Friday, June 28, 2013

Xiaoyue is the coolest

posted for Xiaoyue by Zizz.  She didn't tell me a title so I picked what I thought was an appropriate one.
Hey guys! So unfortunately mit vpn is not very smooth…. I wrote something at the beginning of the month but I figured it’s been a little outdated to upload it now. Anyways, HELLOOOOO from Beijing!!!!

I started my internship last Monday. It’s not super interesting, but I feel it’s good enough to get a feeling of working in the industry. The department consists mostly of guys (yeah, “traditional” mechanical engineering…) and we play badminton every Friday. So I guess I’ll get a lot of practice on that by the time I go back on campus. :D

Last weekend I went to Chengdu, Sichuan Province – another travel-for-a-concert adventure. JAY CHOU!!!! (Zizz I’m looking at you) It was great! I sort of did it to commemorate my teenage years…. The fans there are CRAZY!!!! There were two girls sitting behind me who were yelling from the beginning to the end, nonstop, no change in pitch, or strength, or excitement. I don’t think I’ve seen Beijing fans that could compete with them. >.<

The city was beautiful; a lot of trees and plants and water, and old people exercising in parks. Like almost every other big city in China, Chengdu is a combination of the old and the new. Archeological sites from almost 2000 years ago, as well as grand hotels and GUCCI store, and lots of Starbucks (I’m pretty happy about this one). The weather is so HUMID and HOT…. I had the intention of throwing away my damp clothes after the concert. T____T (ehh too much information…)

An old temple.

A little boy was taking photos of his mom, in the park where the temple is located.

Some traditional Xinjiang food, in front of my hotel.

The guy was showing how to make fresh tea leaves into drinkable tea leaves.

Starbucks is everywhere...

Food was great!!! I tried a special kind of hot pot, some noodles, silken tofu (豆腐脑). All of the food was spicy, spicy, spicy, and spicy; and there is a kind of spice in it that makes your tongue and mouth feel numb. I have a pretty high tolerance of spice, but two days of spicy food – and almost nothing mild except yogurt and eggs – was a little too much. Still, definitely great food!

BIG NEWS: we are looking forward to NEW PUPPIES THIS WEEK!!!!!! The girl dog, Dudu, has been pregnant for almost two months and is expected to give birth within a few days. Her belly is getting really big, and - I CAN FEEL THE LITTLE PUPPIES MOVING IN HER BELLY!!!!!!!!!!!! If you are wondering who the father is, well, the answer is: the other dog. He doesn’t seem to know that he’s gonna be a daddy though >.< I’m super excited but nervous, too. I’m going to do a little research on taking care of baby dogs and newly mom :P I’ll post pictures once the little guys/girls are born. :)

Love and keeping away from desserts,

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sleepy Sumin in Southern California

Hi all!

I am currently waiting for a gel to run.

For those of you who didn't know, I am doing a summer research program at Caltech. There are like 700 students doing research here, and about half of them are from Caltech.

Despite my long and persistent search for an apartment, I didn't find one and I am living in the dorms, which I think was actually a very good decision. Caltech is actually surprisingly similar to MIT in many ways, one of which is that each house has a personality. I live in Avery house, which I would say is like Simmons. Fortunately, I have more friends than windows (because my dorm does not look like Simmons at all). My dorm is known to be the not-very-social dorm because it's away from the other houses, but I do fortunately live on the most social alley (they say 'alley' instead of 'halls' here).

My days are usually not very eventful. I go to lab in the morning after struggling to get up, eat lunch which is either a not very good sandwich or a ham quesadilla, go back to lab, and have dinner. After dinner sometimes I have to go back and other times I don't. When I don't have to go back, I try to find fun things to do.

Research-wise, I would say that this summer is actually the most challenging. Basically, the goal of my project is to characterize a protein complex. I started by cloning some genes, and this week I'm growing lots of E.coli so that they can make the protein for me. A lot of what I'm doing right now are things I've done before, but for some reason, I've been struggling a lot with the new protocol, getting used to the instruments and benches, and trying to learn more biology to understand things. To be honest, I feel like nothing is really working and I just don't know why, so things have been pretty frustrating. I guess this is what science is like, but I've never had trouble getting things to work in lab, so my project so far has been a substancial source of stress. Perhaps I am pushing myself too much and need to take things one thing at a time.

