China Research

All posts

News of the Road

Bus #86, we take it a lot. Over the course of this week, Bus #86 took us down winding streets to the badminton courts and downtown to the International Cinema. I heard a little bit more of Chinese culture.
At the badminton courts, I learnt the Chinese view of the human body, in a sense. It was said that we should not stand in the wind, take a shower, or jump into a pool right after exercising. These actions will harm your body as there is a huge internal and external temperature difference. Standing in the wind to dry off in your sweaty clothes is additionally harmful. It would cause your body to reabsorb the sweat that it previously eliminated, reabsorbing all the waste previously excreted. In addition, it puts wind in your body and in the long run, your whole body will ache and your joints will crack. I personally have never thought about it like that before. Nor do I understand how it works logically. But the owner of the badminton courts suggests that the best way to cool off after exercising is to change into dry clothes and then sit in a place that has a gentle breeze for at least one hour before showering or jumping in a pool. At times like this, I wish that I understood more about Chinese culture and Chinese medicine as it appears to be relatively effective considering that it has been around for centuries.
Watching Kongfu Panda 2 also resulted in a conversation about the human body from a Chinese perspective. I was eating popcorn (the type that is coated in sugar and not sold in the United States even though it is delicious) and one of my lab mates mentioned to me that if I eat too much, I am going to “Shang Huo”. “Shang Huo” literally means “increase fire” or “increasing heat”. By eating too much popcorn, I would increase my “fire/heat” and it would be bad for my body. Having heard of something of the sort from my parents briefly, I couldn’t help but be curious. How do you know what types of food will cause one to “Shang Huo” and what types of food will counteract it and “decrease the fire”? I never got a chance to ask. Though I did find out later that certain types of tea, especially chrysanthemum tea will decrease the “fire” in your body. Interesting.
I never realized how much of Chinese everyday life revolves around the temperature of the body. These two conversations were within 48 hours of each other. They also show that the idea of balance, yin and yang, are very important in Chinese beliefs and that one would get sick if the balance is disrupted. Thus, I guess it relates to the saying of “too much of a good thing, could be a bad thing”.
On a totally different note, I recently noticed the potential danger that every day actions may cause. In lab, I work with concentrated chemicals that can corrode, burn and blind. I’ve been on buses that speed down windy roads filled with pedestrians. Today I even witnessed a bicycle collision resulting in an old man getting hurt. But one of the most dangerous things that I find myself doing multiple times a day is, believe it or not, crossing the road to get to the Oceanography building. Busses and cars honk their horns at you, bicyclists yell at you and pedestrians expect you to cross ASAP because if not you would be in their way as well. Then if you are really unlucky, you get stuck in the middle of the road, tiptoeing on the white dividing line, hoping not to get hit by traffic coming both ways. But every day I’ve made it across this make-shift pedestrian crossing of black and white, where one is forced to learn precise timing and good dodging skills. I reckon that I will be very good at dodge ball when after this internship.

A weekend in Beijing and the beginning of Research!

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.

