Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Three Weeks Left

Lab work this week has not been too eventful. I set up a couple more experiments, but mostly ran HPLCs and GCs. Sun Jiying is leaving on Saturday to attend a meeting out of town with Professor Liu and two other grad students. Because she has to make a poster to present at the conference, I had yesterday off and will have tomorrow off as well. The conference goes through Wednesday of next week but she has to attend an HPLC operation training session of sorts when she returns, so I will have all of next week off as well.

I'm not entirely sure what I will do with my time at this point. Traveling to a different part of the country would probably be cool, but I don't think it would be feasible because I have to save money for school in the fall and getting around by myself would obviously be challenging since I don't speak Chinese. I'll probably end up staying in Beijing and maybe visiting the labs other students are working in and working on my poster.

I think I've discovered my favorite things in Beijing. First of all, corn on the cob. You can get it covered in a spicy sauce at some stands and it's soooo good. Its texture is slightly different from the stuff we have in the states, though, so not everyone likes it. Secondly (actually I may like this more than the corn) is this little painting shop on what we call the cultural street. I don't know how to describe exactly where it is other than near the Hepingman subway station and famous Peking duck restaurant. In the upper story of the shop, an older Chinese man paints simple nature scenes on scrolls, fans, and papers to be framed. There are all sorts of different sizes and all sorts of different pictures ranging from flowers to animals to scenery. He always writes a little note about the scene off to the side of the picture and signs his name and stamps the painting. His wife stays on the lower floor, directing customers and basically running the business.

I've been there three times already and am planning to go back again this weekend. The last time his wife saw us coming (Allison and I were sprinting because we were afraid the shop would be closed- we got there at 7 and as it turned out it closes at 7:30), she waved and laughed at us and brought us to stools to sit on and ice cream to munch on while we waited for Marko. I bought a big scroll that I have originally come back to get along with a medium sized one that I had not originally come back to get and then ended up buying two other paintings while we were waiting. Each time I brought something new up to the counter to buy, she would just laugh at me because she knows I love everything so much and can't stop buying things. I've definitely spent over 1,000 yuan there already.. I want to take pictures with them and their shop this weekend, so hopefully I will figure out how to post those at some point.

So that is pretty much my new favorite hangout. In other news, Melody will be missing in action for the next week. She's gone to the beach today with her group for a couple of days and will be traveling to the Hunan province with them once they return. Which is really cool for her. I'm jealous.

That may be about all. We will have to see how my next week of vacation goes..

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

3.5 Weeks into Lab

I've realized that there is no standard that can summarize the lab experiences of our group as a whole. The range of hours people work varies greatly as does the number of experiments and amount of work we do while at work. Some people have to work 70 hours a week and some less than 35. Some people work nearly independently on their own experiments and some people only help out with minor parts of their grad student's project.

As for me, I've probably been working about 35 hours a week (excluding lunch, which is at least an hour to two each day) and haven't had to come in at all on the weekends. My group's meeting is Saturday morning, however, because it is in Chinese, I don't have to come. I don't have any sort of independent project or my own experiments. For the past week and a half, I've set up some of Sun Jiying experiments involving an autoclave for her (although she runs and monitors the actual reactions and collects the products afterward), pre-treated her products in a trimethyl silylation reaction, and run gas chromatography analyses. I mostly sit around the office a lot and read whatever I bring/can get my hands on.

Since that's about all I have to report schedule-wise, I want to say a few things about what my lab does. Sun Jiying says there are three sections within the lab: catalyst production and characterization, actual experiments, and product analysis/characterization. The catalysts used range from single metals to metals supported on activated carbon or different metal oxides. Sun Jiying works with ruthenium and different supports. The experimental section can be broadly summarized as the selective oxidation or hydrogenolysis of polyols such as sorbitol, xylitol, cellulose, and glycerol. Sun Jiying is currently working on the selective hydrogenolysis of xylitol to ethylene glycol and propylene glycol. Reaction parameters she considers include: pressure, temperature, reaction time, pH, and of course, catalyst type. The last section of the lab is fairly self explanatory. Machines used to characterize products include a GC and HPLC (new). Sun Jiying has developed a method of pretreating products with high boiling points with TMS (trimethyl silicon) to reduce their BP's so they can be analyzed using the GC.

That's about it for lab stuff at this point.. Side note on the crazy weather: so it had been cloudy and raining for about the past week and a half straight. However, yesterday and today were sunny and incredibly hot (which is apparently more normal for this time of year). My goal is not to wilt by the end of the weekend.. I should probably start using my umbrella for shade like everyone else here..

That is all..

Monday, June 23, 2008

Week 3! (in lab..)