Okay, enough about my struggles. To make up for the difficult research, however, I have some pretty cool friends, and Old Pasadena is really awesome. Most of my friends are from my alley and are Caltech students. They're nice and dress better than an average Caltech student apparently. They like playing card games, eating and boba. :) I went to see a modern ballet performance last Saturday, and will be going ice skating tomorrow, so I'm really excited about that. I also found a friend who wants to do food / molecular gastronomy experiments with me so I'm very happy about that. I should find some time to study for the GRE and study orgo though... I guess it's just hard to study after being in lab for a long time.

Since blogs are more fun to read when there are pictures, I guess I'll put some pictures up.

we went to a hibachi place for a friend's birthday 

Caltech is pretty. There are flowers.


did I mention that Caltech is pretty?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ode to Joy

Time is best measured in Grand Slam tournaments. Today I suddenly remembered that when I started my internship, we were still discussing Roger Federer's chances at Roland Garros over lunch (and he lost in the quarterfinal). Now it's already Wimbledon. 

One of my friends from back home just had her last final today, which made me realise that it's been over a month since spring semester ended at MIT. In two months it'll already be US Open and a time for me to come back to the US. 

In the meantime, I have become rather used to living in Germany. It took me a while, but my language skills have improved a lot. This is how my response length has changed over time: 
  1. week - one word, mostly "okay"
  2. week - a simple sentence, usually three words
  3. week - long enough sentences to forget which verb I need by the time I get to the end
  4. week - I have now reached the level of 4th grade German a.k.a. can easily describe my day
Last night I found the supermarket. No, it's not lidl, it's not Aldi, it's not Netto. It's Edeka Center! It even has an ATM that accepts my debit cards. It is almost the biggest supermarket I've ever been to (only surpassed by some Walmarts, but then again, Edeka does not sell bikes or furniture). I was in awe. Still, I was done with shopping after about half an hour, but nevertheless missed my bus. So I decided to walk to the next bus stop. ... and the next. ... and the next. ... and the next. As you might have gathered, the bus does not run too often. However, the last next was a bad call. The distance from the third to the fourth stop was far greater than the distance from the first to the third bus stop. There is no better way to fully appreciate the convenience of buses than to try and walk the distance, while also trying hard not to miss the next bus. Apparently, I can't sing even a little. All this time I was humming two lines from "The A Team" and still I could not get them right. 

There are cows and sheep on the way from my dorm to the supermarket. There are horses on the way from work to downtown. The distances are similar, so I've deducted that cows + sheep = horses. I still live and work in Bonn. Germany is amazingly rural. 

I have now visited Beethoven's house (and seen a lock of his hair). According to the traveller's Bible, the Lonely Planet, despite Bonn's love for Beethoven, Beethoven hated Bonn. While I was sitting there, learning facts about Beethoven's life from a computer program designed for children, a woman came up to me, knocked on my shoulder and asked if I wanted to see a/the Beethoven opera in 3D. Well, sure, so we went to the basement. (There were also other people in the room with me, but they were not "chosen".) Afterwards, I went to the bakery (I doubt Germans could live without their bakeries - they are everywhere, and differently from supermarkets, also open on Sundays) and bought a Berliner. 

Obama, who also visited Berlin a week or two ago, has inspired rather different cartoons, though.

I've actually been to quite a few places lately, for example, went looking for a souvenir shot glass at the Cologne Cathedral, accidentally stumbled upon four weddings and no funeral in the Brühl manors ("Alright, the third wedding, but this has to be the last one! Oh, no ...") and saw teenage boys smoking weed where Siegfried once slay the dragon. I've also disappointed quite a few Germans by being able to speak and understand German. 

