Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Seee yay TAS

I have just left Tas and it has been amazing. I really did enjoy myself and would really be happy to go back if given the opportunity. I just arrived home and was like why did I leave TAS's stress free environment. But anyway I will be at Emory tomorrow taking care of a few things for Singapore. See you guys soon.

Wow time flies

So, I didn't realize how long it had been since my last blog post until I checked LL to see some threatening emails from Leah.  I've just been so into Barcelona the past few weeks I forgot all about it.  Things have been wonderful.  My girlfriend, Natalie, has been in town for since the 9th  and will be here until I leave.  I've saved most of the cultural stuff for her visit and we've made a whirlwind of it.  The first thing we did was to travel to Pamplona to run with the bulls.  Well, I ran with the bulls.  It was probably the single most terrifying thing I've done and one of the poorer decisions I've made, but also the biggest adrenaline rush EVER!  Those things are big and can run really fast.  I looked over my shoulder and they were several hundred feet behind me, about 10 seconds later I checked again and they were about 50 feet back.  I ducked into a store front and watched them go by.  
We've also done most of what Barcelona has to offer.  We've done bus tours, the Picasso Museum, Sagrada Familia, the Aquarium (the biggest in the Med and still nothing compared to Chatt or ATL), toured the FCB stadium and museum, and strolled along La Rambla in the evenings.  My personal favorite has to be Montjuic.  Its a mountain at the south end of the city that has a fort on the top with amazing views of the city.  In addition to the fort, there's the Olympic Stadium and Olympic Museum, along with gardens and art museums.  Last weekend we went to L'Estartit, a city about 2 hours north of Barcelona on the ocean for some diving.  Its a nice beach town that hasn't been overdeveloped like the entirety of the US coastline and there is a protected marine sanctuary called Illes Medes.  The diving was wonderful and there was plenty to see, though I am still waiting on my turn on the Great Barrier Reef.  There were a ton of grouper, some eels, and an octopus, which my buddy tried to pet.
One very Barcelonian thing I did experience which I would have rather not is the plethora of pickpockets.  I had already thwarted one attempt, but the thieves were more successful the second time.  As I was getting on the Metro, someone tried to cut in front of me to use my swipe to get on.  As I was arguing with him, his buddy took my wallet.  I realized it about 1o seconds later, but they were already gone.  They got my driver's license, insurance card, debit and credit cards, and 30 euros, but I'm most pissed about the wallet.  I really liked it.  Thankfully, I brought a second debit card that I wasn't carrying so I can still get money out, but it's still inconvenient, especially because now I have to carry my passport since it's my only form of ID if I try to use my card.  Another lucky note is I had considered going to the ATM just before I was robbed, thankfully I didn't.
While I am in love with this city, I am ready to come home.  I've been craving Chickfila for a couple weeks and won't be satisfied until I stuff myself with chicken biscuits.  I've never really thought of myself as a homebody but then again I've never been so far away for so long.  Great.  Now I'm starving with all this talk of food right before lunch.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Making the Most of It

The Truth: Canada isn’t full of action-packed, culturally astounding, life-changing experiences. Much of my blogs were about everyday, simple occurrences & observations. But sometimes, it’s these smallest occurrences that can have the greatest impact on one’s life. For example, the Howard Hughes lab that employed me was linked to the general hospital. The 2 buildings shared a main floor. That was what bothered me the most about my Howard Hughes job. I could run to lab early, stay late, create Western blot perfection, be happy, and call it the most productive of days. But when I left work at the end of each day, I passed people who were terribly sick & suffering. All I could do for them was walk right by, maybe hold a door at the most. I felt like I could be doing more with the moment. So I took the next step in the path to making a difference in their lives, and began studying for the MCAT with some old flash cards I borrowed from a friend in lab. This summer, I learned that the wonders of modern science can be put to use in places beyond a 3x7 ft, raised black lab bench. I am excited that I will be spending the rest of the summer job shadowing an infectious disease clinic. Biomedical research of the future needs clinical practice now as a guide for the future inquiries, which will be used to improve clinical practice. I now think of clinical practice and biomedical research like the right and left hand of modern medicine. Progress can be made with one only, but the two together, working in unison, should be a standard in today’s world. This summer, I may not have had the privilege of learning a new language or seeing beautiful, exotic lands, but I used an open mind and open eyes and found a new motivation in my path to becoming a successful scientist.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

