Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Day in the Life

It's a Friday morning around the usual time, and I set out once again for my weekly commune with one of nature's more overlooked environments. I drive the dusty road out to where the faithful kayakers are dallying with their young sons and attempting to extract some kind of vertebrate from the brackish waters. Stepping out into the heat and extracting a device from my trunk, I pass them and smile cordially. It never fails - there is always one that stops and asks me, "So, watcha measurin'? Whatcha collectin'? Ya'll from A&M?" Yes, water temperature and such; snails; mhmm, yup I'm an intern there.

I slide my booties on and submerge my willing feet into the mud and slosh through the Spartina until I find a good spot to hunt my unwilling prey. The tide is ebbing, but it's still high enough to adequately conceal what I'm looking for. Bending over, sticking my face into the grass, I peer through the layer of marshwater. I push back the salt-covered grass to let the light shine through and illuminate the substrate, hoping to see a familiar conical shape waiting for me to grasp it. Beads of sweat are forming everywhere, and I've only been out for a few minutes. There's something satisfying about the trickle of sweat down the side of your face; like a sign that you're truly accomplishing something. Well, anyway, I diverge...

The water is hot and I slosh through the marsh inch by inch, always parting the grass and searching, searching. Where are all the snails today? The tide is high enough, yet all I find are empty shells and those are few. Even the snails know it's silly to be out on such a hot day. That's Texas for you, though. No choice in the matter.

I get lucky and find a snail hiding out on the open substrate. My hand quickly moves to pick it up, as if it might disappear before I can grab it, proving only an illusion. It is real, however, and I examine the opening to look for a tell-tale operculum shrinking into the conical depths. No such luck - another empty one. I toss it aside and continue my search, feeling the ever-pressing sun on the back of my neck and the tingle of sweat beats running through my hair.

The next one proves more fruitful as I glimpse the snail retreating, it's operculum shining back at me. Yes! This should be a good spot. I hunker down, my face almost brushing against the marsh vegetation, and I look closer. Where there is one, there are bound to be others. Managing to find a few more, I note that they are all very far back in their shells. Today is hot, and the salinity is nearly 45; I can't blame them for blocking out the world.

My task complete, I rinse off my booties and retreat to the blasting AC of my car, which never cools down fast enough in this place. I return to the lab and examine my specimins, some of which are beginning to poke their fleshy mantles out in response to the fresh seawater I give them. Who's first?

I pick a nice long one and retreat to my bench, measuring it's shell and jotting down a series of numbers. The snail sits innocently on the lab bench, a poor victim in another scientist's crude experiment for the greater good of knowledge. Well, I don't know if I can consider myself a scientist quite yet, but this snail will hopefully help me find my way, as will many unsuspecting invertebrates in my future. I snap on my gloves and place a paper towel over the snail, and then I grab my hammer...

Don't worry, I'll make it quick.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Chapter 2: Texas!

So, now I will attempt to summarize my experiences in Texas thus far, having it been almost a month already. I have been extremely lax in my blogging habits, but I suppose that is a good thing, for it signifies that I have been otherwise busy and occupied! As most of you know, I function much better when busy.

I don't have many pictures to share yet because my camera died (officially) on the way down here...

Texas - On the Way

But I have since garnered one lovely paycheck and subsequently used said paycheck to purchase a lovely, shiny, new Sony camera! I am much happy about this investment, and have already begun to explore its many functions and take pictures of Galveston and the surrounding area. After this weekend I imagine I shall have much more to contribute in the imagery department :) So just wait - more to come! (insert advertisement reference of your choice)

In other words, I suppose the drive down here (since this is a travel blog, I shall mention such things) was pleasant, albeit long and uncomfortable. My mom and I didn't spend much time on the way since there was a need for speed (so to speak - of course we didn't go over the speed limit of 70mph the entire way). However, on the journey home in August, I look forward to exploring the unknown regions of the US with my friend Mark...so look forward to that summary at the conclusion of the summer as well. I suppose the most exciting part of the journey down here was the drive through Louisiana, at which point it began to get hot and the countryside looked a bit nifty-er. We saw some still-remaining evidence of Katrina on the highways, although we didn't get to stop in any cities or anywhere near the coast, so that was unfortunate. The drive through Mississippi and such was just absolutely boring, but oh well...