Scandinavian names of the week are named after the Sun, the Moon, four Norse gods and then there's Saturday, the washing day. So I spent last Saturday figuring out how the washing machine works. While the laundry room in New House is small and very crowded, here it's quite the opposite. The laundry room is huge, it has grey concrete walls and the windows looks out to one of those wholes dug especially for that purpose. However, there are only two washing machines in one corner, one dryer at the other end of the room and a sad old armchair. It is in the second basement and since the dryer takes two hours to finish, chances of meeting another living soul there (apart from the occasional desorientated cockroach) are slim. 

The weather has returned to normal, although we did experience a heat wave last week, sufficient to make our Singaporean curse the weather. I'll now try to say everything I've wanted to say the past few weeks. I went to an art museum where half the pictures were titles "Untitled" - when I was a kid I always thought it was "Unitled", I also thought McGonagall was named McGongall (it is still not completely sure whether I can read or not). All in all, the museum building itself was perhaps even a greater piece of art. There was a video installation with people cursing in their native languages. The museum guard (or whatever the people are called who sit in the room so you don't steal, touch or break anything/make me feel just very uncomfortable) was very excited about this one and really wanted me to see the French guy (I did indeed understand most of the cursing). 

In general, modern art freaks me out. Seriously, whenever I go to a museum and the exposition is starting to look more and more "artistic", it runs shivers down my spine. "Night at the Modern Art Museum" would make a great horror movie. 

I still don't know why it's der Rhein but die Donau, yet I now know that the default article for Nutella varies by region. Apparently, there's a great national debate whether it should be der Nutella or die Nutella. 

I went to Köningswinter two days in a row (and took line 66 more than 6 times) just so the palace would be open once I get there. Yeah, right.
Whenever I go hiking (climbing up/down a hill on a forest path), I wear a skirt and an umbrella. At least this time I wasn't wearing flip-flops but sandals.   
Almost there

Konrad Adenauer street in Bonn/Beuel is huge. His house in Bad Honnef, however, is located on a teeny tiny street with almost no traffic (but a very nice cherry tree!). 
The German way of warning ("beware of the dog")
A reason to become a physicist. The national physics building or something
Der Rhein
The only thing you can buy on the street where I live
Beethoven's house!
The first wedding party (I first discovered them from the picture)
Overexposure at its finest

Cologne from the Cathedral tower
Once I got to Cologne, there was a protest going on in support of the Turkish people (according to the slogans, Germany should do something; Germany should always do something)
PS. I chose the title before learning the most recent news about Wimbledon. Federer's chances at Wimbledon need no more discussing. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Magic Pockets and Impromptu Proposals

 I have pictures. You should have them too.

Was shown this recently: 4 year old Rashed + grandfather. My only memory of him involves him always pulling a tiny piece of Daim (chocolate/toffee bar) from his breast pocket and giving one to me. Young-Rashed assumed that his pocket was magic, since there was no way he was hiding so many Daims in his pocket, with none of them melted.

We realized too late that the middle of summer was not the best of times to head to the Arboretum. That didn't stop us from enjoying all the greenery, though!
The path we took through the Fells was riddled with streams, brooks, and ponds. I don't know what else to say. I like water.
I look away for one second to grab my camera, and this is what happens.
The Quarter-Mile Pond was probably my favourite take-away from the Fells hike. It made gauging distances on the map a whole lot simpler. Also, water.
Looking back at the things I decided were worth taking pictures of, there does seem to be a theme- definitely a lot more blue than green. Water water water.

Zizz in Chicago

First off, w00t! I'm home in Ann Arbor till Sunday the 30th, and it is beyond good to be back.  Second, I have just had one of the most phenomenal experiences of the past few years of my life and I want to share.  I am referring to Learning Unlimited Teacher Camp 2013.
This year, ESP's reverse-parent organization, Learning Unlimited, chose to launch a weekend teaching workshop that they named Teacher Camp 2013.  This past weekend, June 21-23, about 30 education enthusiasts (from various Splash programs around the country, but also real teachers in the area) came together in Chicago from across the country to share ideas and work together to gain perspectives and grow as teachers.

