Friday, December 31, 2010

Research trip to Shanxi

From Monday to Wednesday, I went to another small town (ONLY 270,000 people live there) to oversee the implementation of a survey I made. The big paper I wrote (still being reviewed by JAMA, so the small hope of acceptance is increasing!) is about the diagnostic accuracy of self-collected samples for cervical cancer screening, and how we think it is ideal in low-resource settings. So, I thought a logical next step would be to learn what Chinese women think about self-collection because if they wouldn't want to do it, it's no go.

I arrived at the study site to find my survey already being implemented:I then spent some time watching one of the interviewees conduct the survey, which was a really neat experience.
This site visit was very different than the other ones Sarah and I have been to, since CICAMS had worked there for 11 years and this hospital knew exactly what to do. So, instead of problem shooting, launching new projects, or meeting with foreign researchers to write grants, the CICAMS team took a more peripheral role and only helped the hospital staff occasionally. So I felt less guilty working on another paper while this team did my survey:
(Side note: I don't think I will ever have a group this big working on a project I developed for a long, long time.) To introduce "my" team: the one in the brown vest is the site coordinator, the 4 interviewees are wearing pink, partially blocked by the brown vest, or 3 feet tall, Grace (who translated the survey) is in the back as is Dr. Zhao (glasses), and Shangying is on the end. I am the odd one out here, in gender, ethnicity, height, and clothing, but promise I was not photoshopped in.

At the beginning of every day, Dr. Zhao introduced the study and survey to the 100 participants.
On Wednesday, I was asked to speak to the women as well. After I thanked them for participating for about 30 seconds (in English), the women all applauded, and I was confused until Dr. Zhao said they had only seen foreigners on TV so having yours truly in the flesh was really exciting for them.
Then we went to a super-fancy banquet with a very high-ranking communist party leader and two medical school directors. At this dinner, they had dishes on the lazy susan, but also about 10 courses served to you. And everyone asked me what I thought of every dish, so I had to eat goose liver (delicious), pig head meat (tastes like fatty pork), pig skin gel (blech), grain soup (like soy-sauce-flavored grits), and this fruit that looked like an eyeball (almost as good as lychee) and a small orange that you ate the peel (so yummy also). I also made the mistake of taking a shot of Chinese liquor with the welcome toast because Chinese wine is disgusting, so everyone tried to get me drunk, by toasting me and inviting me to play drinking games. It was pretty fun.

Tomorrow, we're headed up to Harbin for the snow and ice festival! The high is -3 Monday, but it will be worth it.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

M-erry Chris-tmas!

Hopefully everyone at home is relaxing with family and friends and toasting Santa (does everyone take a shot for Santa, or is that just the Jazzes and Rosenbergs?) Much like in America, Christmas in Beijing has been going on since Thanksgiving; the lights went up immediately and the same exact print of Santa Claus (or Sha la ren, in Mandarin) is on every single window in this city. Adam took a picture of me with a "M-erry Chris-tmas" display near our apartment:
Our Christmas began with talking to both of our families before heading to the Imagine Photography offices to see pictures from our engagement. It was SO MUCH FUN to look through all of them and pick out the ones we like! We were only supposed to get 21 pictures (out of about 300...yeah, ok), but managed to finagle 48 pictures, each in color and black/white, along with a photo book of 21 pictures and two 12 inch framed portraits. We pick up everything on the 8th, so pictures will be forthcoming.

Afterwards, we walked to a Mexican restaurant and enjoyed Christmas margaritas, a first for both of us :) Delicious!

I'll leave you with a picture of my lovely Small International kids doing a song and dance for their parents (how adorable are these kids?!):

Friday, December 24, 2010


Thank you for your kind words and well wishes over the past few days! It has been so nice to hear from friends and family back home and to know that you are just as excited as we are!!