See ya Sydney

By now, my stay here in Australia is quickly coming to a bittersweet end. It is sad leaving me new mates and Sydney behind, but at the same time I’m really excited to be going to New Zealand. I’ll be leaving tomorrow and will be spending the next 4 weeks there doing volunteer work and site seeing. The past few days in lab have been pretty low key, so I’ve been taking the opportunity to relax a bit. Recently, I’ve been barrowing the surf board at my place and spending some time at the beaches. Also, the other day I went to go see Harry Potter at the Imax in 3D (it was amazing!).
In other news, I’ve got results!!! Considering that this is my 3rd lab job, but first time getting real concrete results, it feels really good to have completed something from start to finish. Our predictions came out close to what we expected, and I have successfully optimized a pertussis toxin treatment protocol for preventing the entry of T-cells into the lymph nodes. I gave a presentation on my findings to my lab last Friday, and now I’m just going through and organizing my data.
I’m not sure when I will have internet access again, but I wish everyone the best of luck with the remainder of their projects. See ya back in America! :)
-Ryan Mak

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A flowery new home

So I have been here for 10 weeks now and am starting to reach the end of my stay, however, things here have only been getting more and more interesting. After Nick left, I needed a new place to stay for the remainder of my stay due to a lack of room at my current location. Fortunately, I was able to find a free place to stay online in return for a few hours of work each week. What I didn’t anticipate was that I was moving in with what you might call modern day Australian hippies. I’ve been living with them for a week and a half now, and I would have to say that they are a very different, but also loving group of people. I am not sure where to start with describing this bunch, but perhaps what happened last Friday night might be a good start. So I was coming home from work like any other day and was looking forward to getting some rest except when I reached my house something was a little odd. All of the lights were turned off, the doors locked and nobody was home. I had no idea where everyone was at, but I let myself in, cooked some dinner and went to bed. The next day I woke up and still no one was home. Now I was really starting to think things were getting a bit strange, but I went ahead and started doing my chores for the day. This consisted of preparing and making organic tea for them to sale at market. Finally, at about noon my friend Robert, who lives at the house with us, showed up and told me that Paul, the person who runs and organizes the place, got arrested the previous for driving without a license and for not having our van registered and insured, which is a criminal offence in Australia. Later that evening, however, Paul was back at home on bail and with some interesting jail stories. When I asked him why he doesn’t have a driver’s license, he just replied, “now why would I want one of those for?” The three guys I’m living with are very distrustful of the government and prefer not to live according to the norms of society. They have some different ideas about how the world works, although I may not always agree with them, I find the alternative viewpoints interesting. For example, I had a lecture the other day about how the government uses vaccines to get rid of the non-productive members of society. I just smile and say “isn’t that interesting.” I’m not going to try to tell people what to believe. As far as drugs, I am sure that none of them has ever touched a cigarette, much less anything more dangerous. They are very into healthy and natural living and they are all vegetarians or vegans. I really enjoy living with them, and I look forward to more evening chats with the guys when I get home from work. It most certainly keeps life interesting.


I just got back from camping with some friends from lab & their friends. SIX of us were to leave the city around the same time Friday-- 3 of us from one end and 3 from the other end. In my car were 2 other people who had never been camping before. We were relying on the other car, full of experienced campers with tents, sleeping bags, & other essential camping gear. It was nearing sunset as the 3 of us had reached the last mountain town before the campsite, when we get a frightening text message from the experienced car: “Engine trouble- will try to make it there before morning.” So there we were, at sunset, in our little 4-door sedan, dashboard reading 8˚C, with nothing but a cooler of drinks and the clothes on our backs! I thanked divine intervention when my friend found matches in her purse. With some firewood from the nearby town, and some careful strategizing, we were able to start a fire and last until the other car finally made it around 1:30am.

But the night doesn’t end there…. My tentmate & I (both new to camping), grabbed our tent & air mattress and fell immediately asleep, only to awaken about an hour later, lying on a completely flat, cold piece of rubber. Apparently, our brand-new mattress had acquired a brand-new hole and deflated within an hour of camping! I spent the rest of the night tossing and turning on nothing but the cold, hard, mountain rock & deflated rubber mattress.

This left my body in perfect shape for the morning hike, down to the falls. I would look down at some points and see nothing but a vertical drop. I was terrified, plastered to the side of the slope, and walking with my hands & feet to avoid falling. There was no guide, no safety waver, only me and the experienced climbers. When we finally reached the bottom of the falls (& took gorgeous pics.), I thought crossing the river would be a breeze. It was more like a hurricane! This water was even colder than the lake last week! The current was fast & the rocks were ideal for stepping—sharp, wet & slippery. I was half way through when the water had reached my upper thigh. After letting out a scream, I used all my runner’s strength to make it to the hands waiting for me on the other side.

