Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mask of Teaching

At 6pm on Wednesday, April 29th, I completed my last duty as a GSI (graduate student instructor, for those who don't remember what that stands for): proctoring the Intro Genetics final.

One of my students (upon turning in her final exam) said to me, "You're literally the BEST GSI I've ever had. I'm not even kidding, seriously."

Later another one of my students (upon turning her final exam) said to me, "I just wanted to let you know that you are probably THE best science GSI I've ever had. One of my friends actually transferred into your section because his GSI sucked and I told him that you were amazing."

At one point, the professor came into the lecture hall where we were proctoring and whispered to me, "Several students in my office hours tell me that you do a great job explaining things to them. Good job, I thought I should tell you."

Much later, a friend (whose friend is in one of my discussion sections) told me, "So my friend K says you're her favorite GSI."

Clearly I must be doing something right, right? I mean, I somehow achieved the highest section attendance (almost everyone came to my later sections) out of all the GSIs, and discussion sections were completely voluntary so no one had to come. Funny story about that actually: on the day of my last discussion, one of my students (a male nurse who's older than me) brought his two little kids - around age 3 to 5 - to my discussion section. Somehow he felt that my discussion sections were necessary enough to attend, even though he could've easily skipped to take care of his kids? (Btw, his kids were adorable, and I just so happened to bring cookies that day, and they loved them.)

The Mask of Teaching, I LOVE wearing it. It brightens my day (usually) when I have to go in to teach my discussion sections. And it feels pretty damn good to receive such high praise and comments about the way I teach. I don't know what it is I do exactly, I just sort of teach on-the-fly with a very bare-boned lesson plan in my head. I do what I feel like would most benefit them in the 1 hour (well, 50 minutes) we have together. I have, however, identified a few things I think have helped a lot:

1. Make it relevant.
Students tend to not like the theoretical stuff. They need a way to take the concepts learned and integrate them into something they can relate to on a personal level. I often used the example of cancer genetics, because it fits so well with many topics. I also tried to link up some concepts to things like cardiovascular disease, family history, etc.

2. Organization.
It definitely helps to know what you're doing, what order you're doing it in, and how long you expect it to take. Even better if you've internalized that organization so you don't have to always have it in front of you.

3. Reflecting questions.
As I work out a problem on the board or present a concept, I constantly ask my students about the next "step." What happens now? What do you think I should do? Why do you think this is? How do you think this works? Etcetra. They may not always answer (and in one of my classes, they rarely do), but they are thinking and considering. This is much more effective in office hours where they have "nowhere to run." I force the students to try to solve the problem on their own, with me basically giving them sign posts and clarifications - only give directions if they're lost.

4. Visual learners.
I always draw up a diagram on the board and describe what I draw as I draw. Genetics is not a very tangible subject, so you have to somehow make things visual so they can more easily and readily comprehend it. Also, you have to actually draw it out, it does no good to just flash a picture or a diagram up. You need to walk through how the diagram's constructed, what makes it tick, so to speak.

5. Understanding their needs.
I think one of my greatest assets is that I understand where many of them are coming from. It wasn't so long ago that I was "in their shoes." I understand what many want out of the class (that is, nothing to do with it) and I hoped to make them actually interested in genetics so that things stick in their heads. So I put myself in their shoes, "If I were taking this course again, what would I want to learn? What would make it interesting and relevant? What do I want to take out of it?" With that in mind, I try to meet them at that level. The professor actually remarked (with a hint of sarcasm), "No wonder why they liked you. You're a pre-med GSI for pre-meds."

Anyway, I seriously LOVE teaching. I'm a little sad that it's over now. :( I taught a mini-course with JW-M a year ago on HIV/AIDS to 10 or so freshman undergrads. We discussed the social, biological, cultural, and political aspects of this disease (well, I did biological and cultural; JW-M did social and political). And now Intro Genetics. It's rather fulfilling, I find. You see that glimmer in their eyes, and you know you've reached someone, you've piqued someone's interest. And perhaps that someone will take that interest and do something great with it.