So Adam did good. That's pretty much all I can say. 
I thought it all started a month ago when I teased him about not being able to keep a secret ("Alison, I got you a surprise today, so don't look in the top left cabinet!"). He was annoyed when I teased him about it, and decided to plan a surprise for Christmas weekend. I didn't want to ask about it because I know Adam: I would say one little thing and he would drop ridiculous hints (TOP LEFT CABINET) and it wouldn't be a surprise. Little did I know what was actually coming :)

I turned out to have a half-day on Wednesday, and as soon as Adam found out, he said "Oh, we can do part of the weekend surprise on Wednesday!" I guess the ring was burning a hole in his pocket? Then last week, he randomly said "Alison, your nails are gross. You should get a manicure." Strange, right? Especially considering he never seemed bothered by my nail biting in the past. He said I would want a manicure for the activity on Wednesday, to which I said "Oh, we're getting our pictures taken by that photography company, aren't we?!" To his credit, Adam said nothing. (Yes, to most of you this would be a RED FLAG, but I couldn't imagine that Adam had an engagement ring with him here. While we had looked in New York last summer, I knew he would want to get a ring from Schmitt's, and I didn't remember a time that he could have gone while we were in Phoenix).

I came home from work on Tuesday to an itinerary of weekend activities. Wednesday's said that the dress was "fancy" and that we would be outside a lot, so I would also need to dress warmly. We were having a Christmas party with the kids and their parents at school, so this is what I looked like in the morning:
Santa and Mrs. Claus (Susan always gets to be the cute one!)
Then I quickly changed to meet Adam, where we caught a cab to a random intersection an hour away. We were then picked up by 2 people, one of whom confirmed the photo shoot ("Hi Alison, I'm Bella, do you remember me from the bazaar?"). Though I did catch the comment about special equipment, I thought she meant setting up cameras, and she didn't want to say it out loud because it would give away the photo shoot. After driving for another hour, we arrived at the Great Wall!! I was so excited to do a professional photo shoot with Adam, all dressed up, in such a beautiful, unique location. It was perfect--10 degrees warmer than the forecast, clear blue skies, and relatively empty. We had a lot of fun posing for pictures and walking around the wall.

We got pretty far down when the photographer said he was looking for a special spot (I assumed based on the sunlight because it was getting later). He said he wanted to take a few "test shots" with us with our jackets on, and then he would tell us where to stand and take them off. Apparently this was The Sign for Adam, though Miss Oblivious over here just thought it was related to getting us in a good light. He positioned Adam leaning against the wall and me facing him, holding hands. Then Adam looked at me and said "So...there's no special deal before December 31st" (his premise for taking pictures now instead of the warmer springtime) "and you know, um, I'm really bad at keeping secrets, and um, I'm bad at surprises, so, um [kneel on one knee, take out a white box, open to a beautiful beautiful ring], will you marry me?"

My first thought? OHMYGOD.
My next thought? I love him so much.

Then Bella said "Ok Adam, put the ring on her finger very very slowly, so we can get the picture." (So glad there was someone there to document this for us!) Many people have asked to see the ring, so here you go:
I, on the other hand, am dying to see the photographer's pictures tomorrow. Since we don't have them yet, here's another of Adam and me from our other trip to the Great Wall:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

the engagement, my story

Thank you for all of your well wishes via email, skype, facebook, and blogspot! We are both so happy and are loving how technology has allowed us to share this moment with everyone no matter where they are!

People have been asking me about the proposal, so I figured I'd post the story so those who were interested in the planning could read at their leisure.

If you who haven't met me yet, you have to know that I consider myself a very calm, even-keel person, with one exception: I am a HORRIBLE secret keeper. I get so excited I can't keep it in, and I have blurted out about every surprise I've ever came up with for Alison within hours of finalizing the plan. Let's just say keeping this under wraps was the equivalent of me climbing Mount Everest without oxygen.

Last June, Alison and I went to the diamond district "just for fun." She picked out a setting she loved, and the jeweler gave me a password for his encrypted website because I laid it on thick that I was going to buy from him but "needed to consolidate accounts and transfer to checking." (I was so impressed with myself for the banking lingo haha). In August, she and I went to Phoenix, and Lindsay took her out to lunch with another friend from study abroad. I used this golden opportunity to go to Schmitt (the jewelry store that my family has used forever) with the printed out setting.