The climb back up to camp was much easier, and I decided to take it easy from here on out. We patched up the mattress with chewed gum, needles, and tin foil. As my body slowly recovers, I leave you with some advice: no matter how far research takes you, NEVER underestimate to power of Mother Nature.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Double the trouble

Hey everyone! For the past week Nick and I have been hitting up the sites here in Sydney. Wednesday was my 21st birthday, but I think we’ve been successfully celebrating it for almost a full week now. Wednesday, my lab took me out to eat, and then I went city site seeing with Nick. Thursday, we went on a day long surf trip and spent the evening at Kings Cross. Friday-whale watching, China town, and Darling harbor. Saturday- Bondi junction/beach. Sunday-a tour of the opera house and Olympic park. It’s Monday now, but I don’t think we’ll have any problems finding stuff to do before Nick has to leave on Thursday. Sydney tends to always be an eventful place, even during the weekdays. I have to run for now…
Take care

Saturday, July 11, 2009

"Just from Georgia"

Hi Guys,
When I started this job, I was given a peroxisomal membrane protein and 3 cell-signaling kinases that might be involved in it's phosphorylation (or event that turns a protein "on" or "off.") After a tiresome, 8-week battle with gene expression control and unpredictable cell metabolic rates, I think I have in my hands the preliminary evidence for the correct kinase, out of the 3 I was assigned to investigate. After repeating the experiment from start to finish this week, my boss agrees with me! I will spend my last week viewing the knock-out, organelle-fluorescing strain under the confocal microscope to see what else I find.
I celebrated with cocktails, then clubbing, and a trip to a serene, crystal blue lake with some friends from lab. It was excellent, until they threw me into the lake just to see my reaction. That water was the coldest I've ever felt in my life! Nobody else seemed to be bothered by it, though. Little kids were playing in it with no problem. I was kicking and screaming and causing a scene. People around us were asking if I was ok. "It's nothing, she's just from Georgia." my friends would reply. Keep up the great times and the great work, everyone! And try not to fall asleep within throwing distance from a glacial lake.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Famous In Tasmania

Hello guys, I am here in lab typing up this blog so if there are words that are spelled incorrectly blame it on the English way of spelling… I am using an apple and I don’t know how to work these things and therefore don’t know how to change the language to US English. LOL. But any way… Back to my Jamaican Vietnamese (not Korean, my mistake) friend. So this his how it all began. I came into work and it was just another regular day. My supervisor told me that we would be having students and administrators visiting the lab to take a look at it and so forth. Not quiet sure why they came but I guess that is not important. Anyway, while they were here, I have never seen people take so many pictures and videotape random things in my life. It is quiet funny. My supervisor would say oh this is a mixture of … I don’t know lets say a cell infected by malaria; all of a sudden you would see flashes everywhere (Now mind you there is nothing special about a cell infected with malaria unless you knew what to look for). What is even more hilarious is when my supervisor introduced me to them. I felt like I was being attacked by the poperotsy. I am not sure what it was but it became a frenzy in here no exaggeration... especially when I started to smile. (My white teeth just had them going crazy LOL). While most would be shy, I took the opportunity to embrace the photo shoot and my moment the limelight so to speak. (It was great… never had so many people taking pictures of me simultaneously. God knows where those picture will end up).
So back tot the Jamaican thing… All that was stated previously has a point. So the only black guy in the group amongst all the Asians came up to me after the frenzy was over and said that he would like me to pose so that he can get some proper pictures of me looking like I was working on lab stuff. Felt kind of awkward but I said ok. After the (photo shoot was over LOL) he asked me for my details so that he can send me a copy of the pictures and so forth… He then asked where I was from and I said America but I was born in Jamaica. Now have u ever had that feeling where you have been all alone in a place and you finally meet someone that has something in common with you… Well that is the feeling I had. He said he was from Jamaica too but here is what gets even more weird. He lives in Vietnam but he has a southern (Augusta accent). I didn’t even bother to ask. I just laughed to my self… So that was the story of my long lost Jamaican brother and my moment of fame with the poperotsy.
This Wednesday, I will finally be going to Sydney to hang out with Ryan and hopefully go to the Great Barrier Reef if I can afford it. Any way got to go tend to me parasites they are hungry and need to be fed.

All’s wells down under

For the last few weeks, I have been spending a lot of time in lab. I am almost a completely independent worker by now which has many advantages to it. I don’t have to rely on anyone else to help out on any lab techniques and can come in when I like, which is nice because my lab is a very laid back place with people coming and going in no predictable manner. I am also getting results as well :). From what I can tell from right now, the findings are close to what we expected, but I still have a lot of experiments to run through and data to analyze before the end.
Outside of lab, I have been spending my weekends going to national parks and beaches around Sydney. Last weekend, I went to the Blue Mountains which is basically the Australian equivalent to our Grand Cannon. The mountains were breathtaking, and I had a great day hiking through the bush with my new friend, Remy who is from Switzerland. The weekend before that, we went to Ku-ring-gia Chase National park and had a great time even though we ended up getting lost after the sun went down (we made it through alive however :). This weekend, I am planning on going to the Royal National park where I hear you can see whales from the shore line this time of year. I have other things to look forward to next week as well. On Wednesday (July 8th) is my 21st birthday :) and Nick is coming up from Tasmania to see Sydney; should be tons of fun :)
-Ryan Mak

Saturday, June 27, 2009

It's a Zoo in Here- and there!

