7/26/17

Today, the Malaysian students who have been here for 6 months gave their seminars. Since Monday marked me at three weeks left, I’m working on my own presentation. Since I’m only here for 2 months, my presentation only needs to be around 10-20 minutes, so I’m currently gathering pictures to put in it.

We went to check to see how the plants I grafted are doing today. Unsurprisingly, most, maybe more than half, died. A few made it through, and one looks great. Last week I helped remove acylsugars from tomato leaves. Acylsugars are chemicals produced by plants to kill or repel pests. We mixed leaf samples with alcohol, then took samples of the solution to test which, if any, acylsugars are present. We also attended a seed storage seminar yesterday, which was interesting as it talked about the various effective ways of drying seeds.

This weekend, we took the train South to tour. We visited a bookshop, saw the ocean, had dinner at a Korean restaurant, and wandered around a few shops. By the time we got on the train back, it was pretty late. I bought two books at the store, and discussed a few words in a classic with another intern called “Chuck”.

There’s not much else to write about. I’m still running, now sometimes with a group of other interns. Last week we had around 10. Funnily enough, the fastest is a smaller boy who goes by the name “Rabbit”. I think the name suits him very well. I’m back to feeling a bit under the weather, but it’s not too bad, and I think it will clear up in a few days. Honestly, I’m amazed at how healthy I’ve managed to stay so far.

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7/19/17

The rest of the presentations on grafting wrapped up yesterday. I had some questions on a few things that were discussed, so I was talking to Hank about a few things I wanted to look up on the walk back. Dr. Peter Hansen was walking ahead of us and heard what I was talking about, so he told me to stop by his office when I found the information I was looking for. It took me a few minutes, but I answered most of my questions on grafting and went to his office. After I told him what I had found out, he seemed interested and offered to call Willie, who currently works in grafting here at the AVRDC. Later that afternoon, Hank and I rode our bikes over, and I was given a crash course in grafting tomatoes. They had a tray of unused tomato seedlings,  and after a few demonstrations, had me attempt to graft the entire tray. It was interesting and pretty challenging as you have to get the cut exactly right so you can match the new top of the plant to the new bottom.

Today we went and started to work with backcrossing, which is the process of selectively breeding tomato plants with a parent that has a trait you want. In order to do it, you have to very carefully remove the pollen from inside the petals, without injuring the very delicate stigma, a section of the female reproductive system in plants, inside. After you remove the pollen, you have to gently dip the tip of mature stigma into the pollen of your plant of choice. If done correctly, the plant will be pollinated and the fruit and seeds it produces will hopefully contain the desired traits of both parent plants.

I also went into the Bacteriology lab and helped cultivate new Petri dishes with bacteria strains they’re testing. Using a sterilized loop, you have to gently spread colonies from an old dish in specific patterns. The colonies I was working with mostly affect tomatoes and eggplants and will be inoculated on Friday.

Besides all of that, I went for a run with a group last night. There were snails everywhere from the rain, and I’m pretty sure the lizard eggs have hatched since there are way more babies running around lately. I caught the snake that I had seen in my room. I put it in a cup and showed some people, but since it doesn’t bother me and eats pests, I let it go where I found it. 20170718_135534

7/17/17

Well, I’ve been here for a month now, and am halfway through my internship. I can’t say that the time has flown by or crawled past. With Dr. Mohamed gone, work has slowed down considerably while we contact him via email and wait for confirmation of our schedule. With more people around, time off work seems to go a bit faster.

On Saturday, I went out with Sanju, Hank, and a good sized group of our coworkers. We started by going to get mango ice to cool down from the already baking morning. It also gave everyone a chance to gather and discuss the plans. After that, we went to a fruit market. Besides the thousands of mangos, there were pineapples, guava, dragonfruit, and lots of fruit I had never seen, some of which didn’t even have an English name. While a few of the others went to get the cars, we huddled under the umbrella of a very good duck egg salesman. He gave Sanju and I samples of his product. The first one had somehow been seasoned and salted before cooking. It was a little weird but not too bad. The second one was a bit unwelcome. Because of the language barrier, I couldn’t confirm, but it smelled and tasted like it had been fermented for quite some time. He saw our distress eating the second one, and after teasing us a bit to the amusement of the nearby locals, he gave us some large slices of mango to get rid of the flavor.

Feeling full from the large amounts of mango ice and samples from the market, I was surprised when we went to lunch. Still, I still had enough room to eat a bit at a Taiwanese barbecue restaurant. After eating, I thought we would head back to the AVRDC, but instead, we ended up at a sweet potato museum. Very little of the museum had English, but they had us try samples of different sweet potato products on the way out. By now I was uncomfortably full, and the afternoon rain was starting. We started to head back, stopping for everyone to buy some more food and tea.

