Thursday, December 30, 2010

Taiwan Day 3 - FFFFFFFFFFail

Last night after getting back from the day's events, I was sitting in bed trying to write about it and the following gem resulted:

Today was exhausting, and though I feel awful about slacking off with regards to making an accurate portrawal.kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkklllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkfor two pages.

Hopefully the second time around is little more successful. I'm sitting at desk this time and armed with nasty hotel coffee and even nastier hotel tea. At the very least, I hope to avoid writing about being lazy and then immediately fall asleep.

The reason yesterday was so tiring was largely due to the massive amount of stuff we did. It started much as the previous 2 days did with breakfast at the local breakfast shop. This time was a little different because Dr. Huang and I went there and then brought breakfast back for the girls. I also got to learn some more breakfast vocabulary, which is fantastic for any language, mostly because breakfast is involved. We also talked about how to make some of the items. Once I'm back in the states, I'm totally making warm soy milk (DouChang). It is too delicious not to share, no matter how tedious the process may be.

After breakfast we all packed up a few days worth of clothes and our dirty laundry and then made the trip from Tu Cheng (the section of Taipei City Dr. Huang's house is in) to Bei Tou. Bei Tou, besides for Japanese tourism and prostitution, is known for its natural hotsprings. The whole area smells like sulfur, although my sense of smell was all but too messed up to tell. It worked out pretty well though. Upon arriving in Bei Tou, we went searching for a hotel to stay in after visiting a museum of the Indigenous population of Taiwan that strangely allowed very few pictures. After that, Dr. Huang left us alone to wait for him while he scouted out the area's hotels. The spot we were left in turned out alright, as there appeared to be a couple getting the wedding photos and a gentlemen making giant caligraphy scrolls for New Year's. When we weren't getting super excited every time the calligraphy guy moved at all (he had stopped making the scrolls by the time we arrived) Kenna, Kathryn, and I also had a good time discussing how things are different from the U.S. and simultaneously not. It's weird. Some things make us stand out like a sore thumb (language, skin color, clothing, wealth,etc), while other parts of Chinese culture come very naturally to us.

Eventually, Dr. Huang made it back and then led us to an awesome hotel. It was admittedly small, but the designs in it were gorgeous and after this morning's breakfast I'm an addict. However, the best thing about the hotel was that instead of communal hot springs, each room can be fed water straight from a hot spring into a tub. That was nice beyond words, although there were certain points where I thought I was going to pass out. Luckily I didn't and was able to go to the night market. For the most part, we only utilized the market for it's structures that provided food and doughnuts. Then we went home and slept like the dead. T'was good.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Taiwan Day 2.2.Talkandwalk

We ended up skipping the night market last night and went to a cool buffet-style restaurant for dinner instead.The table had a grill built into it, and you can order small pieces of meat to cook for yourself and your party. Everyone except Kenna got a turn working the grill, and I'm pretty sure we're all converts. It's probably one of the best overall grilling experiences I've ever had, although I have to admit that if I were hungry, working the grill would be a pain when all I want to do was eat, Otherwise it makes for a nice, well-paced meal. Granted, it also resulted in two hours of eating and grilling and trying all sorts of meat and fish in addition to the wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and deserts that didn't need to be cooked. And Fullness. With a Capitol F, followed by many zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

I actually brought my camera along this time, so there are some pictures.

Kenna and Kathryn, meditating on the meal ahead.

This is Dr. Huang's excited face. He and I eventually ate our weight in fried meat.
I'm not sure what's going on here.
After we got back, the girls went bed and Dr. Huang and I went for a walk down by the river. It's always good to be out and about with him, as we almost never have a shortage of things to talk about, especially in Taiwan. It's interesting, because we don't really have much in common except our interest in research that borders on workaholicsm and our insomnia. I think we both benefit from the different perspectives though. I know I enjoy hearing about his family and his views on things at least. He might just be really good at smiling and nodding when I talk.
I also took some more photos on the walk, but I was stupidly tired from the earlier meal and not many of them turned out. The ones that did I posted below. I think I'll make another jaunt down by the river tonight if I get the chance and try to take some more pictures, the opposing coast of the river is begging me to make a panoramic shot. Granted, it might not happen until later this week if I go meet up with some of the traceurs (parkour practioners) that I've been in contact with recently. Hopefully that works out.
Much of Taiwan is powered by propane. These tanks can be seen pretty much everywhere, even indoors.

This is a helmet shop. Given how about 90% of the population in Taiwan ride scooters, these guys must be making bank. It's actually pretty neat, many of the helmets have cartoons or fancy designs on them. Combined with the special face masks that many people here wear (many people have washable ones with designs on them instead of the cheap doctor's masks), it makes for some stylish scooterers.

PS: I'm sorry for the low quality posts lately. I'll try and tighten things up in the future, it's been difficult to get everything squared away the way I like with everything we've been doing.

Taiwan Day 2.1 Flowerpower

Crackerjacks. Another busy day, and it's not even done. It's funny, I used to really look down on tourists, but having been one for the past two days I realize just how much effort it can be. Granted, I kind of went out of my way to make things difficult. Immersion language learning is terrifying fun.

I woke up a little early this morning, which is surprising because I stayed up late last night to try and skype with my fiancée. I took a few pictures, and then tried to skype a little more with my lovely lady friend. Also, for some reason my body has acclimated very rapidly with the area. So, when it's 50 some degrees in the morning, I get to shiver and be very out of character for the Wisconsinite that I am. It's pretty lame, though not nearly as much as when the water heater didn't turn on during my shower. Caffeine has nothing on that experience.

After freezing the sleep out of my bones, we went to breakfast at the same place we went to yesterday. Our plan is to either become regulars or get banned, as the food is delicious and we always toe the line with the ladies that run the shop. I've also forgot to take any pictures both times we were there as well, but I will remedy that tomorrow while demolishing a bowl of soy milk and dumplings.

After breakfast, we went to the Taiwan International Flora Expo and, after being literally crammed onto a full subway train, proceeded to take more photos than you can shake a stick at.
That's a really weird saying, although not nearly as weird as spooning with strange Taiwanese folks on a subway and not getting a phone number.

There's more photos at the link, feel free to check them out.