While Nick gets to tour Tasmanian National Park, I’ve concluded that I live in the Canadian Zoo. I, too, have had food taken from me against my will. I was sipping coffee in an empty lounge in my dorm building, with my laptop and a grocery bag that contained laundry detergent and apples. I suddenly had to use the restroom, so I took with me the laptop (my life in a white notebook) and the detergent (it’s a college dorm, and I’m not an idiot). I thought the lukewarm, black coffee and $3 bag of apples could withstand my brief departure, but brace yourself. I returned two minutes later to find a girl walking happily out of the lounge, carrying a bag of apples in one hand and enjoying a delicious red apple in the other. When I confronted her, she turned the color of the apple claimed to be taking the misplaced goods to the “lost and found.” Do you eat the stuff you take to the lost and found? It must be a Canadian thing. I thought life in a college dorm would be quiet during the summer, but I could not have been more wrong. Not only is this a dorm, but it is also a conference center with restaurants, auditoriums, and a music hall. Groups from around the world come to Canada for the most random reasons. In my first week, there was an International Lifeguards Conference in my building. The Ireland team was so bored one night that they had a dance contest on the pool table! It was an interesting sight, for the middle of Canada. Last week, I was walking to lab early one morning and was taken over by the sound of bagpipes coming from a conference room. It turns out my building is also home to a summer bag piping camp for youths.

Lab is going well. I’ve sequenced the important sections of all 4 of the plasmids that I’m working with, but getting the yeast to overexpress the kinase genes on the plasmids has been a challenge. They are a rather moody organism to work with, either overgrowing or dying every time we try to induce expression. My favorite part of my job is using the confocal microscope to see the fluorescent-tagged organelles in the dividing cells. One of my samples got contaminated with bacteria, but it made for an interesting viewing. I got to view live phagocytosis of a yeast cell by the bacterium! It would have been a Kodak moment, but the anonymous bacterium was not fluorescent tagged, thus could not be imaged.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Naked old guys and more

So the past two weeks have been pretty uneventful.  That's not to say that I haven't done a lot or had fun, just not much really exciting or out of the ordinary.  It's hard to believe I've been here almost four weeks.  Barcelona is still wonderful.  I never know what will be around the next corner.  For example, on Sunday I went out to a street cafe to have some tapas while working on my SIRE grant application (shameless brown nosing).  I look up from my typing to see a naked older man walking down the street.  He wasn't streaking like a dumb Amercian, he was just out for a stroll smoking a cigarette.   I was confused at first and I stared for several
seconds trying to figure out if he was just in a flesh colored suit, but alas, no.  I mentioned it to my co-workers and they told me he used to be out all the time until he got arrested after some complaints. I guess he got paroled.

Lab is going quite well, albeit my progress seems to be quite slow.  Down time is quite rare as there always seems to be something to do.  My photochemical reaction is going well.  The first time it took a week for results, but by adding an oxidant, we've cut that time in half.  The problem is the time it takes to make the substrate.  For example, to get the asymmetric substrate for the reaction takes 30 days, because the chiral PKR takes 20-25 days itself.  I may be able to develop some methodology for a future student to work on, but there is no way for me to finish this project. The coolest part is that my compounds are UV active. Holy Fluorescing flasks!
I guess now it's two weekends ago I went to Montserrat.  It's a mountain with a medieval monastery about halfway up.  It is rumored that St. John (I think) hid in a cave on the mountain after the death of Jesus.  However, my favorite factoid about the mountain is that rosemary grows wild and there are places where there is so much you can smell it.  After an hour train ride out of the city, I took a cable car to the monastery.  It's a really nice, though small area.  Only the basilica of the monastery is open to the public, so I looked around and hung out to hear the boy's choir, which sings Ave Maria every day at 1pm.  However, they took that day off.  I walked outside and bought some honey and cheese from a little market comparable to the Emory sustainable overpriced market (I don't think that's the exact name, but you get the picture).  I then set off on a hike that kicked my butt.  I had forgotten how out of shape I am.  However, the views of the countryside were spectacular.  I had a picnic and came back down.  I wanted to go up the other side, and thank goodness there was a tram. After my fill of views and pictures I came back to Barcelona.
As if that wasn't enough for one day, I went out to a music festival with some friends from lab.  I thought it was going to be alt rock, but turned out to be anarchist punk rock.  Definately an interesting experience.  I didn't understand any of the music because it was all in Catalan (they favor independence).  My friend pointed out to me that if we had been there only 30 years ago, during the Franco dictatorship, we would have all be arrested and jailed, possibly disappeared.  However, since I'm American, he told me I probably would have just been deported.  I guess it has its advantages from time to time.