We were told that the workshop was going to be all about what each individual participant brought to the table: each person prepared a 10-minute talk and a 40-minute class/60-minute workshop, and each person was put in a group with which they prepared to lead a conversation about an education-related topic.  We had talks, conversations, and classes/workshops from 9am to 5pm each day, and in the evenings we visited local education-oriented organizations, went on a scavenger hunt in Chicago, and had a cookout.  I will say that I believe that no time was wasted - we actually spent almost every minute considering, discussing, and engaging education and related topics.  I don't want this post to be horribly long, so here are some highlights:

Talks!  We were told to give a 10-min. talk about something personal to us.  I talked about how important I think multidisciplinary education is - that is, taking classes and studying fields wildly different from your own as a means of gaining valuable outside perspective.  Other talks included:
  • a lesson in patience, the importance of sports in education, and understanding different modes of thinking, in the context of tutoring a younger sibling
  • the value of reflection in education, from a graduate of a Jesuit college
  • why USA-Canada Math Camp is really awesome
  • a talk about one person's experience challenging faith-based assumptions when teaching English in Egypt for a year
Then there were classes!  I taught a class on structural testing with a spaghetti bridge activity.  I also attended a number of awesome classes.  We got to rank our class preferences on a coarse scale (like, neutral, dislike), and I made an effort to step outside the STEM bubble in my choices.  Some of my favorites:
  • an exploration Nietzsche's philosophy based on selected excerpts of his writings: we considered the nature and value of falsehood in the context of academic learning and "seeking truth", as well as Nietzsche's influence on modern thinking
  • a workshop on how to teach STEM subjects in engaging ways, which helped me develop an activity that I am going to have my students do later this summer (I'm going to make them be parts of a clotting cascade to demonstrate signal transduction and what happens if you're missing a clotting factor)
  • a workshop on meaningful discussions of questions without answers: what makes such discussions productive/unproductive?  Do these questions all come down to fundamental Weltanschauungen?  We considered ideas of individuals' chosen moral frameworks.
  • really cool workshop on teaching math, with problems in computational geometry
  • and a list of topics because I don't want any more bullets: urban planning & memory & mental mapping, spaces of memorial and the Cambodian genocide, and art history since the Rococo period
And finally, conversations.  I was part of the following conversations:
  • I co-led a conversation on the purpose of education and what all educated people should know.  We were in agreement that education should teach students to sift through all of the data we are bombarded with on a daily basis.  We also agreed that the question of what content people should have exposure to is an interesting one.  We could not agree on what that meant.
  • conversation on the role of technology in education (virtual classrooms, computer-based grading, MOOCs, etc).  We all see MOOCs as very exciting but we're not yet sure where they're going - and probably everyone else does too.
  • Conversation on the importance of getting problem-solving skills into the K12 classroom.
In addition to all of this mental stimulation, I also got to visit the 826CHI and Young Chicago Authors programs.  I've been inspired to volunteer for 826BOSTON as soon as I have time, which unfortunately is not going to be until January at the earliest, but still.

Finally, here is a partial list of the takeaways I had from this experience:
  1. The term "problem-solving skills" is one that a lot of STEM majors take for granted.  I learned that outside of STEM, "solving problems" has a different connotation - some educators have negative visceral reactions, along the lines of "giving students problems to solve (ie on a worksheet) is not a good way of engaging students or learning material".
  2. there are organizations in Chicago (and I'm sure in other places too) doing really valuable awesome work in education and outreach for underprivileged students.
  3. If STEM and HASS thinkers were on opposite sides of a large crevasse, bridging the gap requires more than an open mind.  It's one thing to be open to the "other side", as it were.  It's another to find away to get across.
  4. the most important thing I can be doing right now to grow as a teacher is to focus on how students' modes of thinking differ from mine.
Okay, that was a marathon post.  But it was a lot of things that I wanted to say.  I spent Monday in Chicago being a tourist, which included hanging out around the Bean, running around Navy Pier, and going to the beach.  On Monday evening I met up with two of my friends who go to UChic and are working in Chicago this summer and we had dinner at a nice Italian place.  The octopus was my favorite.  Have a picture of the Bean:

Vegetables Beware!