Anyways, most of the day is detailed by the pictures and their captions, but there are a few things that the pictures don't include. Namely, the random requests from large groups of Taiwanese kids to take their pictures with me and the other members of my group. They would just walk up to us saying, "pai jiao" (take picture) or "picture" and then make me feel like a movie star. It was surreal.

Now the girls and I are blogging/hanging out/resting up for our trip to the night market tonight, so stay tuned!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Taiwan Day 1.2 - Templetime

Even though I slept a little on the flight from Tokyo-Narita, I was essentially a snoring dead person last night after we got to Dr. Huang's father's house and got all set up. Dr. Huang's younger brother and his girlfriend were nice enough to come and meet us at the bus stop and walk us there. We also got to meet Dr. Huang's older brother when we arrived at the house, although he didn't stick around for very long. The younger Huang brother actually lives at the house, so we've spent a good amount of time with him. I try once in a while to talk with him, but his English is about as good as my Chinese. We've yet to come to a good understanding of each other, to say the least.

I'm starting to feel the Jet-Lag pretty hard right now, so I'll be brief and let some pretty pictures I took do the talking for me. First and foremost, the Huang house is awesome. It's basically a combination of three different apartments, one of which is in another building and accessible by a bridge between the two buildings. I think there are 2 kitchens, 2 bathrooms, and 4 living rooms. There is also a garden that is built alongside the bridge between the two buildings. There are lots of pictures that even have captions to explain things.

This morning, I found out a couple of important things.
  • My rechargeable batteries do not work. Awesome, right?
  • Kathryn accidentally brought AA batteries with her. She needs AAA batteries for her camcorder.
  • Kathryn is willing to give up said batteries. I blame my winning smile and pokemon references.
Basically, I wasn't able to take pictures of the awesome breakfast we had, nor of the temples we walked to/got kicked out of. Actually, we pissed people off at breakfast as well. We walked to this nice little cafe place that serves breakfast all day. Breakfast in Taiwan is delicious, for the record. We had steamed dumplings (jung jiao), some omelet-like dan bing that lacked cheese but made up for it by inducing happiness in my mouth, and warm soy and rice milk. The food was great and very quick in coming, but we forgot to pay until after we had started eating. The ladies at the counter/kitchen didn't appreciate it. Lame story, I know. The temple story is better. Basically, we were too loud and Kenna was apparently dressed like a strumpet. Look it up. One of the temple attendants followed us around with a very vague sign until she got completely fed up with Dr. Huang explaining her culture and Kenna's exposed upper neck. She wasn't happy until we were on our way out and Kenna had a turtleneck on. We're so scandalous. Gag me with a spoon.

And now I'm going to nap before we go out for sashimi dinner. After that, I get to Skype with my fiancée and pretend to be a zombie in severe respiratory distress for a few hours until tomorrow's visit to the Taipei Flora Exhibition.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Taiwan Day 1.1 - Deltastic

I'm in Taiwan now, and everything I've seen so far makes yesterday's adventure with trans-Pacific travel very worthwhile. You'll have to wait until tomorrow for that though.
For the record, 12 hour plan flights are unpleasant. Especially when they are followed up by another 4 hour flight. Including the layover at Tokyo-Narita and hour long bus ride to Dr. Huang's father's house, I spent a total of 18 hours traveling. Oofda.

I know that I should be grateful to even be traveling in the first place, particularly by plane, but there was much that detracted from from the excitement I should have felt. Between the turbulence, the upset stomach, and the desire for hard ground and a hard bed that results from imitating the contents of a flying sardine can for half a day – it was difficult to enjoy myself. Honestly, the worst part was just being cooped up so long. Everything else was relatively expected, and would have been balanced out by the rest of the flight. I really got a kick out of the many languages present on the plane. This is probably revealing a little too much of my nerdiness, but with everyone speaking Chinese, Japanese, and English, I felt like IK was on the set of Joss Whedon's Firefly. (I just discovered that it on Netflix and, to my fiancees chagrin, am in love. Alas, both romances will have to go unfulfilled for the next month.) The flight also had some edible food going for it, at least in my opinion. Note that I didn't say good. One of my cohorts spent the last half of the trip hunched over in their seat, probably fighting desperately to avoid throwing up like another one of the group did. I've come to the conclusion that if nothing else, this trip will be one large gauntlet for my stomach. This may be my undoing, but I tend to see eating the same way a velociraptor sees petting zoos.
I spent the time on the plane as best I could, considering the small war against food poisoning being waged in my tummy. As I forgot to borrow a book from a friend or pay my fine at the library, I was stuck with a ten year old book on drug interactions in and outside of the body. It turned out to be about 3 hours worth of entertainment/distraction, mostly because it was like traveling back to a time where genetic engineering wasn't nearly what is today. I'm glad I got to skip out on the days when recombinant insulin from yeast was considered more expensive than hacking it out of pig pancreas. There was also the description of one drug's side effects, wherein a remote number of patients would orgasm whenever they yawned. No joke.

The rest of the time was spent talking to Dr. Huang and the others, attempting to jump start the part of my brain that understands any Chinese, and writing. I also managed to keep my camera alive long enough to take some pictures. For some reason, the thing eats batteries like none other.

Unfortunately, I have to wait until tonight (or tomorrow morning for those of you 14 hours in the future) to post about all the awesome that is here, as I've had hot water and tea to sustain me so far this morning. Until then, happy-day after Christmas from the other side of the world.

Monday, December 20, 2010

More to do about nothing. Again.

Hopefully, my posting arbitrary silliness once in a while (like this) isn't too offensive, as I enjoy it too much to stop. It's very similar to the war I'm waging against the new uprising of Christmas cookies, I want to destroy them by any means possible, but more often than not the means is my mouth and gullet. It's kind of counter-productive.

I'm actually posting with a purpose this time, however. They don't really pertain to my study abroad trip or even Naturopathy - instead I've decided that I need to engage in UNBRIDLED SELF-PROMOTION. Exclamation point. Smiley-face. Et cetera. The reason for this is three-fold. One, I just added some friends and family to this blog's mailing list (which can only consist of 10 people). I figured their first email update for the blog should be very professional, complete with YELLINGABOUTTAIWANBECAUSEITSSOOCOOL. Two, I also just emailed a large number of my teachers from high school, informing them about the blog and my upcoming trip. I also figured that they deserve a nice dose of professionalism as well. Finally, I wanted to encourage people to sign up for Google reader. I use it to keep track of not only blogs, but also the online comics that I read and even video blogs. It's very versatile, and if you check into the special features you can cycle through all the content you haven't read yet with a single bookmark. I really like it, and it's a nice way to get around having to check a bunch of different URL's.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Study abroad potluck

Here's just some silliness from last week's study abroad potluck.
I attempted to make a Cookie Monster hat using googly-eyes and some pins. 
Enter my friend Abel.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Soft-spoken with a loud message.

