Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Day two back in the States.

Don't go looking for day 1 or anything about leaving. This is it. I was way too jet-lagged and busy to be productive yesterday. Who knows how bad everyone else on the trip was doing on their first day of class. I know Dr. Huang had something like 4 or 5 hours of classes. As for myself, I slept in until noon and have been struggling with sleeping more than 4 hours at a time since. The trip over there wasn't nearly as bad. No wonder we can't travel back in time, it's a real pain.

Here's the condensed form of the last few days of the trip in Taipei. Friday (the day after my last post) we went to what Dr. Huang called a cultural park. Basically, it was an entire mountain side that was half composed of wax models and replica indigenous Taiwanese villages while the other half was an amusement.park. I liked the almost every aspect of the first half except for the really awful gift shops. They were everywhere and were pretty much limited to selling (at best) useless or (at worst) offensive. I'll have to find somewhere to post more pictures from the day, as I'd like to describe some of the more ugly knick knacks for sale. However, there's some contention over how bad the stuff really was, and I'm curious what people think.

Aside from the gift shops, the replica villages were really educational. Once I got over how unnerving the wax models were - they weren't life-like enough to look completely real, but it was enough that I was worried that they'd start to move - it became a really good way to see the cultures of the different tribes indigenous to Taiwan. There were also a few mock ceremonies performed as well, but for the most part they were only interesting in seeing the similarities the had to Native American rituals. Many of the Taiwanese tribes made something very similar to totem poles. The group actually had a pretty decent conversation about this and settled on similarity possibly being based on the similar resources available to both tribes in Taiwan and those in the Pacific Northwest. We're probably wrong, but it's also a question that's nearly impossible to answer anyways.

The amusement park section was less educational, but a lot more entertaining with its rollercoasters and tower-rides. Kathryn and I made good work of them all. Unfortunately, Kenna was feeling sick again and wasn't able to join us. By far, my favorite ride was the rollercoaster in the Mayan-themed section of the park. Unlike most rollercoasters, there wasn't a sharp drop at the end of the initial ascent, it was more like a gradual plunge. While thrill junkies may criticize me, I enjoyed the more subtle transition. It also helped that once the cars got up to speed, we were in for roughly two minutes of twisting track, hairpin turns, and several loops. When everyone got off, it didn't matter what language you spoke, as we all might as well have been speaking in tongues. Rides that temporarily damage your ability to make a complete sentence should be the future of diplomacy, I think.

The next day, Kenna, Kathryn, and I got to present what we learned and did on our trip to Dr. Huang's old lab technicians. It was admittedly rushed and not a very good presentation, but for putting it together in basically a single night, I think we did okay. If it hadn't just been Dr. Huang's old lab techs it probably would have been disastrous for use.

Okay. My tired face is starting to get the jump on me, so I'll have to finish this one later. Keep and eye out for new posts and pictures soon.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Taiwan - The end is nigh pt. 1

2012 or some crap, right?


Soon to be back in the States blog.

There's a couple of things on my mind right now. I'll spare you my worries about getting hired anywhere anytime soon, as well as all the other weird and wonderful rites of leaving never-never land.

Right now, the group is Taipei again after spending the first portion of the week in Taizhong. We're in the process of scrambling to squeeze in as many last minute research projects, touring, and pictures as possible. This may or may not be because of the -20 degree weather that we get to look forward to if our flight somehow lands on the ice rink that is the MSP airstrip.

Our time in Taizhong was a bit of a mixed bag. We arrived on Sunday and mostly rested the rest of that day. Monday and Tuesday were spent doing more surveys of the TCM compounds we received from Drs. Cheng and the coral extracts from the NMMBA. It's a four day protocol, and because we had to leave for Taipei today, I got to try and carry three 96-well plates wrapped in tin foil and whatever else I could find to keep them from spilling in taxis, buses, and subways. It was worth it though, as the extra time allowed the embryos to be perfectly treated by most of the chemicals and we found a few new effective compounds to look at. Considering that Dr. Huang's model has been used to survey several hundreds of chemicals and only found two or three really promising drugs, this is pretty exciting.

We also took another stab at using the anti-AA antibodies we got from Dr. Yu at the Zhongshan Medical University. Unlike the survey, this has yet to really come to fruition. We've got a few kinks to work out still, some of which are quite interesting. One example of this is our use of the optical equipment at Tunghai University. In order to get better resolution and clarity, we've been using something called a confocal microscope. Basically, it builds a topographical map of a sample. By taking away layers and isolating certain areas, a confocal microscope allows us to see things that would be hidden when using a normal light microscope. In layman's terms, it's like looking through batman's microscope. I really like seeing all that those things can do, although it's good to keep in mind that we still have a small laundry list of other experiments to do with the anti-AA antibodies. Once we're back at our own lab, I plan to take full advantage of the very generous supply of antibodies from Dr. Yu.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Taiwan - PHOTO DUMP

I finally got around to captioning these suckers. Check out the links to see my hard work and play.