I had originally planned on having my parents bring the ring with them in February but then decided it was unfair to the Rosenbergs to have my family be so involved (helping me with the jeweler, seeing it, bringing it) while they were left in the lurch. I had wanted to propose in China since I was pretty sure Alison was expecting a rock on her ring finger when we got back to NYC but not before...but refused to mail it to China as the customs might switch the diamond for glass. I was stuck until Uncle Manny mentioned that he was definitely coming to visit. He saved the day! The ring was finished Dec 2 and was overnighted to him, and he brought it to China.

In the meantime, I had been wracking my brains about how to propose. I had a few ideas, but what really stuck out at me was that for my sister's wedding, they had made magnet "save the dates" from pictures Ben's family had taken of them immediately after The Question. And I knew we weren't going to have that since we're so far away...and I decided that was unfair to cheat Alison and us of this aspect of the engagement just because I wanted to surprise her by proposing a few months early ;)

We had met people from a photography studio at the Christmas Bazaar, and I emailed them to ask if they could take pictures of us before/during/after I proposed. They were so excited and sent sample pictures of a few places, and one of them was the Great Wall. Though they mentioned winter at the Great Wall meant pictures of lots of dead trees and kept trying to convince me to switch to prettier settings, I thought it was the perfect place, and with the help of some online counseling from a few friends and a brother-in-law, I stayed the course. We arranged for Jan 15, to coincide with our 5 month anniversary of Beijing.

When Uncle Manny was here, I was super calm about everything, but the second he left, I started getting anxious again. Everytime I worked from home, I'd take the ring out of the hiding spot to make sure it was still ok and would write or read with it on the table next to me for safe-keeping. Basically, I started feeling like that guy from the Edgar Allan Poe story that killed a man but hid his body under the floor and invited the chief of police over for coffee...then turned himself in as he heard the heartbeat of the deadman getting louder and louder (the heartbeat was actually his though). I could feel the ring calling to Alison, begging her to find it (my precccccioussss), and every time she opened the cupboard where it was hidden, my heart dropped. If that weren't bad enough, she kept doing really cute things and I'd think to myself, wow I love her so much, this is a great moment, I should ask now! And then luckily I'd talk myself out of it.

I don't want you all to think I'm completely insane, so I will stop there...but long story short, I moved the date up a month :) And poor Alan and Sandy had to deal with me when we were coordinating the appropriate time to ask them via skype videochat for their blessing. (Which, I will put on record, they did not give me until 25 minutes after I asked! They were excited and talking about plans etc, so I knew they'd say ok, but still... 25 minutes!)

Tuesday, I dropped off champagne and flutes at the studio and went over the plan. I told them Alison had NO idea about the proposal, that she knew Bella's name from the bazaar but would probably not remember her face (and I asked her to not introduce herself until we got to the wall), and to give me a sign when the photographer picked the perfect place. I knew Alison had a hunch we were getting our pictures taken, so I wanted them to hide the champagne, pick us up at a different spot than the studio, and then drive us directly to the Great Wall. They agreed.

To my chagrin, when we were picked up yesterday at our predisposed location, Bella said, "Oh ALISON, HI!, It's Bella, do you remember me from the bazaar?" and then giggled as she winked at me and said, "Don't worry, Adam, we have all of your special supplies."

I almost threw up.

We had a really fun time getting the pictures taken, and they were extremely professional, which relaxed me. It was 10 degrees warmer than forecast and a beautiful sunny day (so rare here!). They had arranged for a secret signal for the perfect spot (I told them I wanted us in the foreground and the wall in the background stretching far), and the photographer winked at me so I knew it was my moment.

I had practiced what I was going to say, but could NOT get the words out. So, instead of talking about how much I loved Alison, how I'd known she was The One a few weeks into dating, how we complement each other so perfectly, how I couldn't imagine my future without her a part of it, etc, etc etc ...I said, "Uh, em, er. I am horrible at secrets. Um, er. I love you. Um (clear throat and cue fast blurting) I have a question to ask you (kneel) will you marry me?"

And, luckily, she said yes! :)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Today, I surprised Alison on a half-day of work by organizing a professional photography session on the Great Wall. I proposed in the middle of it...and she said yes!!!!

