Honestly, I did not want to leave Hong Kong and I was a bit apprehensive to go to mainland China after the warnings and advice from my lab mates but now looking back I am so glad and appreciative that we had the opportunity to experience mainland China as well!
Our mainland travel portion of this experience was started off with a reunion of the entire group in Xiamen. It was really cool to be able to see where the other students had been working and living for the last 7 weeks! We, well the Hong Kong crew as Professor Duncan would put it, even got to see the other students present on their research which was pretty cool (not to mention the after-presentation delicious lunch buffet at a local upscale hotel)!
I really wish we had more time in Xiamen because our five days just flew by! We definitely got to see some really cool sites, such as Gulanyu and South Putuo Temple, but I think the real experience in Xiamen was not the sites but the interactions with its people and its culture. In those 5 days I learned more Mandarian than I had learned in 7 weeks in Hong Kong (well Cantonese). Now this is neither a pro or con but I just mean to say that it was different and I really wish I could have had more time to fully experience it. So before we knew it we were heading to our last destination in China, Beijing.
Beijing was amazing to say the least! I honestly am finding it hard to explain because we got to experience some of the most spectacular views and sites in the entire world in just a few days! We got to explore The Forbidden City, Beihai Park, Tiananmen Square, The Temple of Heaven and the GREAT WALL of China (!!!) just to name a few! The last week and a half of this experience was a marathon ran in 3 seconds! Not to say that I am not thankful for getting to see and experience everything that I did because I am, but I really wish we could have had more time because there was just so much to soak in!
Now I know that I just thanked everyone in my previous post but looking back and reflecting on my experience I cannot thank anyone enough. This truly was an experience of a lifetime and I am very appreciative that I was lucky enough to be chosen to partake in it. So thank you again everyone who made this international experience possible, thank you so very much!
This post may seem a bit out of place and truthfully it is. I had intended to write this post during my last week of research in Hong Kong but as you can see I was unsuccessful and that is why I am writing it now.
Well my last week in Hong Kong was wonderful!
My weekend started off with a trip to Ocean Park, Hong Kong’s one and only amusement park, with my lab mate, Angel, and some of her friends! I will say that Ocean Park is a definite must-see and I really mean it when I say a must-see because truthfully the rides are in no comparison to American amusement park rides (although my lab mate was still afraid to go on some of them) but the views are just fantastic! Ocean Park is built on a small mountain overlooking the ocean and one of Hong Kong’s most prized beaches, Repulse Bay! And it was pretty cool because one of the coasters even hangs you over the side of the mountain and you really get some nice views! But fantastic views is not the only cool thing that Ocean Park offers, it also has a lot of fun educational exhibits with different types of marine life and when you are a bit of a nerd and a marine science major from Eckerd College you will definitely enjoy yourself! And the icing on the cake is definitely the Panda Bear exhibits! I think Angel could tell how excited I was to see the pandas because she asked me if I wanted my photo taken with them… and of course I did! This trip was amazing and it really was a great start to my last week in HK!
My work week was kicked off by going eel shopping with Oscar at one of the local wet markets! However, in all honesty, I was a bit disappointed because he had told me that we would have to go collect our eels, so as an Eckerd College student I automatically thought that meant that we would have to go into the field (or over the sea wall) and collect the specimens…. But this was not the case. Instead we collected our specimens from one of the local wet markets which was still pretty cool! So once this news was broken to me, I started to wonder how we would choose which eels to buy. Do we just pick the eels that seem the healthiest? Do we actually weigh the eels since we only use eels that weigh between 500-600g? How do we transport them back to HKBU? With all of these questions in my head I decided to risk sounding a bit silly and I asked Oscar, turns out he has to call them in advance because they have to prepare the eels and all we have to do is come and collect them in a huge bag and ride in a taxi back to HKBU…. So this process was a bit easier than I had expected but it was still very cool nonetheless!