Changes and Home

Having been here two weeks, the research aspect of things has been going significantly slower than I thought it would. I have a presentation scheduled for tomorrow and we finalized our procedure yesterday. Today, we will be washing glassware in preparation for the experiment which is scheduled to start next week. I am glad that this is all finally starting to fall in place; however, it did not happen as efficiently as I hoped it would. I was hoping to be able to jump right into my project, just like internships in the US where they throw you in the deep end and your two options are to sink or swim. However, things are a little gentler here, where reading research articles and background material are top priorities.
In the two weeks that we have had here, we have been able to visit many places around Xiamen and travel to Beijing. One thing that struck me as a strange concept is the fact that taxi drivers now take tips, even when none have been willingly given. Prof Duncan took a taxi with us from a restaurant one night and the taxi driver took a 1RMB tip. When we were coming back from the airport, the same thing occurred, where they rounded the price off to the nearest five and kept the rest of the change. This has never happened before and I was surprised that it occurred in Xiamen of all places in China. Places that I would expect to see this would be in Beijing, Shanghai and possibly Hong Kong. Whereas in comparison, Xiamen does not have a significantly high expatriate population nor is it a very big city. This is proof of globalization and the influence of developed countries on the rapidly developing ones.
Going back to Beijing was a nice change for me. I enjoyed being back with my family even though I was only there for the long weekend. Shopping with Gabby was also very interesting, especially when we started bargaining for things. The prices that they started off at were ridiculous and we would eventually get whatever we wanted for a fifth of the price. Being of Chinese ethnicity, I never realized how ridiculously high the prices were set for foreigners and it really was a guessing game as to how much the real prices of things are. Visiting the Great Wall was also different this time. I usually go to the Great Wall with people who are not willing to pay for the cable car ride up and so I’ve always hiked up to it. Hence, by the time everyone got up there, we were tired, sweaty and unable to appreciate it. Being there more than once, the goal was to make it further down the Wall each time, but this time, we ended up taking more photos than we did walking. It was a very clear day and we could see the Great Wall run for miles up, down and around the surrounding mountains. I think that the company is what makes the trip and I am glad that I finally got to appreciate the Great Wall for all that it was, magnificent.
Having come back to Xiamen, I must admit that I was a little homesick. Being at school, I was always kept busy trying to stay on top of classes, work, and ECSAR that I never really understood why people would get homesick. I thought of myself as immune to it or that I didn’t miss being home. Now, I’m glad I can say, “yes I do miss being home”.

Hong Kong 2011 - First Week

Where to even start? I arrived in Hong Kong June 2nd and it has been an amazing first week. I have had the opportunity to come to HK and experience all that a massive international city has to offer. Including the traditional Chinese restaurants hidden from one place to another, the British environments located around Central, the breath taking views and extreme geology of the region. Hong Kong is truly an amazing city with more to offer than I could handle in just two months. But this is nothing short of what the past students and others I have talked to said to expect! Perfect.

To the right of my computer desk out my window is obviously tall buildings but there is also the landscape in the background. Every morning and night working at my desk I get to sit here and see that. In the short time that I have been in HK so far I’ve done several different things. A couple of the adventures so far that really have stuck include the hike up to the Garden after the stop at Victorias Peak. Did you know that the police man at the Tram station stands in a box still with no movement for the entire day - no a bead of sweat?! It is truly astonishing. It could be because he is made of wax but we won’t make any assumptions! From the garden sitting on the ledge you can look over the open water and see faint misty islands in the distance, that is what I call true serenity. I’d rather be no other place.

Has anyone heard of The Stanley Buzz? Let me know when it gets around to you - I’ll elaborate. I actually had the pleasure to meet the creator of The Stanley Buzz, very interesting stuff. The Dragon Boat Festivals in Hong Kong are a massive get together of boat racing teams, their fans, locals, food vendors, t-shirt vendors, fabulous beer, whole pizza - they don’t sell it by the slice if you’re ever here for the DBFs, and many other things. The Dragon Boat Festival is a celebration. (proceedings courtesy of chineseculture) Like other Chinese festivals, there is also a legend behind the festival. Qu Yuan served in the court of Emperor Huai during the Warring States (475 - 221 BC). He was a wise and erudite man. His ability and fight against corruption antagonized other court officials. They exerted their evil influence on the Emperor, so the Emperor gradually dismissed Qu Yuan and eventually exiled him. During his exile, Qu Yuan did not give up. He traveled extensively, taught and wrote about his ideas. His works, the Lament (Li Sao), the Nine Chapters (Jiu Zhang), and Wen tian, are masterpieces and invaluable for studying ancient Chinese culture. He saw the gradual decline of his mother country, the Chu State. And when he heard that the Chu State was defeated by the strong Qin State, he was so despaired that he ended his life by flinging himself into the Miluo River.Legend says after people heard he drowned, they were greatly dismayed. Fishermen raced to the spot in their boats to search for his body. Unable to find his body, people threw zongzi, eggs and other food into the river to feed fish, so hoped to salvage his body. Since then, people started to commemorate Qu Yuan through dragon boat races, eating zongzi and other activities, on the anniversary of his death, the 5th of the fifth month.