Taiwan - Downtime-er?

Here's the promised pictures from the last post. I'm sorry if they're tinted with jealousy. The UWRF research facilities are only enough to get work done and not much more than that.

You know you're in Taiwan when you're almost too tall to use the emergency showers.

This is like the door that urine samples get passed through, only instead of a toilet, there's fish on the other side.

This is an air shower here, although I was sad to see that the researchers don't really use it. I don't care if it isn't need for working with zebrafish, I want to be re-pressurized.

Zebrafish room at THU, which is basically a carbon copy of every fish lab in Taiwan. It turns out that Dr. Huang's set up at UWRF is unique in it's use of normal fish tanks.

Mice!

The sole inhabitant of the rabbit lab.

Taiwan - Down time

Not much to say right now, but I'll be posting later tonight with more.

I just wanted to nerd out a little bit. The facilities here at Tunghai U include a clean room for their zebrafish, mice, and rabbit labs. Pictures in the next ten minute break I get.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Taiwan - Southern Taiwan and Kenting (Pt.2)

Good news. The Gilman scholarship finally got transfered to me today, so the UWRF financial aid office isn't about to have my thumbs broken. Hooray for non-cement shoes!

This trip has been an exercise in, if nothing else, flexibility. Almost none of the specifics details have gone exactly according to plan. Either we've had to do some things later than others and bump ahead a few things, or we've had to skip some plans altogether. It's unfortunate, but what can we do but make the best of it? Besides, being able to bend has given us a few happy surprises as well. One man's flat tire is another's sudden excuse to hike a mountain trail.
The guy showing us around, Tony, handled it pretty well.
We're back in Taizhong for a few days, but there's still a lot to be said about the past week. Looking at it now, I realize that we spent the entire week in or around the NMMBA in Kenting. There was never a moment when the sea wasn't within earshot or visible through a window. I miss it now. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't good for us to go swimming or snorkeling. If you look at the last post, you'll see that I did manage to scare Tony and Dr. Huang by flipping off the ocean.
The gymnastics actually started with cartwheels. It ended with my first b-twist.
Our tourism was very welcome after the time we spent in the NMMBA labs. Tony (for the record, one of the kindest men in Taiwan and I wish him and his soon-wife all the best) took the week off from his normal experiments to babysit Kenna, Kathryn, and I while we learned some of the basics of column chromatography and NMR spectroscopy. With the exception of the NMR, everything was pretty straightforward once we got over Tony's accent and my tendency to either project my voice or slur my words and speak to quickly. Things would have been even easier if he'd used a picture book to explain the process: chopping up a frozen sample of soft coral, extracting anything that might be interesting with methanol, and then loading the crude extract into a silica-powder column isn't that hard. Setting up the column was mostly just annoying after we'd gotten the TLC pre-runs done to identify the proper solvent mixture. (For the confused: a column is like a big series of filters for mixtures of chemicals. TLC is like a very small column that is often used to figure out how the column should be set up) Working with Silica powder, along with having the family-friendly trait of never leaving your lungs if you're unlucky enough to inhale it, is very similar to taking a toddler to the grocery store. It likes to go everywhere except where you want it. 
Science and fashion aren't friends, but my lungs aren't perforated with glass now either.
The NMR made packing the column look like a piece of cake. It's like reading Lewis Carrol's EKG. Luckily, we were assisted by another Dr. named Siu who was also extremely kind, if somewhat difficult to talk to. I tried my hardest to remember what I already knew and to interpret Dr. Siu's hand gestures and sparse English, but organic chemistry is pretty traumatic to begin with. Hopefully Kenna and Kathryn got something out of Dr. Siu's and my teamwork.
They were like biological lawnmowers.

I call him "Lefty".
Another person at the NMMBA that I should mention is Jo. Our first day, she showed us the tanks where she and her coworkers culture the coral and fish specimens the NMMBA collects. Imagine a cross between a farm and an aquarium all inside of a building the size of baseball field. There were tanks with jellyfish, non-jelly fish, coral, algae, sea snakes and so much more. For whatever reason, they provided a home for injured or damaged animals until they could be set free or cremated.  This included a couple of horses that used to be used to make antibodies to snake venom and now spend their time wandering all over the campus. There were also sea turtles, which are about entirely larger than you would expect them to be. 
Jo pointing out the coral farming to Dr. Huang.
Anyways, back to Jo. She was supposed to take us snorkeling, but with the weather instead showed us how coral can be fluorescent and how coral reproduces. (PIC) When we went out for dinner and drinks with Dr. Siu and his researchers, she also demonstrated her superior dog-wrangling skills. Along with three other people in the back seat of the car, they fought valiantly to keep their poodle Yummy from scrabbling into the front seat. It was some good fun, and a nice addition to my conversation on traveling with another one of the researchers named James.
Blacklights: Not just for raves anymore.
Next update: More of the NMMBA aquarium, more exploring beaches, more awesome people and jellyfish stings.