As for the rest of my week, it worked like clockwork! We got to run through the entire protocol for two more eels! And I got to have a goodbye lunch with my lab and Professor Wong at the fabulous Dim Sum Restaurant with the famous, wonderful, and delicious milky yellow buns, which they made sure to order for me (very considerate!) J And then it was concluded with Oscar making me try tortoise jelly because it is supposed to be very good for you and apparently it is still even used in Chinese medicine today. Let’s just say I think it is an inquired taste. But it was a perfect ending to my experience in HK because I think it is a perfect example of my overall experience. Living and working in Hong Kong is by no means difficult because there is not much of a language barrier and it’s a very safe and accessible city but then once in awhile you get thrown a curve ball (maybe the menu does not have the English translation or the MTR has already shut down for the night) and it throws you off at first but you learn how to handle it which I think helped prepare us for visiting mainland China (well to an extent).
But before I got into that, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who made this international research experience possible. This experience was absolutely unbelievable.
Thank you very much Professor Duncan, Professor Wong, Oscar and everyone in Professor Wong’s lab (Angel, Becky, Sue, JoJo, Kong, Alice, Milk, Sissi, Bonnie, and Ching), Eckerd College (specifically Professor Flaherty and Professor Cohen) and of course NSF!
So we are now on our last few days in China, and we have all left Xiamen and are now in Beijing. I was able to finish my research up on a relatively good note. I was able to run the HPLC machine and analyze all of our results. Although we did not successfully extract the sex pheromones from the ovary of the mature Chinese black sleeper, we were able to find the substance in both of the holding water and the ovaries of the fish. We finished up our last day of research giving presentations on what we had achieved during the summer, and all of our presentations went very well. We then went to a buffet at the Wyndham Xiamen, and I ate so much sushi, cheese, and desserts that I thought I was going to die.
On my last day in Xiamen, I went out with Yuan, Eddiot, Bruce Lee, Lai, and Michael from my lab, and we had one last amazing meal of mudskippers, jellyfish, clams, and all kinds of other tasty seafood. When it was time to say farewell to my labmates, it was truly one of the saddest moments of my life. These are people that I feel like I have spent years of my life with, not just seven shorts weeks. It is amazing to me that I was able to become such great friends with people I was almost completely unable to communicate with just a few weeks ago. Although I don’t know when I will be back to China to see them, I guarantee I will keep my promise to be back to see them at some point.
Now that we are in Beijing our tourist activities have started up again in full swing. Today we went and saw the Forbidden City as well as a few gardens and lakes nearby, and tomorrow we will go and see the Great Wall. Of and if you are ever in Beijing, make sure you get some of the fried scorpion on a stick, it is absolutely amazing. Make sure to take that stinger off though because I am really feeling it today. I am sure we will all have tons of fun over the next few days, but for me just getting to know my labmates will surely have been the best part of the trip and some of the best times of my life.
Thanks to everyone who has made this trip possible. Bryan signing out.
This past week has been quite the adventure for me! Instead of following my regular schedule of working in the lab during the day and exploring the city at night, I found myself in an unexpected new place: the hospital. My lab mate was kind enough to take me to the hospital after an unfortunate injury to my finger. How the injury occurred is much less interesting than my overall experience at a Chinese hospital. Throughout my time here, I have learned to expect that many of my experiences in Xiamen will be drastically different from my experiences in the United States. That being said, I had no idea what to expect when I entered a Chinese hospital as a patient for the first time.
In the United States, I am used to waiting patiently in a waiting room until I am individually called to meet with a doctor. Then I wait alone in a small room for a nurse, and finally for the doctor to meet with me. Not just any doctor, but my doctor who I have known for years. In this hospital, things were very different. Fortunately, we were able to bypass the waiting room thanks to our connections with a friendly pre-med student working at the hospital. He was extremely helpful in guiding us around and explaining my injury to the doctors. The first room we entered was a small room containing with one desk, one stool, one doctor, and about ten patients. I stood in line along with the other patients as the doctor assessed each person. There was a very different sense of privacy here, and it seemed to be a completely normal interaction for patients to listen and make comments about the doctor’s diagnosis of other patients. Sure enough, when it was my turn to be assessed the other patients crowded around me waiting to hear the doctor’s diagnosis for the foreigner with the mysterious finger injury. I couldn’t understand what the doctor or patients were saying until my lab mate translated for me. However, the patients’ gasps and worried tones in response to the doctor’s comments made it clear to me that the diagnosis was not a pleasant one. After visiting with the doctor, we were led to another room where we spoke with a more specialized doctor. We went through the same process in order to get a second opinion on my injury. After that we were led to a third doctor, and then to a fourth doctor! The fourth doctor was the most specialized in his field and made the final decision on how to proceed with the injury. I preferred his office because of the privacy. Finally, I was the only patient being treated in his office!