We decided to post this pic only because we BOTH look awful and think our friends and family would die if they had to wait a week or two to see the professional ones.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


I did not actually almost drown, but there was a lifeguard at the bottom of the slide who grabbed every person to "save them." Sorry for freaking you out, Mom.

Our trip to..Beijing?

It was our understanding that Sarah, Alison, and I were taking the bus somewhere 2 hours north of Beijing. Instead, on Saturday, we took a 2-hour bus to...northern Beijing.

We knew we were in for a treat when our first sight of the hotel/com
plex was a hill out back filled with man-made snow next to an indoor water park. When we finally found the correct building with the hotel, our first step was to take a group picture of CICAMS epidemiology dept:
(It is fun to zoom in on that picture.) The self-proclaimed five-star luxury hotel was a few years past its prime, as evidence by its "Merry Christma" decorations...
But we didn't let that get us down. We spent the rest of the first day listening to lectures in Chinese about undetermined topics. 10% of the time, the slides were in English, so we could follow along, but the rest of the afternoon was spent in peaceful zen-like meditation, aided by ipads.

The big appeal of the hotel was that it included activities--Sarah, Alison, and I chose the hot springs, cool is that? Our enthusiasm was dampened somewhat by our 1 km walk through an unheated passageway in our swimsuits to the water park, being denied entry, walking around outside to the actual entrance, walking through the
man-made jacuzzis-in-jungle-style "hotsprings" back to the water park (which our ticket allowed us entrance to), where we begged to be allowed to go down the slides, which were closing. They let us (yay for being special!), and the slides were SO FUN. Favorite moment? Being hauled out of the water the second after splash down so I didn't drown. Thank you, "lifeguard."

We then went to sit in a jacuzzi, and it was pretty awesome and chillax...until we noticed that the spa smelled like mold and unwashed gym socks. So we left, and Sarah and Alison decided it was too cold to walk back without towels from the spa, so they smuggled them out for our long, cold, walk back to the hotel. (remember this)

On day 2, both Sarah and I gave our 10-minute talks. Mine was comparing cervical cancer screening in China and the US, which was difficult in that there is no national cervical cancer screening program in China whatsoever. We then snuck out to go bowling with Eunuch as the rest of the talks did not have English slides. I came in last, but I was awarded an "A" for effort.When it was time to leave, Wangshaoming told me and Alison that the staff was accusing us and Sarah of stealing towels from the hotel. We thought we were in trouble for moving towels from the water park to the hotel (keep in mind it's the same complex and company), so I went to explain. The hotel staff berated me for 45 minutes (they said there was only 1 towel in each room, when there should have been 2 from the hotel and 1 from the water park, so they demanded payment for stolen property), and I was getting angry as 1) Alison and I both showered that morning with separate towels 2) the towels were gross so why would we steal them? and 3) I'm not letting some skeezy lady take my cash money. It was made even more sketchy because they refused to let us back into the rooms because "their maids had double checked." Luckily, Shangying convinced them to let us upstairs, and surprise surprise, we found 3 towels in each room. By the time we got back to the lobby, the hotel said the error was fixed. In the US, we would have been comped SOMETHING, but here, there was no apology whatsoever. I think what happened is the hotel didn't think we'd have such strong Chinese-speaking advocates, and that we'd just quietly fork over the we're Americans, so obviously extremely rich.

We still had a good time and are glad we went, but will not be recommending a visit to the "Leisure Hotsprings Hotel" for any of our Beijing visitors.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Uncle Manny in Beijing

Monday, I took the day off of work to go sightseeing with Uncle Manny. We had a blast together, using only public transportation and google maps to get around. Basically, the price for my guided city tour was allowing me to pick his brain about entering and thriving in academic medicine, applying to residency, etc, and he did not disappoint ;)

We experienced the city in hurricane fashion, starting with Tiananmen Gate.
The positive thing about sightseeing in Beijing in the winter is that everything is nearly empty. You can even take pictures in the Forbidden City without capturing hordes of people, as you can see.The negative thing about sightseeing in Beijing in the winter is
that it's 20 degrees outside (wind chill: 4 degrees). TMI alert: my pee steamed when I used the unheated public restrooms.