This week is going to be a lot of fun.  Tonight begins San Juan.  Its a summer solstice festival in memory of John the Baptist.  It's traditional to go for a swim in the ocean to wash away one's sins and for couples to jump over bonfires seven times to make their love last.  I think the whole bonfire thing sounds a little extreme considering that any festival in Spain is accompanied by copious amount of adult beverages.  In addition to random bonfires throughout the city there are also fireworks shows and everyone sets off firecrackers and bottle rockets.  The party lasts all night and it is traditional to watch the sunrise from the beach.  Sounds like my kind of party.  The actual holiday is tomorrow, kind of like New Year's day is designed for recovery for New Year's Eve.

Once I've recovered, I head Thursday to London for a long weekend for Natalie.  I think we're going out to Oxford on Friday so I can have lunch at my favorite pub from my study abroad.  The weekend will be spent wondering around London. I'm so excited! 

Friday, June 19, 2009

Wallabees... Really Cool Animals

Hey guys, I went to a national park on Tuesday. Boy was it an adventure… thought I was not going to make it out alive. I definitely did things I would never have done if I were in the US. So my amazing day began on top of Mount Wellington… boy was that a spectacular view. After going up the mountain for a spectacular view, I began my road trip for 4 hours to the Tasmanian National Park…. On the way there… no exaggeration, we (well not me because I refuse to drive here) killed about 4 possums (not opossums they are different here). Apparently they are a nuisance to people here so they take pride in killing them any chance they get… They look a lot like supersized squirrels. When I got to the park we did a ten mile hike through the park, total. However, what we forgot while hiking was that the sun here sets at like 3:30 which is really, really weird… at least for me. So on our way back night fell. We had no flash light or anything. Now we had a ten 5 mile hike back in the dark. In TAZI, night time is when all the deadly creatures come out. Snakes, blood drinking spiders, kangaroos… Now the first thing that cross my mind was, were there any signs that said DANGER do no walk at night. Scared shitless, we began our hike back… being the American that I am, the first thing I did was pull out my cell phone to see if we could get some assistance back… When I looked down at my phone, to my astonishment there is no service. Now mind you, you might say that that was dumb of me but it was the best thing I could have done… At that point it had crossed none of our minds to use our cell phone as a source of light but boy where they thanking me for being the great American I am for being so dependent on my cell phone. Anyway after fighting off a few deadly snakes and dingoes; along with escaping the vicious kick of a kangaroo, we made it out alive and I left with a new name… Nick Dundee. Boy was that a day.
On a better note, wallabies are nice animals… they come up to you and don’t attack you. They however are thieves. They only come to you for food and if you don’t give it to them they jump and try to snatch it out of your hand. I just ended up giving it my food… I don’t think I was suppose to do that but oh well.

Monday, June 15, 2009

My Commenting Blog

Since the "comment" function on my browser doesn't like to cooperate with me, and to show the "altruistic spirit of Canada," I have dedicated this blog to talking to you guys (and because I miss you all, too!) Alex, I have had my share of Idiot Days in the past month, as well. I even broke glass twice in one day. I'm sure your Spanish will be superb in no time. What better place to learn Spanish than where you are right now? Mac, tell me more about the animals you found in Cairns! And stop complaining about 65˚. Nick, is it cold in TAZI? It is interesting that nobody goes on the road after 11. Here, the sun is just starting to set at 11. I should get back to work now, bye!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

ONLY in Canada

Hey Guys,
I am also sorry for not posting in a long time. Nick, that is quite funny that you met a Jamacian all the way down in Tasmania! Things in the lab are really taking off! I've already repeated a phosphorylation experiment twice, which indicated that our protein of interest in the cell signaling pathway DOES get phosporylated by SOMETHING. But what?? I've overexpressed the suspected kinases, including both a negative and positive control. The only problem was that the blank, negative control showed more change than the samples that had the overexpressed kinase!! The positive control showed nothing due to an extremely problematic air bubble:( So now I'm thinking, could the kinase have some sort of inhibiting control or were mislabeled tubes the culprit? I will not know until I finish overexpressing the kinases again. The gel that shows all will be ready for transfer in an hour--wish me luck!
Outside of the lab, it is FINALLY spring time here! It's Canada, so I don't have too many exotic, crazy stories to share like the rest of you. But life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to what happens. To be honest, that 1st 10% of getting placed in Canada was a pretty big upset, I'm not going to lie. However, Im doing the most I can to make the most I can out of the other 90%.
I visited the West Edmonton Mall last weekend. I hate malls, I'm not a shopper. But this place was something else & totally not like other things you find in Canada. They have this giant, indoor waterpark complete with a wave-action pool, tiki-bar, & water slides. (the slide I ended up trying was more like a vertical chute, but whatever) It was strange, running through a water park in the middle of a shopping mall. It was kind of like being in a snowglobe. People on the 2nd floor shops can look down & see all these little people enjoying a mini-paradise, in a mall. ONLY in Canada! More of this 90% later. Live it up, guys!