The most frustrating part of my experience was having to rely on someone else to translate for the doctor. My lab mate is trustworthy and was extremely helpful in explaining to me what the doctor was saying, but it was frustrating not hearing the details for myself about an issue that I was concerned about. We only ran into one translation problem, where my lab mate mistakenly informed me that the doctor would have to “remove my finger.” It took several seconds of staring at my panicked face for her to realize that she had accidentally used the wrong English words. Oops! I have no hard feelings about it and now we joke about the misunderstanding.
After a quick procedure, I was asked to return to the hospital throughout the week so the doctor could monitor my improvement. Here I encountered the same cultural difference in regards to privacy. During these checkups, curious patients did not hesitate to enter the room, hover over my shoulder, and watch intently as the doctors handled my rather unpleasant and disgusting wound. It was difficult at times to hide my look of disbelief because their presence felt to me like an invasion of my privacy. In one case, a man stood so close to me that he popped my invisible personal bubble! He was so close that I could actually hear him breathing as he watched the doctor handle my injury. Several times I had to stop and take a second to remember that the patients did not realize how uncomfortable they made me. In the United States, it would be considered rude and intrusive for patients to watch and listen during your individual doctor visit, but their culture does not find those actions unacceptable. From the patients’ perspectives, they had done nothing wrong. It was an interesting and difficult difference to adjust to, and I realized that I could not be offended by these interactions because it was no one’s intention to upset me.
Unfortunately, my injury has set me back a few days in my research and has prevented me from doing some of the hands-on work in my lab. Thankfully, there are still some procedures that I am more than capable of performing while I recover. We are approaching the end of our research, but there is still a lot of information and data that my lab mate and I need to obtain. We are working very hard this week to retrieve as much data as possible before we leave Xiamen. If it were possible to extend the amount of time we have to gather data I would be thrilled because I think our data will be very helpful for future research on this shark species. It will be exciting to finally analyze our results!
Thinking back on today makes me sad; it was my last day of work here in Hong Kong. Even now, I can not believe that I will not show up to work on Monday. Seven weeks sure flew by… I came close to finishing two genes for my polychaete phylogenetic project. Originally I planned on doing 4 genes, thus completing the project, and attempting to publish a paper. However, now if things go according to plan, Yanan (or someone else) at HKBU will be doing the second half of the project. Correspondence between Hong Kong to write the paper will hopefully not be a big issue. While I left with a sense of disappointment because my half of the project was not complete, I know that my lab mates are more than willing to help me out. They are great.
Having such a great ending week makes it this much harder to pack up and leave Hong Kong. The past couple weeks I decided I wanted to learn mandarin (for Xiamen and Beijing), so they have all been helping me learn the basics. They are highly entertained by my sentences that I can formulate (and butcher…).
On Wednesday, my lab group and I did not have to work. Instead, we had the most fun day ever imaginable. Because my professor is affiliated with Hong Kong’s “Reef Check”, a program to maintain a healthy relationship with the coral reef ecosystems of HK, it meant that we all got a free day of fun. While some people on the large scuba boat were spending the day measuring coral, my lab mates and I had the opportunity to tag along. The day was spent swimming, snorkeling at the reefs, eating lots of food, sun bathing (sun burning…), and generally having a great time. The most interesting part of the trip was definitely introducing Yanan to water. While my lab mate is completely comfortable and in control in the laboratory setting, one thing she has never mastered is swimming. In fact, I believe it was her first time in a body of water. Coming from mainland China, she did not have a lot of opportunities to learn to swim. Having grown up as a swimmer and lifeguard, my life has revolved around the water. Yanan knew she was in good hands. Initially, with a life jacket on, she could not turn/move in the water. Adding in goggles and snorkel to the equation was another issue… I was happy that for once I was able to be helping Yanan. There were times when I literally had to take her by the hand and pull her away from the coral. I also had to swim her out to the reef, by pulling on her life jacket. The combination of being out of shape, having to swim her extremely far away from the boat, and not wearing a life jacket myself, meant that it was quite the feat… But by the second snorkeling session, she did not want to leave the reefs! While she was still lacking motor skills, Yanan was able to become moderately comfortable in the water. I think that it was a great experience for both of us.