So, after we went up to the hutong area (historic Beijing), we thawed out at lunch and then continued to the Drum and Bell Towers.

Here's the view of the historic buildings nearby.
We then went to the Temple of Heaven, and I forgot to write the bus transfer in the directions, so we walked about 1.5 km extra (party foul). I think the circular buildings are prettier than the Forbidden City.
Once again, there were so few people there that I could take some nice pictures:
And we left the Temple of Heaven to meet up with Alison for dinner (guess where?), we passed by a group of Chinese people singing folk songs:
It was a perfect end to our tour.

The following day, we both went to work while Uncle Manny hiked the Great Wall like we did in August. They give you a water bottle, and he said his froze. Can you imagine?

He left on Wednesday, and the apartment is quiet without him. But his legacy lives on as somewhere in our whirlwind adventures, I hurt my foot and have had trouble walking the last few days. Luckily Sarah had a crutch, which has been my saving grace. And I get to work from home tomorrow (missing the sacred weekly conference) to "rest" before the big conference at the 5-star hotspring hotel this weekend. Rough life, right?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Momentous moment!

We interrupt talking about our amazing trip with Uncle Manny to talk about the moment you've all been waiting for: the answer to many of your question about what happens when the diaperless baby needs to poop.

As I walked into the lobby today, the security guard was running with paper towels at a grandma holding a baby. I thought it was weird until I looked at the floor...and there was a pile of baby poop near them.

Mystery solved! Babies poop where they pee--which is everywhere.


Adam, Uncle Manny, and I just returned from a weekend in Yangshuo, in southern China. Despite the rain (we were prepared this time!), it was a fantastic weekend adventure.

We arrived in the middle of the night, after a 3 hour flight and 2 hour drive to our hostel. Upon waking up in the morning, this is what we saw; it's pretty much what the entire town and surrounding villages look like:
(the white clouds are Fog, not SMog!) 

The first thing on our agenda was kayaking down the Li River.  This was my first time, so it took a few adjustments before I figured things out (and I was soaking wet!). Luckily, Uncle Manny and Adam are pros, so they gave me a crash course, switched an oar, and we were good to go. 
Because of the weather, we were the only people on the river, except for a few locals checking on their fish nets, washing clothes, or riding in their bamboo rafts. The views were spectacular, and it was a great way to see the area. Actually, the picture on the back of the 20rmb bill is from the Li River!
After arriving back at the hotel, we decided to opt of out mountain biking due to the continuous drizzle and mud. Instead, we rested for a bit and went on a long walk. We passed water buffalo,
 rocks and what looked like ruins with gravestones,
and several bamboo rafts on part of the river.
Turns out that this was the only way across. Thus, we were rowed across the river by women using bamboo. It was great!
After walking by several gardens and small farms, we walked across a bridge to hear a guy shouting towards the river. When we looked, we realized he was calling...ducks! Here they are swimming towards their owner: (who knew ducks were so smart?!)
They waddled up onto land and then along a path, past the 3 of us, into a little hut. It was both bizarre and absolutely hilarious. This is the best picture I could get of the ducks barreling towards us:
As we continued walking, we happened upon a family restaurant--tailgating tents set up with tables and chairs underneath. There was no menu, so Adam and I fumbled through figuring out what they had with the help of the family's teenage daughter. We had no idea what we were getting, but it turned out to be a delicious meal. The best part was that after we finished, the girl motioned towards a van and asked if we wanted to use it. We negotiated a price and the girl, her very excited little brother, and father got into the car and we piled in after. It turned out to be a very good thing, as it was dark and probably about 4km back to the hostel. 

Our plan for Sunday was to take a bamboo raft down a different part of the river, but apparently the president of China was going to be doing the same thing on Monday, so they closed down the river. Love it. Instead, we drove to 2 neighboring towns and walked around. The first had a huge market, full of vegetables, fish, leeches, chickens, and pretty much everything else. It was not until we happened upon our first hanging skinned dog that my stomach dropped and I was ready to go. Ughhhhhh. (I shielded my eyes and walked the other way, but Adam took some pictures. Since I refuse to look at them, I will save you from seeing them as well).