To make a long story short- The Dragon Boat Festivals are a great representation of deep past Chinese culture, but it is also by far much more than that. I will try to post a video of the festivities on this blog, no guarantees. Aside from all the fun sight seeing I’ve just figured out what my project will be while I am here and now I can get started on preliminaries at HKUSD a separate campus from where I am staying (At HKBU) and after I fabricate a semi-natural environment for the soft coral to survive in and I’m sure they will make it I will start the actual experiment at yet another spot called SWIMS. It is on the South East corner of the island way away from cell phone service or internet! I will have to re-fabricate that same environment in the out door tanks provided at SWIMS and stay to do 24 hour measurements as well as daily and nightly from day to day depending on what and when. It will be very exciting & will give me the opportunity to not only work with Hong Kong Baptist University but also two other universities and their facilities.

I’m currently reading a book by a Chinese author named Xinran. The novel is called Chinese Witness- Voices From A Silent Generation. She is a Chinese journalist who moved with her sun PanPan to Britain but still followed absolutely everything taking place in Mainland China, especially for the years after the “Mao Liberation” took place. Her special interests were in interviewing older generations that have lived through so much to see if they would open up and describe to the younger generations what really has been taking place in China. As Xinran says, it is very uncommon for the Chinese to open up and speak as individuals for many reasons, including that their vocabulary at times does not permit them to. They may only know how to answer political questions or questions that they were taught to answer growing up even if it wasn’t what they believed or thought. I’m far from finishing the book but I plan on keeping anybody updated on what it actually says. She does get some good interviews, even from Mao’s Chief Executive at the time - which is astonishing.

For Now,

The Unexpected

I moved to the United States two years ago. Before that I lived in Beijing and Shanghai, so coming on this trip, I felt like I should know what to expect, at least more than one who has not been to China at all. However, after the first week here, there have been a significantly higher amount of unexpected events than expected events, which in itself is unexpected.

Walking the streets of Xiamen, things were very different from the big cities I’ve lived in. In Xiamen, even though there were still a lot of people, it was significantly easier to navigate the city. We visited GuLangYu which was a historical resort island. Gabby and I went to see the aquarium where they had all sorts of fish, but it was definitely not comparable to the New Orleans Aquarium (which was the last one I went to). In America, the tanks are always clean and the animals were the first priority. Gabby brought to my attention the zip-ties on the penguin’s wings and we saw an exhibit of dead piranhas which was shocking to say the least. The dead preserved piranhas were hung in a liquid by plastic string and put on display. It did not ever cross my mind that an aquarium would display something of that sort. However, I guess I have taken for granted the benefits of living in the United States for the past 2 years and that for some people here even dead piranhas are something special to look at.

Being Asian with the ability to speak mandarin and in the southern part of China also changed the way I thought of myself. I have never thought of myself as a local here, and having lived in the Beijing and Shanghai in the expatriate area, I was definitely not seen as a local. However, here everyone thinks that I am from Xiamen, which was flattering and shocking at the same time. This was brought to my attention when shopping with Gabby over the weekend when the staff at the shopping mall asked me if I was her translator.

From a lab point of view, having interned in a lab at LSU, this experience is definitely something very different. In the US, there is a 9 to 5 schedule. Sure, if the experiment calls for it, one would come in to the lab at odd hours of the night but there is still that unwritten 9 to 5 schedule where people are supposed to be at work. At Xiamen University, things are a little different. I get to the lab around 9 in the morning, and people are already here, they have started experiments and are in the middle of discussions. When I leave at 7 or 8 at night, they are still here, discussing, running experiments, or working on papers. This, to me, was an unexpected, even though I knew that the work ethic was different here and that people were generally willing to work long hours every day.