Friday, January 14, 2011

NCUR and other News.

Unfortunately, it's late and I need to break my current insomnia streak. The past couple of days have been mostly fueled by coffee and fear. Before I head off to bed, I have two bits of good news

  1. I got accepted to go to NCUR!  Now I just need to figure out how I'm going to get there from Seattle.
  2. UW - River Falls is going to be doing an email interview with me sometime soon regarding the Gilman Scholarship.

Taiwan - Southern Taiwan and Kenting (Pt.1)

Sorry  it took so long, but I finally posted pictures from Taizhong. They're captioned, so go ahead and take a look: Day 7 photos (Traditional Chinese Medicine College, Clinic, and Museum)

With any luck I'll get the rest of the photos I took with Dr. Huang's camera sorted, labeled, and posted sometime in the next decade.

Anywho.

This week started with riding the bullet train again, this time from Taizhong to Kenting.

Kenting is in the southern part of Taiwan. Kenna, Kathryn, and I were very excited by this as it was much warmer there than in northern Taiwan. I know that it's been all of a few weeks since I was in the brisk Wisconsin winter storm warning fiesta, but my body temperature must have adapted as I was shivering in the 55 degree wind with everyone else in Taiwan. It kind of sucked, I was expecting summer weather and ended up almost a chilled as back home. Thus the excitement for Kenting. There was even talk of needing swimsuits for beach excursions. I was extra excited by this, as I've never actually been in an ocean.

I've been sprayed by both the Atlantic and the Pacific while in both Washingtons, but I never got the chance to jump in and splash back. REVENGE WILL BE MINE!

Edit: My ingenious battle plan was unsuccessful in instigating ocean-swimming. However, I did manage to land a few flips and possibly even my proper B-twist.
Not as good as swimming.
After having spent the first two weeks in chaotic Taipei and the only slightly calmer Taizhong, arriving in Kenting was a bit of shock. It's located in the midst of national park lands and actually has things like open spaces. Compared to the cramped northern cities that seem to be the battle ground of construction workers and advertisers, Kenting and the surrounding area's lack of competition for both level and vertical square footage was like walking out of an oven. If it weren't for the ocean and, unfortunately, the scooters, it's got a lot in common with Wisconsin.

Actually, that's quite a stretch. I might as well say Popsicles have a lot in common with wind turbines.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Taiwan - Last day in Taizhong (pt. 2)

Sorry about that last post's tangent. This one will be more succinct, if only because it's almost three AM here and I was up much later last night. My pineal gland must be taking a vacation, but normal circadian rhythms are over-rated anyways.


My favorite part about our last day in Taizhong had to be the museum's section dedicated to medicine. As with the other exhibits, I was surprised by how extremely thorough and they were. Pretty much every kind of treatment mankind has devised was on display. There was clinical medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, and even some folk remedies from Africa. Apparently, there are some African tribes that basically practice acupuncture, except they do it with nails on a wooden doll that is meant to act as a decoy for diseases. The things look like sad porcupines. Another interesting aspect of the exhibit was how traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) was given almost as much space as the clinical medicine is, in fact most of the exhibits on human aging and disease included the perspectives of both clinical and TCM. It was a good reflection of how traditional Chinese medicine is regarded by the majority of the Chinese, although most go to a clinical doctor for much of their troubles. Granted, the line between clinical medicine and TCM really blurred for me while I was in Taizhong - especially at the Chinese medicine college with Dr. Cheng. While they were most definitely working with TCM, the were also testing it with macrophages and using genetic engineering to make better remedies - not to mention the work my group did with extracting active compounds from plants.

(It may sounds strange to those who here Naturopathy and guess the meaning to be "over-privileged hippie quackery" but as an aspiring ND, I was ecstatic to experience firsthand the blending of clinical and traditional medicine.)

