6/25/17

Well, I certainly made up for all the nothing I did yesterday! I woke up a little later, but had eaten and was ready to go before 1. Then, I hopped in a car with two coworkers, Tim and Olivia, and Tim’s two daughters. After about an hours drive south, we reached our destination and climbed out. Tim hadn’t mentioned what we were doing, but apparently, we were meeting some others to go to a fish market! I don’t think I’ve felt more out of place since getting here! It was a crowded place with shelves full of fish, eels, crabs, shrimp, snails, and clams of varying aliveness. At one point a large shrimp tried to jump to freedom and hit my leg. I also got spit on by quite a few clams. The smell where the fresh fish was wasn’t so bad. It was only when you got to the dried section that it got very strong. At one point, I was almost grateful to the vendor smoking, since it dispelled it a bit. It was hot and humid, but there was also a breeze, which was nice.

For lunch, we stopped and my hosts had all the fish they had bought cooked. I hadn’t known we were going to be eating and had eaten lunch beforehand, but they seemed concerned that I wasn’t hungry, so I tried some dragon fruit, mango, and rice to ease their minds. Unfortunately, they still noticed I wasn’t eating any seafood. To quote Dr. Sweeny from Atlantis, “I hate fish. Hate the taste, hate the smell, hate all them little bones.” I tried to say fish makes me sick (which is true; the taste and small tend to make me nauseated) but before I knew it I was given a spoonful of sea urchin.

There was no other way out.

It was bad. It was so, so bad. I should have asked if it was cooked, because it wasn’t. Instead, I ended up gagging on a large, cold, mucus like glob of very fishy slime with bits of what might have been sand in it. I tried to be polite about it, but it was clear I was struggling since they offered me a napkin and to pour me a shot. When I declined, they gave me a glass of non-alcoholic beer, which unfortunately still had all the taste of real beer. I was full pretty soon since I hadn’t been hungry to start with, but lunch lasted over an hour, so I nursed my cup and a bowl of fried rice. I felt bad that I hadn’t eaten much since I really didn’t want to appear rude, but after the urchin and several cups of various teas, my stomach was tapping out.

After lunch, we drove a short distance, and stopped at the ocean! It was incredible! there were packs of stray dogs, crabs all over the rocks, and a large breakwater made out of cement bricks. I took off my shoes and socks and tied them to my bag to wade in. It was WARM. I couldn’t believe it. The sand was soft and the water was warm. After wading a bit, we climbed onto the cement wall, and I sat down on one to look at the water and crabs. We stayed for a while, but I honestly hope I can go back again soon, but this time to swim and stay all day.

Driving back, I started feeling really bad. Luckily most people in the car were asleep because I didn’t want them to know I was nauseated and weak. Call it revenge of the sea urchin, but I wanted to throw up anytime I thought about eating or being around fish for the foreseeable future. Before we got back, we stopped at a supermarket so I could grab some food. I ended up buying laundry soap, milk, nuts, and some chips. back in the car, Tim’s daughters surprised me with a bag. They had bought me some KFC from down the road. Honestly, I was really flattered but also extremely embarrassed, since I know they did it because they were worried I didn’t get enough to eat. No matter how many times I tried to tell them I had eaten beforehand, I don’t think they really believed me. Anyway, I’m back in my room now, chasing down what is the spiciest KFC sandwich I have ever eaten with gulps of milk and Pepto Bismol. Despite some embarrassment, I’m glad I got to go today.

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6/24/17

Not much to report today since I pretty much took the day off of everything. With no work, I failed to sleep in and then took a walk around to feed the local mosquitos. I grabbed a late breakfast, then alternated considering to work out and actually playing a video game for a while. I did stop to review some of what I learned in Mandarin, but that was the extent of my success. I just grabbed dinner to go, and frankly really enjoyed having a day to do nothing. There are ridiculous numbers of birds here, all singing and screeching and flying around at once. Honestly, though, I like all the noise they make.

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6/23/17

Very slow day today. After a morning of working to move more whiteflies to eggplants, all there was left to do was clean some Petri dishes that had been labeled in Sharpie, which took maybe 10 minutes. We also stopped by the greenhouse for a few minutes to collect pollen from tomato plants. The extra time let me get caught up on emails and clean up my computer files, but then there was still about 4 hours left until we were off for the day. To pass the time, Hank and I went out to see the fields and greenhouses so I could learn where they are and what they’re used for.

At lunch today I was approached by a coworker who let me know that he and several others will be leaving to southern Taiwan on Sunday and asked me to come with them. I told him it sounded like fun, and later I was contacted by another member of the group going so that she and I could exchange contact information. When Hank found out I’ll be out more, he gave me his number in case of emergencies, which I appreciate very much. I’m looking forward to seeing more of the country, and it will be nice to get out a bit. The heat seems to be getting worse. Today it was sunnier than usual, and the short amount of time I spent out had sweat pouring off of me, so I was glad to get back into the air conditioned office.

I finally identified a very large bird that’s nesting in a tree by the entomology lab and is usually seen wandering around. Its English name is the Malaysian Night Heron. Up until now, my coworkers told me its name was “big, dumb, ugly bird”. I didn’t think it was that ugly, until I saw its nestlings. 3 of them that watch us anytime we get close to the nest. The best way I can describe them is fuzzy, unfinished muppets. It’s more than a little disconcerting to walk by the tree and see three sets of massive eyes peering out from a lump of mangy fluff following you.

This morning at breakfast, I saw the last of our visitor from Thailand, as she said she was leaving just before noon. Even though communication with her was more difficult than it is with most, I’m sad to see her go as it was nice to have someone to eat breakfast with. At least I won’t be the only one for long. I was told this morning that one of the Drs. had approved of more than 23 more interns, all to arrive sometime in the next week! That, plus the many I’ve been assured will arrive in late July are sure to have the place feeling busy and friendly by the time I leave. For now, there are only 2 of us housed in the dormitory behind the cafeteria. The rest are in an apartment complex about 10 minutes by bike away. IMG_5492

6/22/17

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

6/21/17

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

6/20/17

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

6/19/17

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