Teaching >>> research, hands down. Seriously, it's kind of hard to describe how much I've enjoyed teaching. While it was my job, it certainly didn't feel like one.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Farewell Feasts

Now that exams are over, my friends and I are well into commencing what I'd like to call the "farewell feasts." Basically, we spend the last remaining week or so we have together eating out at places that we all like, or eating at places we've never tried before (at least, not together as a group). Yes, we gorge ourselves and our pocketbooks suffer, but hey, it only happens once a year.

It started last week, when AG-F and her genetic counseling (GC) classmates went to go eat at this Japanese steakhouse. SR-F and I were also invited. In fact, AG-F's classmates have made me an "honorary genetic counselor." I'm pretty honored. ^_^ Anyway, half of the GC students brought their boyfriends/fiances (all the GC students are female) and that was cute. The food was pretty good at the steakhouse and we sat at the grill, where a chef cooked our food right in front of us. He did some fancy knifework, though he didn't nail every single technique (at one point, I thought the giant fork thing would fly out of his hand and impale my head against the chair).

Suffice to say, I've eaten WAY too much since last Friday. My stomach hurts after almost every meal that I eat with friends. As an additional consequence, I've gained like 5-7 lbs in the last 2-3 weeks. >.< And my free membership to the university gyms (that all students get) expires in 2 days because I'm no longer taking classes. Sigh, I need to find some good non-weights workouts. Anyone have any suggestions? I also need to really step up my cardio - I feel so unhealthy and weak right now.

Furthermore, I still need to pack to go home. Haven't started yet . . . I would pack, but I'm still working in my lab until Friday. And I don't have that much time at night because that's the time I'm spending out with friends. o_O

Bob M (cvn70) has started a blog, Riding the Wave.

Go over and say hi!! :D

Friday, April 24, 2009

And Now, Exhaustion Sets In

Today was my last final exam - cancer epidemiology. Last night, in the span of about 5 hours, I had to learn about 11 cancers: hematopoietic (leukemia, lymphoma), bladder, liver, breast, endometrial, testicular, prostate, lung, colorectal, esophageal, and pancreatic.

Some random factoids:

1. Pancreatic, lung, and liver are perhaps the worst to get (of the ones in the list above). Such low survival rates. :(

2. Being Asian is protective against like all cancer except esophageal (potentially genetic, related to the reason why many Asians turn red when they drink) and liver (and really, for liver that's only because Southeast Asia has a high prevalence of Hepatitis B and C - gotta get them vaccines!).

3. Testicular cancer is really really weird. o_O Seriously, freaky.

And now, exhaustion sets in. Also, I'm more or less done with grad school here. Off to med school in late July/early August!! Still not sure if I'm going to complete my MPH, eventually.

I'd like to welcome back Zee at Where I Stand.

At the same time, I'd like to say a fond farewell to Matt at Brass Matt. I, for one, will miss reading your blog. :(

Lastly, does anyone know what happened to Fiction Writer's blog at Writing Fiction? It's gone now . . . not even a goodbye. :(

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Too Epic

Yesterday was epic. Too epic. I'm actually still reeling from the epic-ness.

I was pretty tired from getting only 5 hours of sleep between Saturday and Monday, and 4 hours of sleep between Monday and Tuesday. So, because I didn't have class on Wednesday, I decided to catch up on some sleep. Then I headed down to campus. I met up with my friend, AG-F. After lunch, it began.

Starting at 1pm, we began to crank out the remainder of our final paper/project. It was due at midnight. So, from 1pm until then we worked almost non-stop. I had 1.5 hours of office hours, and we took a break to grab dinner and ate while we worked. I must've written over 25 pages (double-spaced) yesterday.

When we started yesterday, I had written my half of the paper (about 10-12 pages, double-spaced) and AG-F had only written about 2-3 pages. My half still needed serious editing, which I accomplished by about 6pm. I had drafted several of the figures we needed. We had our project planned out, we just need to consolidate all our loose sheets and mental notes into writing.

9pm came and went. We were almost done with the paper, in the final stages of editing.

10pm came and went, the paper was done except for the bibliography. AG-F goes to the computer and creates the bibliography while I type up the summary and concept documents of our project.

11pm comes and goes, we're still working on it, ever closer to finishing.

