I’ve finally started to work on learning a bit of Mandarin. I have a program that my good friend Jack (Hi Jack, thanks again!) downloaded before I left. It has been surprisingly fun to listen too, and I followed along with an entire track while finally unpacking and straightening up. It made me feel really successful to be able to say a full complex sentence in Mandarin, even if it is all that I know, my words are slow, and my inflection is all wrong. Plus, my suitcase finally moved from its spot on the floor and its contents have been stored away, so in all a pretty productive evening.

Today I was gifted a long tube with webbing and cotton blocking one end. Its purpose was to allow me to suck breeding pairs of whiteflies into a tube from the underside of a cabbage leaf. Later, we would attach small bug cages to the leaves of pepper plants, and us the tube to blow the whiteflies into the cage on the underside of the leaf. That way we can test the mortality and egg production of the whiteflies in a nonselective environment, and get a better understanding of which plants contain the ability to repel or poison the insects.

We also disposed of some plants used in spider mite research. That involved putting gloves on and dumping out pots of dead and dying plants covered in webs and mites into a large garbage sack, which was left out in the sun all afternoon. After we were pretty sure the heat had killed anything alive, I jumped on the back of Hank’s motorcycle and we rode about a mile down the road to dump the bags out in a compost pile. There was already a large pile of rotting peppers, and, for some reason, peanuts, so the smell was incentive enough to hurry us along.

I have a small infection on my finger, but the swelling has gone down, so it’s not serious. Besides that and my ever growing number of bug bites (at least 2 new one’s today), I’ve had nearly no problems healthwise. My hosts seem concerned about it though, and frequently ask if the food is alright for me. Barring the fish fried whole and still watching me, I’ve had a great time trying new things. Most of the food is very mild and familiar, but Hank enjoys bringing snacks and candies into the office to share and see my reactions. Most of the things he brings in are strange but good. Today, for example, he brought in Japanese chocolate and what I thought at first was a weird chocolate chip cookie. It turned out to be a rice patty with bits of dried seaweed. I try to be polite in accepting what he offers me, but sometimes I can’t help but stare at him or the food in bewilderment after the first taste or smell.20170622_094328


Today was slower, and even though I’ve only been here a few days, I’m already falling into a routine. Wake up, go to breakfast, go to work, go to lunch, take a break, go back to work, and then go back to my room. I still do things to break it up, like take a walk or read, but things are slower here and it’s easy to slow down with them.

This morning our guest from Thailand was leaving. She met me at breakfast, and the two women who accompanied her added me on Facebook to share photos they had taken. She also asked my permission to take a photo of me. “For my daughter.” She explained, “She’s 18”. I agreed and then smiled and waved them goodbye as I cleaned up to go to the lab.

We went to a greenhouse nearby today to transplant and label hundreds of tomato plants that will eventually be transferred to the entomology department, where we’ll be working tomorrow. Two older women also worked with us, speaking much less English than anyone else I’ve met so far. The only English work they said was my name, to get my attention if I needed to hand them more pots or slow down in moving the seedlings. Still, it was work that was easy to get lost in, and I didn’t realize how much I was sweating until it dripped into my eyes. We eventually finished and went back to counting whitefly eggs and cleaning cages.

I went for a short walk later but went in before the mosquitos could come out. Eight bug bites still itch ferociously on my calfs. Now I’m up, trying to stay awake as long as possible to help myself get over jet lag. I had a small amount of currency exchanged at the cashier’s here at the center, and I keep wanting to re-examine the colorful bills and coins. Besides that, I’m settling in quickly enough. 20170620_100652.jpg


My bags finally turned up! I’m glad to be in clothes that smell slightly better and have some more bathroom toiletries. Although putting off unpacking is definitely an issue I have.

Today, we received a guest from Thailand that was a mung bean expert. She gave me a small bag of fried mung beans to try, and I found them to be similar to puffed corn in texture. Later, as I was eating dinner in the cafeteria, she sat by me and shared a really strange fruit. The outside was bumpy and leathery, but thin. When peeled off, it revealed flesh that looked and tasted similar to a grape, but sweeter and denser, with a large seed inside. She wasn’t sure of the English name, but after getting back to my room, a bit of googling revealed it to be a Lychee. She also gave a presentation where she discussed the viability of mung beans and the many different ways they could be grown and used.

Later, I met up with some of my coworkers, and we all rode our bikes into the nearby city to see the night market. It was crowded and exciting,, and we wandered down the aisles. There were games, strange street foods, and approximately 800 billion mosquitos. As we sat down for two of us to eat, we noticed a girl at the table next to our had a pet flying squirrel scurrying around her neck and hair, eating odd vegetables and crumbs from the table. I tried some sugar cane juice and was surprised that it wasn’t nearly as sweet as I thought it would be. On the way back, we rode to a supermarket, and I invested in some bug spray. 20170620_190442.jpg


My bag still hasn’t found its way from the airport. On my way to the guard station to ask, I somehow managed to gain no less than four mosquito bites on my legs. However, today I slew the last of the cockroaches I had seen scurrying around with a quick blast of some Raid I found in the hallway, so I still feel like I’m a step ahead of the bugs.

