Friday, April 29, 2011


Today, we had a picnic in the park near CICAMS instead of the weekly meeting. It was actually very fun, with yummy food...though one of the items someone brought was pre-packaged dog meat.

Anyways, I was talking to a past Fogarty about Tianjin, a city that Alison and I might go to this weekend as it's 40 minutes away by bullet train, and supposedly is a fun day trip (it comes highly recommended by all four of our non-Fogarty friends in Beijing hahaha). During the conversation, I was stunned by the difference of perspective:

Hao: I have to go to Tianjin this weekend.
Me: Have to? Do you not like it? We were thinking of going there Sunday.
Hao: I don't really like it. I mean, there's nothing to do. It's so small.
Me: Small? I thought it had over 7 million people?
Hao: Yea. It does. Way too small.

So apparently, a city that is slightly smaller than the biggest city in US (our superstar metropolis, NYC, with 8+ million people in all 5 boroughs!) is too small to have anything fun to do.

Insane, right?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

YiXianGuoJi Olympics, Part 1

I arrived at school on Monday, taught 2 Pink classes, and then went outside to meet the Small Int'l Class for the Monday morning routine--flag raising and "exercises" (choreographed dancing to music). To my surprise, the whole school was lined up in preparation for the "Kindergarten Sport," whatever that means. I assume it's like a mini-Olympics. Each class had a sign,
Notice the great spelling?
and some sort of hand-held celebratory object (pom-poms, noise-makers, signs).
Cindy, Jean, and Dora picked their colors--"I like blue!" and "I like PINK!"
Bowen and Leon were excited!
Ashley and Hannah made their pom-poms into hair!
Eventually, we got to the flag-raising and national anthem singing:
I tried to record the singing on the camera, but it was just a bunch of noise. The kids shout at the top of their lungs, all completely off from each other. It's hilarious, and I imagine exactly how The Star Spangled Banner sounds in preschools in America.

Then it turned out that they weren't prepared for the sports and postponed until Friday. Stay tuned...

Instead of sports, we went inside for a lesson and my favorite time of day--"Do a Dance!" We either do the Hokey Pokey or the kids' favorite--the Chicken Dance! Yes, I brought the Chicken Dance to China. The whole school does it and loves it. So funny! They usually gather in small groups and dance:
Cindy (left) and Sarah had a grand ol' time; I just had to post this series of them being absolutely adorable.
I definitely plan on bringing a camera on Friday, so get ready for YiXianGuoJi Olympics, Part 2 this weekend!

Side note: there is a music room in the school, where the kids have piano lessons; it is also the new storage place for the Scholastic materials. When I first went in, I was completely confused by the pictures on the walls...2 white men with Chinese names?? I was sure that I must know these musicians by name, so I sounded out the Chinese, and this is what I came up with:
 Chai - keh - foo - suh - jee (literally) = Tchaikovsky!

Shao - bong (literally) = Chopin!

Because every Chinese word has an associated character, they must "translate" foreign words into similar sounding Chinese characters. EX: Arizona = ya li sang na (yah-lee-song-na); Carrefour = jia le fou (jeeah-le-foo). It's so interesting how they have adapted foreign and international words to make them understood and able to be used in Chinese!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Forgot the best part!

After we bought all the stuff at Panjiayuan yesterday, we took the bus home, and this old Chinese man wearing Harry Potter glasses immediately looked at us and asked me in Chinese if I were a Uyghur (a Chinese Muslim). When I said that we were American, this man got super excited!

For the remainder of our ride, he spearheaded the rest of the bus into asking us questions about what we were doing in China, what we thought of China, etc. The best part was that, at every stop, he'd announce to the people coming on that I looked Uyghur but in fact was American.

We didn't really understand a lot of what he was saying, particularly when he launched into some diatribe against (in support of?) French tourists. But it was so exciting for us to engage and have a legitimate conversation.