It was a perfectly ordinary day... that's what I thought anyway.  I had been lounging around and finally decided to get out and stretch my legs.  After a pleasant walk accompanied by my mother, I split off and broke into a relaxed jog.  Two miles, a nice six laps around the block, would have to do in absence of a watch or pre-planned route of known distance.  Planning has never been one of my strengths.  In any case, all I wanted was a predictable jaunt to get the muscles moving again, and so off I went.

I had gone about a mile when felt the blister start to form.  "Drat!  These shoes still aren't broken in?"  I pressed on.  I ran a fourth lap and started in on the fifth.  I was turning a corner when I looked to my right.

There, hopping around nonchalantly, was a fluffy white bunny rabbit.  It was so out of place on the bark-covered, landscaped slope of someone's yard that my body continued running along on autopilot as my brain tried to understand what I had just seen.  Or rather, it tried to understand that I had seen what I had just seen.

In my current mood the combination of a blister and a runaway rabbit seemed like a good enough reason to stop a little short on my run, so I brought it in when I next passed my house to ask about it.  The answer to the question of whether any of the neighbors have a white pet rabbit seems to be no, at least from what information I have been able to gather since.  It has, however, apparently been seen in the area before, on multiple occasions over an extended period of time.

It was all a bit strange, but if there was nobody to return the bunny to, what could I do?  It wouldn't even necessarily be there if I went back to look for it.  I went on with my life.  I continued running and walking on a daily basis and saw no more rabbits.

Then, a few days ago, near the end of my run, it reappeared.  It was certainly the same bunny.  The same white fur, the same size, and the same red eyes.  This time it was the next street over in the neighbor's driveway.  I wonder if I shall ever be lucky enough to catch it on camera?  It's all quite baffling, really.  The neighborhood has many roaming cats, raccoons, and the occasional dog that gets loose, and a snowy white rabbit shouldn't be very good at hiding, but it doesn't seem to have had any troubles.  Every time I see it it's hopping about as happy as could be.

With this mystery rabbit on the prowl, I have been forced to draw one, and only one, conclusion:  Bunnicula has returned and is paying a visit to my Western Washington neighborhood.  If I had a garden I would be guarding it very vigilantly hereafter.

Over and out.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Improvising Paris

Paris does not cease to surprise me. The most surprising part about it for me is that no matter how hard I try to get lost (you know, I am such a romantic), I always end up bumping into some famous monument, garden, or something. For instance, today I had a certain goal in mind for my day off work. The goal was to explore the Marais-Bastille region in the most impromptu way possible. Of course, the day cannot start without a trip to an awesome, intellectually stimulating museum. So naturally I chose something that has to do with the French revolution and a free entry for everyone – Musee carnavalet! Unfortunately, the French Revolution (that is, the first one) section was closed, and so were some of the others. However, the other sections were simply taking a break and they came back soon after "lunch time". I suddenly understood why so many amazing museums have terrible ratings in Trip Advisor; the tourists simply don't get that these century-something-old rooms need to rest and usually reopen a little bit later in the day - you just need a little bit of patience. 

When I entered the museum, there was a lot of focus on the "enseignes" in the 18th century, the translation of which I did not know directly but quickly deduced that it was simply shop signs (signages). In the 18th century and earlier many common folk were not very literate so the "eiseignes" were simply images of whatever was inside. 

The museum is inside a mansion, "Hotel Carnavalet", 
which began to be built in the 16th century!
Some examples of "eisegnes" -- signs
Marcel Proust's Room
I am generally obsessed with the Enlightenment. So I was super excited that there was a whole room dedicated just to Voltaire and Rousseau! Besides their famous busts, there were also really neat things like medallions and keepsakes with their faces, as well as a clock and a thermometer, as well as a souvenir to Rousseau from the Chinese leader at the time. A section of the rooms was styled to the fashion of the palace rooms of Louis XII.
Obligatory selfie in one of these palace rooms
I was amazed at the collection of a myriad of paintings, but also the influences of various cultures on the interior designs. For instance, in some of the rooms, one could see a clear oriental influence, as well as in much of the china, of course. I also loved the sections dedicated to the many Napoleons and the Louises that followed the revolution (so ironic). It was almost like watching a movie of the evolving French society, just with lots of walking. Another cool aspect was the paintings of Paris streets; it is eerie yet mesmerizing how similar yet how different the places I already have visited and walked through looked several centuries ago.
For instance, here is Place de la Bastille
back in the 19th century