Yesterday I met with Aileen, Tim and his family, and two other families who were their friends. We drove to Danei Totoro Station, a small section of town that had large murals of cartoons, children’s stories, and lots of Totoro, a famous Japanese character (If you haven’t seen “My Friend Totoro” I highly recommend it).

When we stopped for some mango ice (I’m starting to sense a theme here), we ran into the mayor. We took some pictures, and he was polite, but finished quickly and left. Tim’s daughters and the girls from the other families, six in all, read me jokes they had been practicing in English and did a dance to K-pop. I played a song on my phone and taught them a few swing dancing moves. Cramming everyone into a few cars, we drove to the Chimei Museum. It had several wings, including several for fine arts, one for animals around the world, and one for instruments. In the animal exhibit, I pointed out the different animals that lived back home. We were in the museum for several hours, and I didn’t notice how late it was getting until we started leaving and I noticed we would get stuck in the afternoon rain. By the time we got to the cars, it was coming down heavily, and we were soaked.

Now I’m sitting back at my desk in the office and its business as usual. There was a seminar this morning, and two more this week for people interviewing for a position with WorldVeg. The seminars are on grafting, with is something I’ve always found really interesting. Grafting is the process of carefully attaching the top of one plant to the base of another and can combine the traits of the two if done carefully. I’m looking forward to hearing more about it as the week goes on.

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7/11/17

Busy weekend! On Saturday it was incredibly hot here, easily in the 90’s with lots of humidity. I went to eat lunch with Hank and his girlfriend, and they took me to a Thai resturant. They ordered red curry, and I was a little nervous since I’m not very good at eating spicy foods, but they assured me it wasn’t “that spicy”. I should know by now, that while for Taiwanese it wasn’t so bad, for me, “not that spicy” leads to a runny nose, red face, and coughing. I finished my cup though, and it did seem less hot by the end (although it might have just been my tongue dying). To beat the heat we also went out to get mango ice. What that is is pieces of mango sliced with fruit juice on shaved ice, along with a scoop of ice cream made from sweetened condensed milk. We also tried a chocolate orange flavored one that had frosted flakes all over it.

On Sunday I made plans with Sanju, Tony, Joy, Hesper, and Irene to go to Tainan’s Flower night market. In order to get there, we had to walk about half a mile, take a train for a few stops, then find a bus to take us within a few blocks. The cost for the train and bus was amazingly cheap and ended up being less than 1 USD. Near the end, the train was crowded, but it was nothing compared to the market. People were packed in the aisles so tightly, If someone ahead of you stopped, you were stuck until they kept moving. The smell of the market changed every few feet. One second you smell something incredible, but the next when you try to get another whiff, all you smell is fish and lots of people. We managed to stick together pretty well though. The group separated a few times, but everyone always had someone. I ended up buying some kind of tea that tasted really similar to lemonade and trying winter gourd tea. So far, winter gourd is my favorite kind I’ve tried. I also bought some chicken on a stick that somehow had rice cooked into it. For desert, Sanju and I bought probably around 5 or 6 bags of those fried sweet potatoes. After a few hours, we took a shuttle back to the train station, narrowly missing our train, and eventually made it back around 11:30.

I walked into my room the other night and found what I thought was a large black worm on my floor, and decided to figure out what it was before touching it. As it turns out, it was a brahminy blind snake. Before I could figure out what to do with it, it had crawled back into a crack in my wall. Luckily they apparently eat ants and termites, so it’s welcome to stay. I’ve also been getting bitten badly on my arms and hands while I sleep by something. The bumps are small, but itch really badly and are often close together. I set off a bug bomb yesterday and am doing laundry tonight, so hopefully, I can get rid of whatever it is.

Yesterday and last Friday we took samples of tomato leaves, and then froze them in liquid nitrogen so they could be sent for chemical analysis. Dr. Mohamed Rakha also left to go to the UK, as well as take home leave back to Egypt. He won’t be back until after I leave, but it was nice working under him.

I fell asleep early last night and ended up waking up early enough that I went for a run. I missed doing little things like going for runs, so I’m hoping that by throwing it into my routine it will help carry me through the next 5 weeks without homesickness. Honestly, I haven’t been too bad as far as culture shock goes, and I’m better now that the other interns are around so it’s not always so quiet. Last night the 3 Korean students ( whose names are apparently Bang, Mango, and Blank(Peach)) even invited a few people to come try the food they’re making tonight. Everyone is settling in after their first week here, so we’ll hopefully be going out more soon.

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7/5/17

Well, a few new things to write about finally happened.