It's starting to hit me that I'll be half-way around the world in less than a week.

After finishing my finals and getting almost everything squared away from the past three months of school, I fell into feeling like I had time to rest. Instead of continuing with my ridiculous list of things to do to get ready for Taiwan, I've been engaged in way too many forms of timesink (youtube, facebook, and other forms of non-productive crap).

I can't keep playing around like this.
There's so much that I not only need to do, but want to do.
I want to see some people for what may be the last time, as they've also graduated and are moving on to terrifying pursuits of employment and settling down and what not. I want them to know that I valued our time together. Also want to see some people that I will inevitably see again. No matter how much I think I can get along without them, I need to remember that I don't want to. Most importantly, I want to embrace the fact that my time is only valuable if I use it purposely. Otherwise, my past three years of work will mean nothing - not to myself, employers, or anyone else. My accomplishments must be a beginning, not an end.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Check out my face! It's new and covered with less hair now!

T-minus 12 and counting...

Part of me wishes that I was counting down to this, but this is not the case. I'm rapidly approaching a month away from my friends, family, fiancée, and just about everything else I've now realize that I've failed to fully appreciate. At least the next twelve days will be too busy for me to have any time for silly things like fear. Or sleep.

Motivation: Nothing beats a leaking stomach.
My to do list:
Virology final: Check
Senior Portfolio: Check
Honors Stanley Kubrick Paper: Check, Dave.

Genetics final: not check
Psychology final: not check

Getting the transfer from the Gilman Scholarship: check? soon? please?

Seriously, it needs to get here yesterday so my gut can return to it's normal, almost ulcerous state.

I've also have a study abroad office lunch tomorrow. In true Midwestern fashion, all the winter and spring study abroad students are being sent off to uncertainty and trepidation via potluck. I don't know about you, but nothing makes me feel brave like taco-lasagna. At least my fiancée is coming along with me, so she can help me make awkward small talk about the weather and the like. I've long learned that except for when there is a distinct collection of nerds in a room, pretty much everything I have to say is either uninteresting or painful. Unless someone wants to discuss class, research, games, parkour, breakdance, hip hop, or spud guns, I'm useless and should just have to smile and nod if I want people to stick around.

My last big thing to worry about besides packing, last minute Christmas celebrations, hanging out with my friend Abbie who is getting back from India with just enough time to hang out for a day or two, and writing really long run-on sentences is the plant/herb field guide that another member of the group and I are working on to help us identify the plants we'll be coming across in Taiwan. Normally, looking up pretty pictures of plants wouldn't be too difficult, but I've also been trying to find the medicinal uses of said plants. Sifting through the loads of crap that contains this information has made for some late nights and early mornings. And these guys.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship

I've mentioned the Gilman scholarship a few times on this blog, but I should really explain it better - especially for those from the UWRF SURSCA blog. To properly do so, we need to go back in time, all the way to September.

My research professor Dr. Huang had just planted the seed of a possible research endeavor in Taiwan, leading to me researching all the possible sources of funding that he and I might obtain. I quickly found two things: I was initially discouraged to find that 3 months before the trip was much too late to begin looking into the majority of the international studies grants out there. Then I found the one exception to this rule: The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. It was a procrastinator's/late starter's dream. Granted, upon finding it I had all of a week or so to complete the application before the submission deadline. It made for some hectic times, trying to coordinate with UWRF's study abroad office and Dr. Huang - in addition to my normal class and research load. Somehow, I managed to get everything squared away on time with some proficiency. While it all worked out, I must say that unless you really like coffee or really despise the sun, give yourself more time than I had.

A little about this scholarship, taken from the scholarship's website.

"The program aims to encourage students to choose non-traditional study abroad destinations, especially those outside of Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand. The Gilman Scholarship Program aims to support students who have been traditionally under-represented in study abroad, including but not limited to, students with high financial need, community college students, students in under-represented fields such as the sciences and engineering, students with diverse ethnic backgrounds, and students with disabilities. The program seeks to assist students from a diverse range of public and private institutions from all 50 states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico.
Award recipients are chosen by a competitive selection process and must use the award to defray eligible study abroad costs. These costs include program tuition, room and board, books, local transportation, insurance and international airfare."
Some other good things to know regarding eligibility.
Finally, some things you might not find on the website.
  • It's really easy to apply, especially if you plan ahead. Most of the application is online and is used to determine if you are eligible. There were no letters of recommendation required and only two essays (that admittedly caused me a little trouble due to my professional writing having more in common with riding a merry-go-round while attempting to smash a speak-and-spell with my face). The rest of the applications largely consisted of proving that I was who I said I was. Honestly, for a chance at up to five grand, it wasn't a bad deal.
  • The program requires recipients to do a "Follow-on Project", which is basically a way to make sure that recipients give back to their college and community in addition to helping promote the Gilman program. This blog is one aspect of my project, as well as meetings with multiple student groups and classes. One unforeseen addition to my project is the welcome, albeit somewhat unnerving, publicity I've been told to expect in the weeks to come before I escape the country. Word on the street is that the UWRF PR dept, as well as the local newspapers want to cover me. Unfortunately, this means that I will probably have to shave and tame the mullet that's been cohabiting my head wear for the past few months.
  • You'll be missed.
  • This is technically on the site, but on average, 1 out of every three applicants gets accepted. I was one of roughly three thousand applicants, and the first student from the University of Wisconsin - River Falls to be accepted in the past ten years.
Ten years. That's ridiculous for one very, very simple reason: Me. 
I seldom find myself to be the sharpest tool in the shed. I don't have a 4.0 gpa. It's close, I'll admit, but I'm no prodigy. While it may help to be the best and brightest, the Gilman program is primarily geared towards the people who want it. In other words, it's is aimed at the people who recognize the importance of a global perspective and developing their standing not only within their own community, but in our ever-shrinking world. In my opinion, it's aimed at everyone, many just don't know it yet.