After the museum our group explored the surrounding area, which included what I first thought was children's play equipment and later learned were public exercise machines. We also checked out a 16-story department store. Including everything you could find at Ikea for roughly the same amount, I wasn't a fan. I did like the massive arcade on the top floor, but the hounding by sales people (who make American door to door salesmen look completely apathetic) really ruined it for me. For one, I didn't understand a thing they said, and they seemed to think that it didn't matter. In truth, it didn't, because I was just window shopping. Explaining this was almost impossible. We were able to escape into the restaurant on one of the upper floors, only to be greeted by an equally menacing terror.
Actually, it was just really bad steak.
A general rule of thumb:  Whenever a restaurant serves food endogenous of a certain country, unless said restaurant is in said country, the food is almost always bad. Chinese restaurants in the states are NOTHING like restaurants in Taiwan or China. The food is faster, better, and cheaper here, unless you go to a steakhouse. Then the inverse is true. While this is pretty much common sense, we still make adventures to places with Western food once in a while. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Taiwan - Last day in Taizhong (pt. 1)

I just found out I had been misspelling almost all of the Chinese words on this blog. As a result, I've probably been pronouncing many of them wrong as well. That's just swell. American tourists look bad enough as it is.

One of my rare gripes about the language in Taiwan is their non-use of the pinyin system. I'm not a fan of their total adherence to traditional characters either. Otherwise, the language is really interesting and fun except for those two details. Some days, those two details can really wreck a day. You can say a lot of things about China, but they were REALLY smart to make the switch to simplified characters.

Anyways, the last day of week two went as follows:

After finishing up the last of our week's work in Dr. Cheng's lab, we went to lunch somewhere nearby the science-museum. Dr. Huang, in one of his more and more prevalent moments of dry humor, had the girls and I thinking that the restaurants around the museum where all pretty upscale and that we would have to eat at McDonalds. The look on Kathryn's face was too delightful for words. We ended up eating at pretty fancy italian place instead, and I actually enjoyed it a lot. Throughout the trip, I've made it my goal to try as much as is safe to do so. Accordingly, I've been a little irritated when Dr. Huang or the others have suggested getting food that we could get back home. It just seems ridiculous to me to travel halfway around the world just to do the same stuff you can do at home. I did manage to get over my frustration though, as it is very interesting to see how other places portray different cultures, almost as much as it is to see the differences between how wrong the common American perceptions of Chinese culture are.

The science museum was definitely the highlight of the day, though the main chocolate exhibit was strangely disappointing. For all the people jostling around trying to see it, the only interesting things on display were the various scultures made out of chocolate, though they were pretty sweet. HaHaHaPUN. Actually, I was sad to find that we were only a llowed to look at the chocolate renditions of the terra cotta warriors or the Taipei 101. Neither were we allowed to eat the dim sum meal that was sculpted out of chocolate. It was very conflicting because the whole place smelled delicious but there was despicably solid plate glass between the displays and my mouth. Adding insult to injury, everything in the gift shop was apparently priced by Persian princes, so I couldn't go the legal route to fulfill the cocoa monkey that had been strapped to my back.

In all seriousness, the chocolate displays were really impressive and inspired. I saw some stuff done with food that I would never have the creativity nor the patience to complete, although that may be because that thought train would go something like: "Hey, I bet I can carve this into something INMYFACE!" ~insert the sound of starving raptors eating birthday cake~

The rest of the museum was much more interesting, partly because the legends on the permanent exhibits were both in English and Chinese, and partly because the displays were six kinds of awesome. I was pretty much floored by the animatronic dinosaurs that greeted me upon entering the main museum. Rating them on my scale of fantasticness, they had a score of three crying children.
It's like the metric system, but understood in the U.S.
I think they should have done better, but I'm not sure the youngsters in the room realized that the robots seemed to react to those around them. I was really expecting one to ask me if I was John Connor. I really like them. My inner nine year-old very much wanted to spend the entire time taunting playing with the dinosaurobots, but I decided that asserting dominants over robotic placeholders of extinct deathdealers was probably not the best example to set for the children that were already scared and confused by my lack of exposure to sunlight and blonde hair.

After glaring menacingly at some uppity velociraptors for next year's christmas card, I moved on to the exhibit of the human body. I'm not sure exhibit is the right word, as the majority of the museum's two top levels were dedicated to explain one aspect of Homo sapiens or another. Whether it was about human development, birth, and even death, the exhibit was astoundingly thorough. It's interesting, because in my use of the word "development", I mean it in the broadest sense possible. For example, the aforementioned T2000's could be seen as part of the human exhibit, as they were part of the evolutionary process that resulted in Neanderthaland and my more distant cousins. I think the one word that really described the exhibit was "thorough." You could start at a display about the origins of life and make your way up the Darwinian path to displays of Egyptian mummification and even cryo-preservation.

