Sunday, August 2, 2009


It's the last week of the program, and I definitely haven't updated enough... :(

Things here are really winding down after the poster session, which involved a crazy videochat with Notre Dame... it was actually pretty cool, to be able to exchange our research with people literally on the other side of the earth! I wish that we were allowed more time to present though, because 5 minutes from our side was just too short to detail the projects of the people who presented. I wonder what it'll be like next year, if the program gets any bigger...

In other news, yesterday was a pretty eventful day. I took my grad student and our group, and Professor Zhou out to lunch at the sit-down restaurant in Wan Ren. At one point, there was a pretty interesting conversation about who in the lab could swim. Apparently, Prof. Zhou can't swim, but in his own words, can float for about 10 minutes.

After lunch, I went with John and Brenden's brother to the Hong Qiao pearl market. It was actually really fun - I usually don't even try to get a good deal when bargaining, mainly cause I don't really mind paying extra and/or have a bad idea of how much things should cost, but this is one thing that John is exceedingly good at. He just walks into there, names his price, they say no, he says no... he ends up walking out 15 seconds later with what he wants. Haha. I'll have to take some tips from him.

We then went to Wang Fu Jin, which is the crazy street where they sell scorpions on a stick to eat! John had some, but I stuck with the tried and true lamb skewers. When we went, it was already nighttime, but it looked so cool! There were so many bright lights and big buildings... that's one thing I love about Beijing: everytime you get off a subway station, it's literally like you're in a completely different place...

I can't believe that my time in China is coming to an end so quickly... after the program, I'm going to visit my grandparents and relatives in my hometown, Nanjing, for 3 days. I was a little slow on buying the train tickets to get there, so I ended up with the super cushy but expensive (520 RMB) soft sleeper tickets to there and back.

Anyways, I think I'll have to go back and detail some of the stuff I did earlier on in the program, now that I have time...

Thursday, July 9, 2009


So, my grad student and I just had a conversation about Daylight Saving Time. I noticed that here, the sun sets about 7:30 PM, whereas back home in Michigan, it sets at about 8:30 or 9...

So I ask her if she turns her clock forward in the spring and back in the fall, and she just looks at me in half disbelief and half amusement and is like, No, why would I do that?

We then had a conversation about Benjamin Franklin and how he came up with the idea of DST and what its purpose was, and how there's actually different time zones in the U.S. (All of China is under Beijing time, even though the sun sets at different times in different places.)

I love cultural exchange :)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Today’s been a pretty slow day in the lab, so I thought I would blog about the research I’ve been doing! I’m working with a grad student, Cui Yi Xian, on the role that a couple of genes play in copper-induced apoptosis. One of these genes was previously found to confer resistance to apoptosis in knockout mutants, so now I am doing an over-expression construct and examining the phenotype of the mutant. (This has actually been a big headache to me for the past 3 weeks; I keep on having to repeat things over, because it doesn’t work the first time. Ah, such is the life of a biological researcher though…) But, I’m waiting on some sequencing results that should be in today – I hope it’s the right one :)

Other things I’ve gradually started noticing about the lab that’s different from back home: we only have one PCR machine available for use! I think we originally had two, but then one of them broke :( It’s also a much smaller lab, about 10 people who come in everyday. There’s also a lot of undergraduates, because the bio department at Tsinghua is pretty small, so there aren’t many labs that the undergraduates can work in. Edit to my last post: So, I’ve started realizing that some of the safety procedures that are in the U.S. just kind of don’t exist here… Such as not being able to wear flip flops into the lab – my toes are out in the open here! Haha.

My grad student is also mentoring 3 other students, so she’s really busy all of the time. However, I think we’re going to get haircuts together this weekend. I’m pretty glad she’s coming with me, I shudder to think of what could happen if I went all by myself…

I also went out to dinner last night with my labmates to celebrate the graduation of someone in our lab. We went to the third floor of Wan Ren, which actually has a really nice sit-down restaurant. The food was absolutely delicious, as some of the people had a little experience with ordering there. Haha. At one point, my grad student suggested drinking…but then remembered she had experiments to finish later! :)

One thing about the dinner: I wish I understood more Chinese – I feel that my listening ability is enough to almost always understand the topic of the conversation, but it’s very hard for me to pick up on jokes and such. It’s actually a little awkward, because everybody will be laughing heartily and I’ll be sitting there with a polite smile on my face. Hahaha.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


So, things have pretty much settled down now. We’ve all been doing research now for about a week and a half – which means no more touristy stuff in Beijing (although I am going to Qing Dao with some people this weekend!)