Dear Blog,

This blogging once a week plan is failing slightly moreso than I had originally anticipated.. In any case, let me update you on the past two weeks:

So last, last Monday we began working in the labs. Things started out pretty slowly for me. Professor Liu and I decided that I would use the first two weeks to spend a day with each grad student so they could introduce me to their projects and I could get a general understanding of what was going on in the lab. Afterward, I would choose who I wanted to work with.

I spent Monday-Wednesday of the first week reading papers. On Thrusday and Friday and the following week, I worked with a different grad student each day. While it was neat to be able to see what each student did and spend time with everyone, I think it would have been better to have tried to fit everything into one week instead of taking two. Maybe working with one grad in the morning and another in the afternoon and reading papers in the evening would have been better. Getting out early everyday was nice, but I'm concerned about having enough time to finish a project now. Additionally, the chem building may get shut down in the middle of July for the Olympics. So that would only give me a month to work.. We will have to see how things turn out, though.

Life outside of the lab is going well. I've mostly been working out and resting a lot. And shopping. There's a ton of stuff to do/see/buy in Beijing and it's pretty easy to get around once you learn how to take a cab and use the bus and subway systems. We've been going to a couple different clubs on the weekends. Overall, they've all been really nice, but pretty expensive. It's been fun, though.

I think this weekend we may be taking a train out to the east coast to go the beach. We need to look into the details though (aka getting tickets and hotel rooms). And if not, maybe the zoo or some musuems. It could possibly depend on the weather. Even though Beijing is apparently just supposed to be hot and humid all summer long, I've found that the weather is sort of violently unpredictable. We've probably had rain and storms every week since we've been here. We've had days where it's been so dry and dusty and windy, you wanted to wear your lab goggles out into the streets. And of course we've had the very hot and humid (but apparently the hottest is yet to come)..

Today is the first day of our third week in lab. I've chosen a grad student to work with, Sun Jiying, who is incredibly nice and friendly and speaks English very well. I've just been helping her out with her experiments today, so we will have to see if I ever end up with a project of my own.

That is all for now..

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

And so it begins

Dear Blog,
Okay, so they’re no longer giving us prompts nor setting aside reserved blogging time and it’s currently 2.5 weeks into the trip and I’m only now making my second entry (I can sense that this is going to be a continual challenge). .
In any case. I will present the first two weeks of our trip to you as they were presented to me (sort of):
Friday May 24th, noon: Depart UM campus, drive to Detroit Airport, take out cash to exchange once we arrive in Beijing, call friends, relatives, etc. to wish farewell, change voicemail to inform callers that I will not be returning their calls for the next two months. Fly to Beijing.
Saturday May 25th, 11 pm: Arrive at Wan Liu apartments in Beijing, China. Scarf down the food and bottles water from our gift bags . Pass out immediately.
Sunday May 26th, 5 am: Rise and shine! (we all love jet lag). Unpack and organize room, mill around for the next 7 hours.. Noon: Touring begins! Lunch + Forbidden City (aka 3 hours outside in 90 degree heat) + dinner + can we please go home and die in our beds yet + Tian'an Men Square + 8:30 pm return. 8:31: Sleep.
Monday May 27th – Friday May 30th, in summation (obviously): Morning language classes with Nian (aka the daily butchering of the Chinese language) + group lunches + afternoon culture lessons (lectures on Chinese society and history; which were all really interesting, save a few..) + some afternoon adventure followed by group dinners mostly. This is similar to the following week’s schedule as well. We mostly just spent the time trying to learn some survival Chinese, getting some basic background information on Chinese culture, learning how to travel around (aka take the bus, subway, and taxi), and getting to know the area around the campus and our apartment. We went on some outings as well: pearl market, clothing market, acrobatics show, Peking duck restaurant, Peking opera, Karaoke, etc.
Saturday May 31st 8 am: Ok jet lag has worn off. Let me see if I can roll myself out of bed. 9 am: Touring begins. Lama Temple + Confucian temple + lunch + Hua Hai Lake tour + drum tower + tea house dinner + variety show performance. 10 pm: drop off at Wan Liu. 10:01 pm: Sleep.
Sunday June 1st (aka the best day ever) 7 am: Rise and shine, happy new month! 8 am: Pick up and drive to the first section of the Great Wall. 11 am: Arrive. First of all, let me say that the weather is wonderful (maybe low 70’s, breezy, a bit cloudy- aka NOT stiflingly hot). The countryside is covered in luscious greenery (which I’ve heard is not always the case..). We take cable cars up part of the mountain (aka “Nicole!!! WE’RE A BUG!!!” (refer to the picture section for details) and after a short walk, there it is. I’m not going to get all sentimental and mushy, but it was honestly one of the coolest experiences of my life. I walked along it, spellbound, for a bit, not being able to put my camera down. We eventually leave our unofficial tour guides and head off to lunch and to the next section of the wall (which required a rather more strenuous hike to reach but was fun and beautiful just the same). 7 pm? Drop-off at Wan Liu.
Monday June 2nd – Friday June 6th, in summation (again): See above.
The following weekend, part of the group went to Xi’an. I opted not to go because I wanted to save my money and have a weekend to rest. The others went because they’ll probably never get the chance to go again. In any case, let us continue:
Saturday June 7th, 10:30 am: Rise and shine after a full 12 hours of sleep (I’m not exaggerating). 11:30: Pick up and hot pot lunch (aka the most delicious invention ever) + happy birthday to Kelly and the biggest pieces of cake on earth + subsequent destruction of the singing lotus. 2 pm: Summer Palace. It was cool to see although architecturally rather similar to the Forbidden City (for obvious reasons), which made touring it a bit redundant (it was also very hot and I had forgotten my camera), but still a good experience. Drop-off afterward in time for dinner and our own devices.
Sunday June 8th, 10:30 am: Rise shine after a full 10 hours of sleep (ok, we’re getting better) for 11:30 pick-up. Dumpling lunch!!! (aka how many dumplings can Tom and Xu eat before regurgitation becomes inevitable? Answer: 70 between the two of them. Please refer to the picture section). 2 pm: short tour of the Temple of Heaven and shopping at the Pearl Market (again- girls’ choice) + time for dinner and the joyous reunion with the other half of the group (you wouldn’t believe two days apart could ever seem that long until you’ve spent every minute of every day together for the previous three weeks).
And then Monday is the big first day in the lab! BUT. I believe this is enough information for the moment. Until next time.. Um.. Wait patiently?
Peace, love and Chinese stunted dogs.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Week One Questions (Orientation Week and Pre-Flight Thoughts):