That last display scared me a little, mostly because I was under the impression that the only people who were crazy enough to pursue cold storage-based immortality died sometime after World War II. While I can see the benefits of cold-storage for things like space travel, I am a firm believer in death. It's not an issue that really bothers me at all until people try to cheat the system.

For a while I wanted to be a mortician because I thought I would be a good fit for the work given my comfort level. Part of the reason I'm no longer engaged in mortuary science was the realization that many people are vehemently opposed to accepting death as innevitable. It really surprises me how many people go about their lives as if there will always be another day to get their lives in order. Worse yet, just as many people spend enormous amounts of money to prolong the suffering and consequences of a life lived under the impression that tomorrow was soon enough. In a nutshell, my problem was that working as a funeral director would ensure that I eventually had to deal with everyone of those individuals. I couldn't stomach it, and switched.

Another thing that found strange, although not for the reasons you might expect, was the thermal imaging video of a recently deceased person cooling off. As I've said, death is something that bothers me, but I am very aware of how much it bothers others. I was simply surprised to see the cooling video and the artifacts that accompanied it in an otherwise family-friendly museum. 1000 year old mummies (out of their sarcophagi) and Incan burial masks (silver with red paint to symbolize blood – used to try and revive the recently deceased) are not things that would be on pedestals in an American museum. I'm not sure where I stand on the issue.

Too be continued. In the meantime, feel free to let me know what you think about shielding children from things like death.

Taiwan Day - I'm really not counting anymore.

I just got internet access for the first time in a few days. While I've been writing for the entire time, I've not been able to post. Even after tonight, I'll still probably not be caught up.

Research results from Week 2:

Rutin extraction, purification, and TLC
  • With Dr. Cheng at the Chinese Medical University
  • Rutin extracted via hot methanol from pagoda tree flowers (latin?)
  • Active component (Rutinose) strengthens blood vessels, while the rest functions as an anti-uretic
  • Took a long time to recrystalize and even longer to dry.
  • Ended up getting multiple grams of solid sample.
  • Made a new friend, Tsai. You can see his account in the followers list, from my conversation with him he's much smarter than me and also doing some really interesting work with genetic engineering and mushrooms. His group is attempting to increase the production of a medicinally significant protein inside of a mushroom. Actually, it's exactly the kind of project that I would eventually like to be a part of some day, mixing both clinical and traditional medicine.
Preliminary chemical survey of compounds from Chinese Medical University with Dr. Liu at Tunghai University
  • 10 compounds with two positive controls and one negative control.
  • No conclusive results, may have to redo the survey
  • Recieved 20 more compounds to survey
  • Found out that Dr. Liu is one of the most well-organized and helpful women alive.
Anti-AA cd/ciELISA with Dr. Yu at Zhongshan Medical University
  • First day: observed the protocols done by the wonderful laboratory assistant, Jim.
  • Second day: attempted the protocols observed yesterday with varying degree of success.
    • On the whole, everyone was able to get acceptable results, given some tweaking.
    • There were only a few moments where Jim looked worried about our well-being.
Anti-AA immunohistochemistry staining with Dr. Liu at Tunghai University
  • Protocol was actually carried out very well, considering the trouble Kenna and I have had in the past and it being Kenna's first time. Normally a large number of embryos are lost amongst all of the washes and pippetting, we only lost a couple.
  • Strange results, we'll have to repeat them.
    • Anti-AA Ab's appear to have stained the heart, a ring of cells in the tail, and parts of the eye. The MF-20 embryos did not stain very well for some reason, which is strange because they normally do. It is strange, and we're not sure what is going on with some of the stains. Hopefully we'll get access to a section and the equipment we need to redo the experiment, either during the last week or even after we get back. Either way, this work was the main reason we came to Taiwan, so if nothing else gets done in the near future, this project will be.
Most of this week was spent in one of the three different labs that we were working in. It was fun, but also exhausting. Having to travel to and from all the different work spaces and the difficulties of scientific discussion with sizable language barrier did a fantastic job of zapping all of my available energy. How tuckered out I was at the end of the day was probably exasperated by staying up late so that I could talk with my fiance. Luckily, I should be done with that kind of nonsense in two weeks, so if I can just withstand being a zombie for a couple more weeks I'll be fine. I'm pretty sure that once I get home from the airport, I'm going to hug my bride to be and then bury myself with covers and Nyquil for a week.

When I haven't felt like a drooling automaton, I've been trying to talk with some of the researchers and professors we've been sharing labs with. As I'm only capable of pidgin Chinese, the amount of information I've been able to extract from the conversations has fluctuated wildly. With some of the conversations I've had, it was an accomplishment just to get names exchanged. Others, particularly Drs. Yu and Liu, have been more accomodating. Another area I've had issues in when talking with people here has been that we're not sure what to talk about. I'm not sure, but I think that a lot of it has to do with not understanding the language in addition to the fact that we're not graduate students. On top of that, it's really hard for me to try and pry out what people are interested in. I think that if I were a better conversationalist, this wouldn't be such an issue, but right now the awkward sileces area little too prevalent. One thing is for certain, next year someone on the trip besides Dr. Huang needs to understand Chinese. Otherwise, we need to bring balloon animals to explain our ideas better.

Taiwan Days 6-13 - Heinz 57.

My goal tonight is to finally catch up with my posting here. Luckily, the last handful of days can be summed up pretty simply. We've been in one lab or another anywhere from 8 to 10 hours a day and then spending what little energy we have left to lift the covers on our beds.

I'm not complaining - I love research. There are days when my work with Dr. Huang is one of the few things in my life that I really understand. Even when I'm not sure about something I know that I can figure things out if I'm patient and diligent enough. In fact, it's these pursuits that make research the most rewarding for me. There aren't very many other jobs where you get to help discover things that no one has ever seen before. It's even more rare to see one's discoveries branch out into an ever-increasing spiral of new questions.

Take our group's research at the end of last week and all of this week. Some of the experiments worked out pretty well, some of them didn't. Being here for only a week with limited lab access and resources, it would be great to have all the experiments work flawlessly. In my experience experiments seldom behave this way. Partly this has to do with the exaggerated element of human error that unfortunately plagues undergraduate research. I think that the different fish and equipment we're using in our experiments may also be working against us. We're used to working with fairly vigorous wild-type fish from a pet store, but all of the fish we've had access to during this trip have been a lot more fancy (ie: transgenic and highly inbred). Being almost completely different animals, we've had to make some educated guesses regarding how to modify the experiments so that they would work properly. That considered, getting even mixed results is impressive.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Taiwan Day 5inally

Just a heads up, unlike New Years Eve, I'll keep all of New Year's Day within the confines of a single post. If we're lucky, I might also stop being so self-reflexive in my writing. I just found out that I have someone to do it for me. Either Kathryn or Kenna has taken to stealing my notebook when I'm not looking. Writing sweet little nothings like "John! This is your notebook. Please don't me, and I would appreciate it if you were to write more legibly so I and others can read what you write! Much love, Notebook", they've also taken to making what could be heavily veiled commentary on how much I've been eating.

My favorites are:
"Richard Simmon's vanity license plate reads, 'YRUFAT'"
 and
"It's legal in West Virginia and Pennsylvania to eat roadkill."

I'll have you know that according to my mom a reliable source, I'm just a human garbage disposal big-boned.

Even though I've written a lot about food, there is a lot more to Taiwan. For example, on New Years Day our group trekked out to the National Palace Museum for a free visit. Even though it seemed like everyone who went to see the fireworks at the Taipei 101 the night before had the same idea, it was a pretty good experience. The museum is one of the largest collections of ancient Chinese artifacts in the world, with everything from manuscripts to royal pottery. I enjoyed the latter quite a bit. Not being allowed to take pictures, I'll to try and describe one of my favorite pieces that I saw. It's something called a spinning pot. Basically, it's a vase inside of a vase, but the outer vase has parts cut away so that the inner vase is visible. The inner vase is able to spin inside of the outer vase, so when it is also decorated with things like koi it looks like a ceramic fish bowl. If I get the chance, I'm making my own when I get back, but with gun-turrets instead of fish.

I can't wait to get kicked out of pottery class.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Taiwan Day 4ish

This is my busy face.

 It is unfortunately apparent how behind I am on posting and how poorly the posts that I do have convey what I've want them to. I've been really busy lately. Hopefully, I can stay up late tonight and get some things finally filed away in my mental "done" pile. I've got Regina Spektor crooning in one ear and Dr. Huang's snores in the other, so let's start with actually explaining the events behind some of the photos I posted in the last post.

New Year's Eve was one big ball of crazy. It was also exciting, hectic, and on a few occasions nearly perilous. I guess that's how you know we're doing things right. The day started off harmless enough with some more work with embryos. For those who understand nerd, the following is what we were up to, as I now realize how extremely vague I was (You may thank my fiancĂ©e for this - and most of my other positive character traits). For those who don't, suffice it to say that we're finally doing some science and skip ahead to the stars.

