Sunday, July 27, 2008

winding down

I've had quite a week I suppose...

Tuesday we returned from our lab vacation around 9pm. It was a nice break from lab and it as cool to get out of Beijing and see some other parts of China (since it is so hard for Americans to travel alone right now). As you can see from the photos that are posted in the diary, we visited the Mountain Resort, along with a couple other historical sites, and we went horseback riding in the grasslands. I liked getting to hang out with members of the lab in a setting that didn't involve organic chemistry.
Wednesday and Thursday were fairly uneventful - Zhaleh worked and I pretty much watched Heroes and read my book (my eighth one this summer - I have turned into somewhat of a library for everyone else since I'm the only one who brought a good stash of novels... it was a good way to fill free time, for sure). But Zhaleh decided to change her plane ticket for home, so the next couple days we spent time getting stuff done before she left.
On Friday we (Zhaleh, Alisa, Donna, Zach, and I - we tend to do things as a five-some lately) went to the pearl market in the morning to finish up some souvenier shopping and were very successful. We also found an awesome place for lunch that Allison told us about before we left just kiddy-corner to the market. The "scroll shop," as everyone has been calling it, where we have been buying art (see photo diary on this too) was our next stop. As usual, we spent too much money and came back very excited. :) I got five paintings all at once before I realized I should probably think about how I will pack my purchases and stay under the weight limit on bringing stuff home, haha. After returning to Wanliu to relax a bit after all the walking and pubic transportation (by the way, having line 10 of the subway open is awesome... it makes it so much more convenient to get places), we (the five of us, again) got dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant in Wudaokou (Tafi) and walked around for a bit after we realized that Propaganda had been closed down and we couldn't go dancing like we had hoped.
Saturday was almost as busy... Zhaleh, Alisa, Donna, and I went with Donna's grad student to Wangfujing (a very nice shopping district) to a tea house and bought a few different kinds of tea for people at home. We also checked out a huge olympic store - lots of people of course, so trying to buy things there was a little hectic. We did end up getting everyone (except Xu, since he's out of town) together for dinner as a send off for Zhaleh at Lush. We had planned on the Kro's Nest, but of course it was shut down until after the Olympics - big surprise, right? After dinner was ice skating at the mall, followed by frantic, last-minute packing in our room.
So now, after a 5am send-off, I am all alone in the room :( I have moved some of my things to the other side of the room to make it feel a little more lived in, but it's sad that Zhaleh is gone. It just makes it seem more real that the summer is over, and I'm only here for six more days. Donna and I tried to come up with a plan to fill our remaining time, since we seem to have run out of stuff we need to do (we took care of our to-do lists on Friday and Saturday). I think tomorrow we will try to visit the Botanical Gardens, Tuesday we will try for the Museum of Natural History, Wednesday we want to go to the Olympic village and see the venues, Thursday maybe the Museum of Chinese History, and finally on Friday one more shopping trip to take care of whatever money we havn't spent yet that is still burning holes in our pockets :) Saturday will be a chaotic, run-around packing fest with all of us trying to get stuff together, and Sunday it is back to Michigan.

Friday, July 18, 2008

the end.

I just got out of my last day of work. I figured I would be pretty excited about getting back to being able to roam around the city and enjoy a leisurly vacation period before going back to the US, which I am, I suppose. But there is another part of me that is saddened by my lab experience coming to a close. First of all, it means the program is coming to a close and I will have to leave Beijing soon :( boo. It also means that my opportunities to learn from all of the Chinese students around me is over. I've gotten so much out of the program so far, and I feel like I've learned a lot about Chinese culture through living here and interacting with the people I've been working with... it's hard to think that this may be the last of it. I think I gained a great deal of confidence in myself this summer through being on my own (with 11 others, haha) and living in a foreign country, and I don't feel like there are any limits I can't overcome in the future as far as what I would like to do after I graduate

In other news, our lab is leaving on Sunday morning for our trip north. Professor Pei will not be joining us, but there will be 15 students, including Xu and me, making the journey. I don't know much about what we will be doing yet, but I think that makes it more exciting :) All I know for sure is that Xu and I will have to stay in a different (and nicer) hotel kind of far away from the one the other students will be staying in. They will not accomodate Americans, and Xu does not have an official Chinese ID card (even though he is a citizen with a valid passport) so they had to find somewhere to put us for the night. We'll be back Tuesday evening, so I will post then about what we did and where we went. Hopefully Xu will get some pictures for the photo diary.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

a blue sky warrants a blog entry, i think

eesh time flies.

