Showing posts from November, 2017

Benthic brotherhood: part 2

This story begins in Qingdao. I was sitting around a round table, having lunch at the Ocean University of China. The university dining services were apparently busy that day, because our group was combined with another group for lunch. A short woman in a blue shirt introduced herself to Ji and me. "Aren't you the one who wrote that modeling paper about fish genetics?" Ji asked. "I feel like I've seen you give a seminar before." The woman nodded and confirmed she had written the paper. She explained more about her research to Ji while we all found our places at the table, and I listened intently. Once she had finished, she turned to me. I introduced myself as a benthic ecologist postdoc from WHOI. She said she was from the National University of Taiwan. "Taiwan?" I leaned in. "Perhaps you know my friend, Stefanie. I'm going to Taipei to see her tomorrow." The woman did know Stefanie, and over the next hour, we discovered we had

World religion day

" Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer." - Psalm 19:14 Walking slowly with the crowd, I exited the lobby and stepped out into the rain. It was Sunday morning, and I was leaving church. I felt refreshed, renewed, and calm.  I wasn't sure what to expect from Taiwanese worship, but  I always enjoy experiencing different churches when I'm abroad.  This one called itself Lutheran, but it really had the makings of an American non-denominational mega-church. The service was held in a large room on the second floor of a skyscraper in downtown Taipei. There was a balcony for expanded seating and LED screens at the front to shown song lyrics and visual aids. The service format was also simplified, containing only music, announcements, prayers, and a sermon. Instead of a traditional organ, the songs were accompanied by drums, keyboard, and guitar.  Most of the song lyrics were tra

Misty city

Friends, I've said it before, and I'll say it again: it is the people I meet who make my mobile life worthwhile. After leaving Qingdao, I flew to Taipei, Taiwan, where I got to spend time with my dear friend, Stefanie. I'm not sure if you remember, but Stefanie and I met when I lived in Germany in 2011 - 2012. She's also a scientist with a travel habit, so we usually manage to be on the same continent about once a year. I've told you about visits with her before, in Boston , Hawaii , and the Netherlands . To be honest, I find it incredible that we manage to see each other as often as we do, since we're both moving targets. Stefanie is supportive and trustworthy, and I value her friendship greatly. Overview of Taipei from the gondola at the zoo We started with a city tour Taipei, and I have to unfortunately admit that it's not my favorite city. The air pollution hangs in the humid air like a mist, making any long-range view of the city shrouded in dirt

Grand tour

Before we left on our trip, Ji referred to Qingdao as "the Woods Hole of China." Woods Hole, Massachusetts has a number of private and federal research institutions, so it's a destination for ocean sciences. The village population is also disproportionately dominated by researchers. Qingdao is very much the same. Of course, the comparison meant I was picturing a small town and was surprised to find a city of 9 million people when I arrived in Qingdao, but the analogy stands. Qingdao has five large research institutions and plenty of researchers to go around. We took advantage of our time in Qingdao by touching base with each of the research institutions in the city. And let me tell you, we got quite the grand tour. We spent one afternoon at the First Institute of Oceanography, where I got to tour the institute's deep-sea geological collection. Rocks and mineral deposits from all over the deep sea, particularly hydrothermal vents, were housed in cases and displayed

Parallel universe

Leaning forward in my black leather chair, I grabbed my mug and took a sip of my green tea. The tea leaves were floating loose in the water, unencumbered by a mesh strainer. The hot water felt good on my throat. It was early morning, and I was in yet another conference room, this time back at OUC. Another WHOI scientist who was unable to travel with us video-conferenced into the meeting, and I listened to his voice rining out from Ji's laptop. One by one, his slides changed on the projector screen. I hugged my tea mug with my hands and leaned back onto the chair. I was relaxed. The meeting was for another WHOI-OUC project, and a large part of the discussion actually focused on similarities between Chinese and American oceanography. Think about this: both China and the U.S. have long eastern coasts that span sub-tropical and temperate latitudes. The east coast of China and the east coast of the U.S. both have a broad continental shelf and a strong current system - the Gulf Stream

Benthic brotherhood

I was full from a delicious and adventurous lunch, and once again, I found myself following Ji into a conference room. This meeting used the same general format - researchers briefly presenting their work, followed by an open discussion - except this time, everyone spoke my language. Not Mandarin (I can still only say "hello" and "thank you") - they spoke Benthos. There's a benthic research group at the Institute of Oceanology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Qingdao, and I felt right at home with them. We spent a whole afternoon discussing our work.  I deeply enjoyed speaking with the IOCAS group because we have so many research interests in common. They specialize in macrobenthos - animals that live in the seafloor and are big enough to see with the naked eye - just like me. They work on ecology (ooh) and taxonomy (aah) of animals in the Chinese marginal seas. They have this amazing collection of samples from all over the Yellow Sea shelf and even the