Another aspect that struck me as rather unexpected is how willingly the students here adopted me into their little “family”. I call it a family because they are, from multiple aspects, a family. First, there is family drama, where the people are struggling to get everything together before they graduate in 4 days or they have students that did not listen to what they said. When one person in the lab has something the rant about, they do it over lunch and everyone listening comforts them about it. I think this is very different from lab environments in the United States as people tend to live their own lives outside of the lab and not discuss anything but lab work with their lab mates. It made it very hard to get to know them and the relationship purely professional. Second, the entire lab, even the professor, eats together and exercises together. For lunch and dinner, we would all decide on a place to go. If someone from the lab is not in class but not in lab, one person would call them to let them know that it is lunch time. If people are busy doing experiments, then one person would be delegated to bring food back for them. As for exercise, basketball and badminton are played every week on a certain day. Everyone is encouraged to come and most use it as an excuse to get away from their work. This is definitely not the case in America. As mentioned before, going to lab is like a 9 to 5 job and eating together rarely ever happens. Even though there is definitely a hierarchy with undergrads being the little children in the lab, everyone is included in everything, which from my point of view is very much appreciated.

Overall, I think that speaking the language is definitely a big part of learning the culture of a place as I would not have been able to bond with my lab mates and feel at home here in the lab. From the research perspective, I think that the work ethic would definitely throw people off especially if they are expecting a 9 to 5 work day. However, I believe that if one arrives with an open mind and is willing to adapt, they would definitely be able to enjoy and excel here at Xiamen University.

A New Adventure!

Ni hao! Wow! I am in China! The flight was incredibly long, but well worth it. It is beautiful! Xiamen University is nestled into a mountain side and nature is incorporated throughout the city landscape, giving the hustle and bustle a sense of serenity and relaxation. The campus is as big and certainly has the feel of a small town. It is quite a site to see, the reason why hundreds of tourists shower campus daily! Not only are there are several shops, canteens (cafeterias), and green spaces on campus, but, I soon came to find that the large pond in the middle of campus that has become home to a few black swans! As a lover of wildlife, this was an exciting discovery!

As a westerner living in China, I am stared at a lot, but it’s not the negative stare you would think, it is just curiosity and I find it easy to get used to. I just smile and continue on with my day. With all of the things to do here, I do not miss too much from home yet–except washers and dryers. It would definitely be nice to have those in travel size!

The bus system is incredibly helpful in getting places, although it is not too hard to walk the city for the most part. Usually we will walk somewhere and catch a bus for the return trip. The past few days I have been familiarizing myself with the area. I have tried some native fruits like waxberries and guava, eaten meat and bread for breakfast instead of typical cereal, and had a dinner feast that included cooked fish with the fins and head still attached. My first week in China has certainly been interesting! Professor Duncan, Maxine, and I visited Gulangyu Island a few days ago where, of course, my first stop was the aquarium! It was small, but had a good collection of creatures from penguins and tarpon, to woebegone and an albino shark, and also a small resident population of piranha that hung by strings in a gel substance, looking quite sad.

The Mandarin language is quite difficult, therefore, I have not learned that much. Having Maxine (my roommate from Eckerd who is from Singapore) translate for me most of the time is extremely helpful, although hopefully I will learn a lot more in the upcoming weeks. Sometimes there are English descriptions on foods and such, but not often enough to get by.

Yesterday was my first day working in the lab. The graduate and Ph.D. students I am working with are very nice. As I help them with their English, they teach me a lot about Chinese culture. Being a student researcher at a Chinese university is different from Eckerd in a few ways. Of course, most of the equipment and reagents are in Chinese, but the processes are very similar if not the same in some cases. One of the girls in my lab is doing work on DNA using a PCR method which is exactly what I would use as a Genetics teaching assistant, so I felt very happy to recognize what she was doing. Yesterday I was introduced to the specimen that I will be using in my project: the mudskipper fish. On my first day I learned how to recognize the sex and extract the gonad from both male and female fishes to use for our melatonin study. The project I’m working on is something completely new and I am very excited to learn more about it!

China has been quite the experience so far, and I have only been here for a week! I am very grateful for this opportunity. This research experience is more than just petri dishes and chemicals. I am learning new techniques in a new country which has a completely different culture than America. Being able to adapt to these changes and embrace the Chinese way of life is a challenge at times, but absolutely incredible.

Last & Final Update

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!

Last Week in HK (a bit late)

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!

Last Update

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.

Privacy and the Personal Bubble

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!