After a quick breakfast this morning, I met a small but very kind and energetic woman named Aileen. She led me on a rapid tour of the two nearby buildings, which turned out to be offices, auditoriums, and a lab where I will be working. After a maze of hallways, I was shown the library and eventually left with my supervisor, Dr. Mohamed Rakha. He was a very soft-spoken man, almost whispering as he took me through a carefully detailed explanation of their research. He told me about gene selection and how they hoped to combine the pest resistant trait some wild tomato relatives possessed with the large red fruit of domestic varieties. The pests to repel or kill in particular included spider mites, white flies, and the rootworm.

From there I was guided to a lab just down the hall where I was introduced to Hank, one of my new coworkers. I helped him count whiteflies living on eggplant leaves, and we talked about video games, bugs, travel, and the price of college. Later I followed him to lunch, and after a short break began helping count the whitefly eggs under a microscope.  I found a thrip on a leaf, and after some maneuvering managed to get a picture of it through the microscope. At one point, he offered me a small candy that said “Durian” on the wrapper. When I tried it, I was completely unable to describe what it tasted like, but still thought it was pretty good. As for Hank, he seemed genuinely surprised I hadn’t spat it out right away. I found out why as the aftertaste began to set in, tasting reminiscent of skunk roadkill. Even now, as I type this one meal and 6 hours later, I can still taste it. Hank offered to help me go to check out a bike for my time here, and we wandered over across the compound to a mechanics shop, where he spoke to four men in Mandarin for about 10 minutes. I smiled and nodded whenever they looked at me, and eventually, I handed them a signed sheet saying that I would take good care of it. They gave me a new looking blue bike and a lock.

I thanked Hank for all of his help, and he told me that as it was 4:15, I was free to go back to my room and try not to fall back asleep. I was pretty successful, until a phone call at 5:30 woke me up to go eat dinner. A quick walk around outside, and now I’m sitting in my room, which stays oddly cool compared to outside even when my air conditioner is turned off. There are some more tours that I’m attending the rest of this week, and I’m looking forward to seeing some more of the surrounding towns and cities.20170619_160208.jpg


Well, I’ve finally made it! After ~33 hours of travel, I arrived at Wenchang Village at around 1:30 local time. The trip went well, with the only hiccup being a delayed flight in Vancouver led to a missed connection in Hong Kong.

Upon reaching the gate in Hong Kong, I met two others who had also found themselves stuck, and abandoned by the gate agent they had asked to help them. One was from America and was going to Taiwan for a conference. The other was Taiwanese and was returning for a visit from attending school in Lousiana. He told me his name was Andy. We waited in line for an hour and a half, before the missing gate agent appeared, and quickly ushered us to a gate for a different airline. We boarded less than an hour later, Andy and I exchanged Instagram usernames, and we were eventually off again.

From there, I learned my checked bag had gotten lost in Vancouver, but I had packed everything I would need in case this happened in my carry on, so as long as it was recovered in a few days, I would be just fine. Happy to see that the driver who would be taking me the rest of the way had not left, I climbed into his car and drove the last hour. I was quietly ushered into my room, which is surprisingly large with plenty of space to store things, and bid goodnight.

I readied for bed, engaging in war with the cockroaches that mistook my room for theirs in the process. After one was killed, one escaped, and two bodies were disposed of, the battle went to me. Not bothering to clean up or even shower, I set my alarm for 11:30 the next morning and fell asleep.

At about 8:30, I woke up, ready to get going. The air conditioner was amazing, and I even felt a bit of a shiver getting out of bed. A quick inspection with my shoe raised threateningly revealed no new pests. A quick shower later, I cleaned up and took stock of the contents of my carry on. I have enough clothes for two days. Three, if I’m willing to climb back into the ones I arrived in. The cafeteria opens at 10:00 am, closes at 1:00 pm, then reopens at 4:00. Until I wander out looking for food, I’m sitting at my new desk looking out my window at the tropical plants and a tennis court. I’ve not seen or heard anyone since last night, but I’m looking forward to meeting my new neighbors.



This is the post excerpt.

Welcome to TomatoGirl Blog! My name is Hailey, and I’ve created this for keeping a record of my travels, particularly my upcoming trip to Taiwan. Departure to Tainan, Taiwan is this week, and upon arrival, I hope to keep this blog active with photos and details of the internship I’ll be serving with the AVRDC, or World Vegetable Center, under the Global Youth Institute as a Borlaug-Ruan Intern.