On Thursday, my lab team and I (and Stephanie) went to have a farewell hot pot dinner. Steph and I were thinking it would take an hour, two at the most, for this celebration. Boy, were we wrong. Four hours!!!! Four hours of non-stop food consumption. I do not know how they do it. Once again, I had a great time. Sharing the boiling pot of soup in the center of the table to cook our foods led to constant interactions. I tried eel, ox stomach, pig liver, and all sorts of foods that seem foreign to me. Side-note: Last week I tried jelly fish, (called “sea blubber”) not so good. When thinking back about all the great times I have had in HK, the hot pot festivities will rank highly.
Today was the day filled with goodbyes. My lab crew, usually such sticklers for the rules, tried to convince me to not hand in my key card. When I told them I was going to hand it in, they said “No, you should keep it! That way you can come back in anytime.” I handed it in anyways, because it had to be done. After having the key card in my back pocket for 7 weeks, leaving the building for the final time with an empty pocket was a strange feeling.
Well let’s just say that this week everything has changed. Basically the second I made last weeks post my research in Xiamen began in full force. Since then I have worked at least twelve hours a day (Including the WEEKEND!!!) in order to complete the analysis of fifteen samples from an arctic research cruise that took place in 2008. Its not that the work itself is terribly difficult it is just that it is extremely time consuming to say the least. The average sample takes three days to analyze from start to finish and the most samples we can run at a given time is four. This sample time also does not include the time that is necessary to clean and prepare all the equipment to run the next set of samples. So as you can see this is extremely time consuming work. That being said all fun and china exploration has not been lost.
Yesterday professor Chen set us up to go on a research cruise with undergraduate Marine Biology students from XMU. We had to be ready to go at seven in the morning but given that I had been cooped up in the lab for the past week I jumped at the opportunity to be outside and see how field work is done in China. The experience was quite amazing. To begin when we get to the port where the boat is docked we see that boats are docked together three deep and we soon learned that our boat was the third boat from the dock. To make matters worse in China safety regulations can be non-existent so of course to get onto the first boat we had to walk a 6 ft X 1ft plank with a nice 25 foot drop if you fell off. On top of that getting over to our boat involved jumping over a series of deck rails to finally get to our boat. O just to add to the fun we were all carrying something, which was just heavy enough to throw our balance off the slightest bit. With all that said we some how all made it over to our boat unharmed and that’s no small feat considering there was over 50 of us!!!!
After that exciting bit we began the cruise, which was in many ways similar to field courses at Eckerd College. They used most of the same equipment for benthic and pelagic sampling and for the first time we worked at an American pace. It was quite interesting and showed me that solid fieldwork is pretty much completed in the same way around the world. We also made plenty of exceptional acquaintances and we had a great time getting to know some undergraduate students at XMU. Well that’s it for this week and I hope you tune in next week to see how my research in Xiamen Concludes!!!!!!
P.S. We did not have to walk the plank on the way back because we were at low tide and could use previously submerged stairs haha!
This year’s 4th of July celebration was unique, to say the least. For as long as I can remember, I have spent Independence Day either with family in St. Louis, or friends in Chicago. Regardless of where I was celebrating, each year consisted of the standard grilling of hot dogs, burgers, brats, and other various barbecued meat products, to go with a day filled with patriotism, various assorted beverages, and of course, fireworks. This year, however, was quite different. A couple of days ago, Cathy came to us with an idea that Maria, one of her other American friends, had brought to her, which entailed an afternoon on a boat with around twenty-five of her friends. She went on to explain that there would be all kinds of food and we would be stopping at a little abandoned island to hang out and grill, which sounded like a great time, so we jumped at the invitation and we eagerly anticipated what was sure to be a fantastic day. With seemingly each passing day, the temperature started to rise. On the day of the 4th, as Bryan, Cathy, and I ate breakfast, we kicked around the idea of finding a fun activity to do inside and comfortably situated in a nice, air-conditioned room. Fortunately, we were told that the boat had a cover, so we could hide in the shade if we needed to and didn’t have to sit out in the sun all day. We decided to give it a try, so we packed up our things and made our way over to meet the group.