11:40pm-ish comes, and we still needed one figure. AG-F took my student ID card and dashed to the other side of the building to use the scanner and upload our last figure.

11:55pm comes, and I'm uploading our documents to an email to the professor. AG-F runs back, out of breath, and I tell her that she can relax now - it was all going to be okay.

11:58pm comes, AG-F stares at the time on her cell phone, and I hit "Send." It was (essentially) done.

By the time everything we completely said and done, it was about 1am. We had wanted to get a drink to celebrate this feat, but since the bars and clubs tend to close at 2am here (and we had work the next day), we decided that we'll postpone that until this weekend.
What was this final paper and project? Well, that's also epic! Our paper was on the utilization of video games for genetics education. Games that currently feature genetics (e.g. SimLife, Spore, BioShock) are woefully inaccurate in their portrayal of genetics. Thus, we wanted to analyze the educational potential of video games, particular for science and specifically genetics.

Once we knew what our teaching goals and "game goals" were, we wanted to create the concept for a video game that centers on genetics as our project. We decided upon a MMORPG kind of game. You are a field agent of the government, and you work for the Federal Division of Genetics. Your mission is to investigate the suspicious activities of a massive biobanking and biotech company. This company is "morally gray" throughout the entire game.

The company is also the creator of the Platywi, an organism that's kind of like a cross between a platypus and a kiwi. Throughout the game, you determine the genetic inheritance patterns of various Platywi traits (e.g. Mendelian, codominance, incomplete dominance, continuous, X-linked, Y-linked, epistasis, etc) and map the traits to the Platywi chromosomes. You also discover a hidden message/password hidden in the Platywi genome.

Within this game we wanted to model various different kinds of inheritance patterns, some of which are directly modeled after human traits/genetic diseases. We wanted our game to be marketable to a diverse audience, rather than have it be a in-class video game. There are many references to biology and genetics, particularly in the way we named things. There are far more details that I'm not disclosing in this post, precisely because I don't want our idea to be ripped off by some random visitor to my blog. Of course, we were only able to come up with the rough and bare-boned concept for this game, but it was quite enjoyable nonetheless.

I'll leave you with a couple figures that I created for this final paper/project.
Platywi chromosome map

Platywi concept art

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Only Trying to Help

Things (paraphrased) I've said earlier today to help out a friend . . .

"Look! It's leaking out!! You've got to clean that. Suck it up! Stop squeezing it, the more you squeeze it the more it comes out. Now you've got to suck it clean. Gah! Just stop squeezing it and suck up what's out already."

I said this in a coffee shop to my friend. Her coffee was too full and the foam was coming out of the hole in the lid. It was getting over the counter and she needed to clean it up.

What did you think I was talking about? ;-)

Apparently, she's purging this convo from her mind. XD
2 final exams down, 1 final paper/project due tomorrow and 1 final exam to go on Friday. If only I had seen that last page on my biostatistics final this morning before I turned it in. Well there goes 8 points out of 65. Fuck. Maybe people will do poorly and keep the average down, so I can still get an A-/A in the class. If I get a B+ or lower, then I'll know exactly where things went wrong.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

To Razz - Words Unsaid

I was a "late-comer" to Razz's blog, Doin me head in. I knew him less well than many other bloggers. While I read every post and every post is still stored in my Google Reader, I never had the honor of chatting with him online or via email.

There are words unsaid - by me and by others. And Razz, I found the following poem you wrote (posted on Oct. 12, 2008) - I hope you don't mind that I re-post it as well as the pics:
Words Unsaid

I had a million thoughts running through my head
thinking about all the words we left unsaid
somewhere in the middle of horizon's end
I'm standing all alone while my heart endlessly bled.

All the thoughts of heaven are hanging on me tonight
while the beautiful hour is nearing its final end.
Now alone with my pain and ghostly regrets
the only words left - are the words unsaid.

There's a part of us that is bound forever
by the feelings we shared every time we kissed
like a leaf swept upwards by the horizon's wind
I am floating, rising higher, much higher than I've ever been.