When we drove down the long stretch of Crystal Beach (Texas) we saw some really awesome evidence of Hurricane Ike from this past fall. The little slip of a beach lasted for some miles, and all along the stretch of it there were houses being rebuilt on stilts, which I think is rather pointless when debris still litters the roadside waiting to be cleaned up first. And why would you rebuild on a little area where everything was swept away clean!? I don't understand people sometimes, but you know if you have enough money, that vacation home you always wanted is pretty replaceable. The trees and brush left could be seen bent over from the strong winds, and everywhere you could see signs left in tatters for places that no longer stood there (at all). It was very interesting, and I hope to have pictures of this after our trip tomorrow to look at it. There are other interesting areas on Galveston that have stood against Ike, and everywhere you can see lines drawn on buildings showing how high the surge went. The town is still in shambles, kind of, so it's not as pretty of a place to be.

It also poured tremendously during the last leg of our drive to Galveston, which made driving on the highway extremely difficult, on top of being in the middle of nowhere for miles (and having to pee really badly!) But that is quite besides the point. I am desperately longing for such a deluge now, for it hasn't rained since we got here almost a month ago, and everything is hot, dry, and yellow. There is nothing green here and the air quality is terrible! I am not quite pleased with this, and I don't think I"ll be complaining about my dear Ohio anymore.

There are other updates of course, and I shall fill you in on the next post, when hopefully I shall have more pictures to compliment my musings!

Till then, adieu.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Last Night

**I also updated the last two entries with pictures! It finally worked..So there you go, check those out.

So today we had a meeting to wrap up the trip and discuss our projects, which we will present next week. I went to the library then at the University for a couple hours. It was quite confusing and different, but they have a lovely library with many many resources and more current things than our library! It was an interesting experience in and of itself, for I needed to fill out a permit to go in and look at the books, and I had to give them my passport number and exactly what I would be researching. As far as I know, other libraries in the US are not like that! I got quite a bit of useful information for my project, and I hope to post the powerpoint slides on here maybe when I finish it and present it next week. (we'll see - it depends on how well the finished product looks..haha)

For my last dinner I went to Clarke Quay again with Noelle and Kathryn, and we had a great dinner at a Japanese restaurant followed by delicious turkish ice cream. Clarke Quay is beautiful at night with many lights along the river, etc. and there are many people there at all times and days of the week. I wish there were a place like that where I lived - it is actually very soothing and happy at night time. I will also miss the terrific storms that happen almost every day - I love thunderstorms. There are many interesting and beautiful things here, as well as different cultures and perspectives to investigate. I really enjoyed my time here, but I am also very glad to go back to the states!

Among other things, I miss my bed and my pillows! Also I miss the food - I do enjoy asian cuisine, but I'm just not used to eating it every day. I could definitely go for some of Sly's cooking at the lab, and definitely a nice bowl of cereal or a nice salad. Mmm..simple foods. Simple foods. haha. I also look forward to getting back to some beautiful Spring weather in Beaufort. I have gotten used to this heat, and I don't think it really bothers me a whole lot, but I appreciate the cooler days back home more now, that's for sure! I also miss having real class, as silly as that may sound to some people, but I like learning and being busy. I'm also really looking forward to getting back to the molecular lab so I can finally get cranking on my scale worms, now that I'm pretty sure which methods to use. (I know I am suuuuch a nerd!) More than just getting back to Beaufort, I also miss Wittenberg and Ohio, as craaazy as THAT sounds. I registered for my fall classes tonight, and I am very excited to get back into normal college life. But of course I can live in any place and all have their ups and downs. I imagine no matter where I am I will always miss something about one of the other places I am lacking...But this is a fortunate thing!

