Hong Kong Baptist University has been an excellent experience for me thus far. I spend most of time with Elsie; a graduate student working on a similar project to mine; testing agal growth and its’ relationship to DBPs (disinfection by-products) such as Trihalomethane (THM) and Haloacetic acid (HAA). She has been there every step of the way helping me and giving me direction while trying to do her own masters research. I have been spending the last week working intensively on THM and HAA extraction from 8 samples along the Dongjiang River; which is the eastern tributary of the Pearl River in the south eastern part of China. These DBPs are formed from the introduction of cleaning products such as Chlorine, a commonly used product for killing harmful bacteria. THMs and HAAs have been found to hold genotoxic and carcinogenic properties and that is where our interest lies. DBP levles must be tested to ensure the amounts present in the water system are not harmful to the large populations utilizing these water resources. The Dongjiang river system provides Hong Kong with over 80% of its drinking water! I will also be testing the amount of NOM (natural organic matter) in the water as it has shown to be a direct indicator of the formation of these DBPs. Overall research has been going well and I am considering hydrology as a very real possibility for graduate school.
One of the first things you notice when you get to China, and of course it is obvious, is that everyone is Chinese. When you are in the United States, you can never really tell if someone is a foreigner until they open their mouth, and for the most part, the rest of the world know some English. However, in China Americans and foreigners in general, stick out like sore thumbs. It was not uncommon for us to be approached about having our picture taken with younger Chinese students. One child at the Summer Palace wanted his “picture with the foreigners”. Out of the three of us Lindley can blend in with her black hair and dark eyes, but you can still tell she is American. Poor Calvin is probably the tallest person in China, and his lankiness doesn’t help, but at least he can get by with his spoken Chinese. I on the other hand feel like if I take off my sunglasses I am immediately stared at. My light blue eyes and face full of freckles is not very common in China, and my brown hair is a color not often found. You walk outside and see people smile and talk about you because you look different, and they don’t mean it in a bad way, they think it is beautiful that you don’t look the same. We thought we had escaped the paparazzi when we left Beijing, but Saturday when we were sitting outside, Lindley and I once again were asked by students if they could take a picture with us. Then yesterday at a bus stop someone wanted their picture with just me. And then at the beach we were all stopped by a large group of people. I am just waiting for people to ask for my autograph, then I will feel like a real celebrity.
Upon arriving in China the other students and I realized that many of the people wear shirts with english words on them, however many times the shirts do not make sense. As we continued our travels I realized the popularity of this trend. While I was eating lunch in the Canteen with two of the graduate students the other day, I saw another student wearing a shirt that said, “Milo Cross Cute Babys” and decided it was worthy of a blog. I was very curious as the where this student got the shirt and what it was supposed to mean. It also made me think of all the people in America who wear shirts or get tattoos with Chinese characters. I wonder if these shirts and tattoos make as much sense as the above mentioned shirt.
6/6/08 16:00 HKT (Hotel)
HONG KONG- When using an ATM in Hong Kong you must remove your card before the money will come out. If you wait for the money to come out first (like in America), your card will be sucked back in and your money won’t come out. Then you will have to call your parents at 3:00 AM and ask to have the ATM card shipped to you, because your bank won’t ship internationally.
We arrived in Xiamen a few days ago and since then we’ve eaten a lot of food and have been shown around the campus. The fancy meals we ate at first all served local delicacies which were all really strange. Lindley was able to avoid eating some of the stranger items because she’s a vegetarian. The strangest thing I’ve eaten so far would have to be the polychaete worms in jello. Not so good and the jello part made it even worse because the jello had absorbed the repulsive wormy flavor. Aside from the delicacies the food is really good and its easy to find something to eat at the canteens around campus and the local restaurants. Not being able to speak Chinese definitely makes it harder but we can always go to one where you pick out your own food or ask one of the people we work with to join us and help us make selections. The noodles I had for lunch were quite good and I ate the entire plate.
I’ve been studying Chinese for about a year now but I still find the language quite difficult at times. This past semester I didn’t do much character work and my reading has suffered because of this. Making it nigh impossible to order off of a Chinese menu unless you feel like employing the point and guess technique. The people at the lab are very friendly and most of them speak decent English. I’m planning to work a lot on my Chinese when I have the opportunity and hopefully I will at least be able to improve my listening comprehension by the end of this month and a half. I start my research project later today and up to now the only work I’ve done is to help clean the lab. My project will focus on culturing algae (diatoms) and then altering their DNA using enzymes to insert pieces of new DNA into plasmids and then using bombardment to force these plasmids into the larger cells. I’m not sure of the exact methods but this is how it was explained to me.
