You walked into the tardi, like you were walkin’ onto a yacht… (Susan)

Yeah, so, we’re running out of tardi puns that make any logical sense.

The past week-and-a-half has been disappointing and boring. Oh no wait… that’s how the past week-and-a-half must have been for YOU, our Readers! Our deepest apologies that you’ve had to go so long without one of our blog posts! Here’s what we’ve been up to:

We visited the World Expo, and spent twelve hours bee-bopping from one pavilion to the next. In the USA Pavilion, Kobe Bryant himself wished us “ni hao!” So did Obama. We were warned about egregiously long lines, but we came prepared with “Stuff You Should Know” podcasts, the same sanity retention method that we use on our fourteen hour roadtrips to Canada. It worked swimmingly.

We took this!

We took this!

Our hosts purchased a sweet telescope, and we watched the moon for hours. You look at that bright, impossibly pockmarked orb and you think, man, that thing’s just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away. This is somewhat frustrating: why can’t we go there? But also inspiring, because well, maybe one day.

One world wonder down...

One world wonder down...

We trained to Beijing and took a day trip to the Great Wall of China. By happy happenstance and our usual unpreparedness, we ended up at a little-traveled section of the Wall. We climbed a mountain’s worth of the Wall, up to the highest lookout point, and the fact that we weren’t at the super-touristy section of the Wall meant that for long stretches of the hike, we had it all to ourselves. We became ancient Chinese warriors, scouring the misty mountainsides for Huns. Occasionally one of us would spot one (“Hun ho!!!”), and we would shout to our invisible comrades to light the warning fires. It’s hard to say whether we would have refrained from such antics had we not been alone.

I’ll let Kristin take it from here, but here’s a quick teaser: we’ve also been hard at work at the best blog post you will ever experience. Stay tuned!

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it’s your birthday, we gon’ tardi like it’s your birthday… (Kristin)

A conversation with Iris, employee of the Phoenix Hostel (our current home):
Iris: So… Have you found them yet?
Us: Found what?
Iris: The dead people!
Us: What?!
Iris: You know… The dead bodies… The ones you come to Shanghai to find….
…apparently it’s the common conception of those employed by the Phoenix that our lengthy trip to Shanghai is part of a pilgrimage to recover DEAD BODIES. As to how the Chinese rumor-weed produced and disseminated such a tall-tale, we can only speculate. Perhaps the cleaning staff mistook the aroma of decomposing lichen currently permeating our room (laboratory) for the stench of rotting corpses?? Maybe our initial attempt to explain that we’re here for “research” inadvertently got us pegged as the crime-scene-investigative types, next generation Horatio Caines?? Ni hao, CSI Shanghai.

On the contrary, on account of our culinary creativity of late, a series on the Food Network may be a more appropriate fit for us. Over the course of the past couple of weeks, we’ve proudly explored/perfected all possible permutations (yes, order of consumption matters)  and combinations of oatmeal, instant ramen, peanut butter, and cucumbers. Limiting our diets to these four food products was primarily a result of evaluating our expenses and remaining balances post traversing-half-of-Italy-and-eating-our-collective body-weight-in-gourmet-pizza-every-night. But some unexpected positive side effects have been that it helps us feel like we’re embracing our inner Buddhist monks through our minimalist dietary approach (gaining a better understanding of Buddhism was one of my goals for China), and that it’s instigated an obsessive new relationship between me and instant oatmeal. (Susan would disagree about the latter being labeled as “positive”; she thinks I talk about oatmeal too much. I just have a lot of feelings.)

But okay, I’m providing a really inaccurate portrayal of our lives here. When we’re with the lab, we live like teen royalty (I have a dwindling number of days to use the adjective “teen” as a personal descriptor… just trying to get my money’s worth). On our adventures with Markus and Selene, we’ve sampled top-notch Shanghainese, Sichuan, Taiwanese, Thai, and Japanese cuisine in their attempts to show us the best this city has to offer. Their hospitality has been pretty unbelievable and makes me want to eat a slice of humble pie (a la JSF) every time I’m with them. It also makes me look forward to the days in the far, far distant future when I’ll hopefully have the means and resources to host curious nerds (like Suz & I) traipsing the globe in the name of scientific exploration.

gnawing on some lamb


Selene making her first yellow cake in honor of my (golden) birthday!

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Just got paid, Friday night, tardi hoppin’, feelin’ right (Susan)

We've traversed Shanghai in search of tardigrades. Here, Kristin scrapes moss off of a sidewalk. This sample yielded only rotifers and nematodes.

HOUSTON, WE HAVE TARDIGRADES.

That’s right, today, July 9, 2010, may you emblazon it upon your calendars and may Google change its homepage graphic in our honor… today is the day that we found the first Shanghai tardigrades!

We took an excursion to the French Concession today to collect samples, and there found the first lichen we’ve seen on any trees in Shanghai. The area was rife with guards in red armbands (you know who they were — I’m trying to avoid buzzwords here), so the tree could not be accessed without a distraction. Fortunately, Julie Andrews inspired us once again, and Kristin began hopping up and down on some nearby steps, loudly singing the “Do-Re-Mi” song from The Sound Of Music. This was sufficiently strange, and attentions were focused on Kristin as I jumped onto a platform to liberate the lichen.

Yes, the lives of tardi-hunters are certainly thrilling. I may become superstitious about recreating the exact conditions under which the first tardi appeared under our microscope. Happily, I was wearing my pajamas.

This weekend, we’re off to the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics to meet the other members of Team Selene and talk strategy for how best to send the tardis to space. A briefing on the experiment is here. (Note: I just realized the “mini astronauts” hyperlink on that page directs to Dr. Goldstein’s lab at UNC. And everything comes full circle…)

Anyways, it’s off to celebrate our victory! Now that we number among the ranks of fellow discoverers Vespucci, Fleming, Tombaugh, etc, I leave you with this picture of what serious scientists look like when they are taken out to lunch and eat berries that make their tongues go all tingly:

Ahhh, mah tung ith numb!!!

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It’s a tardi in the city while the heat is on…. (Kristin)

…well, at least we hope there’s a tardi in this somewhere in this city (because it def feels like the heat is on). Unfortunately, as we’ve spent the past couple of days scouring the shanhai street-sides for modest spots of greenery in which tardis might come to party, their confirmed existence has thus far remained merely a hope. A hope, that in this bustling hub of readily breathable particulate matter, knock-off technological products, and honk-happy drivers there’s a place for tardis too…and that someday (preferably someday soon) we will find some to call our own.

But not all quests have been proven quite so fruitless! For instance, I am currently the proud owner of a brand-new, most-likely-legitimate EeePC. AND this replacement for my computer that tanked  in Italia was found at none other than the Shanghai Digital Market, a five story haven of brand name gadgets lacking definitive prices, and wily salespeople ready to manipulate you into bartering away both your wallet and your first born. Fortunately, as bartering in rapid-fire Chinese is an art neither Susan nor I have yet perfected, we were accompanied by Markus (our lab director willing to use mild intimidation tactics in the form of loud German yelling), and his Chinese wife Selene…

Selene and Markus

Thus, when we emerged from the Digital Market, we had, for lower than the original price of the laptop, accrued enough technological trinkets that Markus and Selene felt satisfied….which ultimately included a laptop, a headset, a case, a mouse, and even a large piece of luggage to tote it all home in.

Additional successful quests have included our attempt to assimilate into our hostel’s culture of personifying miscellaneous household items, as explained in Susan’s last post. Thus we’ve been leaving notes for the cleaning staff (we think they’ve been impressed):

missing the days of unlimited, free potable water

Also, we bought the Best. Shirts. Ever.

Front

Back

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Everybody knows, there’s a tardi at the end of the world. (Susan)

Shanghai!

Nanjing Road, Shanghai

Faithful Readers,

你好! We are in China. I hope that actually says “ni hao” — Google Translate appears to be blocked here, which is just mean.

Let’s back up. We finished off our month in Italy with a week of travel to Florence and Rome. My most important update from this time is that we discovered an under-appreciated masterpiece in the Florence museum that houses David and his “technically good physique” … a Giotto painting depicting Jesus, nonchalantly throwing up the peace sign as he ascends to heaven.

"It's cool guys, I got this, just gonna go be seated at the right hand of the Father and whatnot..."

"It's cool guys, I got this, just gonna go be seated at the right hand of the Father."

Anyways, several days ago, we were minding our own business in our hostel after a day of touring the Vatican, idly checking the time of our flight to Shanghai two days later… when we realized, “Oh no! Our flight is not two days later! We’re flying to China tomorrow!”

So we did. A lot of whirlwind hours and a delayed plane in Doha later, we arrived in Shanghai. We’re staying in a sweet hostel downtown, where the signs on the walls have friendly English greetings from the hostel’s various features. “Hi,” says one sign, with a picture of a smiley face, “I am coffee! I am member of breakfast!” “Hi, Everybody,” says another, “First, my name is minibus. Why my here?”

We only have one bed, but it’s plenty big. And our host bought us a microscope the first day, so we’re on our way to a sweet in-hostel laboratory set-up. We can only wonder what housekeeping thinks of us.

Not pictured: the Hello Kitty bag in which we brought home pipettes and petri dishes.

Not pictured: the Hello Kitty bag in which we brought home pipettes and petri dishes. Not a joke.

Day one, down. Five weeks to go!

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It’s my tardi, and i’ll cry if i want to… (Kristin)

The sentiments expressed in Leslie Gore’s manipulated lyrics are in reference to the fact that today is our last day in Modena. We just finished up our final dinner together with the lab and exhanged goodbyes and small gifts and addresses, hence the reason for teardrops on our metaphorical guitars.
However, despite the solemnity emodied by the opening, the theme of this post is actually something quite different. In fact, inthe spirit of the most recent USA world cup match, I would like to reflect for a moment about VICTORY, because some pretty noteworthy victories have occured during our last few days here:
#1) If you havent noticed fom the previously posted pictures, the giant trampoline to which we oft refer has a large wooden chasm running down its center, seperating the two sets of elastic tarps. It has been our goal, dare I say DREAM, to someday simultaneously execute flawless, two-footed leaps from one side to the other. Yesterday, said dream was realized. And rather attempting to describe the subsquent feeling in words, I would instead like to refer you to Season 4 Episode 24 of How I Met Your Mother and say….. Marshall Erikson, I understand you.
#2) After buying some painting materials from the discount make-your-own-art-store, we plopped ourselves down on a street corner to visually immortalize Modena on canvas. After we has begun to paint the scene that lay before us, a man strolling by our perch glanced at our canvasses, retrieved a coin from his pocket, and nonchalantly tossed it in our direction. The coin’s stated value? Erroneous. Its true meaning? The official beginning of our professional art careers. Step aside Leonardo, Michealangalo, Giotto….soon the great nation from which you hail wil be famous for a whole new pair of professionals.
#3) This morning, we caught and bottled over a hundred water bears to smuggle in our luggage to Shanghai. However, more notable than the acquisition these soon-to-be globe-trotter tardigrades is that Mikaili, a professor from our lab, actually refered to the organisms as ‘tardis’ while we were on the hunt. This is perhaps the first recorded use of the word ‘tardi’ by a microbiologist with a PhD, EVER. Who says undergraduates can’t make their mark on the scientific community?
Here’s hoping that this streak of victory will continue and yield a more successful train expedition than the last as we make our way to Florence tomorrow!
(Due to computer problems, this post was written a couple days before it was posted.  Don’t worry, Mom, we’re actually in Florence now.)
(Also, said computer problems are the reason why there’s weird spacing and the only picture on this entry is from How I Met Your Mother.)

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And after the Tardi it’s the hotel lobby… (Susan)

One thing that can be said about the two of us as travelers: we know how to roll with the (metaphorical) punches. We all-too-recently returned from a weekend jaunt to Siena, in the heart of Tuscany. Read: the destination of choice among the Honeymoon Elite. We wanted to see the countryside and the world-famous vineyards, but struggled to find anything that wasn’t a cozy bed & breakfast retreat for two, or cost less than a hefty dowry. Fortunately, a girl at our youth hostel told us about a cheap tour, and we (along with most of the hostel) jumped on board, until penny-pinching backpackers outnumbered vow-renewing octogenarians. Barely.

Medieval castle on our tour

Medieval castle on our tour

The tour took us into the hills, to several medieval towns, and finally to a famous vineyard, where we were served a classy wine-tasting. We tried to say inventive and snobbish things about the wine’s bodice and overtones. We tried not to say these things in a British accent.

Anyways, this was supposed to be a five-hour tour, which would have left us ample time to train back to Modena before dark. Boy was THAT plan foiled. Italy once again demonstrated her blatant disregard for time or schedules, and we didn’t get back from the tour until all the buses to the Siena train station had stopped running. Our last hour in Siena was a two-kilometer slog in the cold and the rain along the side of the highway. To keep our spirits up, we started freestyling to The Sound of Music’s “My Favorite Things.” You know, the song that goes “raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens”? We went back and forth, rhyming and building off each other’s lines. A sample of our spontaneous genius:

Skipping our classes
And playing badminton
Picnics and play-doh
And songs we’ve re-written
Making up stupid games in Jeffery’s pool,
These are a few of the things that are cool…

When the bus bails,
When the rain falls,
When we’re feeeeeling sad,
We simply remember our favorite things,
And then we don’t feeeeel, soooo bad!

This went on for many stanzas. We later wrote down as many as we could remember. Full renditions upon request.

Then, in a miracle that was arguably more miraculous than the time a pencil bounced from the ceiling into Barney Stinson’s nose, we sprinted onto the last train from Siena to Florence. This was the last lucky thing we were to experience for a long time. Every subsequent connection (another bus, two more trains, and a taxi) that stood between us and our beds in Modena proceeded to behave in sheisty ways, the details of which I won’t expound upon here. All I have to say is, you were a joke, Mussolini. None of your trains run on time.

Fast-forward to five-thirty in the morning. Our train finally pulled into Modena… and the train door was jammed. Neither I nor a burly Italian man could force it open. We took off sprinting for the other end of our car. The train started to move. Kristin kicked the door open and leapt out onto the platform. I took the leap directly after her, ending up way farther down the platform – the train chose then to be in a hurry. Kristin ripped her jeans and sustained a slightly skinned knee, but I somehow stuck the landing and kind of rolled out of it. My one sleep-deprived thought before launching myself from the train was, “it’s just physics!” Um… yeah, nothing to say for myself there. We capped the weekend off with a two-hour power nap, and then downed cappuccinos and biked to the lab to start a PCR reaction at 9 this morning. The man whose office we share in the lab has been walking us through an experiment he’s doing to determine whether a certain bacteria, called Wolbachia, is present in a population of tardigrades he’s studying. Wolbachia are known to have some crazy effects on various invertebrates: a Wolbachia infection in some species causes femenization, male killing, or what’s called cytoplasmic incompatibility – basically various means to turn the entire population female. As certain tardigrades exist in entirely female populations and reproduce by parthenogenesis, it’d be interesting to find Wolbachia lurking among them.

Exuding classiness at our wine tasting

Exuding classiness at our wine tasting

And yes, as soon as the DNA was prepped and in the Thermocycle… we had a nap.

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