I only have 2 weeks left of work, which means I may have barely enough time to finish my synthesis. That is, if we are still able to run reactions, which at this point seems like it may not even happen. The chemical supplier on campus closed down on July 3 (Thursday), and our lab had run out of DCM by Friday. At this rate, we may not even make it into the second week. It's disappointing that we ended up having so little time to complete work, but I am glad I had a goal and my own reactions to work on, at least. It seems that some labs didn't really know what to do with the random Americans they had in lab and people have been shuffled around and have not been given any tasks that yielded a product they could call their own. Which sucks. I hope I can get most of my reactions done in the time I have, but I am pretty sure that if we run out of PE or EtOAc any time soon I am not sure how I will be spending my time since I havn't gotten a chance to talk about it with my grad student. We didn't get much done this past week because he had a presentation to give during our Friday night lab meeting (our last one, thank goodness... The professors have asked the students to give al of their presentations in English while we are here, and it gives us pangs of guilt every time because we know how hard it is for them, and the professors are so hard on them). He was preparing during the afternoons, so I was left to run reactions on my own (that damn step 4 needs to be repeated over and over again because the yield is low).

We had a lab lunch on Wednesday to celebrate the graduation of 3 students in the lab. We went to a really nice hot pot restaurant - lots of meat, but they did pretty well with keeping the veggies at my end of the table :) It was the first social event my lab has had together since I arrived... I feel like most other labs have taken their respective Americans out to dinner or KTV a few times, but this was a rare treat for Xu and me. It was nice to get to talk to people in a setting outside the chemistry building. After the lab shuts down, apparently, we will be going on a 3 or 4 day trip (not at our own expense, I believe) with most members of our lab group, so I am really excited about that.

Zhaleh and I had an awesome day yesterday. We woke up on our own time - no alarms :) We took our time in the morning and we off to go shopping at around 11. We hopped in a cab with Spencer, and went over to the clothing market by Wudaokou. It was a quick trip, much closer than the markets we had been to earlier in the summer. I had gone with Justin the day before and I thought it was great. It was the most fun I've had shopping since I've been here... I would totally recommend this market, as long as you don't mind endless rows of girls clothing. I don't think Spencer quite knew what he was getting himself into as far as that goes - He was ready to go and Zhaleh and I had only gone to 5 booths. He ended up taking off before we did, and we were there for a total of about 4 hours. After all that, we came home and got noodles from downstairs and watched Gossip Girl - the perfect ending to a nice, long day of shopping :) And last night we got all of us together! Justin is leaving tomorrow :( so everyone came and hung out in our room for a bit before we went out dancing... I think we all had a lot of fun, I wish we would do that more often. All in all, great day.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Morning thoughts

Things I enjoy: International cities, espresso, and organic chemistry.

I just took a walk to get coffee and back down by the mall. I am still not sure if I will ever get used to being gawked at when I walk through the city... It is so strange to be a 'foreigner,' when no one is shy to stare at you to the point where they have to turn their head to continue to look (I suppose I was asking for it by rendering myself a stereotype, as I was carrying a Starbucks cup with me, haha). Besides that, I am much more comfortable in Beijing now. Using public transportation and taxis isn't nearly as intimidating as it used to be, and I'm more confident in being able to tell people where I need to go. I am pretty good at recognizing what direction I need to be going as well, which is good considering the likelyhood of a taxi driver trying to rip off an American by driving in circles :) I really like the city, but I wish we were able to explore more... It's been raining a lot and I havn't gotten to wander around and discover stuff around the city like I have been hoping to. Zhaleh and I did find an ice rink in the basement of the huge mall down the street, and we convinced everyone to go skating last weekend. It was so much fun to have almost all of us together again, since we havn't been spending as much time as a large group lately. I think we are also trying to get a group together to take a weekend trip to the beach sometime soon, so we can finally see some blule skies...

Work has been going well over the past 3 weeks. I think the grad student I am workng with is starting to get more comfortable with having me around - he has started talking more and he gave me a high five the other day when we successfully completed a reaction that had failed the past 4 times (and failed the next 2 as well). I am working on an 8-step synthesis of a molecule (OPV-NH2, for short) that will serve as the long-chain portion of a rotaxane, but we seem to be stuck on step 4... We simply can't get all of the conditions perfectly suited for the Wittig reaction, or we mess up this or that along the way and we just havn't gotten enough product. Hopefully today (we started another try last night) when I run the column we will be able to get enough to move onto the next step. I'm really enjoying working in organic chemistry and it's awesome when a reaction completes the way you want it to (even when it fails, it's still pretty great), but all the waiting and refluxing and columns can be a little tiresome (especially when you are trying to purify the same product everyday and it's not even there... eesh). My hours havn't been as I expected them, which I'm glad about as well. I'm being efficient during the time I am at work, and I've been able to keep the usual 9.00-5.30 or 6.00 hours while still getting my reactions done.

All for now - back to work :)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

while I have a moment....


These past 2 weeks have been a whirl-wind of language, culture, new people, new places, exhaustion, excitement, pictures, food... blogging seemed to be pushed to the back of my mind. Although it has all been a bit overwhelming, I can't imagine a better introduction to my summer in China than what this exchange program has provided us with.