Qingdao in pictures

Downtown waterfront This hilltop Buddhist temple is in Qingdao's "Old Town." This beach is directly across the street from the Institute of Oceanology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Small motorcycles are common, and riders use custom-cut blankets to shield themselves from road spray. The coastal mountain range, seen from the First Institute of Oceanography campus Translation fail. I think they're trying to say "Don't overfill your plate and then end up wasting food." Seen from the First Institute of Oceanography pier

Try everything: part 2

Friends, I hope you'll excuse me, but I just have to spend another post talking about Chinese food. I don't know what in the world we buy from Chinese restaurants in the U.S., but it is certainly not Chinese food. Steamed mantis shrimp For dinner Monday, we went to a restaurant in downtown Qingdao. The interior decoration was much more modern than at lunch, but the entryway to the restaurant was the same: aquaria and display tables, full of sea creatures about to become food. It was a smaller crowd (just four of us), but there were the same toasts, the same excessive number of dishes, and the same musical chatter in Mandarin. Two dishes stuck out to me at dinner. The first was steamed mantis shrimp - yes, mantis shrimp. Not the famous rainbow species , but a member of the Stomatopoda nonetheless. They have super long, meaty abdomens and taste just like crab. You have to peel the shell off like you would for a normal shrimp, but the meat doesn't come out quite as eas

Try everything

"I won't give up, no I won't give in Until I reach the end And then I'll start again No I won't leave I wanna try everything I wanna try even though I could fail"  - "Try everything" by Shakira Whenever I travel, I adhere to my personal Foreign Food Policy. The policy is simple: I will eat absolutely anything , but I have to know what it is before I put it into my mouth. Well, friends, China is the perfect place to stretch the limits of an adventurous eater. It is going to take an entire blog post just to tell you what I ate today.  Breakfast was actually pretty tame. Rice soup, steamed dumplings filled with bean paste, fried bread dipped in soy milk. All very bland flavors and familiar textures. Easy enough.  Then there was lunch. We carpooled from the university to a building that I never would have guessed was a high-class restaurant. We were ushered into a private dining room with an 8-person round table. Centered on top of the table,


I followed Ji through the dark wooden double doors and into the conference room. There was a long oak table in the middle, surrounded by ergonomic black leather chairs. There was a projector on the table and a large screen at the far end of the room.  There was an outer ring of chairs surrounding the table, pressed tightly against the walls.  Every chair at the table and around the walls was filled with a student or a professor. As we walked in, fifty eyes turned to take in the foreign guests. I was the only caucasian and the only non-Chinese speaker in the room.  One by one, the professors got up to explain their research, using the projector to show visual aids. Ji and I each made short presentations, and then a freeform discussion began to flow. WHOI has a cooperative research initiative with the Ocean University of China , so we were discussing ways to work together in the future.  It was actually really interesting to me to observe the dynamic among Chinese scientists. Academi


"I was inside looking outside The millions of faces But I'm still alone" - "Long, long way from home" by Foreigner Right now, I am sitting cross-legged on a king-size bed in a hotel room with a view. I am barefoot and grateful for the space around me after more than 20 hours of sitting in a plane. I am overlooking glass skyscrapers and brick high-rise apartment buildings. I can hear honking horns on the street below and a softly whirring fan behind me. I am in Qingdao, China. It’s been an interesting day. Got to admit, I was a little nervous before I left Boston, because I was headed to a completely new part of the world and didn’t know what to expect. This is my first time in China and my first time in Asia. I’m here with another WHOI scientist to try and build up collaborations with researchers in Qingdao. We have a packed schedule for the next few days, but I’m excited to see what comes out of our meetings. I want to share just a couple stories a


"You should wear your helmet!" S exclaimed. "And make sure your lunch box is in view!" returned L. I set the timer on my camera, pressed, the button, and stepped back. Click! The shutter closed. It was lunchtime in the lab, and S had a VW bus lunchbox. L had brought her Halloween costume, a golden helmet meant to mimic early-era SCUBA gear, to work. The three of us were crowded around her laptop, watching the live feed from an ROV dive thousands of miles away. Because we're cool like that. The ROV live feed is from a research expedition that two other lab members are currently on. They're exploring hydrothermal vent habitats in the Gulf of California, and the cruise uses telepresence to engage other scientists and the broader community. It was fascinating to watch the video. The ROV was circling a pinnacle covered in tube worms - a big, bushy clump of white tubes. At the bottom of the pinnacle, zoanthids, little colonial anemones, covered the roc