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I am Alive

Hello guys sorry for not posting in such a long time… I have been really busy in lab and when I am home. Currently in my lab we are having trouble with the flow cytometer so instead of working on my experiment that requires the use of the flow cytometer… I am performing trial runs to try and optimise the flow cytometer’s results. That has been a real pain being that we have been trying to get accurate results from it for the past 2 weeks. It seems as though what we are trying to use it for is a bit more complex than what it can handle. I will be getting my new result soon and hopefully I can start working on what I was originally suppose to do.
I have been studying for my MCAT as usual but I would not say that I have been looked away in my room doing that all the time. I have not been any were spectacular as of yet because I am saving all my trips for closer to the end… Ryan and I are planning to get together very soon to do some fun things. Side note! I did how ever get the worst haircut I have ever gotten in my life… For lack of a better description… I look like I am on Chemotherapy. It is all-good though… It is only hair; it will grow back.
To be honest Tazi, as they call it is a very quite unique place… it reminds me of one big retirement home lol. A lot of elderly people and college students. Everything closes early and no one is on the road after 11… I like it though the serenity gives me time to reflect. It kinda reminds me of Oxford… for those of you who knows what that is like. But I promise… my post will get more exciting as I make my way over to Sydney… Not the ass of Australia as they call TAZI. (That is the running joke here… I nearly died laughing when I first heard it). Oh I almost forgot… I met a Jamaican in my lab yesterday… what are the odds of that… he is from Korea. How this happen will be part of my next post.

The research is taking away from my experience

Spain is still amazing and I'm finally acclimated to being in a much different culture.  I have to admit it was very hard for the first week, but now I'm having a great time.  I'm eating at 9 or 10 at night and taking an afternoon siesta.  I'm not sleeping, but do go home for a little break or shopping or something.  My Spanish is slowly improving.  Everyone tells me it's good, but I can't see it.  I usually sit around blankly while anyone is talking around me.
Lab is going well, thought I never seem to leave.  I have run several reactions, and just started my critical transformation last night, which runs for three days.  Since my graduate student doesn't want me to do anything else until we make sure that the photochemistry works, I'm going to try to ask for tomorrow off.  I have to say my favorite part of the lab is the auto column machine.  This device takes what had been a 3 hour hell into a 30 minute process.  It has a UV detector and only collects solvent with compound in it.  When you are done, you print out a list of what compounds are in what tubes.  Wonderful invention.  I'm stealing it.  
Yesterday was "Alex is an idiot day." That's an annual event that occurs shortly after I join a new lab where I make everyone think that I'm a moron and spend the next month trying to disprove that.  Within ten minutes, I broke a flask with an advanced intermediate (luckily I was able to save it) and made a nitrogen ballon explode.  Also, I showed a general inability to use a balance.  I'm pretty sure it's supposed to weigh more when full than empty.  However, I did manage to keep the palladium on carbon from burning, which seemed to be the only right thing I did.
I had a great weekend.  I went out Friday night with some people from lab and went to several different bars.  Until then I had only gone to English pubs.  Saturday night was spent with the "Jew Safari" as Yoni calls it.  I had dinner with the Sefardic Study aboard program and then went out to a pub with Yoni.  As Ryan noted, it is always great to see someone you know while overseas.  Sunday afternoon was spent at the beach with my roommates.  We went an hour north of the city.  The view was great and the beach was nice too.  I'm planning to be a tourist this weekend and thinking about some diving or maybe a day trip to Montserrat (not the island).  It is a monastery on top of a mountain that is supposed to have great hiking.  I have to go buy a card reader because I forgot my camera cord, but be looking for pictures to be forthcoming as well.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Going North never felt so Hot…

So after 2.5 weeks of hard labor in my lab, I decided to take a little vacation while on vacation. As an avid diver, I could not miss the opportunity to go diving on the Great Barrier Reef, so I booked a flight for a 3 day weekend in Cairns, Queensland. The diving was excellent, the food amazing, the weather perfect. After my day of diving, I also visited the Cairns zoo and got to wonder around with some wonderful wallabies. The last day of my trip there, I went on a rainforest tour which, for me, was a photographer’s paradise. I went quite trigger-happy with my camera shooting everyone and everything in sight. Nothing was spared. I am back in Sydney now, and even though the average high here is 65 instead of 85 degrees, I guess I’ll have to make do. Otherwise, everything in lab is going well, and I am making progress on my project. Hope everyone is doing well at home.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Who thought Spain could be boring sometimes

