Scheduled events yesterday consisted of a workshop with people from the international center advising us on cultural differences to be aware of and the like, a brief rundown of transportation that, summarized, went like this: “Don’t take the buses. Take the subway.” Our evening documentary was on the revolution in 1989 in Tiananmen square. It was pretty much horrifying to see what happened both in terms of pure brutality and excessive force and the restrictive, totalitarian leadership of China at that time.
During our free time we wandered a bit. We visited Borders and people got some books for the flight(s). Yun got a “vocabulary builder” merriam-webster book which entertained us for about the next hour as we sat eating ice cream and trying to define obscure words. “Gravid” was one of the words which I proudly shouted out meant “Heavily pregnant! Chock-full of puppies!” We then proceeded to point out to one another a gravid woman who walked in later–vocabulary at work. [Update: I have seen the word gravid frequently in the literature having to do with C. elegans that are full of eggs] We checked out some movies from the library which we watched later that night using a Jerry-rigged theater consisting of the projector we watch documentaries on, which we moved to a room we found that has air conditioning, projecting onto the sheet off my bed which was hanging from a sprinkler system pipe along the ceiling. We all felt pretty cool that we’d had such a good idea because the alternative plan was to go watch a movie in a real place which would have cost money and required the hassle of bussing to and from the theater.
Post-movie some of us went and hung out with the, to-date, more party-going crowd in our lounge at Oxford which was very fun. Great stories were told and good times were had and it was nice to spend some more time with those people who I hadn’t yet spent much time with.
So yesterday we all arrived throughout the day at Oxford Housing. There was dinner waiting for us there which we munched on. When the vast majority of us were there we went over names and introductions and then proceeded on a tour of UM’s central campus. Us local UM students led the tour informally and showed everyone the major stuff to see on campus. I was surprised to hear people proclaiming how big our campus is and how pretty it is because I always compare to MSU (so I think of our campus as small–not sprawling over many miles), and as more or less ugly (since it’s in the middle of a city and our pretty green spaces are fairly limited besides the arb, and many of our buildings have (occasionally stylish) brick and cement exteriors). The evening led to partying and bar-going by some and walking through the arboretum at dusk followed by cards and pizza-getting for others. It was altogether very pleasant.
After having a difficult time falling asleep I woke up earlier than I intended to and went for a run. We all hung around eating breakfast at Oxford until we were led to the chem building as a gaggle by our intrepid (student) leader, Han Li. She is a student who went to China last summer on this program and will this year be helping keep us in line… I think? Mainly she’s there to know what’s going on and who to contact in case of issues. She’ll be doing research as well. Our scheduled events included hearing that 8 people have yet to receive their Visas due to stupid arguments by the D.C. consulate, but hopes are high that they will get in on time (as in, they will almost certainly be in on time) and hearing about the political and social situation in China. We also talked to 3 students who went last year and asked all our questions about what it’s like ranging from the practical to the absurd. It was nice and somewhat reassuring. They really had nothing but praise for the program. We got pictures taken that will be used for our IDs at PKU in China after that. We were the free to meander around Ann Arbor getting some UM swag to gift to our lab-folk as well as allow some people to buy pharmaceuticals and the like. We stopped by a computer lab and the UM kids logged people in since it’s somewhat difficult for non-UM people to get internet at Oxford, or so I hear.
THEN… a game of Euchre for me, naps for others followed by our dinner+documentary (which we will do tomorrow and Saturday as well). We watched a documentary about the “great leap forward” that I thought was very interesting. The great leap forward was Mao Zedong’s plan to make China totally awesome instantaneously. He set absurdly ambitious goals like doubling steel production in a year, doubling (or more?) food production in a year, collectivizing all farms, eliminating the nuclear family in favor of collective operations. I was absolutely amazed to see shots of massive numbers of people going about tasks that the party had deemed to be priorities. One clip showed a village of people out on the streets killing as many sparrows as possible as they had been declared one of the 4 big pests the Chinese people must defeat for a good society (they were blamed for eating grain (the massive eradication of sparrows actually led to more crop damage as greater numbers of insects survived to eat the crops)).
Evening festivities included watching the basketball game for one group of us. I walked around the arb again (this time in daylight) with a group, then played some games in someone’s room while a few others went to ballroom dance practice. After that broke up I read for a little while, chatting with people online, and wrote this post.
It’s been a busy busy day. It’s been absolutely amazing so far, though, just talking with and getting to know people. Finding common interests, comparing stories about college, family, research interests, and everything else.
Now it’s off to bed to prepare for another full day tomorrow!
I’ve been packing and trying to figure out what I’m going to forget to pack today. Tomorrow our cohort is meeting in Ann Arbor to begin our pre-flight orientation. People are flying in from around the country and us local kids are driving in to stay at Oxford Housing at UM until we depart for Beijing (OK, we’re actually departing for Minnesota, then Japan, then Beijing) on Sunday. While we’re in Ann Arbor we’re going to learn more specifics of what the plan in China will be, meet some students who have gone on this program in the past, begin our language training, learn about the situation in China in the 20th century, and get to know one another.
It’s still a bit unreal for me at this point, though. Maybe it’s the incremental nature of the onset of this trip. I’m leaving tomorrow… but just to Ann Arbor, and I’m planning to see my parents again on Saturday before I leave, so though I’m leaving I’m not actually leaving. It is dawning on me that tomorrow I’m going to meet all the people I’ve been in contact with over Facebook as well as those I wasn’t able to contact and that we will go from being strangers to fellow travelers in the matter of 3 days. It is a very weird thought, and I’m always impressed by how well people get along when circumstances demand it such as at summer camps or with randomly assigned roommates in college. So I’m optimistic and excited about meeting everyone tomorrow!
I can’t believe I’m going to be in China in a week… I also do not look forward to traveling to China. It is going to be a ~26 hour affair, by my estimate, taking into account getting to and from the Detroit and Beijing airports and assuming all goes well.
I am now the proud owner of a blog, as you have probably noticed. As owner of this blog I feel I should explain what I intend to do with this blog.
I want to use this blog to communicate science in a way that is both accurate and approachable. I also want this blog to share my experiences in school and research and (perhaps) life in general. Finally, I will also post anything that I find sufficiently interesting to warrant me writing about it. That said, you should expect things related to life sciences generally, neuroscience, psychology, and biotechnology, as these are fields I find particularly interesting.
In the coming months you can expect to hear much about China and heat shock proteins because I will be in China for 10 weeks this summer on a Research Experience for Undergraduates program sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the University of Michigan researching heat shock proteins with Dr. Zengyi Chang at Peking University. This program is sending me and about 20 of my peers from universities around the United States to Beijing, China, giving us a place to live, giving us research labs to work in, paying us, and getting us home.
Our departure is about a week away and the excitement is mounting!