When we arrived, we were hustled into our apartments and swept away the next morning to begin our adventures through Beijing. During the first week, we managed to visit the Forbidden City, Tienanmen Square, a Pearl Market, and a few other must-sees around the city. The second week was geared more toward learning our way around and getting aquainted with the people in the lab we would be working with, but we were still able to fit in some fun activities. We attended the Peking Opera and a teahouse performance, both very different than anything I would've been able to see in the US, and certainly worth seeing. It was awesome to be able to see all of the rich history that is present in the area, and to hear stories about the buildings and people that are a part of it. I am thankful Dr. Coppola has managed to put together the photo diary on the program website since my camera stopped working after only a couple days. Needless to say it was hard to find to keep track of everything on here.... it seemed that every night when we got home, Zhaleh and I were so exhausted we fell right asleep.

Amidst all of the tourism and Chinese food, we were also attending language classes with Liu Nian and culture lessons about various aspects of Chinese culture and history. Learning the language has proven to be very difficult for all of the students (including myself) who have never had any instruction before. I felt like I would never be able to fend for myself in the city for a while. Nian was an awesome teacher though, and at this point I think most of us could get ourselves farther than we would guess. Now that we are being sent out on our own more, we are being put in situations where it is not an option to lean on our teachers or group leaders, and we have to use whatever vocabulary we have to get around. I am becoming much more confident, but I'm also really glad the Dr. Coppola, Liu Nian, and Julia have been so willing to help through the whole process. By making us use the public transportation as a group, we learned much quicker than if we had been shown a map. I'm also really proud of myself when I am able to understand when someone speaks... even though I can usually only pick out a couple words or phrases, it's really exciting :)

I can't forget the reason I'm actually here, which is chemistry. I met my mentor, Professor Jian Pei, briefly a couple times the first week. He seems to be an especially busy man, but I suppose that is to be expected. It was interesting to learn what his research group is working on and meet a few of the grad students who work for him. I'm working in the same lab as Xu, so we will be spending a lot of time together this summer. We had lunch with some students at the campus cafeteria a couple times, and they aren't very confident in their English so they are more inclined to speak to Xu in Chinese. It frustrates both of us a bit, but I think as we spend more time with them they won't expect him to translate for me as much. Most of the students seem interested in improving their English by speaking with us, so hopefully communication will become easier as we work together. Today was our second day of work and we were finally seperated and placed with two different grad students. I also found out what my working hours for the summer will be: 9am-9pm, Mon-Sat. It is a little bit intimidating to work so many hours, but I suppose research knows few time limits and we only have a short amount of time in China so we need to make the most of it. Once I was able to have my hands in an experiment, I realized that the guy I am working with (Eric is his English name) is able to speak much better than he thinks he can, and when he had to explain the reactions to me I was able to understand easily. There were a few terms he asked me to help him with, but I am a lot more confident than I was when I started about the communication barriers. Eric spent some time explaining (and doodling) his research goals for Xu and me on our first day and it sounds very interesting. He is working with molecules that will theoretically be useful for OLED technology, and a couple people from the lab have sent me literature to read so I can understand the research that has been done already and hopefully be able to contribute to what is happening now.

I'm so greatful for all the work that has been put into this program for all of us, and I'm so happy I decided to participate. In only 2 weeks I have learned about so much that I may have never had an opportunity to experience, and in the next 8 weeks I can only imagine how much more I'll be able to gain from being here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Almost Ready...

I am so excited to be leaving... I am looking forward to being in a new country where I can be immersed in the new language and culture. The group we have going is probably great as it could be - we all get along really well with each other and I feel like we will have an awesome time together once we arrive in Beijing. I am also very interested to meet my mentor and learn about the project I will be working on in the lab. I have read some of his articles, but I am not sure what specific things I will be participating in and I think it will be awesome to meet all the people I will be working with.

I am a little worried that the language barrier will become stressful after those first two weeks of traveling with everyone is over and we are on our own. I think it will be fun to try and practice Chinese as much as possible, but it won't be easy by any stretch of the imagination.

I am extremely glad that I decided to apply for this program. I feel like I have been given a great opportunity to explore both my curiosity about other cultures and parts of the world and the possibilities of my education in chemistry. I looked at a few other programs within the United States, but being able to work in a foreign setting sounded so much more rewarding. And how many chemistry majors can say they've participated in a research project in China? Not very many. This program just really stood out amongst all the other opportunities I came across.

Getting to meet everyone here in Ann Arbor has done a lot to help calm my nerves about the trip. Any anxiety I was feeling on Sunday has been complemented by all the feelings everyone else has, and I think we have bonded fairly well in the past four days. The pre-trip period was necessary for everyone to feel more comfortable about the program, and even though we had a lot of down-time (during which most of us spent our time watching TV online), it was time well spent getting to know each other. I think now that the awkward stuff is out of the way we will be able to focus on having fun once we arrive.