Friday, December 3, 2010

I got this in the email today.

Dear Gilman Scholarship Applicant:

Congratulations!  On behalf of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Institute of International Education (IIE), I am pleased to inform you that you have been selected as a recipient of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.

During the Spring 2011 application cycle, the Gilman Scholarship Program received nearly 2,900 applications for over 850 awards.


Congratulations again on being selected as a recipient of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.  We look forward to working with you and wish you the very best as you embark on your experience abroad.


Jennifer Campbell
Assistant Director
Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program
Institute of International Education

This awesome for two reasons. 

It's money I no longer have to borrow/beg/do backflips for, and then there is the simple fact that I won something. Take that, kids who picked me last for dodgeball.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Check it out!

SURSCA Gala 2010!
The SURSCA blog just updated with details of the SURSCA Gala that I presented at a couple weeks ago.

One such detail is a picture of me in the most dire need of a haircut since I considered being vegetarian last year.

There are also things that are actually interesting to look at as well, particularly the quote of a quote (I'll just let you read it instead of quoting it yet again) of a CUR review team member that made me both surprised and proud. It's strange, I've been working almost a year as a researcher and I still had no idea of how impressive UWRF was regarding our research output. I wish I had known sooner.

So, do all your young college-bound lab-rats a favor and let them know that River Falls may not look like much, but underneath all the cinder block walls, leaky ceilings, and jack-hammer intensive rebuilds of the library entrances is a beastly capacity for research and learning.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What I'll be doing while my friends are freezing in the Midwest.

Did I mention that the average temperature in Taiwan is going to 70-80 degrees? It'll be like going to Florida, but with a purpose besides theme parks and binge-drinking.

I come bearing excuses! With the new departure and arrival dates, our old itinerary is no longer. Dr. Huang is now in the process of shifting things around, but we'll still be doing the same experiments and adventures we had planned on doing. My fiancée has been insisting that I write all these things down in some coherent manner, partly so that she can explain to her friends that I'm doing something besides "herbal stuff" and so that she can slap it on our Christmas card (our first one as a couple - I'm torn between pride and self-disgust) and make our relatives match their Christmas trees with envy. Or something else that's really humble.

So here is the general list of things that we will be doing in Taiwan, sans any details that don't really matter to anyone but my research group/team/squad/gaggle. Some of it was mentioned in earlier posts and some of it I'm forgetting and will just have to surprise you with.

Imagine this, only shorter, more demanding, and
less articulate.
We are leaving in the middle of Christmas Day. I just need to wrap my plane tickets in Charlie Brown comics and I'll have one of the best gifts ever. The plane should take us directly to Taiwan, right after a 3 hour layover in Japan. While it will be cool to be in Japan, being stuck in an airport for longer than an hour can be unpleasant. The last time this happened to me, I befriended a young man whose three years of age made him quite the adversary in a game of 


I'm not sure that game will work as well in a country where the toddlers don't speak English.

Chung Shan Medical University
Once we are in Taiwan, we have a couple of main projects. Foremost is the work that will be done in Taichung City with Dr. Yu at Chung Shan University and anti-aristolochic acid (AA) antibodies. We're hoping to take their ELIZA assay originally designed to detect AA in TCM products and adapt it so it can help us with our zebrafish/heart failure/Coolstuff projects.

With any luck, we'll gain a better understanding of what is happening in our heart failure model as well as in the drug (Coolstuff) I worked with over this past summer. Fun side note: I recently finished my research with Dr. Karl Peterson, and from what we can tell, C6 (the official arbitrary label for Coolstuff, but it doesn't sound sounds as nice) does not appear to bind with AA. This is great news, as that means that Coolstuff may eventually move out its parents' basement and become a successful drug for heart failure.

Project number two is a good one as well. We'll be working with a colleague of Dr. Huang's, Dr. Liu at Tunghai University, who is also in Taichung. She's lending us the use of her zebrafish lab so that we can test some TCM products on the zebrafish for effect on AA-induced heart failure. In addition, we'll be visiting some traditional medicine shops, learning traditional remedies from a colleague of Dr. Huang, and touring the School of Chinese Pharmaceutical Sciences and Chinese Medical Resources in Taichung. Being the CAM-nerd that I am, this part of the trip is super cool. I'm even working on a sort of field guide to help us figure out which plants are which and their uses at the latter school's garden. We'll be visiting other gardens and reserves as well, so it'll be nice to have some grasp of the mountain of information that is traditional Chinese herbalism.

Thar be Whales (NMMBA)
Project number three is in Kanting on the south end of Taiwan. It'll probably look like we're hanging out at the beach a lot, mostly because we will be. But, there is a reason besides my never having swam in the ocean before: I've also never collected algae samples form the ocean. Working with Dr. Sung at the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium, we'll be collecting even more compounds from various aquatic sources to test on the zebrafish for effectiveness on heart failure. We'll get to learn how to use chromatography and how to fractionate mixed samples in the process, as well as how to snorkel and not drown. Should be fun.

Project number four is not really a project, but a general goal for myself and Dr. Huang. Dr. Huang wants to share as much of his country as possible, and I want to absorb as much of it as possible. This includes the language (which I have some training in already), the celebrations (we'll get to see the build-up to the Chinese New Year and then leave right before it happens - one of the few aspects of this trip I'm not happy with), bullet trains, architecture and especially the food. It's funny, but despite all the research and work, I'm pretty sure that Dr. Huang is most excited about seeing what kinds of crazy food he can get me and the others to eat. What's even moreso is that his wife felt the need to sit me down and warn me.

Dr. Huang, if you're reading this, I'm unto you and your dastardly plan. I also fully support it.

Basically, the only things lacking from the trip are that we'll miss the Chinese New Year and Dr. Huang and the others won't get very much time to prep for spring semester. Our return flight is scheduled to have us home on the 23rd of January. School starts the following day in all of its jet-lagged fury. I lucked out, as I'll be done with undergrad once I get back. I just get to try and find a job instead.

Friday, November 19, 2010

SURSCA Gala pt. 2

As promised, here is the low-down on the SURSCA Gala that I presented at last night.