But now you're gone enwrapped by hypnotic grace
I fall away from you, on this rock, that's become my place
cursing life, repenting, regretting with every tear I shed
to my soul 'tis my prison I share with words left unsaid.
I don't know who you wrote that poem for - if you wrote it for anyone in particular at all - but I can say that there are many words left unsaid by all of us. I would like to say that I admired your spirit and the life you infused into your posts. It lingers within, we can still feel your living words. Through your blog you have opened a window to your world, and you have touched and influenced the lives of so many. Can you even count them all? Let me show you (though inevitably I've missed a few):

AJ: Goodbye Razz
Col: Farewell to Razz!
Doug: Razz
E: Razz, Remembered
goleftatthefork: Remembrance
Highwayman: Remembering a Brother Blogger
Jay.osa: To a friend lost
Ken: comfort ............ for Chris
Lunatic Ninja: Doin' Me Head In
Naturgesetz: Razz; In Memoriam: Razz
Seth: Loss of Fellow Blogger...
Sethy: It's always a sad thing
Shane: Thank you and goodbye Razz
Steevo: Fond Farewell to Razz
Torchy!: Remembering Razz

I hope one day I will feel I've lived the perfect life as you described it. And as you said in this post, "[W]hatever is beyond death, may we all get the version that we wish for." May your ashes be scattered to the winds in the places most dear to you and your family and close friends.
Farewell Razz (Chris), you are never forgotten. March 26, 2009.
In Memory Of Razz

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Charts & Graphs

Yesterday my friend, AG-F, showed me this website called It is hilarious! I found the following - highly useful - flowchart for myself (please enlarge):
This clear version was found at this blog.

Here are some more amusing ones:
Found here.

Found here. You know, that's pretty accurate for me (the second pie chart) - hard-on first (cuz I play with it automatically all the time), then wanting to go back to sleep, etc . . .

Found here. For all the Aussie bloggers out there. :P

AG-F also gave me the following song. It's the credit song "Still Alive" from the game Portal. The science geek in me fell in love. :D

"Still Alive" lyrics here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

This Reminds Me . . .

After GSI prep today, the professor had an interesting but short conversation with the head GSI as we were all walking out of the room.

Back-story: The head GSI was late to GSI prep today (and I'm usually the last one to make it to the meeting because I have to walk across campus). Her young daughter was having some "female problems" and wanted her mom (the head GSI) to bring her to the doctor's. Also, the Professor (who I'll call Professor C) is I think Eastern European . . . this'll be relevant later.

So here's the convo (I was on my way out the door and didn't catch how this convo ended):

Professor C: So how's your daughter?
Head GSI: Well, you know. She was having some girl problems, and wanted me to bring her to the doctor's, but once we got there she didn't want me around, and . . . yeah . . .
Professor C: Why is it that girls have these problems? How come boys never have these problems?
Head GSI: I don't know.
Professor C: Well, my boys are not circumcised, and my one job is to make sure they clean down there and that's it . . .

I thought this was an interesting exchange. And it reminded me of several things I read while purusing the news on the internet. Oh yeah, for the record, the vast majority of Europe doesn't circumcise.

Some public health officials have latched on tightly to a new study that came out (and completely ignored an equally valid study refuting it published last year) and is pushing the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) to revise their currently neutral stance on circumcision in favor of the procedure. And they blame the economy and thus lack of Medicaid reimbursement in 16 states for the decline in circumcision rates. Article here (this is only an example, almost all other US news articles on this topic say the exact same thing).

It's clear that the link to the economy is ludicrous because rates have been declining for decades in the US before the current economic woes, and even before Medicaid decided to (rightfully) drop coverage of an unnecessary (and almost entirely) cosmetic procedure on infants. On this note, it's refreshing to see both a US article and a UK article countering this, or at least bringing it back into perspective.

The thing about most US articles on circumcision is that they always praise the potential benefits, but barely even pay lip service (if that) to the potential risks and harms. There have been recent incidences of complications in the US, but these stories haven't achieved the same level of press as the ones "praising" circumcision. From a cost-benefit perspective, how many infants must suffer complications, or even die, for it to outweigh potential benefits decades down the line - benefits that may be achieved with simply good hygiene and condoms? Can infant lives be put on a cost-benefit scale/analysis? Or would that be unethical? I wonder . . .