So far, the most important thing I have learned being a Westerner in China is patience. Through out the time traveling from Beijing to Hong Kong to Xiamen, I have had a hard time getting my internet to work. I could not use the internet at all on my computer in Beijing and in Hong Kong. Although I have gotten it to work in Xiamen it is very slow. I spent over two hours trying to check my e-mail, but it did not work. I learned from the different graduate students in the lab I will be working in, that Xiamen University has what they call “education internet.” This means that accessing sites that are not considered Chinese education materials takes a lot longer. It has been a bit of an adjustment; however it seems to be forcing me to be less dependent on the internet which is a good thing.
I have not yet begun my research, however I have met the professor and students I will be working with and they are all extremely nice. I have toured the labs and the facilities that I will be conducting research in and am very excited to get started. The students are very helpful and go out of their way to teach Chinese culture. Recently I was invited to go with one of the students to a BBQ where I met her friends and learned about what Chinese students do in their spare time. They taught me different games they play and provided me with delicious food.
I think that the time that I will be able to spend with the different students will help prepare me for collaborative research with different countries in my future career.
Things to be aware of when traveling to different countries include the language barrier, of course, and the food. Last night, I happened upon a birthday party of someone I do not know. The Chinese are great hosts and love having guests, and because of this I was randomly invited to someones birthday. On your birthday, you can invite as many or as few people as you like, and you are responsible to pay for everyone. You are also the one who chooses what everyone eats. The Chinese eating style includes ordering many different dishes and placing them on a lazy susan so everyone can get a taste. Last night this is what the dinner menu included: Duck (the whole thing), chicken knuckles, catfish (the whole thing), beef and chili peppers, mushroom soup, uncategorized noodles, sweet and sour pork, and later of course birthday cake. I tried a good amount as not to be rude, but towards the end of the meal when there was little to no meat left, the birthday girl herself took the opportunity to break the head off the duck and continue by eating the insides of the head, holding by of course the bill. It may have been the look on my face or the sound I made, but they all understood…this is not common in America.
Some photos from Beijing: Olympic preparations, Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven. Continue reading this entry »
After a long week of travel, our group has finally made it to Xiamen. It is nice to be settled in and ready to start work, though the culture here is different, we are fitting in as much as we can. Beijing, as I noticed was the China that everyone knows, the Great Wall, tombs, ancient structures and statues. Hong Kong was as western as you can get while in Asia. Almost everyone knew English, there was either a McDonald’s, KFC or Papa Johns at every corner, not to mention the two Starbucks on every corner. It was easy to feel at home in Hong Kong, but I personally wanted to struggle to fit in. We are coming to China to be exposed to a culture nothing like the one we are used to. I found that so far, Xiamen is the China I was looking for. I am forced to learn the Chinese culture as well as the language, the weather is humid and hot, and we are in a mix of the rich and the desperately poor. In my lab I feel alone, as everyone around me speaks mandarin, and I can’t follow a word. I have found, what I came for, China in every sense, and I won’t be able to leave for 2 months, what an adventure I have begun…Zai jian!
At least that is what I am told from the side of the Hong Kong Coke cans. But many things are not quite what you are familiar with in China. A short half-a-day plane trip over the North Pole will hurl you into China’s affluent culture. Our first days were spent touring Beijing; home of the 2008 summer Olympics. We’ve climbed the Great Wall of China and toured several world renowned historical sites such as the Forbidden City, Imperial Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Ming Tombs, and Tiananmen Square. We also viewed how native items such as jade, freshwater pearls, copper vases, silk, and tea are utilized for the Chinese economy. Our group enjoyed these once in a lifetime experiences in just the first three days of our China adventure.
From Beijing we traveled to Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU); my home for the next seven weeks. HKBU’s friendly atmosphere and hospitality makes you feel right at home though your 10,000 miles away. We have enjoyed the company of the HKBU faculty and students; they have spared no time or expense of their own to ensure our happiness. The professors look for input in your research and offer you plenty of background information to be sure you are comfortable with your research topic. They have also introduced us to the fine cuisine Hong Kong has to offer such as dim sum which is a series of steamed dishes composed primarily of chicken, pork, beef and vegetables. But that does not mean one should not try things out of your comfort zone. Items such as the lovely silk moth or chicken’s feet which both offer new tastes you will not get in the states; I can personally attest to this. China has already offered me more experiences than I could have asked for and I am looking forward to beginning my research on disinfection bi-products (DBP’s) in the aquatic environment and drinking water and how these DBP’s have produced carcinogenic and genotoxic properties.