1) What are you looking forward to the most?
The whole experience, in general. I'm very excited to travel to a new place (I've never been anywhere in Asia before), learn about some of the culture and language and meet new people. I'm looking forward to seeing things that I've heard about but never actually seen before (the city of Beijing, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, etc.). Trying new food and being able to buy things for a very inexpensive price are also pluses.
Additionally, I'm very much looking forward to working in a physcial chemistry lab. I have no experience outside the field of organic chemistry and am interested to see how research methodology at PKU compares with what I've seen at Cornell.

2) What gives you any sense of anxiety at all about going?
There are a couple of aspects about the program that give me some anxiety (however, they also add to the excitement). The length of the program (10 weeks) is slightly intimidating. The prospect of being away from everything even remotely familiar to me for that length of time makes me a bit nervous. The other aspect that creates some anxiety is the language barrier. I've traveled overseas before, but never to any place where I haven't had a substantial introduction to the language spoken there. I know absolutely no Chinese and have no idea how to read Chinese characters. This will definitely make communication and getting around more challenging.

3) Not everyone who expressed interest ended up applying to go... what was the most compelling aspect of the program that made you DECIDE you wanted to do it?
Again, there wasn't just one aspect. It was just the overall feeling that the exciting and beneficial aspects of the program outweighed its intimidating ones.

4) The pre-program period in Ann Arbor is meant to get the group to get to know each other before the trip. Is this a good idea? Were the activities effective?
I thought the pre-program in Ann Arbor was a very good idea. It ended up being one day longer than it was supposed to be because of the some trouble with booking airplane tickets, but I think everything would have been fine if we had stuck to the original plan and the program had been a day shorter.
In any case, getting to know each other before traveling abroad was a good idea. I feel as if we have definitely succeeded in doing this over the past couple of days; which will make the future adjustments to come once we get to China easier to deal with.
Some of the pre-program activites were more beneficial than others. The intergroup relations activities were definitely good to do, I just thought they could have been shorter. It seemed as if the facilitators kept trying to push us to say more after we'd all already gotten the take-home message. Overall, though, they did bring up important issues that were good to think about before leaving on our trip. The group meals brought us closer together as well just by providing an oppurtunity for everyone to sit down together and chat. The "culture lesson" was another useful introduction to certain aspects of Chinese student life. Although, I think "culture lesson" was a slightly inappropriate title. It was more of a discussion of sorts. My favorite part of the pre-program was the first Chinese language lesson and going out to the Chinese resturant. Learning and practicing some Chinese was so much fun and it helped ease some of the anxiety I had about not knowing any Chinese. Eating "family-style" at the resturant was a great bonding experience as well and the food was terrific.

So that's pretty much orientation week and pre-China thoughts/feelings in a nutshell. We leave tomorrow so we'll be seeing how my expectations and fears compare to reality very soon!