Here are the articles (not for the faint of heart):

Botched job
MRSA infection
Bled to death (bleeding is a "common" complication that, if not caught early, could become quite severe)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

I Refuse This Dark Mojo

There seems to be some kind of "dark mojo" going around the blogosphere. Bloggers are breaking up left and right, getting depressed, becoming over-stressed, and just all-around down. While I too have plenty that can bring me down, I will have none of it! I refuse this dark mojo, I refused to be brought down. Instead, I shall report on some things that may (or may not) tickle your fancy.

So when I was young, I used to talk to myself. A lot. My mom told me to stop because it'd make me look like a madman later, so I did stop. Sometimes I still mumble out loud to no one in particular when I'm trying to figure out a difficult problem.

Recently I've begun talking to inanimate objects. For example, over Spring Break when I was on the China trip, DY-M noticed that I addressed inanimate objects fairly often and my voice raised ever so slightly when I did. For instance, I would say something like, "Hello dragonfruit, I'm going to eat you now" or "Hello bathroom, I'm going to use you now." He thought it was a little weird at first but just chalked it up to my personality, and then he just chuckled inside whenever I did it (I would personally give me the o_O face). When I talked to JW-M briefly, he found that habit to be new and strange, lol. Note to self: suppress self.

One of the blogs I follow, MSTP Bound, had the most hilarious post today. I thought he was embellishing the translation at first, but when I read the original Chinese, his translation was pretty spot on! And thus, hilarity ensues. Read that particular post here. ^_^

Other things of note, two blogs have returned!! I'd like to welcome back:

Happy to be in my skin
Life of one gay/bi boy

Go over and say hi! :D

Saturday, April 4, 2009

China IV: There and Back Again

Finally, the fourth and final installment on China. I apologize for my absence from the blogosphere - getting caught up and working on a final project consumes inordinate amounts of time. Feel free to read parts I, II, and III to refresh yourselves.

Before I return to "normal blogging," I'd want to complete my series on China. This post is more introspective than the previous installments, and I apologize if that makes for more difficult reading. There are thoughts and emotions I'd like to scribble down before they become lost in the archives of my memory. Welcome to the journey in my thoughts as I travel "there and back again."

Where to begin but at the very beginning? I had applied to go on this specific trip. I was resolved to go, but I didn't know if they'd accept my application for this trip, being that I'm Chinese. Imagine my excitement when I was selected! But then I starting having doubts and second thoughts. How will they (the Chinese) think and respond to me? What if my spoken Mandarin fails me? What if, what if, what if . . . My mind races, like it always does, always in motion. I then began to wonder what I'd miss during that week in China. Would I suffer from internet withdrawal? How badly will my email build up? Will I be begging and bursting to wank? Will I miss certain foods and drinks? The one thing I knew for certain was that I would not miss the cold. Granted, it was cold in China when we arrived, but at least 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit warmer.

From the outset, I was comforted by the knowledge that another ABC (American-born Chinese) guy was going on this trip. We became roommates for this trip, and his presence - and perhaps our mutual interactions and anxieties - played a crucial role in what this China trip meant to me. We shared this common thread and I think we would agree that we reacted to it similarly. I'll call him DY-M for the rest of this post.
Flight to China
The flight to China was relatively uninteresting (first to the Tokyo airport at Nerita). I had an entire row to myself! I mostly read The Spanish Bow, the book I had intended on finishing over Winter Break. It's a really good book! I didn't want to sleep on the way to China (or sleep very little) to help combat jetlag. I didn't sit near anyone going on this trip, but that was alright. As my friend said, "When else do you have 14 hours to do NOTHING? Use it to relax, read a book, enjoy it." And that I did.

I did remember getting up once to go to the bathroom and when I returned, a Chinese woman had taken the 2 seats next to me. She was sleeping. -_- I didn't even recognize where my seat was at first! So yeah, I was really annoyed by her.

The flight from Nerita to Beijing was packed! You can read about it a little more in the second installment here. Not much to say.

First Night in Beijing
The airport was surprisingly empty when we stepped off the plane. Then again, we got in around 9pm or so. We were all exhausted. There were still things up from the Beijing Olympics the summer previous and I had taken some pictures (but these were lost). I was highly amused by the exit signs, or what I affectionately called "the green exit man" because the sign was green instead of red, and it showed a stick figure guy running out a door.