I was so happy for his mistake for a more personal reason. People have often told me that I can "pass" as many different ethnicities--in Mexico they thought I was Argentinean, in Chile they thought I was Mexican (I think the gist is that I have somewhat olive skin and dark features so can blend more easily into a crowd in many parts of the world...until I speak or turn so people can see my schnoz in profile)--and a few friends joked before I came here that it'd be the first time I'd so obviously not be a part of the society I was living in. But turns, out, I can still pass as Chinese--just as a marginalized religious/ethnic minority!!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Great Day all around!

Alison and I got all dolled up to go to the 9th Annual Meeting of the National Cervical Cancer Consortium and Symposium of HPV Vaccine and Cervical Cancer Prevention (try saying that three times fast). I wasn't nervous until we arrived at the hotel, and then I was like holy moly, these are the movers and shakers in China! And they think I'm an expert. HA!

Turns out, through the course of this year, I've met a lot of people who are the movers and shakers in China--that, coupled with the fact that all of the post-docs and PhD students at CICAMS were in attendance relaxed me big time. So by the time it was my turn, I was ready to roll:Notice how my new suit fits me perfectly, like it was made just for me? Oh wait, it WAS! Anyways, the weirdest moment of the whole process was after I started, this man with a huge zoom lens got extremely close and took like 100 pictures of me, and I got all flustered, but then figured, what the hell? And stopped mid-sentence to crack a big smile.Everyone cracked up. Having Shangying Hu, my Fogarty Twin, translate for the presentation was also a very special experience as we've worked so effectively and so efficiently this past year. But it was a strange waiting game--first I'd talk and she'd waitthen she'd talk and I'd wait.But all in all, it was a great success. Another highlight for me was getting to be on the panel afterwards with Dr. John Sellors, who has really spearheaded the global movement towards low-cost alternatives to cytology, and Shangying and Eunuch--we actually had fun.
We then had the requisite photoshoots for the Fogarty, with LiRong, Shangying, and me:
(It kinda looks like I have a penis coming out of the top of my head (can I say that?) but, dont' worry, it's just the drawing behind me.) And with Dr. Qiao and Dr. Zhao.
My suit bunches up funny when it's buttoned and my arms are out, but otherwise it looks pretty pimp, right?

Afterwards, we walked to Panjiayuan (for the last time, I think) and purchased beautiful gifts for friends and family (and ourselves obviously, as we count under both categories) and then headed to Lisa at the Pearl Market to pick up the rest of the order.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Festivities

Happy long [Easter] weekend to everyone at home! I actually didn't realize Easter was upon us until my school alerted me by bringing me into "Easter planning meetings" all week. Like for all other major western holidays, we had an assembly, complete with games, songs, and performances. 

All of the kids were decked out in bunnies and eggs, which was pretty cute:
 My big class kiddos:
It began with none other than a Clifford the Big Red Dog puppet show, performed by yours truly. I was given a story about a dog celebrating Easter with kids because he likes eggs, as they are the seeds of life. Ummm....ok. It wasn't translated for the kids (they wouldn't have understood it anyway), but they all enjoyed the Clifford puppet.

This was followed by a performance by the Yellow Class, complete with costumes.
It was about an old woman who needed help from animals to pull a tree....I think.

We then played games, all dealing with eggs. The oldest classes carried hardboiled eggs on oversized spoons,
The 2- and 3-year old classes carried and rolled paper-mache balloons,
 and the smallest classes ran with painted, non-hardboiled eggs.

We ended with the April birthday party. The kids were all super excited and adorable in their birthday hats:

They were also all super excited about the birthday cake that the whole school (teachers and kids) share for lunch:
I mean, everyone likes ketchup, ham, and cucumbers on their birthday cakes, right? Well they loved it. Luckily, I'm doing the Chinese/Sephardic version of Passover and eating rice but abstaining from cake and bread. None of this yummy dessert for me!

It's the end of April and this school is still keeping me on my toes! I do love my kids so so so much, and I know I'm going to miss them immensely...(Adam and I have gotten nostalgic as of late. Luckily, it's not over yet!!)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Egg and the Opera

On Thursday night, we joined Sarah and her friend at the National Center for Performing Arts, also known at the Egg. There is currently an opera festival going on, and we saw the French opera Carmen.