The weekend was pretty slow.  I went downtown several times to La Rambla, almost getting pickpocketed once.  I looked for apartments and found one that I like.  It's on a main subway line and I thought it was a quiet place until someone started clapping, screaming, and barking like a dog at 6:45 this morning.  My roommates are nice but speak no English.  I figured out how to get the TV to be in English for US shows which made it somewhat better.  On Saturday, I had dinner at Dr. Riera's house which was quite fun.  Today is my first real day of work since yesterday was a holiday.  That's about it.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Waiting to get the DEVIL out my life so that I can truly enjoy Australia

Hey guys, sorry I have not posted
Nothing exciting is occurring at the moment or has occurred for the last couple of weeks. I have been going to lab by day and MCAT studying by night. So as soon as I can get this “devil” out of my life I will be able to enjoy Australia a little more. The lab is great. The people are very nice but I have not met Simon… the “big dog” or the HHMI investigator as of yet. He is apparently really big here. He’s on TV all the time. Like I said everything is going well and I am making big plans as soon as the test is over.

Children Under Five Should be Drugged to Fly

My journey began at 6:25 am to catch an 11:45 flight.  Already tired and grumpy, I got to spend 1.5 hours sitting on the tarmac in Atlanta because Newark had fog.  Thank goodness for a planned 5 hour layover.  An inconvenience was turned into annoyance by the 4 year old behind who thought my chair made a good soccer ball.  Once his mother noticed that I was getting pissed, she tried to control him but to no avail.  I even offered her Benadryl, but whatever.....  

Now that my rant is over, on to Barcelona.

What I have seen of the city is very nice.  The university area is well maintained with good shopping.  There is a five story department store 3 blocks away with all of the fancy European brands and other shops along the street.  Although it is not in the heart of the city, the university is right on the main street of Barcelona, called Diagonal, which runs... you guessed it... diagonally through the city.  This is nice in that it is convenient for getting around, but crossing the street can be quite epic as red lights are only suggestions.  Maybe Georgia should send all its dismantled red light cameras here.  The university is also a block from Camp Nou, the Barcelona soccer stadium. While I was trying to fall asleep last night I heard loud noises and looked out my window to see fireworks celebrating the team's arrival back from Rome. While it was really cool, it was also 11 pm and I had been up for 35 hours.

The lab itself is very modern.  The building is less than 10 years old and has everything I could ever need.  There is no bench space so all work must be done in the hood, which is safer, but moderately inconvenient.  The solvents are kegged and tapped and the chemical disposal is bordering on obsessive-compulsive.  In other words... this lab is the EPA's dream come true. The instrumentation is also state of the art.  The building has an aluminum room that houses an 800 MHz NMR (for comparison, Emory's biggest is 600 and the current record is 1000). The NMR machines have auto-samplers so that all the user has to do is walk downstairs, put their tube in and select a scan.  The results are then emailed.  I start work next Tuesday, as Monday is a holiday and no one is coming in.  When they told me that I was confused at first since chemistry grad students at Emory work most Saturdays, holidays, and even some Sundays.  I don't even think they work Saturdays here.

This weekend will be spent looking for an apartment and touring the city.  I might go on a dive as well.  Look for another post some time early next week.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

"International" After All

It turns out some parts of Canada aren't as bad as they seem. I love this lab! It is huge & everyone is from a different country. After just a few weeks of training, I now know how to say "slow down," "hurry up," and "no, not that!" in 3 different languages. Canada is also much more environment-friendly compared to most parts of Atlanta. I was even charged extra at the grocery store for using plastic bags at checkout and not bringing my own, reusable ones!
To be "educated" also bears a different meaning up here. Some people treat me differently upon learning that I attend college and engage in scientific research. Their tone goes from welcoming to harsh and unaccepting. That's all for now, I better go check on my gel now.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Familiar faces in distance places

After 2 days of aimless wounding around Sydney, I was comforted by familiar sight: my friend from school, Ye Wang. I am thankful that even on the other side of the world, I can find a familiar face and much less a new home. I cannot complain about my new accommodation with his house located within a 5 min walk from the world famous Bondi Beach. With a walk up the cost line, I can easily see why Bondi is world famous (just check out my flickr photos).

Even the people I meet seem to be like old friends. On the first day of work, everyone in my lab extended an arm of gratitude and friendship as the newbie in the lab. My first week of work comprised of mostly lab training: Safety training, flow spectrometry training, animal handling training, potty training, lab techniques, ect., ect. Now that all of this is done, I am happy to be starting on my actual project with testing the effects of pertussis toxin on T-cells. Also on a side note, my boss, Patrick Bertolino (he is the one in the pic with me), invited me to the 2009 Premier’s Awards for Outstanding Cancer banquet where I got to hear and personally meet Sir. Gustav Nossal. Nossal is one of the most celebrated and important immunology researchers in the world, and it was very cool getting a chance to meet him.