However, research has been an interesting experience so far, in itself. I have gotten to know some of my lab mates and had some meals with them. My lab mates eat lunch ridiculously fast. I’ve come to the conclusion that it must be an unspoken competition of some kind: we all pile in the main cafeteria (万人 - “Thousand People”) on Tsinghua’s campus, get our food, plop down, and from then on, it’s about 6 or 7 minutes of frenzied eating, interspersed with few words, until the person who finishes first gets to bask in the glory in having triumphed over the others in our speed eating competition. He or she then sits for an additional 3 minutes, while waiting for the rest of us to finish, and then gets to say 走吧,走吧 – “Let’s go” as additional proof of their victory. Hahahahah.

As far as the actual science of the lab goes, I was pleasantly surprised at our working conditions. I felt that many of their safety standards were comparable to the labs that I have worked in in the U.S. And as far as a typical day goes in the lab: I usually arrive around 8:30, have lunch around noon, and leave anywhere in between 5-8 PM.

In other news, life in China is unrealistic, in a certain sense. I mean, when you can walk down an alleyway and buy a 包子 “Bao Zi” (a delicious Chinese pastry) for 70 毛, the equivalent of about 10 cents, it’s just kind of unbelievable. More on this later…

I have also experienced my first case of food poisoning in China. Haha. Well, I guess a trip to China just wouldn’t be complete without getting sick. The interesting thing is, I didn’t get sick from eating food from the street vendors – it was from a restaurant! (Note to future visitors: DO buy food from the street vendors, unless it looks bad, because I’m almost certain – the sketchier the food, the MORE delicious it is!)

Monday, June 15, 2009


So, each day, for about the last 10 days, I woke up and told myself: I am going to sit down and blog today. And each day, it just never happened.

We went to a whole bunch of places, which I’ll spend a little time detailing now:

- Lama Temple/ Confucius Temple: Despite the tourism, I still had the feeling that it was a really solemn and sacred place. A lot of people light incense and bow down in front of Buddha sculptures and such. We went the day before the national Chinese “Gao Kao” exam (which essentially and solely determines the college you can go to, if you are a high school Chinese student) so there were a lot of students there that day...

- Hutong: Beijing’s historical old family homes. To be completely honest, it was really strange, I didn’t feel that it was that historical. I saw the old style architecture and stone roads, but to me, it seemed a bit contrived. Especially because we were contributing to that, riding through the streets in a touristy pack of like, 12 rickshaws. Hah. But, anyways, there was also an eccentric old guy there (now referred to as “crazy cricket man” by many of our group) who showed us his prized fighting crickets who won thousands of yuan. I’m not going to lie, he was pretty riveting. Especially if you could understand Chinese. Haha.

- The Great Wall: Okay, listen, this thing is a LOT harder to climb than it looks. Maybe it’s because we went to one of the slightly less renovated sites (a.k.a. not Ba Da Ling) but some of the steps were like, higher than my knees. But, it’s okay, because in the words of Chairman Mao himself, I am now a great man. (不到长城非好汉。)

- Ming Tombs: Meh.

- Olympic Stadium: This place had a really futuristic feeling to it. We went there and it was like, really mystical (word choice?) because they were playing some ethereally subtle music in the background, people were strolling around casually, little kids were playing, and the buildings were like huge and modern looking. It was like straight out of a brochure for an (idealistic) future.

- Quan Ju De (全聚德): The birthplace of Peking duck. I, along with Chistine, Jerry, and Justin, had the opportunity to experience this dining delight. It was (almost shamefully) expensive – 1300 yuan – but also ridiculously good! – and very classy (I wonder who all the other Chinese people there were??!). Peking duck is roasted until the skin is very crispy. Then, it is sliced up into thin pieces. You then put it in the wrap along with sauce and slivered green onions. And then consume it ALL because it's so good.

- Beijing Zoo: So, I heard from a lot of people that the zoo isn’t exactly the most humane place on earth and that the living conditions of the animals is pretty bad. But, when I went, I was actually pleasantly surprised that almost all of the animals seemed to be okay, no outrageously small cages or anything like that. The one thing that was BIZARRE though was this exhibit which had lemurs in it … and chickens … and a baby monkey. I am quite certain that none of those animals have ANYTHING to do with each other in the wild.