So I will hopefully be able to get some sleep, although I doubt it...the anticipation of the journey ahead is too much, too much! I will "awake" in 3 1/2 hours and embark halfway around the world yet again. Goodnight, and goodbye Singapore...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Weekend Again

We had Friday and Saturday off, and several people went off to different surrounding countries, but I was generally a bum. Friday we went to Sentosa island and lay out on the beach near the water, which was very nice. We stayed there the majority of the day, although it threatened to storm at one point. By the time we were finished with lunch, however, it had passed over. While we were lounging, we met some Singaporean guys who had sat near us. They had a guitar and were playing Red Hot Chili Pepper songs, so we started conversing, and they were very nice. We talked for some time and shared travelling stories - several of them had been to the states, etc. They were very glad we were in Singapore and eager to make sure we were enjoying ourselves there and found it a nice place to be. Lots of national pride. I eventually got around to asking them about the national service, and they all had similar points of view about it. Although they each worked in a different part of it, they all agreed it was 'fun' and like a 'brotherhood'. One said that even though many people complained about it, it wasn't that bad. After the two years, they have to go back for about 2 weeks each year until they are 55. I asked and they said if you wanted to you could 'sign' on and do it permanently as a career. They didn't seem to have anything negative to say about it..it was very interesting to talk to them. They wanted to answer any questions we had and were eager to talk about Singapore, etc.

We eventually parted the beach and went to the aquarium, which was okay - not very large, but had several things you can't see in the states including cuttlefish, nautilus, and a dugong! Along with some sharks and such. It was good to get back to the hotel in the evening - I was burnt all along my backside! Saturday we were supposed to go to Indonesia, but I didn't go because I was so burnt. Apparently it was very scary and the girls who went were followed around the whole time by very 'helpful' men. Instead I lazed around and went to Chinatown on Saturday - nothing too exciting.

This morning we woke up at 4am! and went to Chek Jawa, the nature reserve. There was a great expanse of sea grass and exposed invertebrates on this intertidal zone. We had to wake up very early in order to get the low tide. It was quite interesting - large sea cucumbers and sea pens! Many echinoderms and Cnidarians. The anemones that were present were of all shapes, sizes, and colors. It sounds wonderful, but in truth these animals were very sparse. They used to cover the area, but a storm from Johor caused a lot of freshwater to flood Chek Jawa and kill many of the soft-bodied invertebrates, including the once-plentiful carpet anemones. Luckily, these are making a slow come back! Hopefully it will continue to be replenished with life and they will continue to preserve the area.

This afternoon/evening we went to the house of professor Lye, the woman who gave us a lecture earlier in our trip. Her apartment was in a very nice area near the MacRitchie reservoir, and all the apartments had green plants on their balconies - she said that they were required to have plants! It was absolutely beautiful, and her house was very nice and decorated. It was a lovely time - she had a grand piano and a guitar, and some of our company played and sang and it was very sound-of-music-esque. Haha.

Tonight we will go out to an "ice bar" where, apparently, it is kept freezing cold inside and shots are served in shot glasses made of ice. It should be interesting - perhaps we will end up somewhere else as well. Tonight is the last night, sort of. Tomorrow technically is the last day/night, but I imagine I shall be preoccupied with packing and trying to sleep before I have to wake up at 3am. Yay..I must say it has been an excellent trip! I have learned so much and been exposed to many many different things: ideas, cultures, religions, customs, government/policy systems..It's been an eye-opener and truly an experience I shall never forget. I imagine I'll still have things to say after we get back and I think and remember more.

Pictures! Most of these are from Chek Jawa, but there are a few random ones from Chantalle's birthday and Sentosa island/beach.

Last Days

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Past Few Days

Okay well - where did I leave off? I believe I last posted on Monday? So...