There were fun things too, like funky match boxes, bread from the Paris barricade during one of the revolutions (don't actually know if it is the real bread or not), a prince's cradle (with a menacing crown hanging over it, sort of like a mobile but much heavier, made from precious metals, and hopefully well-attached), a decorative vase from the 1924 Olympics, a caricature statuette of Verdi (this is so not random! I studied his music, okay? :))... I still kept feeling bad for everyone though. For the Napoleons (especially the first one, even though he was a tyrant), for his wife, for his lovers, for the poor revolutionaries, for the poor, for the suppressed, for the hungry and the sick... Let's just say France had a lot of problems. But the richness of art and philosophy and thought from the old times just inspire me to no end and make me wonder what these great people were really like. They had walked on these very streets, spoke this language... 
Oh hey Moliere! I saw
your play last week! ;)
And here's me shamelessly
pretending to be French
with a scarf. 
 Okay I will stop pretending I am from the 19th century now. This neighbourhood of Marais is actually super awesome. Especially when its exploration is improvised. After all, after I left the museum, I just strolled through the adjacent streets and found myself in French book worm heaven -- "Mona Lisait".

Just one of the several sections in this store
This punny store is filled with books about art, food, craft, gardening, and travel, as well as a HUGE collection of literature on the second floor, and finally "des affiches" (posters) on the third floor. There are many; posters with popular things like the Moulin Rouge to paintings of Renoir and others. I got myself a poster, probably will hang it in my dorm. It is called "Deux Filles" by Renoir or something like that; I like the colors. I also bought a neat cook book for French House (us! :D) called "Cuisine pour l'etudiants" (should be yummy!). 

The streets of this part of the city in general are very fun too. There is a chocolate store which has a guitar (that looks quite real) made entirely of chocolate as well as chocolate shoes, Eiffel towers, etc. Anyway, to be chronological, I strolled around after the book store and found myself on one of the streets that leads to Place de la Bastille (Rue Beaumarchais); here, I bought some meat pie in a cute boulangerie. Then I heard music coming from EVERYWHERE. After all, it is the Fete de la Musique, an annual celebration of music in France (and the countries it inspired to have one, too)! Musicians gathered everywhere on the streets, from clarinet quartets to masters of exotic (I think) Irish instruments to a capella choruses to religious choirs to rock ensembles to things that just reminded me of karaoke. Any sort of music, you can find it just by roaming the streets of France on this day. 
A random rock band I found turning into a cute courtyard

These guys even handed out programs

I sang the folk song "Renaud" with them & the crowd
They handed out the words!


Really really cool Irish instruments
(oh and people dancing)
Of course there were also huge concerts with huge stages, loud music, and crowds, but I am a hipster so I went for small gatherings like these, which made me feel at home and warm. :)

However something I do not like is the amount of young people (especially girls) drinking and smoking. I noticed this especially drastically while I was near one of the punk-rock street concerts after it was dark. It was one of those concerts where all the teenagers are totally having a good time, dancing and screaming "encore" after each song and all. Also adults, who were closing their ears. Actually, drinking is not too much of a problem, but smoking... I just don't get it. It even says "Fumer tue" in big letters on the packages. :(

Also, should I get this for French House? I found it in Mona Lisait. Apparently it is used to grow herbs. I am not sure how exactly. I going to come back there and find out. 
Anyway, I should go to sleep now! It is 3 A.M.! But I just needed to share that another quirk about this city is that no matter where you go, you will find something very curious and surprising. In every little corner there is a small surprise. It is best not to use a map! :) 

P.S. Franklin D. Roosevelt is a really cool metro station. My goal is to take every single metro line, and know where it can be used (there are 14!). So far I have taken 1 (first time today!), 2, 4, 5, 6,7,8, 10, and 14. I will get the others soon! :) 
FDR is super international! ;) 

There are these cool lighting up things
that make the place feel relaxing
Well, that's it for now! À tout à l'heure!