuff before going back out. He helped me buy a bus ticket back to Xiamen, this time I would take it from HK all of the way back to Xiamen. We then made our way to Central and took a ferry to Cheung Chau island.

It was a beautiful day with a smattering of bloated, white clouds in the otherwise clear, blue sky. We got off in an area of small shops and had lunch at a noodle restaurant. I had a milk tea with lunch, something that I would have regularly at HKBU. We then began to walk to the other side of the thin island and along some of the beaches there. We then made an awkward loop back to the shopping area and exited towards the north. The path followed the shoreline for a ways before we took a road that lead up a steep slope. We stopped at an area that overlooked a section of the town and the harbor beyond it. Two westerners on bikes were coming up the path and we talked with them for a while and ran into them a few more times while walking around the island. The guy was from Bulgaria and the woman was from Serbia. They worked for a company in London that has a branch in Shenzhen and were working in Shenzhen for a few weeks.

They had both spent some time in the US so their English was very good and had a slight American accent to it. For this reason I first placed them as American and was rather surprised to hear that they were actually from Europe. We continued on to the top of the hill and spent some time sitting in a small pagoda looking out over the island and the surrounding ocean. We then parted ways as Edward and I made our way back down the hill on foot, while they hopped back on their bikes. We ran into them again at a small temple. The temple had incense spirals in it and the setting sun illuminated them nicely. Edward lit some incense sticks and performed a typical Buddhist prayer. I decided to give him some space and walked around the temple admiring some of the intricate designs.

We walked back through the small shops, this time we passed a few vendors selling fruits and vegetables as well as the touristy flip-flop shops. We took the ferry back to Hong Kong island, met up with one of Edward’s friends, and then went out for dinner. I was craving a burrito and Edward had never tried Mexican before and wanted to give it a try, so we ate at Taco Loco in Central. After dinner we went back to Edward’s apartment and went to sleep. We were both very tired and we would have an early morning the following day. We would have to catch an early ferry out of central if we wanted to have enough time on the island.

The Sunday morning sun greeted my tired eyes at 6:15. Edward and I got ready and then proceeded to the ferry terminal. We got to the terminal early and ate breakfast at a Belgium Waffle Boys stand. We had breakfast crépes and a cup of coffee. One of the best breakfasts I’ve had in a long time. The ferry ride to Lamma island was only about 40 minutes. During the voyage a torrential downpour pummeled our vessel for 10 minutes before stopping completely. This was foreshadowing for future weather conditions. We arrived at the island around 9:00 and set off on a circuit of the island. At one fork in the road there was a trail leading up and we followed it to a great lookout over the surrounding area. The trail here went alongside some large boulders and followed along a ridge that dropped away to both sides. It was a good thing that we did because this vantage point allowed us to see the dark wall of clouds looming in the distance.

I estimated that it would arrive in 15 minutes and my estimation was not far off. Storms in Hong Kong usually last for about 15 minutes and involve strong wind and heavy rain. I was wearing my bathing suit and contacts because I had planned on going swimming at one of the beaches. Thinking that it would be a short storm I decided that I would hide my backpack and sit out on a large boulder and watch the storm arrive. I told Edward my plan and he decided that the would stay in a small gazebo that we had come upon. It didn’t have any walls so I wasn’t sure that it would provide adequate shelter from the rain. When it rains in Hong Kong it usually rains sideways, this is caused by the ferocity of the wind that comes as part of the package.

I stowed my backpack in a spacious cave I had found under a few massive boulders. I then took my place on a rock and prepared for what I thought would be a 15 minute downpour. It took a little bit longer to arrive than I originally thought and when the skies opened up it was 11:06. I clocked it because I was curious to see how long it would last. When it first started the sky behind me was still clear and Hong Kong island was still bathed in sunshine. The sky stretching out in front of me was a complete polar opposite. It had turned an ominous grey color and enveloped everything that I had seen 3 minutes earlier. It was not long before Hong Kong island met a similar fate. Aside from the rock I was on and the path to either side of my perch, my eyes were only granted the sight of dark clouds and high-speed rain.