Tuesday: We went into Malaysia this day..We were supposed to go into the major city of Johor Baru, but instead Orbach thought it would be different to go to a typical Malay village, or 'kampong', to see what Malay life is like on a daily basis. We took a bus to the border and then drove across the straight into Malaysia. We picked up a tour guide at the Malaysian customs/immigration center and continued our drive into Malaysia. Immediately you could tell the differences between Malaysia and Singapore. Much more undeveloped land there, more green space..but also greater poverty and lower standards of living. The houses were one story and more spread out since they have more land to work with, but they were all mostly in bad condition, etc. We got off eventually and walked through a Malay town, all of which was built up on stilts in the water. The water itself was murky and muddy and full of trash and broken sticks and such. It smelled everywhere of fish or garbage or sewage..It was also rainy the day we went, so I'm sure that made everything look a bit more dreary as well. Everyone got around the village by bicylce or motorcycle/scooter. There were no railings on the pathways, so you had to be careful as these people passed by, for the water was literally right there...and some of the boardwalk-type paths didn't seem too sturdy. It was amazing to see an entire village built up on stilts over the water. We eventually decided to take a boat ride through the small harbor area to one of the nearby aquaculture floating docks. There were many and each was small and family-owned, it seemed. They were very eager to show us their fish and other creatures and products. Then we returned to the beginning of the village near where we came in and had lunch, family style. Everything is cheap in Malaysia - everything. I had a 10 dollar bill from the US and I changed it for 44 ringits.. After lunch and beer (and gum! the first I'd had since I have been here since they don't sell any in Singapore) I only had a few ringits left though, for souvenir purposes. :) I must say I was very very glad to return to Singapore. It's amazing how these two countries so close to each other can be so starkly different from one another.
Tuesday evening we went on a night safari, which was basically a zoo walk/train ride but at night. It was entertaining and interesting to see some of the native and other animals. I didn't take pictures since it was at night, and I guess there's not much to say about it...reminded me of the Wilds in the US..except more zoo-like and controlled than that. My favorite was the rhino, which did a nice little strut around his area for us as we passed. He was so cute - I wanted to jump in there with him..

Wednesday: We woke up really early to go to the MacRitchie reservoir and rainforest walk, which was probably my favorite part of the trip so far. We went early to avoid the heat, but really it didn't matter cuz it's hot here all the time and we all got soaked from sweating anyway. We got there and started this trek through the forest - covered the majority of the time, which was nice. It was the first time I felt really well and refreshed - I didn't cough the whole morning! We made it eventually to the suspension bridge and walked through the canopy. The whole morning's adventures were very exciting and beautiful. I absolutely love being outside and in the forest. I would do that every day if I could. We got to see monkeys and monitor lizards along the way. It was strange to suddenly emerge onto the side of the highway and hop on the bus. People gave us strange looks because we were all sweaty and out of breath..haha. When we returned to Harbourfront, we stopped for lunch and i finally obtained some medicine, much to my relief. After a well-deserved shower and some rest the whole gang went out to a mediterranean resataurant for Chantalle's birthday. It was a very good time, and they went dancing afterwards. I didn't go because I felt badly, but apparently it was quite the experience. Haha they said the club played 80s music and the men there primarily danced using hand motions and various signs to go along with the music's lyrics. Entertaining, I'm sure..