We made our way by bus to the Friendship Hotel. This was an amazing hotel, I really wish I had pictures of it (instead of just the lobby below). The first thing I did was call my friend, JW-M, who was studying abroad in Beijing for the year. Then DY-M and I crashed. The bed was SO HARD. I think there was either no mattress or no box-spring. Whatever, my back ached when I got up.

Breakfast was amazing at the Friendship hotel. It was typical Chinese breakfast food - steamed buns, steamed vegetables, stuffed steamed buns, various meat dishes, a nice assortment of fruits. JW-M found the breakfast lacking in China; his opinion that breakfast food is much better here in the US. I suppose he has a point. But we don't have kiwi juice here in the US! Kiwi juice = amazing. It's so green (and tasty)!!

Whirlwind Tourist Day
The next day was our "whirlwind tourist day" where we visited the Great Wall, the Imperial Palace, Tiananmen Square, and Laoshi Teahouse. You can read more about it in the the first installment here. But here are some more pics anyway. :P
The Great Wall!

The Imperial Palace!

It's a dragon-turtle in the Forbidden City!

Across from Tiananmen Square!

By the time we got to the Laoshi Teahouse we were exhausted and on the verge of falling asleep. It was the first place I encountered the infamous squat toilets. I managed to refrain from using a squat toilet throughout the entire trip. Go me! Anyway, the food was amazing as usual. And we saw a kind of screen play (not exactly sure what it's called) before going upstairs for a cultural show (which we were all doing the head bobbing dance of sleepiness).

Omg, look at this food!!

Screen play thing.

Roommate Bonding
That night, and almost every night, DY-M and I bonded a bit (in the most non-sexual way, of course). We constantly talked about how exhausted the day made us, haha. We almost always went to bed between 9pm-11pm. We discussed about what it was like being ABCs in China. We were both impressed by how we seemed to blend in relatively unnoticed. This may be because we're usually juxtaposed by our non-Chinese friends on the trip, and we were always together to cover for the holes in each other's linguistic skills. This usually worked pretty well. Often times, the Chinese people we interacted would come to us first because they knew we knew Chinese and English, and could translate for them. It did feel good being "useful" as an ad hoc interpreter.

DY-M did get to practice his Chinese more than me, oh well. My spoken Mandarin is better than his, simply because he didn't learn Mandarin until undergrad (he speaks Cantonese at home) whereas Mandarin is more native to me. We watched a comedy sit-com on the CCTV. I was able to understand maybe 80% of what was spoken, and he understood about 60% (so he says) but was able to understand what went on due to the context. That's pretty impressive, in my opinion.

I'm really glad he was my roommate. We shared a certain connection by the singular fact that we are both ABCs. And he was a really sweet guy - always really nice, smiling, and helpful. But that's part of his personality as well as his life philosophy. It didn't hurt that he has an amazingly fit body. ;-) There was something about him, some kind of comforting aura, that almost made me come out to him (for no real reason).

We spent the vast majority of our remaining time in China in Tianjin, about 2 hours south of Beijing by bus (but only 30 minutes but their new amazingly fast high-speed train). The first day we were in Tianjin, we ate at the famous GoBuLi Restaurant. The food, again, was amazing. This place is known for their steamed buns and dumplings. I had pictures, but they were lost and were unrecoverable. :-( But a couple did survive:

We spent most of the week observing and working with the Tianjin CDC (TJCDC). You can read all about it in the third installment here.

While we were technically on "lock down" when we were at the hotel, some of us did sneak to the nearby Chinese Wal-mart to buy some things. DY-M bought a pair of unhemmed pants, so he had to get them tailored. There was tailor who did 15-minute pants alterations. She had the thickest Tianjin accent ever. DY-M asked me to come along for (linguistic) support, just in case. We both had problems understanding! This little old grandma person next to us in line just laughed at us.

On our way to Wal-mart.