This weekends around 20 new interns, mostly Taiwanese college students, arrived and moved in! It’s nice to not be the only one living here. We also got several Korean students and a girl named Sanju who is originally from Nepal but has studied in Florida the past few years. She’s also in the tomato breeding section but is working on slightly different projects than we are with another girl called Hesper.

Sanju arrived first, and we walked around the campus together over the weekend. She didn’t have a bike so we couldn’t go anywhere, but we found the pool and made plans to go sometime. After the rest of the students arrive, we went to the night market with Hesper, who was dead set on getting us to try as much food as possible. I ended up trying “stinky tofu” and what Hesper called “sweet potato puffs”. Despite the name, the tofu wasn’t that bad. It came with cabbage and I liked it enough that I ate four or five pieces. The sweet potato puffs were these deep fried sweet potatoes that had something else done to them so they were all puffy. They were FANTASTIC. I had to hold off from eating them all when we got back and were sharing.

With the new rush of students, I’ve had to introduce myself all over again, which can vary in levels of awkwardness. Some of the time they want to hear all about what living in America is like. I’m never really sure what to say, but by now I’ve gotten together a photo album of the most popular pictures, which are mostly mountains, snow, the desert, and my friends. I’m pretty bad with names, even when they’re familiar western ones, so I’ve been writing them down in my phone. Apparently, when they learn English at a young age here, they also give themselves new names. I’m occasionally given their “English names” instead of their real ones, like when I met a Tony this weekend, or how I still don’t know what Hank’s real name is.

Besides all of that, work is the same. I am feeling pretty under the weather this week though, So after work, I went straight into my room to lie down, and that’s where I’ve been all afternoon. The ATM is on the fritz. It woke me up at 5:30 this morning blasting an advertisement (or maybe instructions to use it?) in Mandarin. I can still here it going now, but I’m going to turn on my air conditioner soon, and that usually drowns it out. received_10158936399545057.jpeg

6/29/17

So, I’ve decided to stagger my writings a bit, just so I don’t have a bunch of entries that all say “same old same old”. I’ll still write several times a week and if something important happens though.

Yesterday we spent a while labeling and staking over 200 tomato plants. We also cleaned out a growth chamber and turned off its cooling system to kill any leftover bugs. A little time was spent cleaning and reorganizing them too.

Today we cleaned the chamber up some more then booted it back up to load all the tomato plants in. It took two truckloads to move them all. By the time the second load came, it was starting to rain, and we unloaded quickly and spent some time indoors to organize them in the chambers. It dumped quite a bit of rain, but I was really just a cloudburst since it had all but stopped when I left an hour and a half later. I did feel bad because Hank and I had to ride his motorcycle back, and he lent me his coat, so he got pretty wet from the puddles and the little bit that was still coming down.

In other news, it’s now mango season. Apparently, mangos here are like squash and zucchini back home. Everyone’s grows at once so everybody is trying to get rid of a bit. I’ve received 4 mangos, a passion fruit, a banana, and an ear of corn the last few days, all grown locally in my coworker’s gardens. Honestly, I had no idea how to cut or eat the mangos or passion fruit, so mostly I just peeled the skin off or cut them open then ate it over the sink. They’re incredible. If you’re ever offered a ripe mango, never, ever say no. The passion fruit was super weird. I had to look up pictures to make sure the one I had gotten wasn’t sick or infested with something. It was pretty good, but definitely not what I expected.

We have a new intern arriving tonight. All that I’ve heard is that she a grad student from Florida and that she should be in around 11 pm. There have actually been quite a few new faces around as there are a few positions open for an interview. One applicant is a man from Germany named Lutz, who gave a presentation on the gender wage gap in Kenya a few days ago. I’ve heard through the grapevine that most new interns should be coming next week, but besides the one tonight, that was everything I could find out, so I’ll guess we’ll wait and see. 20170628_105748.jpg

6/27/17

Good news today! An entire test group of eggplant came back with high whitefly mortality rates, just shy of 100% actually, and no eggs. Dr. Mohamed had us go back and start a second test on them right away. It will run for 2 days, then we’ll check again.

Besides that, the day went like normal. I tried the Taiwanese version of a snow cone. It was shaved ice that tasted a bit like bubblegum flavoring, with bits of dried fruit and peanuts in it. It was definitely nice since its just been getting steadily hotter here.

The Malaysian Night Herons have started to leave their nests, which is kind of unsettling. Every time I see a clutch of them milling around in the shade it freaks me out for a second. They’re pretty big birds and still have that mangy new baby bird look, so seeing them in the shadows out of the corner of your eye can be startling. I also caught a baby lizard today. I let it go right after, but there are tons of them here. I saw one in my room, and I’m hoping it will eat the mosquitos.

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