Today (Thursday): Some of the gang went to Malaysia and Indonesia for the weekend, so our numbers were slightly diminished. The 14 of us went to the Kanji Wetland Reserve - apparently the last real reserve of undisturbed land in Singapore. It was very beautiful and interesting, but since it was so undisturbed there were many many mosquitos, much to our dismay. The first part of the morning was quite enjoyable, but very quickly it became hot and buggy and I found myself walking briskly to get back to the visitor's station! Before the mad rush, I saw several monitor lizards - they were absolutely everywhere here, and much much bigger than ones we saw before. Also there were these cute little birds along the water's edge of the path that hopped along rather quickly. I don't know their exact name, but the best way I can describe them is "penguin chickens" haha they were black and white with little yellow tail-feather tufts similar to chicken ends..There were also very very large nerite snails in clumps on the trees that grew up out of the water. I think I saw an alligator swimming along in one of the ponds, and I definitely saw many many mosquitos! Lunch was in Bollywood at an organic farm. It was quite delicious, although spicy again, which I think I'm getting used to more and more. After our delicious and mostly vegetarian lunch, we took a walk through the "farm" which was more like a garden. Our guide was very animated and friendly, showing us all the plants and vegetables, fruits, and herbs, telling us to pick things and smell or taste them. It was a very interesting little walk, and the gardens were beautiful! The rest of the afternoon I napped and rested..which was very very nice indeed.

This weekend we have a couple free days so I plan on going to Sentosa tomorrow and we will take a day trip to one of the Indonesian Islands on Saturday, which should be fun, and I can get more stamps in my passport! wooo! I will probably not blog until Sunday evening..and by then it will be almost time to go home!


Last Week In Singapore

Monday, March 23, 2009

US Embassy and Botanical Gardens

This morning we visited the US Embassy - outside it looked like a prison. How cheery..There was a guy standing outside with a big machine gun. Once we were inside, after more screening and processing than you have to go through in the airport, we went into a room and met two American people who were to give us a presentation. It was very nice to hear English that wasn't tinged with an accent of some sort - I realize how I take advantage the capability of communication and understanding people on a daily basis. The two people talked about Singapore from the US perspective, and it was much more to-the-point and factual than other Singapore presentations we've had from Singaporeans. The Singapore way of informing people seems to be to make things sound good without providing real information...So it was nice to get some clearer and non-convoluded views. Annabelle, who is from Singapore, said that everything they said was pretty much correct.

We went to lunch at this Indian restaurant called Samy's, and it was all completely curry. Currie prawns, curried chicken, curried squid, curried lamb, curried potatoes, curried fish cakes, curried curry with curry on top and a side of curry...etc. Oh yea and there was rice and pita-type bread. Oh and lime juice that was absolutely amazing. It was the most spicy food I have ever eaten at one sitting. They gave us huge palm leaves and then spooned food straight onto them for us to eat..many waiters came around the table with all our options and we said yes or no, and sometimes it was difficult to make sure they didn't heap something on your leaf. It was an experience, and I'm certain I won't have a hankering for anything curried in a while now...

We went to the Singapore Botanical Gardens after lunch and it was absolutely gorgeous. I love the smell of green and outside. It was a huge place and we definitely didn't cover the entirety of it, but we went into the orchid section and perused the ginger gardens, etc. It was very relaxing and enjoyable. Once returning to the hotel, in anticipation of receiving some kind of nap, I embarked again on a journey with Rebecca, Danny, and Caro to Bugis for some shopping.

We went on a wild goose chase for this store that Noelle and Kathryn supposedly found yesterday in the Bugis area...but we never found it. Kind of disappointing - but we didn't cover a lot of shopping ground, and found this adorable japanese necklace with piano keys and notes on it...that whole store had rings and bracelets and earrings all from japan and all absolutely adorable..it's a shame I can't grow money..

Now I am back and blogging yet again. I realize my last post was lacking..so I shall attempt to make up for it. What shall I talk about - hmm. I don't really know. There is so much to say that I haven't yet about the history and ideas and culture, mostly things that can't be described or even photographed. It must be observed and experienced. The people here are really not that bad - some are even friendly and will smile back. Shopkeepers are way more obnoxious here, and often it turns one off to buying anything. I suppose that's not so bad really, otherwise I'd be out much more money. Everywhere you go there are people. Tons and tons of people. I think it would get overwhelming to me after a while. Transportation really adds up - I can't imagine using the MRT and buses every single day - ahh I don't even want to think how much that would add up to in a year. Clothes are made for little people, and it's somewhat saddening when you're trying to try something on.