The droplets of rain caused pinpricks of pain on my exposed skin as they traced diagonal paths to the earth. In no time I was soaked to the bone and the sun’s baking heat from a half hour beforehand was completely forgotten. Ten minutes passed and then 15 but the storm showed no signs of letting up. At times I would catch glimpses of clear skies in the distance but these rays of light only taunted me. In the middle of the storm I heard the sound of thunder and could see streaks of lightning over Hong Kong at times when the clouds surrounding me receded. It would be another 15 minutes before the wind and rain would cease and by this time my body was shivering slightly and my left thumb had gone numb.

I retrieved my backpack from its hiding spot, still completely dry, and went to find Edward. He had managed to stay mostly dry by crouching behind one of the small, waist-high walls of the gazebo. The sun did not come out as I had expected. Instead the sky was still overcast and in the distance I could see another wall of thunderclouds approaching. I decided that sitting out in one storm was enough for one day so we started to hurry along the trail back to the dock. This time the clouds started with a light shower before the full torrent began. We were lucky enough to make it back to the street of shops and get under cover before the clouds opened their dams.

The rain showed no sign of stopping so Edward and myself decided to take advantage of the ferry sitting at the docks to beat a hasty retreat back to Hong Kong. It was a good thing that we did because the rain remained at full strength until I left later that evening. Back in Hong Kong we took the MTR to Jordan to eat at a noodle shop that Edward recommended. On the MTR I was surprised to run into Ring. At one of the stops she got on the metro and grabbed my shoulder before I saw her. She was working in Hong Kong and had managed to convince HKBU to let her stay there for the summer. It was good to see her again and we quickly talked about our summer jobs and why I was back in Hong Kong. We arrived at Jordan and I said my farewells to Ring.

After lunch we met Dean and Eric outside of Jordan station and then went to the Ikea in Kowloon Bay to have hot chocolate. We talked about how our internships were going and how everyone was running into difficulties of some sort. They were really liking Hong Kong but they said that the dorms felt like a jail since they were mostly empty and because of all the rules in place. I told them about Xiamen and how things were going on my end. I then bought a hot dog from the bottom floor of Ikea to celebrate a late Fourth of July. I said goodbye to Dean and Eric, wishing them good luck with their research and giving them some ideas for places to see in and around HK. Edward and I returned to his apartment to get my stuff and we then went to catch my bus.

It was still pouring and the lower half of my body got soaked while running around under my umbrella in search of my bus. Once we found the bus I thanked Edward greatly for his kindness and waved good-bye to my friend. I was very grateful for his assistance and hoped that I could help him out in the future. The bus I was on was not the one that would take me to Xiamen. Its purpose was to drive around Hong Kong picking up people and then cross the border into China. It took forever to go to all of the stops and by the time we got through customs and got onto the sleeper bus on the other side it was already late. It was still raining slightly and the raindrops on the window distorted the lights of the nearby buildings. I stayed awake for a while listening to my ipod and reading my book before finally falling asleep. The bed was narrower than usual. I woke up multiple times in the night with aches in parts of my body that, up until then, I had forgotten about.

I was awakened at 4:45 in the morning by a large lady tapping my leg spewing Chinese syllables, from which I was able to discern “Xiamen…dao le.” I translated this into what I thought was “We have arrived at Xiamen.” The bus was still moving so I fell back on my bed and closed my eyes. Luckily the large lady woke me up again when we arrived a few minutes later. I slipped on my shoes and grabbed my backpack as I squeezed past the other bunks and out the awkwardly positioned door. I then got on a shuttle that would take me into Xiamen. It was 5:00 and the rising sun was painting it’s favorite canvas a warm orange that bled into a deep red along the edges. Its a shame that the shuttle was moving so fast or else I would’ve attempted to photograph the scene. The shuttle dropped me off at the train station. Buses normally run through here, but it was still 5:45 in the morning so I resigned to take a taxi. Fifteen minutes after saying “Xiamen Daxue” I was back at the University and collapsed in a messy heap on my bed.


Na- and Cl+ Regulation

7/16/08

HONG KONG- Several moths ago Oscar, the graduate student I am working with, acclimated four Japanese eels (Anguilla japonica) in one of four hyposmotic environments.