I figured that the group would primarily be composed of Americans, with it being American Independence Day and all. Much to my surprise, the only Americans there were Maria, Cathy, Bryan and I. We had people from all over the globe, including Indonesia, Holland, Russia, and of course, China, just to name a few. There were even a few Red Coats, but relations remained friendly and we saw no need to refresh their memory on how our forefathers dominated theirs, a mere 230 years ago. I was a little disappointed, however, that I was not able to parade around the boat with my King George effigy doll. Even though we were the only people actually celebrating our independence (one of the men from Holland actually wished us a happy Thanksgiving), we were still able to have a great time with everybody. While we were not united by our nationalities, in the case of the other foreigners, we were able to share the common bond of leaving our homes for this very different environment. With the Chinese people on the boat, it was just as exciting to talk to them about what brought us to China and the various things we have done here, as well as their suggestions of new places to go and things to try. All and all, it made for a pretty incredible day. While it wasn’t as steeped in tradition as all of the past celebrations, it was a truly special experience and one of my most memorable. Over the course of the day, it was said on numerous occasions that if somebody would have told us a year ago that on July 4th, 2010, we are going to be on a boat, hanging out with a group of people from all over the world, sailing to a deserted island off the coast of China, there was no way we would have believed them. I feel like that has been the theme of this summer. Whether we are playing basketball with the locals, buying various foods from street vendors, or even singing karaoke, I know I can speak for everybody when I say it is pretty amazing how many new and unique opportunities we have had in these past six weeks. With our departure for Beijing about ten days away and our return to the states just two weeks away, our time here is drawing to a close. How we will spend these last few days, I cannot be sure. What I can say for certain is that we will continue to add to our pretty incredible list of memories from an unbelievable summer.
After living in Hong Kong for over six weeks, I feel that I have a good grasp on the typical Hong Konger’s diet. In Hong Kong, food groups can be broken down into five major categories: meat, rice, noodles, tea, and meat. As a vegetarian, this has brought up some interesting obstacles. I eat lunch with my lab mates, and literally every meal period we share together is an adventure. They simply do not understand this foreign concept of “vegetarianism”… “Why would anyone choose to not eat meat?”, they ask me. Abstaining from meat for environmental reasons, it actually frightens me to think that the majority of the 7 million people in Hong Kong eat meat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Back to the point. One day, my lab mates ordered me tofu. I, of course, am totally useless in ordering my own food here because I just slow everyone down. I was very excited to get tofu, because it is actually an uncommon find in Hong Kong. Imagine my surprise, when my tofu lunch has a thick layer of pork sprinkled on top!! This type of event happens often; luckily it does not bother me. I guess it is good practice for Xiamen!
Being in a foreign country, I make a point to try all the local dishes; regardless of meat. This past Friday, we had a dinner party at one of my lab mate’s apartments. All fifteen of us crammed in a tiny Hong Kong apartment actually was a really fun time. And typical of any gathering within Hong Kong, the food never stopped coming. I always think that dinner is over, and then more food is brought out. Culinary highlights of the night: trying to eat a chicken wing with chopsticks (semi-successful), trying to decapitate and de-shell a crawfish with chopsticks (unsuccessful), and finally: the carp eye. You only live once right? Yes, I ate that carp eyeball. No, it was not good.
As far as preparing myself for Xiamen, another issue that has arisen in Hong Kong is stalking! Sure, I catch kids and some adults staring at me sometimes on the MTR. Not a big deal. But on Saturday night, this was taken to a whole new level. While waiting for the MTR in Kowloon Tong, I could feel someone staring at me. I look up, and sure enough, a man next to me is staring. After staring back at him, he did not stop staring. Actually, I started laughing at him, because he was clearly unashamed about his behavior. We get on the train, and he stands across from me and continues to stare. At this point, even my ipod could not distract me. After a couple stops I need to switch trains. Sure enough, he gets off the train too. As if a scene from a movie, I veered in a strange direction to try and shake him off my trail. On the next train, I try to ignore him as he stands next to me. Soon our elbows are touching… And I have had enough! I get off the train and start running. As I get to the exit of the train station, I take my headphones off. I look to my left, and the man is still next to me!!! He says “Why did you laugh at me?”. He tells me that he was only staring at me because I am so pretty. (Probably just because I have red hair, actually….) This weirdo clearly was not going to leave me alone, even after I told him to go away; he was following me down the street.