Friday, May 15, 2009

What country am I in again???

My first few days in Sydney were a very interesting adventure to say the least. When I arrived at hostel, apparently my booking was located in the very middle of what one might call the red light district of Sydney. I am excited to say that my first impression of Sydney was comprised of a myriad of adult entertainment shops, tattoo parlors, weird looking people, bars, and a lot of really nice strangers who liked offering me candy :). To make matters even more interesting, when I stepped into my hotel, I was ritually mobbed by an unofficial (and partially drunk) welcoming crew who were eager to take the prime chance opportunity to “mess with the new guy.” Did I also mention that my hotel was almost entirely composed of people from Great Britain? I was a little confused by this point of which country I had just arrived in, Amsterdam, Scotland, or Australia? After settling into my hostel, I decided to get busy with one of my favorite past times: getting lost in foreign places. Downtown Sydney for the most part is walker friendly placed, and after a 15 min stroll, I came across Hyde Park (Hyde Park Sydney…not Hyde Park London). This is a very nice section of Sydney, and I was relieved to find that other parts of the city were a little more “normal” (although I have yet to feel out of my niche). The city is also giving me plenty of opportunities to pursue my hobby in photography. I’ll be updating my flickr account regularly, and you can see all of my pictures from my trip here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ryanmak/sets/72157618137052944/

Thursday, May 14, 2009

10,000 miles and upside down...

After about 10,000 miles, 21.5 hours on an airplane, and +6 mounts of previous planning, I had finally arrived in Sydney, Australia. It is raining when my flight arrives at the airport, but I am happy to be here. It feels slightly strange also (maybe because of the jetlag or because everything is upside down on the bottom side of the world…lol). Never the less, I can tell from just a few hours here that I am going to love Australia, and I am excited to start my new adventure.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Blank Canvas- Week 1

Any traveler can enjoy a destination that looks like it’s part of a vivid canvas painting, mounted on the wall of some overpriced museum, squared off so that you can only see it from four feet away. It takes an unusually talented, open-minded being to appreciate the blank canvas that I was handed when I first landed in Edmonton, Canada. It is up to me to find paintbrushes, pallets, and artistry skills—the whole 9 yards. This canvas is not just for me to stair blankly at and perhaps snap a photo for a scrapbook waiting to collect dust. I’m no observer here, but the artist. This research job, this new, blank life, is mine to make paint and make beautiful.
5/8/09: People love to blame America for stereotyping everyone in the world. Well, news to the world—Americans get stereotyped, too!!! It’s big, it’s real, and it’s unavoidable. The first night I flew into Canada, my host family already had, waiting for me, a bowl of ready-made Easy Mac® with sugar-fruit juice and Keebler Elf® cookies on the table. Their fridge was freshly lined with processed drinks, sodas, and the most unappealing white sandwich bread ever artificially hydrogenated. After peering past this superfluous food layer (I mean that in more ways than one), I discovered Cantonese-style wontons, whole grain bread, vitamin juice, herbs and pretty much any vegetable, fruit or legume the fiber-god could think of that late at night. It looked like a Megan’s dream fridge. I felt like I was being terribly rude by refusing to eat the “Americanized” meal they crafted and just eating what they normally eat instead. I felt embarrassed that they had to GO OUT OF THEIR WAY to buy all that fatty, disgusting food JUST FOR ME.
5/10/09: Running has never before been such an empowering skill. Running is how I find the beauty that Canada has to offer. Only those who are really in shape, or terribly lost, can see these sites. Without running, Canada would be a boring, destitute place.

I'm Here

Hello guys, I am finally here and can finally use my electronics. It has definitely been a mission. I won’t be coming back to Australia for a very long time… unless there is a teleporting machine invented. (lol) What a long trip. It is very different here but in a good way. The only thing that is a little ridiculous here is the price of food. I paid like 9 dollars for Burger King in the airport but it was perfectly ok because I was ecstatic when I say that Burger King logo. Anyways I will be keeping you guys posted.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Hello all. I'm Alex. I'm 21 from the great state of Georgia. I will be spending my summer in Barcelona, Spain in the lab of Dr. Antoni Riera working on the photochemistry of Pauson-Khand adducts. When I'm not in the lab, I enjoy hanging out with friends and having fun. I work hard and play harder.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

I'm Blog'n!!


this is Ryan Mak, and this is my first of many amazing blogs to come :)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Up and Running

Well I am not quite sure what I am suppose to say for the first blog, but in any case hello everyone... I finally have this thing up and running.

Friday, March 27, 2009

First Blog Attempt

Hi everyone! Yay for learning how to contribute to a blog.