Our work at Academia Sinica was basically the same thing that our lab normally does in River Falls, except better. Normally, we use in vitro fertilization to obtain roughly a few hundred zebrafish embryos for pharmaceutical testing and other experiments. I was pleased to find that the fish at Academia Sinica breed infinitely better than those at UWRF. We managed to get something in excess of 2000 embryos to work with, which was very encouraging until I found out everything Dr. Huang had in mind for those embryos. The first experiment was pretty tame in that it involved comparing the effects of known drugs for heart failure against a compound from La Crosse we've been looking at since the summer. I've done dozens of similar trials. The other two experiments were a little more daunting. Both were time trials, which is basically Dr. Huang-lish for "people get to draw straws for who stays up all night to change the embryo chemical treatments at 6 hour intervals. The main purpose of this sleep deprivation is to ascertain the "window" of a drug's function on heart failure. As we also had to harvest the embryos, we get to look at variation in gene expression as well (in experiments we'll be doing tomorrow). I'm not sure why, but Dr. Huang offered to do most of the time trials. This freed the girls and I up for the New Year's Eve. While he's a bit of a workaholic, it's nice to know that underneath he's got a heart of gold. 

***********STARS********STARS*********STARS (Someone needs to show me how to do cuts)


After the work with embryos was finished, the pictures from the last post are pretty indicative of what we did. Dr. Huang's old lab assistant ChinWei loaned Dr. Huang some of his nicer clothes for our fancy New Year's Eve dinner, even though that's not really common in Taiwan. In Japan it is, but I think ChinWei was pretty confused by it all. He played along with our sillyness very well regardless. We had Peking duck for dinner, which was delicious even with the breeze that blew through the restaurant. Afterwards, we went to ChinWei's house for the very energetic party his family was hosting. I had a really good time trying to comprehend the three different languages spoken with various degrees of intoxication, though this may have been slightly due to my own sampling of some very fine wine and sake. It had a great way of making the actual content of a conversation secondary to the intent behind it. Luckily everyone was there to have a good time, so the verbal chaos at least appeared to be friendly. Honestly, it was probably the theme for the night, as the Whole City was lit up with fireworks to celebrate the 100th New Year of the Republic of China. Getting home from the festivities was no exception to the chaotic theme, as it looked like all of Taipei and then some came to watch the Taipei 101 worked in fire. With some help from ChinWei and the Taiwan public transportation system, Kenna, Kathryn, and I all made it home safe and sound. The only real mishap was that I almost paid the taxi three times the fare, so considering everything that could have gone wrong while we were being jostled by the gigantic crowd, I'm not complaining. As far as first real New Year's Eve celebrations go, Taiwan treated me pretty well.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Taiwan Day 4 - Camerafix

So far, Taiwan has only one thing that really irritates me. My camera has decided to be a greedy little power-monger. I'm lucky if I can get half a day with one set. This sucks. The pictures from our trip to the hot springs that I have been able to take can be found here, although my camera was uncooperative after lunchtime.

However, and I'm sorry if I mentioned this before and forgot, Kenna and Kathryn have been letting me use their cameras for some things. So I still have some way to share my experiences besides for long, rambling posts. Granted, I pretty much forgot about some of the pictures I took on their cameras until I was looking at their uploads on facebook and was really confused about why some of the photos seemed so familiar before realizing that I took them. Kenna and Kathryn's photos can be found here and here, and I've posted some of my favorites below.

The temple we visited on the first day when my batteries were dead. The girls and I did a lot of posing and sillyness with the stone tigers before we got kicked out for strangely unrelated reasons.
This is almost everyone that had pizza at the Academic Sinica. It was very cool, the old lab assistants meeting the new lab assistants. We all got to commiserate about how much of a task-master Dr. Huang can be. From right to left is Kenna, Me, Kathryn, ChinWei, Dr. Huang, and Benjamin. Brian also joined us, but he had to go before we thought to take a picture.
Koi at the restaurant where we had Peking duck. Unfortunately, they were probably the nicest aspect of the place. The food was good, but there was a constant breeze that turned the place into a giant fridge.
We all got dressed up for New Years and the fancy food. Dr. Huang even borrowed some of ChinWei's (on my left) clothes. I found out that unless you're going to a wedding or funeral in Taiwan, dressing up is pretty uncommon. I'm liking this country more and more by the minute.
After dinner, we went over to ChinWei's house.  After we hung out with the adults downstairs and were thoroughly overwhelmed with tri-lingual yelling, we went upstairs to meet ChinWei's younger brother Nick. He and his friends were a lot less exhausting to be around, for the most part we just shared wine and introductions.
Me doing Science.