For starters, it was fantastic. I can tell because my voice was shot from explaining my poster so many times. This is a very good thing. It means, in addition to me having my first chance to explain my work to other students, that there were people actually interested in the event. Actually, I think I'm just excited by the fact that there were people there at all. I probably would have been happy if a bus-full of catatonics showed up; I was just happy to actually present for once. Obviously, I've got a bigger picture in mind as well. Even if the students' interest was largely fueled by extra credit assignments that are assigned by every teacher on my campus who is involved in research, I'm not too upset. My school is very much a suitcase school, and it's a small miracle to get a large portion of the student body involved in anything that isn't graded or accompanied with some form of food. Honestly, that's a large part of the reason I get so excited when students do show interest in things like research or clubs. Underneath my socially-awkward and spaztic facade hides someone that actually gives a damn about these things. And a pocket protector.

Tim (Morris) 1
Speaking of giving a damn, did you know that the University of Wisconsin - River Falls (Hah! My school has a name now!) is known as a "power" of undergraduate research and scholarly activities? Neither did I until last night. For a school sometimes nicknamed, "Moo-U" this is a surprising turn of events. I didn't know this when I first came to UWRF, but apparently SURSCA (which is a student group led by the good-looking guy to the left) and the school administration have been really encouraging research and other scholarly activities on campus since 2003. 

This work appears to have paid off. Last year's NCUR, held in Missoula, Montana, saw a majority of students from UWRF. Technically, we were the third largest group there, but we also teamed up with other Minnesotan and Wisconsin schools to charter our own jet to get there.

Dr. Lyden
Don't quote me, but the jet may have been the idea of the guy beneath guy #1. Ironically, both are named Tim, although one has a Ph.D and would probably skin me alive if I ever forgot it. Considering all he's done for the college and for me possibly, I'd have to let him get away with it. On a more serious note, the work Dr. Lyden is doing with cell and tissue culture is mind-blowing. I've been blessed to work in the lab attached to his for almost a year now. While it kind of looks like a cross between a bomb-shelter and an attic, our labs tend to grow on you. Sometimes literally. For example, I get to borrow his equipment and contend with the severe weather alarm that he locks up at really inconvenient times (although these times are usually when most people are sleeping - late night research is fun).

I've also gotten to see all sorts of amazing projects.

Unfortunately, if I was responsible for IP theft in his lab, there 
would be no probabilities regarding how skinned I became, so I'll let you look it up on your own with the promise of awesome.

[As a small note, my fear for IP security is a large part of the reason I was so paranoid about using the actual name of the school/my proffessors/etc. earlier. I've got the rules worked out now, which is a relief.]

C. Hunter
Also, check out this guy's work. I spent the summer  working/befriending him, and it was time well spent. At least I think it worked out well, as we both seem to have inherited the "Really Big Dork" gene and were able to geek-out about far too many things together.
I'm also just really impressed by him. A few days before the SURSCA Gala, he returned from a research conference in Charlotte, NC with my P.I. Dr. Huang. I believe he has even gotten around to writing up a manuscript of his research, which can be a real bear of a task. Basically, you should keep an eye on him, for he is going places.

All tangents aside, the Gala was a great experience. If you didn't go, shame on you. Go next year. Please.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


I know that I said that I would post more about the trip tonight, but once again I must demonstrate how awesome I am when it comes to non-critical deadlines. Sorry folks, you're not quite a priority in comparison to my genetics exam.

I mean....I presented at the SURSCA Gala event tonight. With the exception of explaining my poster to the point where I'm going hoarse, it was great to share my work with people. Surprisingly, I think that I managed to keep a few people actually interested in what I had to say. I did not expect this, as I tend to go into a form of nerd-hypnosis when I talk about my research. Between making exaggerated hand gestures, commenting on how ridiculous said hand gestures are, and projecting my voice while talking to someone who is literally two feet away, I like to think that I'm probably really entertaining to watch from afar. Thankfully I was wrong tonight, or at least I think that's what smiles mean in a conversation.

Again, I apologize for the essentially "fluff" nature of this post. I'll put some meaty pictures/words of/about the Gala and Taiwan up when I get time this weekend. Scout's honor.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Something about my trip for once.

With less than a month to go, it looks like we have finally hammered out what all we will be doing in Taiwan. To be fair, the general itinerary has been well established for a couple of months, but we ran into some scheduling issues. Upon ordering the tickets, my PI found that we wouldn't be able to take the same flight that we had earlier thought. Instead, we had the choice of leaving a few days earlier (for a few hundred dollars more) or leaving in the middle of Christmas Day. Strangely, the two women who are joining us wanted to leave earlier, as doing so would give them more time to prep for the next semester upon returning home. I can see where they might have been concerned, but the first few days of semester are probably the best days to miss if you're going to miss any. Personally, I'm a cheap skate and don't have to worry about taking classes when I get back so I'm perfectly happy with my PI's decision to leave on Christmas day. My fiance' is also happy about it - she was Not a happy camper when I told her the original date we were leaving. I still think it's a pretty silly excuse to stimulate the economy and the size of our landfills, although I'm not about to complain about having more time to spend with loved ones.

Unfortunately, it's late. I had hoped to post some of the details of the trip itinerary, but it's late and I am deficient in coffee and professional writing skills. I wrote something along the lines of five different cover letters today while looking for work where ever I can beg for it, and for some reason the prospect of attempting to write much more coherent and proper word-age is making me a little nauseated. I'll get over it. I'm probably just sick of finding the balance between "boring" and "going to get me sued for slander".

 Stay tuned, for tomorrow holds the promise of caffeine and charisma.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Living life as a entropy-driven reaction.

My life is on the brink of defying the rules of thermodynamics. Somehow things keep getting more and more chaotic and exciting, but I don't see any signs of it slowing down. Eventually, everything should finally dissociate into complete disorder, but I'm apparently operating on cold-fusion now. It's both terrifying and amazing. The things people are capable of really astound me sometimes, even when I'm the one doing them.