A little bit more about the country itself - Singapore is only 40-some years old in its independence. In that amount of time it has moved from a 3rd world country to a 1st and is much more advanced that the US in some respects. It is amazing to think of that much change and growth in such a short time.

I find it fascinating sometimes to realize that I am in a group of people who are more than willing to discuss social and environmental issues on an every-day basis over drinks, lunch, or anytime. I find myself surrounded by these folks who know a lot and can share things with me and hold intelligent conversations and be sincerely interested in talking about philosophy, religion, policy, politics, government involvement in a growing society...on and on all these topics. Here we are in Singapore learning and experiencing all these things..yes it's a class, and that's the point, but still. After we leave a place we start talking about it and discussing it amongst ourselves while we ride the bus back to the hotel..and I can't help but think that I would never find such a happening back at home. Here, in this place, and at the marine lab in general, I am surrounded by my people. People who are willing to talk about school and serious issues and are truly involved in the discussions. They don't care what you think, either, because they are all open-minded and willing to share their opinions and listen to yours, etc. I like it. I feel comfortable and at home.

Every now and then I realize where I am and who I am and what I know and I think about how I got here. What events transpired to get me to this point. If that much has happened and I am here now, what could happen in the next year? The next 10 years? It could be amazing what I could learn and do in another year. In one year already I've gotten to go to the Bahamas, become SCUBA certified, be an RA, join CREW, join a sorority, enroll in the marine lab, move to NC for a semester, take classes with some of the brightest and well-known professors in the realm of my major, go to Singapore for 2 weeks, work on molecular stuff with hydrothermal vent organisms, apply for a huge scholarship (that i'm still waiting to hear about..!!), apply to several internships and get accepted into one (so far..waiting on two still), and many more things I'm sure I just can't remember now. That's only a year..

It's amazing what you can do...I would never think ahead and see myself doing these things. Life is so spontaneous, and whether we like it or not, it will take us wherever it wants to - we are only along for the ride. Who knows where I will be and what I will be doing next year?

Well, I do know that tomorrow I will be in Malaysia..and that shall also be another adventure.

Singapore Photos Day(s) Whatever

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Yesterday we watched the grad students at NUS practice their presentations, and it was very long and not entirely interesting, to put it nicely.

Had lunch at the inn and went to Little India and Chinatown. Bought stuff - very cool places. Lots of hawkers that try to get you to stop in their particular store and buy there stuff. It's also not to difficult to pay less than what's listed ifyou say it's too expensive or say you could get it cheaper somewhere else..then they usually drop their price. Yay for that..I ended up getting separated from Kathryn and Noelle, so Isaac and I ate and then came back to the hotel for a bit. We then went to this music hall called the Esplanade, connected to a big underground mall. There's been a music festival here the past week or so, and we saw a couple musicians and had a drink. Then we returned and it was pretty late...

Had to wake up really early this morning to go to the Chinese market and check out all the fish heads and produce and dried things..It was very interesting - many many things you don't find in the states. I took some pictures, but I'll put them up tomorrow or something. Kathryn Noelle and I went on the temple walk and visited the places of worship - the mosque was really different, and the temples are pretty cool. There was a very peaceful buddhist temple in chinatown and I probably could have stood in there for a long time. I don't really believe in much, but when I walked in there I just got a feeling of peacefulness..I felt really at ease and relaxed in there. There were monks and other people singing and it was so methodical and relaxing. We wandered around Chinatown a bit more and had lunch, etc. I contemplated buying things but I didn't.

I went off on my own and decided to come back to the hotel early to rest since I'm not really feeling that spectacular. That brings me here, and I doubt the rest of the evening will be very eventful. It's been a week now and I guess we've gone all over the city and I'm becoming comfortable with it. I'm waiting to do the exciting things this week like a night safari and a jungle walk on a suspension bridge! :D