1) deionized water (DI)

2) DI and NaCl

3) DI and Na+

4) DI and Cl-

Then dissected and removed kidney tissue, which was stored in the freezer. Last week we extracted a subset of sequence of DNA, from those samples that codes for stanniocalcin (STC). This hormone it responsible for Ca2+ regulation, but could possibly affect Na- and Cl+ too. Once the DNA was amplified it was electrophorised, to determine if the gene was present.


Data Analysis and Expected Results

For this week I am doing the literature research my portion of the scientific paper. I should have the results of my experiments excluding the AMES test by the end of the week. I will doing a majority of the data analysis using SPSS, and Sigma Plot to illustrate the data. I have never used these programs and I am looking forward to learning how to use them as I am sure they will be useful in any future research projects, graduate school or possibly for use in a carreer. I will by analyzing my data using such tests as regression analysis, correlation tests, ANOVA, T-Tests, as well as some descriptive statistics.

So far from the research I have conducted I expect to see several correlations from my experiments. I expect correlations between the amount of industrial activity/urbanization for the respective sampling site and the amount of Natural Organic Matter (NOM) or (for our purposes) Total Organic Carbon (TOC); precursors of DBPs. I also expect that I will see strong correlation between the amount of TOC and THM/HAA values. Research has shown that chlorination nearly always affects the amount of TOC only anomaly sites have shown to be different . I will also be using data from previous toxicity experiments such as the Tetramitus test and Microtox test which examine the level of toxicity using bioluminescence and zooplankton respectively. I hope to see correlations with the previously mentioned DBPs as well as correlations between the toxicity tests and a UV254 test I conducted earlier. The AMES test, also a toxicity indicator should give us similar correlations. A final relationship I expect to see is between certain metals such as Copper or Chromium and DBPs as these metals have a strong binding methods with organic matter produced during chlorination. We will see soon! I will am scheduled to have a very rough draft to my professor by mid August.


Slicing, Staining, and Observing

This past week was very busy and I was able to get a lot done for my project. I began the week by slicing my samples. I had multiple heart and liver samples so this took quite a long time. After slicing, I then moved on to staining my slides. The next step was to observe under the microscope and take pictures. Around the middle of the week the graduate student that I work with suggested that I add another component to my project. He thought that I should also look at the development of the different fins. I spent the last part of the week collecting egg cases and preparing the embryos for observation of fin development. This week I will slice, stain, and observe the different fins at different stages of development. I will then compile all of my work for a presentation at the end of the week.

This past week Kasey, Calvin, and I met some students from Sweden that are in Xiamen for part of the summer doing environmental research. It was nice to talk to them and learn about their research and their lives in Sweden. Also, the more time I spend in the lab, the more I learn about Chinese culture from the graduate student I work with. This experience has allowed me to gain knowledge about different cultures and has allowed me to see how people from different parts of the world can work together for common goals. I also now have a better understanding of how I can be involved in international research in my future career.


Time and Commitment

As we all know, in science there are so many different factors which can influence your project. For instance, I had one more experiment planned for my research however, several chemicals that were ordered near two months ago have still not arrived and it will be too late for me to complete the experiment. I will finish the results of  my final completed experiment next week which will close out my lab work. I will begin to write a scientific paper which will analyze the results of my work; my paper will be compiled with others’ work to complete a larger study. Due to the delay of the chemicals for the Ames test I will not be able to complete data analysis or the paper until later on in the fall semester.

As this is my first time working on a research project there are several lessons I have learned when working with others; especially on an international level. Working on research projects takes time. Being committed and passionate to a research project is a must and carefully choosing a topic is very important. Also creating good relationships with the people you are working with is essential. I have made good connections with my advisor and professor; I feel that we are working toward a common goal to better understand how we can prevent harmful products in our drinking water. Remembering that I am part of a larger project and that I am representing Eckerd fuels my desire to produce my best work. At an international level producing quality work could mean another opportunity to work at the university or it could mean gaining respect for your school or for yourself as a scientist . I have also realized that there are several universal themes which you will never be chastised for; hard work, respect, and good attitude go a long way anywhere regardless of project or goals.