Sunday, January 2, 2011

Day 4 - Sciensauce

Good things to know about Taiwan's public transit system.
  1. The buses don't stop unless you hail them.
  1. The buses are privately owned, so they are all a little different.
  2. As the buses are not government property, the drivers are just as reckless, if not more so, than the scooter drivers. If they were all amazing defensive drivers, the streets would be filled with carnage.
  3. I'm borrowing this from a friend I met yesterday: when crossing the street, don't just look both ways. Look in every possible direction. In Taiwan, it is very possible to be hit by a car while on the side walk. It's like playing bloody knuckles with traffic lights.
Luckily, we all managed to avoid this fate and worse during the bus ride from Hell's amusement park the Downtown-most part of Taipei City after the train back from the hot springs. After being shaken like human martinis for 20 minutes, the bus poured us out into Academic Sinica research campus. Solid land never felt so...solid. After getting everything stowed away in the campus hotel that we were staying in, we toured Dr. Huang's old labs and had pizza with some of his old research assistants. While they understood English and I knew some Chinese, we ended up using Dr. Huang as a translator many times while talking about everything from babies to bioethanol. Even with the language barrier, I think it was good learning experience for everyone. In addition to a few new words, I learned that my pronunciation in both English and Chinese is roughly atrocious. Hopefully I'll improve or one of the other by the end of the trip.

Getting to take a look at the research facilities that Dr. Huang worked in was great. It was my kind of place, with science tucked in every nook and cranny and big, expensive machines waiting to be put to work. For the first time in a while, taking the GRE's started to look very appealing (GRE = big nasty test to get into graduate school). While it's been in the back of my mind for year or so now, I'm thinking that if for some reason I decide against going into naturopathic research, the reason will most likely be grad school. I'd probably try and do something with developmental or evolutionary biology. Ever since I took a zoology course two years ago, I've been really fascinated by the correlations between the different phyla and their indications. We covered everything from Eukaryotes to mammalia and I loved every minute of it. Unfortunately, I tend to dedicate the majority of my resources to my goals, so I've not really had the chance to explore my interests outside of medicine and healing. Even though I can be scatterbrained and have multiple interests\projects going in completely different fields, when it has come to getting into naturopathy school I have let very little be a hindrance. I may joke about grad school now, but that's all it is.

Naturopathic school doesn't have any kind of admission exam, as they emphasize instead on applicant history. I really like this about ND schools, although I must admit it took me a while to come around to not being completely skeptical about it. While frustrating and stressful and a royal pain at times, standardized tests are my friends. I was one of the lucky jerks that cruised exams like most kids eat Halloween candy. As a result, I had a really easy time seeing why organizations and the like to use them so frequently. In hindsight, the tests weren't a really good indication of anything other than my innate ability to fill in a bubble-sheet correctly. I still see how they can be useful in determining how capable someone is, but there's a lot they don't factor in. Unless you're being hired to take tests, performance can really only be measured so much by something like a GRE or the MCAT.

We also finally set up embryos yesterday before lunch. It's good to be officially out of trip's first few days that were set aside for tourism and getting over jet lag. I'm sure some people were getting sick of me only talking about the food and the sights. Granted, others might be less happy about it. Research is kind of an acquired taste. 

For the experiments, I was pleased to see that Kathryn was not useless in the lab. Having not seen her in the lab prior, I was a little concerned as I knew that a lot of the protocols we would be doing on the trip would be brand new to her. Many of the people I've taught the protocol to in the past have at first lacked confidence or just generally sucked. I know that I was that way at first. In truth, she's not as experienced as Kenna or myself, but she's a quick learner. It's really a relief. Hopefully her affinity for learning lab technique continues, otherwise this could become a rough couple of weeks for her.

After the embryos, we pretended to be vodka and gin on the buses again (I'm seriously considering borrowing a helmet from someone while I ride around) to go shopping and see one of the Massive public gardens in Taipei City. It was very pretty although since it's the winter a lot of things were out of bloom. It's also kind of chilly, which confuses every bone in my born-and-raised midwestern body. A week ago, the temperature outside was -5 degrees and I was fine, now it's 50 and I get goosebumps unless I'm wearing pants and a jacket.

After the garden, we had to skip the shopping we had planned on and instead went to see the Cheng Kai-Shek Memorial before it closed. On the way, we picked up some hot milk-tea for the girls and what I think was lemon-flavored battery acid for Dr. Huang and me. It was delicious, but my stomach could probably be effectively hooked up to jumper cables and used to start a car. I've also yet to take a tally of my remaining teeth. Another down side was that if we hadn't gotten our drinks, we would probably have been sick with the cold but also arrived at the memorial in time to see it. We arrived just in time to see them shut the memorial doors. From what I could tell, it was a lot like an Asian Lincoln memorial. Luckily, there are other things to see at the memorial, so it wasn't a complete waste. In fact, some of memorial's neighboring buildings simply defy explanation in size and detail. I'd venture to say that pictures might have trouble expression how beautiful and grand those buildings were as well. I guess I'll just have to take people with me the next time I go out there.