The second town was much bigger with a thriving old town. We walked through, took some beautiful pictures, and avoided throngs of Chinese tourists taking pictures near the river. We found a quiet place for a yummy lunch before heading to the airport to catch our flight.

The weekend was a wonderful getaway from the coooold and smoggy north. It has been a lot of fun to have another family visitor in China!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Hi everyone!

Because Uncle Manny is in China right now (!) and we meet him in Beijing on Friday (!!) to go to Guilin together (!!!), I'm going to combine all last weekend into one
monstrous post. Get your Adderal, folks ;)

Pingyao is where Chinese
banking was founded and was an extremely rich town of merchants (Jeopardy clue: The first Chinese draft bank was started by a rich guy who needed an easier way to move funds from his stores in different cities than schlepping bags of silver). Because it was so small, it escaped the notice of the Chinese Modernization Committee and has been left untouched as originally built 200-800 years ago. That's what's awesome about Pingyao. What stinks (literally) is that it's in Shanxi Province, which is where all of China gets its coal, so the whole town was COVERED in thick smog and dust that smelled horrible. Anyways, we took a relatively standard overnight soft sleeper train to Pingyao and were met at the station by our free transportation to the hostel...electric tuktuk! After we got settled, we signed up for a day tour of the two nearby highlights, House of Wang and the Underground Castle (sounds xxx, right?). The Wang family made a fortune selling tofu (of all things) a long time ago and built this pimp complex of buildings. The size of the compound was as impressive (this pic is probably 1/3 of it!)
as the detail within each courtyard.
One of our own problems is that we, as Westerners, don't have any appreciation for historical Chinese art/artifacts. So, we saw this room full of calligraphy and pottery from 1300, and were like, ok cool,
whereas if you replace that with Renaissance-era statues and paintings, we'd be really impressed. To add some Western flair to the settings, Alison and I re-enacted a famous scene
by one of our most famous literary geniuses.
I was thinking more along the lines of Romeo and Juliet, but app
arently this picture also looks like Rapunzel. Oh well. We also got a great glimpse of the famous cave dwellings of Shanxi province: these people live in caves which they expand and add (some) modern conveniences! You can see the chimneys peaking out from the ground! We then moved on to the Underground Castle, which was actually just a series of tunnels built in the 1400s as defense against the...enemy (term undefined by tour guide). At one point, the tunnel was so short even our favorite Mini-Me could barely stand up
at other points, it had stairs.
We eventually got down to 26 meters underground! This leve
l had a trapdoor for the enemy to fall to his death...or something. We then got a tour of an old town of 1000 people and had a nice dinner. On the second day, we spent the morning walking along the ancient city wall, built in 1300. Here you see how the wall is like a fortress preventing new Pingyao from changing the old...and how polluted it was.
Alison blew her nose near here...and the snot had black flecks in it! She also took a really cool picture of this family drying gloves and toy bunnies (which are black from the soot) on the wall. After lunch (see menu below)
we went on a self-guided tour of historic Pingyao. Our first stop was the prison.Luckily, Alison escaped and was able to join me and Sarah for the rest of the tour :) The problem with this picturesque town is that after a while, everything started looking the same. For example, courtesy of Alison (of course), here's a pic of small temple and another of a random bank

Beautiful but similar, right? After a while, what happened randomly wherever we were was more exciting than the actual buildings. Inside one temple, there was a reenactment of a judge decreeing the law to peasants
and in an old amphitheater there was a rehearsal for a dance performance.
We also bought some hand-made embroidery things that look like paintings for less than a Starbucks coffee costs in NYC...
before returning to Beijing in the hard sleeper class, which has 6 people to a compartment, without a door. Main difference: you can't sit up on your bed.

To sum up Pingyao, we had a great time and are really happy to go, but would NOT recommend that anyone visits in winter...or if you like your lungs. I leave you guys with a preview of Halloween, 2011: