My day started with fresh baozi and doujiang (my favorite!). Then we rushed off to work. My internship is at the Model Animal Research Institute (MARC), which is the only major research animal depository in China. Luckily, my host mother is a technician in a lab there, so I can ride with her and from work. She doesn’t speak any English, and my Chinese is barely above that level, so our conversations are pretty limited, but it works.
The lab was pretty quiet when we arrived. The grad student I work with was preparing to present a paper at journal club, so I spent some time going over the article. Jessica invited me to her lab to help with something. It turned out to be extracting the brains from baby mice…Her grad student casually decapitated each one and showed us how to cut through first the skin and then the paper-thin skull to carefully remove the brain. I ruined the first one I tried, but Jessica was a natural! The brains will be thinly sliced and stained to check for the expression of certain genes.
Having never worked with animal models before, I was surprised by how much we have been allowed to try hands-on here. Northeastern requires hours of training and certification just to set foot in a lab, let alone do anything. The atmosphere is much more relaxed here. It’s great. After lunch Jessica, Alice, and I interviewed Dr. Gao, who is the founder of the institute and our host. He’s a very busy man, so we were lucky to get so much time with him. He shared a lot of background on MARC and insights on research in China with us. Did you know that China is number two in the world for number of scientific publications annually? I didn’t. Basic research in China is catching up to top nations like the US and Germany and even surpassing them in some areas.
At the end of the day, somebody cut up a watermelon and everybody pushed slices into each others’ hands. They had to mop up the floor afterward! I’ve probably had more watermelon this week than in the previous six months combined. During one of these watermelon sessions, I learned that it is called xigua, or “west melon” in Chinese, and that pumpkin is nangua, or “south melon”. Yes, pumpkins are melons here. I love it.
After work, I thought we were going home, when we drove up to and parked in front of a line of restaurants. As usual, I just went with it. My host mom found the one she was looking for, and when we went upstairs, I found my boss, his children, and two members of his lab. Apparently it was one of the member’s last day. I certainly hadn’t earned a place at this intimate gathering, so I felt pretty honored to be invited. The first dish looked like a giant mound of fried rice (as in 18 inches across). Suddenly, everyone started jabbing it and it caved in. It was actually an entire wok’s worth of burnt on rice. It was magical.
After dinner we went home and had more fried rice!