This is where my luck comes into play. I see my friend (!!!!!) on the corner, handing out fliers for the Indian restaurant he works at. Side-note: He is a chubby, 14 year old Indian boy who had given me a secret restaurant VIP card a couple days earlier. My room mate and I had talked to him for a while, he definitely remembered me. So I see my Indian friend, and I say “Take me to your restaurant! NOW!”. He asks me if my boyfriend wants to come, and I tell him to walk faster. The creepy Asian man follows for about another half block, and finally gives up. Joking with the kid, I tell him that the man was going to chop me up and eat me. The boy responds “Yes, they do that here.” Completely serious.
The boy refused a tip, even though he probably saved my life. So I gave him a USA nickel. He was excited for his “souvenir”, I was excited to be alive.
As I pointed out last week I thought finally in week four I would be able to dive full force into my study on OCP’s in the Arctic Ocean. However, as I walked in Monday the professor and Huang Peng were getting ready to leave for Shanghai as I was told, but preparations for the cruise were still underway. After a few minutes I was able to put together that more preparations for the cruise had to take place because they were not able to complete all of the preparations by Sunday night. Also I learned that the ship going to the arctic would be arriving in Xiamen on Monday June 28, and that until the ship left on Thursday July 1st my project would be put on hold to finish any last minute preparations.
Well last week proceeded much like the previous two in the lab. We had to do preparations, preparations, and some more preparations thrown on top for good measure. Like the previous week though it provided me with ample time to get to know my lab mates and we figured out many ways to pass the time in a constructive manner, mainly through language classes. They are so eager to learn English and after a couple of weeks their oral skills have improved considerably. They have great knowledge of the language just no confidence what so ever when talking to a native speaker because they feel their pronunciation is “noo guud”. That may be so but unbeknownst to them they speak well enough for us to get the point of what they are saying.
So Lets move on to the real good stuff.
I was originally going to tell a little side story called Xiamen 48, however it seems Brian has beaten me to the punch, literally (If that punch was a guy on a moped getting hit by a bus) haha. Well lucky for me i had more then one exciting moment over the past 10 days albeit are star actor the crazy bus driver wont be making an appearance. On Monday June 28 I got to be the first Westerner to set foot on the Chinese Research vessel the Xue Long (The Snow Dragon). It is the Chinese premier Arctic research vessel and was designed to be a self-contained research vessel/ice breaker. The ship was definitely the largest I have ever been on with a crew of nearly 200!!!! Well that’s it for this weeks edition of Anthony reporting from the orient!
Well as I was waiting for my thermocycler at work today to finish, I decided that I should not waste time and to write an update! Plus almost everyone in the lab was gone because tomorrow is a public holiday so they wanted to get out a bit early but of course not me ;) Actually in all honesty, I was a bit of an overachiever today so I kind of did it to myself! But it was really not that bad to get out a bit later because in the grand scheme of things this extra half an hour will allow me to get a whole lot more work done on Friday!
But as I said before, I bit off a lot to chew today and I somehow pulled it off! Today I was able to prepare and to perform the protocol for my samples (24 samples!) all the way from their salinity treatments to cDNA! Which is quite a feat if I must say so myself and I think that even Oscar was impressed! Well I am just so thankful that all of my samples came out because these are the freshwater samples that I had to re-do from last week when bacteria decided to crash the party. So in a way I feel that I have redeemed myself from last week’s little slip up J and who knows I may have even exceeded expectations! Well the reason that I say this is because my samples (for both 6 and 24 hour treatments) have thus far (knock on wood!) have come out beautifully! The 260/280 ratios (this can tell you about the quality of your sample), which can be obtained from the nanospectrophotometer, were wonderful! The best range to get is like 1.8 -2.0 and I was getting like 1.98 for most of my samples!!! I was/am so excited! So excited that I decided to have a celebratory ice cream on my way back to my dorm (yes another one! haha)!!
And the best part is that because I was able to convert my samples into cDNA today that on Friday I will be running quite a few real-time PCRs which means a whole lot of results are coming my way! So I will keep you posted!