We walked up to the Egg at dusk, and it was spectacular.
We walked down stairs and into the entrance, but what we didn't see was that the Egg is surrounded by water, which creates an interesting visual effect. Once inside, you can look up and see the current moving above. While this was pretty awesome, Adam pointed out that the cost of maintaining the water could probably fund health care for a small Chinese city. Oh, priorities.

Inside is also very well-designed, from the lighting to the small details, like how this building compliments the Bird's Nest Stadium (this is the Egg, that's the Bird's Nest...get it??).
We were "caught" with a camera when going through security and had to check it with the coat check. It was very confusing at first--usually they just say "please, no flash photography" or something. We realized that it actually makes sense based on where we are. The Chinese are notorious for constantly taking pictures and for trying to evade authorities or rules whenever they can (hello bootleg DVDs!); so they probably prohibit cameras from even entering the theaters, knowing that they can't catch everyone but that they will significantly reduce the number of cameras. Luckily, Sarah smuggled hers in and got some pictures of the theater:
The staging and costumes were beautiful, and we got the perfect bird's eye view from the third tier :)
We knew that the three leads would be foreigners (they alternate with Chinese each night), but weren't sure about the rest of the cast. It turned out that everyone was Chinese: kids from an acrobat troupe, a high school theater group, and the NCPA chorus. While the opera was very good and we both enjoyed it, Adam's critique was that the chorus was just too big and that the stage seemed overcrowded. However, it was quite appropriate for China--way too many people!

Afterward, we went outside and took a few pictures with the sparkling Egg behind us:
What a fantastic way to spend an evening in Beijing!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Research update!

With all of our adventures, it's easy to forget that I am here to research. So, as our time in Beijing starts winding to a close, I wanted to update y'all about what I've been up to.

The main update is that I'm going to Portugal on May 4th to give an oral presentation about one of my projects: basically, how we used a study population of over 30,000 women to predict how common HPV and pre-cancerous lesions (for cervical cancer they're called CIN 1-3) are in China. That paper has been the death of me all year (no joke, I have 100s of revisions), but we are sending it to get the final feedback of all the co-authors this week, and Dr. Zhao promises it will be submitted before we go to Portugal!

The paper that has been rejected by Lancet and JAMA is STILL under review at JNCI (another 2.5 month review. Oy). But I was asked to give a presentation on it (as a foreign EXPERT! hahahaha) at the National Symposium for Cervical Cancer. It's about the diagnostic accuracy of HPV DNA testing of self-collected cervicovaginal samples for pre-cancerous and cancerous cervical lesions. Shangying, my Fogarty twin, will actually be translating for me, and she is more nervous than I am (which makes sense if you think about it--if I get flustered, I can just speak quickly and no one will understand me, but she can't get away with my tricks. Also, if I get
nervous, I will focus on what is truly important: how dead sexy I look in my new tailored suit.)

My own research projects have also been about self-collection. I'm virtually done writing up a short article about the attitudes of 500 rural woman towards self-collection that will be submitted before I go to Portugal (nothing like using the promise of a vacation to work yourself to the bone, right?), and data has been collected for 2500 women the last few months. I originally thought I could write up this paper too, but it's just too demanding; I'll have to work on it when I get back home or even pass it on to the next year's Fogarty.

Jennifer Smith, my UNC mentor, and I on the cusp of submitting a paper describing rates of antibodies (indicating past infection) and DNA (indicating current infection) for the 4 HPV types that are in the Merck HPV vaccine. Fingers crossed that they accept that one quickly because I won't have as much time as Dr. Smith thinks I will when I return stateside.

Finally, with Sarah's Fogarty twin, LiRong, I've been work on two papers about another cervical cancer screening method called VIA (visual inspection with acetic acid). Those will go to an English-language Chinese journal, so they are very important for her career.