What I'm trying get at is that I'm now applying to present at two new research conferences. One is this next Wednesday and is being held by SURSCA on my campus. I'm excited about it, having attended a few in the past, I now get to present my own work. The one thing that is unfortunate about it is that it's limited to the students on my campus. Granted, it will still be my first time presenting first undergraduate-oriented research convention, so I'm not complaining. I'll just make a million dollars one day and donate it to my school so it can become gigantic and awesome and such.
Until I win the lottery, I'm looking forward to the second conference a little more as it is much larger.And by large, I mean on the national scale. Assuming I'm acccepted, it looks like I am one of the lucky thousands of undergraduate researcher who gets to attend the annual National Conferences on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) meeting. It's being held at Ithaca University in New York this year. Normally this would be a bit of a hurdle, considering the currently taxed state of my finances. Being a college student and going  on a research trip to somewhere like Taiwan have a habit of shrinking whatever funds are available to me, apparently. This may be where the laws of thermodynamics plan to bring my life back into equilibrium, but the joke's on them. It I get accepted to NCUR, it's highly likely that I can get a scholarship covering travel costs and registration fees. Then I'll only have to pay for food, and while I admit that I enjoy eating a great deal, that won't nearly be expensive enough to prevent me from coming.

I have presented at a conference before, but it was very different from a normal conference. This past June, I presented my work from the summer at the annual WiSys Technology Foundation conference, which for the most part was great. They provided travel funds for almost every student who attended, however I'm not entirely sure why. By and large, the conference was geared towards connecting PhD's with entrepreneurs and really didn't address the undergraduate researchers in attendance. That is not to say that I didn't gain anything from going, on the contrary, I learned a great deal of things about intellectual property, biotech entrepreneurship, and more. While I didn't expect any of it, the most surprising and important thing that I learned was the value many people place in appearances and networking.

Beforehand, I had the opinion that a lot of the "professionalism" at conferences and in non-academic circles is mostly useless fluff. It took watching my more extroverted peers to show me the benefits of dressing up, small talk, and generally being able to talk about something besides the inflammation pathway in zebrafish. I'm still much more interested in what a researcher has to present, but I'm also keenly aware of the difficulty they'll have in convincing politicians, business people, and the general public that they have something worth saying. Unfortunately, most people like the smoke and mirrors of a presentation as much (if not more) than the actual content. Live, learn, and let lie, I guess.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Visit to Bastyr. Part 2

Just a heads up, I gave the last entry a nice face-lift. Some of what I'm writing about in this post was in the old post and some of what's in the old post wasn't there initially.

Back to Bastyr:
The herbalism lab was not the only thing that had me hooked on the school though, but it was the easiest to describe. It's much harder to explain the mentality of the staff and students there, but that was probably what influenced me the most. What really interested me was how much importance was given to balance and respect, both for people and their work, but also on a large scale. One example I already mentioned is the award-winning vegetarian cafeteria, although I was unable to sample the food from there and can't say much about it. An example that was more poignant to me was hearing about how the campus recognizes the contributions of everyone on campus. Even those who don't have a pulse. Bastyr actually hosts a day of activities to give thanks to the cadavers that they learn so much from. Year-round, there are multiple paintings made in the honor of the cadavers hanging on the walls. Those that are more musically inclined can offer up original songs or other projects. All in all, I thought it was a really good idea. You can say what you want about the deceased, but you can't deny that people would probably feel a lot better donating their bodies to a place that does stuff like this. I honestly would like to see this sort of thing all over, if only to serve as another reminder that patients are people and not just a biological box of problems and enzymatic reactions.

I probably should have prefaced the above by mentioning that I once planned on going into the funeral home business. That ended once I realized that the last thing I wanted to spend my life doing was managing the family of the recently deceased. Research is a lot more constructive and interesting.

Speaking of, Bastyr is one of the leaders in CAM research according to my guide on the campus visit. She was corroborated by the research posters that plastered the walls of the upstairs office level of the building. Not only was it encouraging to see so many projects, but also the diversity. I saw work involving everything from leukocyte cytokine expression to dietary survey data. No matter where your interests are, there is probably a research project at Bastyr you can get involved in. If not, you can apply for funding to start your own. That last bit actually had me skipping a little bit when I heard it. Luckily, looking at medical schools isn't like buying a used car and I didn't get 20% added onto my tuition right then and there.

Actually, they might have gotten away with it. When I geek out, I geek out HARD.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Visit to Bastyr. Part 1

My visit to Bastyr University was all kinds of interesting.

Getting to and from there was just as eventful as the actual campus. My fiance' and I rode the bus together to the school she was looking into, or what we thought was the right bus. The plan was then, after dropping her off, I would make my way to Bastyr. Simple enough, right? We thought so too, until we found that the first bus we boarded was travelling opposite the direction we wanted. By the time we had realized our mistake, it was no longer as simple a fix as waiting for the bus going the other way. Instead, we had to finagle our way back on track using our wits, charm, and sheer stupid determination. Luckily, my fiance' was in charge of the first two. I tend to monopolize the last one. There was also a great deal of running, rapid map reading, and confused locals. Between racing buses to their stops so as to not be completely late for our appointments, the rain, and the general feeling that the ground was falling out beneath us, I'm amazed that we even made it to our respective campus visits at all. All things considered, someone could have justifiably called the nice gentlemen with white coats to take us away.

Bastyr to the Birds.
As you might guess, I was a little too frazzled by the journey before to have a really good first impression of Bastyr. It's a pretty campus, to be sure, but there is something about spending three hours embattled with buses and an ever-increasing amount of time after when an appointment was originally supposed to occur that ruins one's appreciation for those sorts of things. Fortunately, I did not remain bitter for much longer. Bastyr was far too sweet.

The campus is tucked away in Kenmore, between Lake Washington to the St. Edward State Park - it apparently stays green year-round due to its location.

It's also fairly new. The grounds were originally built in 1959 as the home of a catholic seminary, however Bastyr moved in during 1996 and finally bought the place in 2005. Interestingly, the school was first established in 1978 in response to political problems that arose when the National College of Natural Medicine moving to Portland. It was also one of the first schools to be accredited by the Council of Naturopathic Education. There's more history to the place, but I've probably got a healthy dose of nerd-bias going on and will spare you. Unless you like it, for then I will embrace my nerdery and spew forth knowledge like a geysers of science and obsessiveness.

The Chapel.
I was surprised to find that everything except the new student dorms (which are mind-numbingly awesome and environmentally friendly) are contained in only one building. It kind of reminds me of the white city from The Lord of the Rings. The front archway is the main thing that does it, but the portions of hallways that are open to the air and walking inside of the acoustically perfect chapel also makes me feel like a hobbit. I would demonstrate this using photos, but I realized upon trying that you have to be there to understand. That, or my brain makes some really strange correlations. (Peanut Butter and Motor Oil anyone?)

Fun fact, the chapel often gets used by professional musicians from all over for recording purposes due to it's great acoustics. There is also a group on campus that routinely meets up to make music in there, which is all kinds of awesome in my book.

The Front Archways.
That aside, the parts of the campus that really mattered were also fantastic. From an educational perspective, you pretty much have to watch your step to keep from accidentally learning something. The walls are covered with various research projects and other informative posters, but ground has something to share as well. Bastyr has many great gardens, both decorative and medicinal, all over the grounds. From what I saw, most of it was labeled with not only the plant name, but what it was used to treat as well. The gardens are also organised by various systems, one had the plants grouped according to targeted organs while another used a Ayurvedic layout. One garden even has a reflexology pathway built into it. If it weren't raining, I would have given it a shot. It's essentially a bunch of pebbles set into a concrete pathway in a pattern, and from what my student guide was saying, people have a varied reactions to it. She wasn't a big fan of it, as it hurt her feet, but I still  look forward to my next dry-ish Seattle day to try it out.

Inside the main campus building, there are multiple rooms for all sorts of class work. I only saw one large lecture hall, the rest of the building seems to be devoted to either labs, professor offices, or the vegetarian cafeteria. All three blew my mind for various reasons. For starters, the labs were gorgeous. I can't even begin to express how much I would enjoy it if the majority of my classwork was outside the lecture hall and in labs like those. Everything looked well-taken care of, shiny, and respectable. I wish I had some pictures to show them off better. The one that stands out in my mind is the food medicine lab, which is basically a very modern home ec room with science oozing out of it's pores, but no one yelling, "BAM" every once in a while. It's also painted red, if that helps any.

I also got to see the herb sciences lab where they were making tinctures with St. John's Wart to use at the clinic that Bastyr runs. Not only was it fun to chat with the herbalism students, who I must say I'm extremely jealous of (they're learning the stuff as undergrads!), but it was like walking into a room that I have wanted to make in my house for the past five years. There were all sorts of plants and tubers drying from the ceiling, as well as every plant part you could think of lining the walls in jars. The best part was the smell though. Imagine a cross between silage and honey, only better (because it's real) and you have the herb lab.

To be continued!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Subscription Madness.

After figuring out that following a blog on blogspot doesn't actually mean you get notified if there is a new post, I've fixed it. At least, I think I have. There is a sparkling new "Subscribe" button that will let you set up your favorite feed aggregator. If this doesn't work, I'll probably break down and just harass people's email accounts when ever I update. If anyone has any tech-savvy suggestions, I'm all ears.

Once I finish my sizable to do list, I promise to post more details about the itinerary for Taiwan. I might even be able to sneak some stories about visiting schools on the west coast as well, but that will depend on how much awake I have left in me.

Friday, October 29, 2010

When you wish upon a star...

You run the risk of being quickly disintegrated and undergoing fusion.
It sucks to be you, Pinocchio.

I have to say I still sympathize with the little guy. Building a trip to Taiwan as rapidly as my PI and I did was really a gamble. When we started the whole process, it was like walking into a casino and winning on ever slot machine you try. The better things pieced together, the more I was expecting Murphy's Law to kick in and shatter everything. I should emphasize that my PI shouldered a lot of the burden involved with planning it all. I helped when I could, but for the most part I was only responsible for figuring out how to pay for things and had much less reason to be afraid. However even now with only two months until we leave the feeling is the same. At least it's not entirely illogical because while almost everything has fallen into place relatively smoothly, all of my PI's and my effort might quickly implode upon itself with a single mishap. Now I just wish I knew what an example of such a mishap might be. One of the few solaces I have is that every passing day brings us one step further away from the destructive plasma of a excessive wishing star.

There's probably a reason I don't write for children.

Unfortunately, the passing of time often isn't as much of a respite from my fears. Early in the game of finding the funds for the trip, I found out after staying up most of the night working on an application for the Fullbright Scholarship that the deadline had passed roughly a year before. After that, I never forgot that the year was 2010, and finished my application to the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship in record time. It's partly due to a small neurotic issue I have with being late, but after missing one by a year I've got every other deadline locked down so hard they beg for mercy and leak red tape. However, even when I'm aware of how much time is passing, who or whatever is responsible for my mental health still plays games. About a month ago, my PI informed me that he was inviting other students to come on the trip as well. This was exciting, except that I knew the difficulties they were going to have finding sufficient financial support for the trip. At this moment, we have been approached by five or six students who then decided they couldn't manage to come. Thankfully, it now looks like the two young women who plan to join us might actually stick around. Even more worrisome is that I won't know the full extent of my financial support for this trip until sometime in early December. Hopefully I will be able to schedule a meeting with the local Chamber of Commerce and persuade/beg for them to support us, as that would be fantastic.

It all makes me dislike the phrase, "Time Will Tell", as the implication seems to be that "Time Will Tell How Little Sleep You'll Get Trying To Fix Things".

On that note, Happy Halloween-eve!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Shattered Expectations. In a good way.

The past few months have been really educational for me, although the lessons have only come indirectly from school. Most importantly, the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity life throws at me has been made very apparent. Surprisingly, even the ones that are disguised as week-long marathons of research and sleep deprivation can help illuminate possible paths in life. It's almost like natural selection, with the difficulties in life either molding us to better achieve the task at hand or making us cry like a two year old mad that it can't figure out something simple like walking.
Being blessed with the tendency to really only enjoy myself while running from one class/club/group meeting to the next, I've had my fair share of both molding and frustration. However, I don't cry. My face just leaks from time to time, and that's what spackle is for.
When my face is not leaking, I'm busy not having much of life anyways. It turns out that when you find things like comics, Chemistry, and Chinese entertaining, research is a great direction to go. You get to be surrounded by like-minded people who, just like you, also have no time for anything. It's surprisingly comforting, and the dividends of your investment are fantastic. I went into working with my PI's zebrafish heart failure model only expecting to get good resume fodder for my medical school application. It turned out to be some of the best learning experiences I had had throughout my undergraduate degree, and once I re-established which way was up it was a lot of fun. I didn't ever expect to get as involved in the work as I did, eventually becoming paid to research full-time during the summer as well as part-time during my final semester. Most of all, I would never have believed that I could travel to Taiwan for my research. The thought never crossed my mind until my PI asked me if I was interested.
Before going to Taiwan was even an option for me, I was simply excited to collaborate with researchers at the Chung Shan Medical College so as to tie up some loose ends from my summer research. I had been working on characterizing a compound (For I.P. purposes, lets call it "Coolstuff") that had shown great promise in the heart failure model, but there was evidence that Coolstuff wasn't working as well as we all originally thought. Basically, all of my work over the summer looked like it might be totally useless. While that is just how research goes sometimes, it would still suck. My plan was to hit up the researchers in Taiwan and ask for help using the antibody assay they had designed to detect Aristolochic Acid (AA) in traditional Chinese remedies. AA has been known to cause kidney damage in people who accidentally ingest it - thus the antibody assay. Our model depends on AA to induce heart failure in zebrafish embryos, using the anti-AA antibodies would allow us to to see exactly how the AA was working. More importantly, it would allow us to see if the AA was binding with Coolstuff. I had assumed they would just send us the antibodies if they wanted to help us at all and then we would go on our merry way doing science.

Now I'm really tempted to assume other things, because instead of mailing anything to us, we're going to them. Something has to be amplifying my assumptions, this all still doesn't seem real. I'm waiting to wake up on top of protocol sheets with a micro-pipetter stuck to my face.

Assuming the fantasy is real, the work with the anti-AA antibodies is my main reason for going to Taiwan.

I think I'll start assuming that there are lizards under my couch, because I don't care about how much damage it will cause. A stegosaurus in my living room would be worth every penny of security deposit.

Monday, October 25, 2010

New Photos, Old Story. Absolutely Nothing to do with Medicine.

I went ahead and posted some of the pictures from my trip out to the West Coast this past summer. Mostly, it was to see how the slideshow gadget worked - and I have to say I'd like it to be a little larger. However, it was also a nice way to introduce some of the traveling I have done with regards to my future as an N.D. My wife-to-be and I drove out to Seattle, WA the week before fall semester started with the goal of learning more about colleges and general life in the area. The trip took almost two full days due to some car troubles, but luckily we were able to get things relatively fixed up in Wyoming. If we had hit Montana and the car broke down, I have my doubts as to whether I would be telling this story now. Somehow, the temperature was often in the 90-100 degree range the entire trip out there, which in Montana largely consisted of 50 mile stretches of road with no sign of civilization. Granted, Idaho would have been an even worse place to break down. In Montana the road gradually ascends the Rocky Mountains, in Idaho the road might as well be an asphalt fireman's pole. On the bright side, it's very possible to coast a car down the Idaho side of  I-90 and get some great gas mileage. It's just slightly nerve-wracking.

Morale of the story: Take the train unless you absolutely can't.Upon our arrival in Seattle, we found a great public transit system and seldom needed our car, except for when we drove to Portland to visit schools there.

We ended up arriving in Seattle some time around midnight and then collapsing in a heap. The following morning, we went to Pike's Place Market, which was great fun. If you're ever in the area and don't have time to do anything else, go to the market. You can find everything there, except for any kind of large store. The only chain that is allowed there is Starbucks, and that's because their first shop was at the market. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures from there yet. You'll just have to go see it yourselves. Or wait a few years until I move out there and explode your screens and minds with the awesome that is Pike's place.

The pictures I did post are from the Seattle Aquarium, which is also fantastic. My lovely fiance' demonstrated her loveliness by getting us there on a slower day, which was very, very nice. A slow day at that aquarium is a lot like the first day of school - there were a bunch of people (young and old) who had no clue what was going on and did well just to remember what day of the week it was. If you can't tell, I have a slight aversion to crowds. I do not, however, have an aversion to the beautiful ocean and freshwater animals that were on display. I took as many pictures as I could without getting trampled by the herds of toddlers and exhausted mothers. The surprisingly large percentage of photos that were presentable are what you get to see.
 So far, my favorite animals at the aquarium were the otters, mostly because I never thought I would be able use the word "wriggly" to describe a mammal until I saw my first otter. The only downside is that all other animals are ruined for me. My 17 year old cat, while delightfully crotchety and annoying, does not wiggle. She only lurches, and neither she nor my apartments plants can crack open crustaceans on their chest with a rock. Yet.

Anyways, I promise I'll actually post something about Naturopathy, Taiwan, or something that's actually pertinent last time. The otters just needed to be shared.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


There are good ideas, and there are ideas that may or may not become good ideas. I'll let you decide which of the two this account is.

What I can tell you is that this will be where I post all the exciting and terrifying things I come across in my attempts to become a Naturopathic Doctor. I can also tell you that my upcoming research trip to Taiwan will be posted here as well. In fact, that may be the large majority of the content posted here for the next few months, as I am currently in my final semester of undergrad and will be leaving for a month-long stay in Taiwan at the end of December.

Along with another student and my research professor, we will be engaged in a broad spectrum of work during the trip ranging from drug characterization to drug discovery. Much of this work will be centered around the Zebrafish heart failure model designed by my professor, with the hopes of developing drugs for human heart failure. Alongside this work, we will be learning about traditional Chinese medicine through visits to local medicine shops, gardens, and even a couple of TCM schools. I am especially looking forward to this, hoping to get my N.D. as I am, but I'm also intrigued by the personal nature of this learning. My favorite example of this is that a good friend of my professor has agreed to show us first-hand how to prepare a medicinal meal geared towards fighting cancer. He learned these skills while taking care of his ailing grandmother. Now, in addition to opening his home to us for food and rest, he is passing on this healing knowledge. Honestly, I'm a dumbfounded by this level of kindness and generosity, particularly by its prevalence in the planning stages of this trip. It's very impressive, and I truly hope to reciprocate my gratitude.

Another great aspect of this trip is that we have planned many activities, but there is still some freedom for us to venture out on our own. I thoroughly plan to take advantage of this, as not doing so would be completely ridiculous. I haven't spent the last two months fighting to keep this program alive just to arrive in Taiwan and go with the motions. Along with my professor, this trip is very much a labor of love and determination - one that we hope to get the most out of. So pray that my memory stays sharp and my camera holds up while I'm there, because they're both going to be put through their paces.