- Xian: I was so glad I went on this trip. (For people in the program next year, I highly recommend going.) China’s ancient capital is awesome! We went to the Terra Cotta Soldier Museum (兵马俑) where Emperor Qin, the first emperor of (unified) China, erected thousands of soldiers to protect himself in the afterlife. It’s interesting, this huge army was only found again in 1974 by a farmer digging a water well. He was actually there, basking in the fame and glory and eating a bowl of noodles (no really, he literally was.) Hahaha. We also went to the Wild Goose Pagoda, but in my personal opinion, the fountain outside of it was better. This fountain, as big as Tiananmen Square, has a show once a day at 12 noon. Of course we were there. Of course we were tourists and jumped in. Haha.

To sum this entry up, I LOVE CHINA!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hello China

So, the last few days have been a whirlwind, pretty much. The flight from China was interesting, but I ended up with a major case of jetlag. I thought that if I slept as little as possible, I would be able to have a good night’s sleep when we arrived… My plans were foiled when I went to bed at 3:00 AM and promptly woke back up at 6:30 AM.

The visit to Tiananmen was also interesting. Although I was born in China, I’d never been to Beijing before. Incidentally, our visit also coincided with the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival – meaning that many people had a 4 day weekend, meaning that there were not many people at Tiananmen at all. (Later on, I sent my dad some pictures of our visit and he asked me if I was SURE that I didn’t just visit a wax museum-type replica of Tiananmen, because there was only ONE PERSON in the background. Haha.)

Now, each day sort of falls into the general outline of language in the morning, followed by a vegetarian (although unintentionally so) lunch, followed by exploring in the afternoon and a large dinner (also consisting of mainly vegetables). The sheer amount of vegetables (and lack of meat) that I have consumed on this trip has made it clear to me why America has such an obesity pandemic and Chinese L t-shirts are about a smallish medium in the US. Haha.

What’s pretty interesting is that I didn’t really get the huge culture shock (in the traditional sense of the word) that I had anticipated, in the sense that sometimes I actually forgot I was in China – Beijing is very similar to what a large American city would be like, with the exception of Chinese signs everywhere and everyone having the same color hair and eyes. Haha. That is, I feel pretty much the same here as I do in Ann Arbor, except it’s hot as hell here. However, I came to the conclusion that it was really the subtle things in China that really made it so much different from the U.S. Such as: when going to the supermarket, it sort of dawned on me that Chinese people rarely shift their glance from straight in front of them in public – I asked LV Hong about this, and she says that it may partly stem from the old Chinese belief that looking straight in front of you is supposed to be representative of a straightforward and honest character. Which I thought was very interesting. (Later on, I also laughed out loud at something LV Hong had said – managing to attract some looks in doing so – and she told me that Chinese women would never laugh that loudly in public. She followed this up by a small giggle, hidden by her hand.) That, and just many other little ways that people do things here are really what, to me, makes Beijing so much different from Ann Arbor.

On a somewhat related note, I have come to the conclusion that my Chinese speaking ability is not so great. Also complicating things, people have told me that I have an accent from southern China, which tends to come out when I feel nervous speaking – a.k.a. pretty much all the time. Haha. To me, it seems like many of the non-Asian people on the trip don’t have much of a problem when going out – Chinese people know that they are foreigners and are often very interested in them, making them very willing to help out. However, I feel as though my poor language skills are probably just interpreted as awkward and weird. Haha. Therefore, I have made a resolution to improve my Chinese speaking/ writing skills as a whole on this trip.

I also had the opportunity of meeting some people from Bei Da and Tsinghua, who are going to the U.S. for the other part of the exchange program starting next month. I think very highly of them – as Bei Da and Tsinghua are the two best universities in China, accepting literally only the top of millions and millions of people, meaning that those students must be the best of the best. It makes me eager, but also slightly nervous, to begin research in about a week – I hope that my performance will be up to par!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ann Arbor Orientation

It is amazing to me that a group of once complete strangers from all over the U.S. can get along so well over the course of 4 days. I was pretty doubtful as to how the group dynamics would work in the beginning, due to the fact that it was so large. However, I am incredibly happy that we are pretty much all getting along.

The past couple of days have been marked by a strict regimen of eating (good) food, various bonding activities that involve purposely confusing card games, dinnertime documentaries of Chinese history and the effect of Maoism and Communism, and interesting discussions afterwards.

We’re leaving for China tomorrow. I am SO EXCITED!