So in a nutshell, I've done tons of work, and it looks like many projects are wrapping themselves up, just in time for us to go back to Beautiful Land/Kingdom (what Chinese call America).

Most importantly, happy first day of Passover!!! As I write this, Alison has just set up our table with (from left) her mom's mashed cauliflower recipe, matzah, homemade hummus with veggies, matzah, and her homemade charoset for our Chinese Seder!
Thanks, M&P for the matzah! Tomorrow, we're going to Kehillat Beijing for the second day Seder with Jeremy and Claire. Hopefully it's as fun as the seders we had growing up at my house and in NYC at the Bernstein's!

Miss you guys!

Just when we thought Beijing was old hat...

Caveat: My apologies for the lack of pictures, but Alison and I had gotten so used to navigating Beijing's hustle and bustle that we had long abandoned our habit of carrying around a camera with us wherever we go. We thought we were pros, but last Sunday taught us we've still got a lot to learn.

Background: We needed to buy a lot of silk fabric for top-secret reasons. Our friend the tailor asked us where we bought the prior silk we used and how expensive it was, and when we responded, he laughed and told us to go where he buys his fabric...and gave us a business card with a store name on it, completely in Chinese.

So last Sunday, Alison and I headed to what we thought would be a wholesale silk and cashmere store in southern Beijing. We took the subway to the general vicinity and then got in a cab. After the cabbie drove for 25 minutes, he dropped us off at the side of the road in a really old part of town we'd never been to before.

We were confused to see that, instead of a store, we were in front of an open air market. Before we got anxious though, we quickly realized that we had stumbled upon where the world buys fabric wholesale. You know that I tend to exaggerate, but honestly, if you can think of it, we saw fabric to make it. Some highlights were:
1) pre-faded denim to make trendy jeans
2) car upholstery
3) animal skins (with heads) to make fur coats...if you're Russian...or from Long Island
4) waterproof fabric for raincoats
5) sheets and linens
6) material for baseball hats

Of course, three hours of adventuring, including going into about 100 stores (often with a crowd of people following us as we were the only foreigners around) was all for naught as not a single silk store had what we were looking for (all patterned, mostly Chinese...luckily Alison was there to reign me in because after a while, some of it started too look nice). They also had silk for women's dresses, and I was really excited to see the fabric of the dress my mom wore to Emily's wedding!

Rubbing salt on the wound, we could not find a bus stop and there were no taxis. So we started walking down the smaller street to the main one and passed a side street where people were selling puppies and rabbits in small cages. We took a look to try to cheer ourselves up, but seeing dozens of parakeets crammed into a single small cage was almost as depressing as the poor golden retriever puppies crammed two to a small crate. So we booked out of there fast.

It was a very surreal afternoon.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Last day in Shanghai

I'm sorry for the blog silence--we still had another day in Shanghai with Mama and Papa! We've been having beautiful weather in Beijing (We're convinced M&P brought it with them from Phoenix because it's been warm since their arrival). Everything is in bloom, the sun has been shining, and the smog has only been slightly unhealthy most days. It's so refreshing after a long and cold winter. (Basically this means the last time you'll see me in that green jacket is in the pics below because we weren't so lucky with weather in Shanghai).

We had a relaxing morning at the hotel before setting off for the Shanghai Museum. M&P found a beautiful bamboo painting to bring home, and Adam and I can't wait to see it in their new house! Then we set off to look for the old synagogue. We stopped for lunch and turned out to be eating "where the workers eat" (Papa's words); a great decision, as they know what's tasty and hearty. We also enjoyed delicious Shanghai-style dumplings.
We knew the synagogue was on a particular block, but we had trouble finding the sign. We did, however, find a post that confirmed we were on the right street:
(Look on the bottom right side). After a bit more wandering, the beard and dress of this man gave it away, and we knew we had reached the synagogue.
It is now the home of the Garden Unit of the Shanghai Municipal Afforestation Commission. Who woulda thought??

We then looked for the Liza Hardoon Building, named for the mother of M&P's former client who became a close friend. He was born into a poor Jewish family in Harbin (home of the coldest ice festival on Earth) and then adopted by one of the wealthiest Jewish families of the day, the Hardoons of Shanghai. While the architecture is intact, it is now an ICBC, one of the biggest banks in China. 

It's strange how there's so much history in these buildings that have been turned into ordinary property for everyday use. I remember feeling this way after a trip to Poland when I studied abroad in college; the old synagogues and other buildings that were the center of a lively community had become a mundane part of the local government. It makes sense because that community has moved on, but it was strange to feel this way for the first time since being in China. It's probably because Shanghai was so much more western than the rest of this country.
And thus ends the reflective portion of this post!

The Liza Hardoon Building/ICBC was near the Bund, so we walked along the river and took more pictures 
before settling into a coffee shop to escape the cold and to relax before our evening flight.

When walking across a bridge to our hotel later that afternoon, we passed not one, not two, but THREE bridal photo shoots. 
Just like the ones we often see in our neighborhood, these consisted of women in bridal gown with jeans underneath, men in ill-fitting tuxes, and photographers setting everything up. A timely reminder that while it looked and felt like Europe, Shanghai still Chinese at heart.

We were sad to come home and pack with M&P, but we all agreed that this was a fantastic, fantastic visit and we look forward to many more in Phoenix, NY, and wherever the next few years take us.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


I joined everyone in Shanghai late Friday night (someone's gotta bring home the chicken feet!). We started off our Saturday by going to the train station and buying tickets to Suzhou, a nearby water town. While waiting for our train, we witnessed many latecomers running over the gates. Instead of showing tickets and walking through, they climbed up and over and continued running! This happened often enough that Adam eventually took out his camera and caught someone mid-jump:
We boarded our bullet train and settled in for the ride,
which ended up being the smoothest 30 minutes at 320 km/hr ever. The train was incredible! Upon arrival, we found an adorable noodle shop and refueled for a day of sightseeing.
(I swear I change my clothes, but that silly green jacket has been in every picture for the past few months! Adam's side note: it now has enough stains on it to make me wonder if I'm marrying a bag-lady-in-training)

We were initially surprised by how metropolitan Suzhou seemed, as it's known for historic gardens and waterways. Then we read the guidebook and learned Suzhou has a population of almost 6 million it was not really an ancient town enveloped by modern city (like Pingyao or Lijiang) but more like pockets of old in the midst of modern buildings. Anyways, we picked a garden to visit, and were dropped off in front of a long "shopping street" (tchotchke heaven!). Weird. After hurrying through, ignoring the shouts of "hello!" and "look, look!," we came to the entrance of Master of the Nets Garden.

The first thing was saw was a scraggly tree in the courtyard. Strange but beautiful:
We then walked through a few aptly named buildings (ex: Room of 10,000 Books used to hold 10,000 books) and into gorgeous courtyards. Some were filled with bonsai trees,
others had rocks and trees,
while others had flowers.
The central garden stood out, with the contrast of pink, green, stone, and water.
We came at the perfect time--everything was just beginning to bloom!
Perfect opportunity for a window picture, looking into the central garden.

After leaving the garden, we had time for one more sight before our return train, so we chose the Silk Museum. While it was not as interesting as we hoped, we did learn about how silk is made and saw women in the process of weaving.
If you look closely, you can see the silk threads on the left and the intricate pattern they have been woven into on the right, wrapped around the log.
Mama acquired a beautiful scarf at the silk shop next to the museum, so it wasn't a total bust :)

We had a yummy dinner when we got back to Shanghai, and then Mama and Papa went back to the hotel while Adam and I walked along the Bund. It was breathtaking and so alive, with tons of brightly colored lights, people, advertisements, music, etc. I definitely didn't feel like we were in China anymore!
European-style hotels and buildings:
Bridge between our hotel and the Bund area:
It began to rain, so instead of grabbing a drink at a nice European hotel, we opted for water and a warm bed to gear up for another day in Shanghai.