I felt that this warranted its own category. Not much to say here really. Just that, the first few days I knew every dish in front of us (or at least I could identify what animal/plant it came from). As the days wore on, I became less and less familiar with the dishes as they became more and more local/regional.
I'm not actually sure what this is. o_O

Last Day in China
The last day in China we went to Ancient Culture Street in Tianjin. It was basically a long street with a lot of street vendors. I met up with JW-M for the second time during this trip (the first time was in the Friendship Hotel that first night). It was nice catching up, somewhat. There were so many things to buy/bargain for! I didn't know what to get and whom to get it for. I ended up getting a jade turtle bracelet for SR-F, two silk scarves - one for my researcher's wife and one for AG-F, a solar-powered apple thingy (it moves its leaves up and down) for my researcher, and a tea pot of some sort. I had gotten 2 scrolls earlier - one that went to RZ-F and one that I'm keeping for myself.

We stayed in a hotel near-ish to the Beijing airport the night before we left. Several of us went to a karaoke club/bar place. It was actually pretty cool! DY-M did much of the talking in Chinese, but I was there as backup should my "services" be required. I'm actually not sure I could've held my own as well as he did. After we went back to the hotel, DY-M wanted to get a pedicure/foot massage and convinced me to go (his older brother introduced him to pedicures/foot massages when they were in Thailand visiting an uncle, he also tried convincing others to go as well). When we got to the place, it was rather expensive and kind of sketchy, so we called it off.

Our flight was early in the morning (around 8am I think). I was actually woken by one of the hotel staff. He had very limited English but needed to communicate with some of the people in our group who had already started going down to breakfast. It took my auditory system a moment to calibrate to his accent before I could acquiesce to his request. Basically, he wanted me to let everyone know that they were supposed to check out before heading down to breakfast to make things quicker and smoother, as the staff needed to check the rooms before we left.

Flight Back Again
The Beijing airport was still pretty empty, though not as empty as when we first arrived. We lounged in the airport for a while. I talked to my roommate (well, I suppose now we weren't roommates) for a bit before boarding the plane.

On the flight from Beijing to Nerita, I sat next to a really cute French guy. I thought he was Australian at first from his accent, but no, he's from France. No idea where he picked up that Australian-like accent. The moment he said he was french, the Japanese guy next to him with a fro (what Asian has a fro?!) started talking to him in French. And they talked in French the whole flight!! Grrr, he was my French guy to talk to. You totally stole him Japanese fro-guy. Also, there were two babies bawling almost the entire flight. They sat all the way towards the front of the plane whereas most of us sat near the back, but we could still hear them all the way down the plane.

The flight from Nerita back to the US was rather uninteresting. There was a choir group of Korean girls on the flight. They took up a lot of space on the plane, and the plane was completely packed! I was mildly surprised that the Korean girls didn't know English, as I assumed they were from South Korea that was occupied by the US for a while (and was heavily influenced by both good and bad aspects of American culture). Our flight actually arrived back in the US about an hour early, which apparently is very unusual.
That was some of the highlights of the trip not mentioned in the previous 3 installments. There's so much more I could say. But perhaps now's the time to answer the question posed at the beginning of this post: What did this trip mean to me? It meant discovery, adventure, and escape.

I discovered that I could hold my own if I absolutely had to. I also discovered that the Chinese liked talking about me to each other when they find out I'm an ABC. At lunch in both Dagang and Jixian, some of the CDC people were talking about they were surprised I could understand and speak Chinese. I'm not sure they realized I could hear and understand everything they said. They toasted to me for that, haha. Red wine - toast away. White wine - it'll mess you up.

The entire trip was a super-condensed adventure. The Great Wall, the Imperial Palace, the CDC, the mountainside, Ancient Culture Street, karaoke, every moment was alive. There was so much to do, and we were so tired at the end of each day (so much so that I didn't even feel the urge to wank once the whole trip). For the first time in a very long time, I felt like I was alive and in this world, in this moment. And this brings me to my last point.

This was my escape. It was an escape from my daily life. It was an escape from being chained to my laptop and the internet and all that entailed. I did not miss the internet at all while I was in China. It was an escape from the academic stresses. Here, among the few people who went and among the massive populace, I - in a sense - escaped from who I was. It was like suspending reality in once place in the world to experience life in another. It was . . . relief.

Now, some final parting pics: