Monday, May 30, 2011

We're Baaaaack!

After several months of planning and a well-kept secret, Adam and I managed to surprise Blake and Victoria at Blake's graduation AND my parents on Saturday night. Whew! Success!!!

We left Beijing at 6:55 Wednesday morning (after staying up all night and taking Nyquil on the flight to sleep!) and arrived in Chicago at 6:00am Wednesday morning. Gaining an hour of your life ain't too shabby :) We then flew to Boston for Blake's graduation; Adam managed to get on an earlier flight and shocked Blake, and I joined them later in the afternoon, just in time to catch Amy Poeler's speech (what a welcome back to America!). We had a wonderful time in Boston with Adam's family; it was a great way to re-introduce ourselves to home.

We had originally intended to take the Megabus from Boston to NY on Friday morning, but then learned that they had a one-suitcase limit. Um, no thank you. (4 50-lb suitcases, 2 large duffels, 2 backpacks, and 2 suit bags might be slightly conspicuous...). So instead, we drove into the city and really enjoyed the lack of highway traffic, lush greenery, radio selections, and everything else we didn't realize we missed. It was great (though slightly hectic) to be back home in New York. Our apartment is gorgeous and massive by NY standards and we love the location. So we had lunch at my favorite restaurant, were denied converting currency at the bank (who knew there was a time cut-off for foreign money??), and met movers at my old apartment to move furniture. Then Cathy, Jennifer, and Ben arrived and we met for dinner.

On Saturday morning, our friend Mike came over (!!!) and he, Adam, and Cathy picked up our rented U-haul to move out of the storage unit. They are beasts--got it all out in one go! We moved in and helped Mike move out of his place, while Cathy and Jen stayed back to unpack boxes--they were incredibly helpful. Later, we organized and enjoyed delicious H&H bagels. Welcome home!

I left in the afternoon to come home and surprise my parents--they had no idea I was back in the states; I actually received an email from my mom that afternoon that said "1 more week!" Haha. My parents friends (and my pseudo-parents) Melissa and Steve picked me up from the airport and dropped me off at home, to an empty house. While being with Lucy was clearly wonderful, by 10pm, I was tired of waiting and called in the big guns--Courtney. She called my mom and said "It's too late for you to be out to dinner; go home already!!" For some reason, they listened and were home 30 minutes later. They walked in and FREAKED OUT. It was awesome and definitely worth the secret-keeping.

We will post about our packing up and leaving Beijing experiences in the coming days, amidst unpacking, job-searching, friend-seeing, food-enjoying, etc. Can't wait to see everyone!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Economic Trees

Adam and I had lunch with our friend Olive (former language teacher) yesterday, and we realized we have created mini-economic chains through our friends.  It's something we all do; you recommend something or someone that you've had a positive experience with to your friends, who then bring their friends, etc.

We originally thought we'd do a second language course or Adam would do medical Mandarin this spring, but with all of our visitors and traveling, we never found the time to dedicate (especially because we were able to get around in the most basic sense, so it felt like a vast improvement over our arrival!). So instead, we recommended Olive to our friends--Jeremy and Claire now take a class with her once per week, my former boss has class every day, and the teacher who will take over my classes wants to start with her in the summer. We're so excited for Olive--while incredibly awkward (remind us to discuss the first time we took her to an American restaurant!), she's a great teacher and well-deserving of more students.

We also love Tailor Tao (as christened by Papa!). After a pretty horrible tailor experience with Janice, Adam and I found him through our Bible--the Insider's Guide to Beijing--and we've had much success. While everything isn't perfect (aka a pregnant bridesmaid's dress that had Adam literally laughing his way down the street!), he does a very good job and is reasonably priced. We sent our friends Sarah, Esther, Dan, and Jess to him, and all came back with glowing reviews. So if you're headed to Beijing for a few days and want tailored clothes, he's your guy.

Our last economy tree lies with Pearl Lady Lisa. She is a friend of a friend of Cathy's, and has been a staple for visitors since the Lewkowitzes were here in February. She can imitate almost anything you can come up with, is honest about quality, reasonably priced, and has such a range and variety to choose from that there's something for everyone. Again, if you're in Beijing or looking for pearls, we've got you covered :)

Adam estimates that through friends and friends of friends, etc., we have possibly funneled 15,000rmb into the personal economies of these three (think suits, jewelry, dresses, regular language lessons, etc.) Gotta love it!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Whoops! Presentation in Portugal

I just realized that I never posted about my presentation--the actual reason I went to Portugal!

The conference was also SO COOL for a few reasons. First, I got a big kick out of putting faces to names of people I've either been emailing with all year on my papers or whose papers I've been reading. Second, I'm a huge nerd and enjoyed hearing top-notch lectures about cutting-edge research on treatment algorithms for cervical cancer, new screening modalities in the pipeline, etc. Lastly, thanks to some outstanding mentorship from the US (Jennifer Smith) and here (Fang-Hui Zhao and You-Lin Qiao), I wasn't really intimidated, either during the conference or while giving the talk, though Sarah and I appeared significantly younger than the other people. I think that's because this year has allowed me to start rubbing elbows
with these people...and has given me a foundation into the professional and social relationships I'll have in academic medicine, whether it's continuing researching cervical cancer prevention in low-resource settings or something else in global health. I guess that's what the Fogarty is all about?

Anyways, the day before our talks, Sarah and I went to this Modern Art Museum. I am not artsy or creative enough to really understand modern art, but we still had fun interacting with the exhibits.
My talk went well--I looked nice, which is more than half the battle, right?It's pretty cool that my name was on the podium. And there were about 30-40 people there, just not in the front row, I promise.Someone asked me a question afterwards, which I answered, but then he asked it again, and I got all flustered and sounded (and felt) like an idiot. But afterwards, a few people came up to talk about the presentation and the findings, and we were able to discuss the ramifications about the research in China in other settings, and that made me so excited!

Immediately after my talk, I listened to Sarah practice hers one more time and ran into Dr. Zhang, who is in Yunnan Province and spearheading a HIV/HPV coinfection study that Sarah is helping out on. She's super nice, and I hope to see her in the future.
(Side note, which suit should I wear on residency interviews?).

PS: JNCI just got back to us about the paper we submitted to them in February, and they like it! So we're doing a ton of edits now to resubmit
PPS: Today, I submitted Dr. Smith's paper too. And we're so close on 3 others...but who knows when they'll actually be ready

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Celebrating our China baby!

No, Mom and Sandy, Alison is not pregnant.

But on Monday, we realized we had been in China for over 9 months, meaning we technically had a China baby, and decided to celebrate by getting all dressed up
and going on a date to the highest rated restaurant in Beijing, Capital M, considered one of the best in the world. Overlooking a gorgeously lit up Tiananmen Square (with the Forbidden City in the background), we had delicious Australian wine, our favorite appetizer (scallops in a deconstructed mint and pea sauce!), and then, the true reason we went there, their famous dessert platter.
From left to right (bottom front): nasty tart thing (only bad thing we had all night), delicious egg-white and cream creation that was melt-in-your-mouth goodness, passion fruit creme brulee, chocolate raspberry tart, and something that looked like a sopapilla but was EVEN BETTER (it had like a light sweet cream in it). (Back) homemade coconut sherbert, buttery icecream (sounds weird but oooooh so good), and then this homemade berry marzipan (Alison's favorite of the bottom tier, I think). On the top was their signature dessert, a pavlova, which we had never heard before but now won't be able to live without. Basically, it's a tower of lightly flavored meringue, topped with tropical fruit, covered in passonfruit sauce.

We took breaks between each dessert and asked each other hard hitting questions--favorite part of being here (not related to travel or living together), what we are most looking forward to most about moving back, etc. So fun to relax and enjoy each other's company.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

super cute card

Some of my colleagues are leaving for month-long stints at a new research site tomorrow morning. As Sarah and I never have any idea what is happening, we were both a little sad to find out yesterday they would miss our last stint at CICAMS as a few of them really have been instrumental in our adjustment to and living in China. But, as a complete and utterly sweet surprise, they coordinated an office-wide card for me (and another for Sarah) that was signed with everyone we've worked with.

The card has the most well-intended, heartwarming Chinglish phrases ever written and will be a wonderful memory of my time at CICAMS--I plan on getting it framed and hanging it somewhere in our new apartment in NYC where I can see it everyday. I mean, how can you not smile when you read things like:
"May you happy and health! Happy everyday!"
"It's wonderful. I wish you every sucess in the future. You are worthy sucesses."
"May everything beautiful and best be condensed into this card. I sincerely wish you happiness, cheerfulness, and success."
"Happy every second!"
"A bosom friend afar brings a distant land near."

I don't want to sugarcoat this year--we will never forget how vulnerable we were as outsiders unable to communicate--but receiving this note is confirmation that we have met compassionate, patient people who have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome here and, as a result, have transformed this crazy country into a home. Basically, Alison and I look forward to returning the good karma for the rest of our lives :)

PS Our favorite comment either reads "You are not done" or "you are not alone," depending on how you look at it.
PPS A few people wrote in Chinese about our wedding--so cool!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Adam's post earlier today warrants one response: DIC (Dude, It's China). This is basically what we've been saying nonstop lately, as he is quite ready to go home post-Portugal and we've had several DIC situations in the past week.

--The teacher who was going to replace me was scared off by my principal and quit before even coming to observe. The newest replacement has been observing this week and has been eating the school lunch with me and the rest of the teachers. Yesterday he decided to take his watermelon up to the teacher room instead of eating it at the table, which apparently warranted the principal's scolding me for him and telling me to pass along the information: one should not eat fruit outside of the dining area. DIC.

--Adam and I met our friends Erin and David at the (not-so) Affordable Art Beijing event on Saturday (the most affordable piece was a small painting of a donut for $50). Afterwards, Erin and I decided to get pedicures at a place advertising "Pedicures and Massage." She opted for both while I went for a pedicure only. After my nails had been cleaned and shaped, the guy left...and didn't return. We asked Erin's masseuse what about the color, and she laughed and said "oh, meiyou" ("don't have"). She then declined her toenail cleaning and when we went to the front to pay, we asked the manager about the sign behind her. She laughed and said "I don't know English! Tingbudong!" ( =I dont understand!). DIC.

--While Adam was in Portugal, I arranged a visit with our pearl friend, Lisa. I emailed Courtney and Jennifer (our sisters) to ask if they had any special requests that I could send to Lisa in advance. I then emailed Lisa pictures of what I would be looking for, and when we met, we decided on a few more things, and I planned return 4 days later to pick everything up. Fast forward 1.5 weeks...I emailed her last night to see if they'd be ready by the end of this week, and she just emailed saying that she has made 2 of the necklaces (out of probably 12), and if I like them, please let her know asap so she can make more. Then she added that she couldn't make one of them anymore because she cannot find the pieces. Argh. DIC.

--The smog is literally thick. It's gross. And then there are people smoking cigarettes. So which is worse--breathing in deadly pollutants from factories or from nicotine? DIC.

Positive DIC: we have been experimenting with produce for a while but haven't written about it. I continue to see new fruits at carts as the weather changes and have tried much of it. Here are some reviews: 

1. Bayberries (Sweet and then extremely tart with a big pit in the middle = thumbs down)
2. Lotus Root (Deeelicious! We have eating this often out at restaurants, but I recently  attempted somewhat successfully to cook it for the first time = thumbs up)
3. Longan "Dragon Eyeballs" (A lychee cousin and Adam's favorite fruit = thumbs up)
4. Lychee (love this in America, but it's not nearly as sweet or tender here = thumbs down)
5. Taro Root (Starchy, potato-like, easily peeled and dipped in sugar [at my school] to taste = thumbs up)
6. Durian (Sweet but extremely smelly with a strange, pudding-like texture = thumbs down)

While living here obviously has its ups and downs, we have definitely learned to just take things as they come and shrug most of it off. The dragon eyeballs and other good things help with this :)

abstract for next presentation?

Background: Many westerners view the pace of Chinese construction as nothing short of miraculous. However, limited observational data exist on the potential costs of such lightning speeds to local residents. This study aims to bridge this gap in data by presenting this author's experiences during a neighborhood construction project in Beijing.

Methods: This observational study took place during the repaving of BaiZiWanErNanLu. This street had previously been expanded from two lanes to four and re-paved in December 2010. Data was collected during the author's five-minute walk to the bus stop on May 18, 2011.

Results: Approximately 40-50 workers wearing bright orange jumpsuits were manning various machines, including ones to spray tar on the road, others that deposited steaming-hot asphalt on the tar, and steamrollers of various sides. The construction site was open--no signs or barriers prevented human traffic around or through the site, though a van on each side parked perpendicular to the road prevented road traffic (which caused a momentous traffic jam). By 8 AM, the entire road had been tarred, with 1/3 already laid down with asphalt and 1/3 steamrolled to perfection. During the author's walk, a young woman's shoe became stuck in the tar, requiring multiple construction workers to pull it free, and a man rode his bicycle out of his apartment complex into the newly paved (but not hard) road, resulting in a faceplant and coating of his work clothes with steaming asphalt. No one came to his aid, though construction workers did yell at him for messing up the smoothed road. A poofy Pomeranian ran across the asphalt, leaving little paw prints that needed to be re-steamrolled out. Despite the author's efforts to limit breathing and sidestep machinery, he still inhaled potentially carcinogenic chemical fumes as well as was brushed by an enormous steam roller.

Conclusion: The price of rapid construction is inconvenient at best and potentially fatal at worst to local residents. While a similar project may take ten times longer in the United States due to a combination of fear of punitive legal measures and a value of human existence, local residents are not at risk. Of note, long-term consequences of this exposure have not yet been determined as the author wants to wait to his return to New York City for his medical check up.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

fashion update

I wrote a little bit about Chinese fashion and style back in the fall, but this time I have pictures to for your viewing pleasure. Everything I wrote then is still applicable now (rhinestones, bows, lace, etc.)--the women are very gaudy in their style. The majority of women wear heels (boots with heels in winter), which I cannot imagine--my feet hurt just thinking about it! The most surprising trend is tights or hose with the control-top part visible; this is extremely common under shorts, skirts, and dresses, and is just confusing to me...isn't the point of the control top part to hide it??
(I love her "I'm going to look hot at the botanical gardens and pose with flowers" look. The feather in her hair completes the look).

Also, animal prints are very popular. Actually, any prints are popular.
As you can probably tell, most of these pictures were taken the day Adam and I went to the botanical gardens. I love these women for their taking into account both fashion/style and weather-appropriateness.
Enough about the ladies; we have also noticed 2 main trends in male fashion. One is the murse (male purse), which is generally leather and brown or black in color. Men also tend to carry the purse or bag of female companions, regardless of size. The other popular style is long fingernails (or at least just the pinky); this is apparently to prove that the man does not do hard physical labor and is a status symbol. Unfortunately, no photographic verification of these styles as of yet.

A final trend that Adam and I have noticed is that couples and families tend to dress in matching outfits. We have seen countless "his and hers" jackets/hats/T-shirts, etc. Luckily, I was able to capture a few:
(this is a double whammy--a matching couple AND an awesome hair piece next to them)

After all of our travels, it appears that many of these styles are more popular in cities, which makes sense because they're not laboring in fields and they generally have a more disposable income. Also, with the rapidly expanding middle class, people are more interested in appearances. This is true with regard to dentistry as well--I have seen all of 4 people with braces in the past 9 months. I assume that number will rise as people have more and more disposable income and interest in appearance. The New York Times recently published an article about the growing rates of plastic surgery in China; this information is not so surprising, based on our observations and experiences. I would love to see what the styles are like in the next 10 to 20 years--I'm sure we will see straighter teeth and just as many heels!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Lisbon, pre-conference

We spent the next few days exploring Lisbon proper, via walking tours and the "best of" series in Sarah's guidebooks.

One of the first things we saw would be the SE Cathedral, which, as it turn
s out, would be the view from our rented apartment (we moved from hostel to apartment during the conference). On the outside, I loved how grass and flowers grew between the big bricks. My favorite parts of the inside were the stained glass windows.This one is cool because the view from the bedroom in our rented apartment was of this window!Like many cathedrals worldwide, the attention to detail was impressive: I also had fun playing with Alison's camera, changing the setting to get very different pictures of the same columns:

We then headed over to the Roman ruins. I had no idea that the Roman Empire reached as far west as Lisbon, so it was pretty cool to visit what was left of a Roman Amphitheater! On our walk, we saw some pretty cool statues, whether they were alone near a view pointor in the middle of a big church.

That picture makes me laugh bc one statue is a really proper looking Bishop and the other is looks like a wasted lady at Bourbon Street).

On the inside of this church (I can't remember what it's called) was the tomb
of Vasco de Gama, the famed explorer:

That afternoon, we went to Belem, which is famous for three things--these melt-in-your-mouth pastries (which we had 3 times over the course of our time in Portugal) and the Jeronimo Monastery, an example of Manuelline architecture. Basically, the Manuelline style is an elaborate, exuberant (borderline ostentatious) type of over-decoration of the building facades that were typical of Portuguese architecture when Portugal was considered the pre-eminent nation in the world. For example, here's an upclose of the doorway:
and part of a courtyard (notice the sky!)
(PS. I seriously took about 50 pictures of the clouds here because they were so beautiful juxtaposed against the white, carved marble.
PPS: I am not pregnant, I promise)

The following day, we went to a few museums. The first was a modern art museum, which had only one exhibit that made sense:Correction: it had no exhibits that made sense. We then headed to an exhibition of the Portuguese military in honor of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the republic. Here, the weapons ranged from the expected,
which was used in Afghanistan or Iraq by Portuguese troops to the random:(Watch out for policemen on bikes! They just might have an AK-47 on it.) Final stop for museums was this really cool archeology museum that was housed in an old cathedral. In 1755, there was a huge earthquake, followed by tsunami and fire, that completely destroyed Lisbon. The original plans were to rebuild the cathedral roof, which had collapsed, but they lacked the funds. So, they now house the exhibits where the priests lived and you walk
through an eery skeleton of a cathedral to get there.I enjoyed the walk more than the museum. Finally, we went to the aquarium, which had tons of penguins (none swimming unfortunately)
and I learned that Alison's camera is so awesome that it can take pictures from above, through water, and make it look like you're underwater!
Best. Purchase. Ever.

After a whirlwind (though very relaxing) first few days in Portugal, we were ready for the final three days: the conference!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

First day in Portugal!

After finding the hostel and crashing, Sarah and I woke up early (yay jetlag) and headed over to Sintra, a town that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On our walk from the hostel, we couldn't help but noticing that we were in Europe! Between the shock of seeing so many ethnicities walking around,
and walking through plazas with fountains, blue sky, and only one construction crane (!)we knew we weren't in Kansas anymore. Another funny difference: the train station was historic and profoundbut the train itself was old and nasty.In China, the stations are all immaculate and the trains are state-of-the-art, but no one can afford to ride the nice ones...Anyways, our first stop in Sintra was the Palacio Nacional, which is famous for those two big cylindrical protrusions in the front, as you can see here.The palace proved to be a wonderful introduction to Portuguese history and architectural style. First, everywhere you looked were beautiful hand-painted azulej
os (tiles) of various motifs.The one above depicts a hunting scene and is actually painted into a corner of the walls. Sarah and I both thought they were reminiscent of Chinese white and blue porcelain. Turns out, they might have been influenced by China: Portugal had the longest lasting colony in the Far East, Macau, which was recently handed over to the Chinese in 1999 and was founded shortly after Vasco de Gama discovered how to sail to India (I am SO IGNORANT of world history). Here's a gift from the Governor of Macau to the King of Portugal from a while back:It's made of pure ivory and is the largest such structure ever made (according to the sign...but who knows if that is true). And here's inlaid wood, which also looked somewhat Chinese.
During our tour, we ended up in the palace kitchen, where we noticed that the ceiling went up remarkably high.
(Cool seal, right?) Indeed, we were inside the big cylinders. We thought they were some master architectural design, but turns out...they were just glorified chimneys.

After the palace, we walked about an hour on the side of the road (whoops) to get to the Castelo de Mouros (Moorish Castle).Does the castle wall remind you of anything?
How about in this picture?We were joking about how we flew 1/4 across the world to go to the Great Wall! Funny, right?

We then walked over to the Pena Palace, a breathtakingly beautiful castle you could see from the Moorish ruins.The inside wasn't too impressive, but the outside decoration--the bright paint and the blue/white tiles--was so beautiful.
And it reminded me a bit of Phoenix and our Mexican house. So of course, I had to take a picture of me in front of it:

After a long, fun day sightseeing, we went to an authen
tic Portuguese meal, where I ordered fish...which came whole.
Yet another reminder of my adopted country!!

All in all, it was a fantastic introduction to Portugal, and a reminder that, no matter where you are and no matter how different it appears, food, buildings, and culture are far more similar than you would expect.