Pinch Me, Please. Am I Awake?

17 Jun

The best way to summarize this week would be: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Whoops, sorry. I forgot my manners. Ahem. Right. Monday.

So I had a late night on Sunday, so I totally was exhausted when I got to work, and this trend seemed to have hovered over the remaining of my week. For some odd reason, I‘m just exhausted, even despite my impressively sedentary lifestyle haha. It started on Monday and continued in a lovely sine wave. Luckily, my post doc felt my pain, so after running some statistics we ended up calling it a short day. I took a lovely three hour nap, ate some delicious dinner (food is so goooood here, even the microwavable stuff! I had the most DELICIOUS microwaveable popcorn for an after dinner snack! SO GOOD!), and then I commenced my very ambitious and intellectually stimulating day by rotting my brain for a couple more hours and hitting the sack AGAIN. My eyes are especially dry lately, and I think they need some quality time with oxygen, water and my glasses. They are bonding quite well atm! haha J

Tuesday I slept in and went to class. I had a bit of a Lilli moment, getting down on myself because I really just don’t seem to be super-bonding with anyone from Purdue on this trip. But then I got over myself, blasted my Itunes in my ears and channeled my energy through a good work out and felt MUCH better. It’s not that the people on the trip are rude or mean at all – they are actually lovely human beings. They just always seem to give off this “I don’t enjoy talking to you” vibe, so I don’t bother them with my presence, haha. Honestly, I think it’s because I talk about my internship and they immediately stereotype me. It’s obvious they aren’t interested in the same things that I am, but why is that a bad thing? I would think learning more things AND getting to know a different perspective would be INTERESTING to people, even if you can’t quite understand their passions or even what they’re saying! But it’s just NOT the case here. I’m so tired of the half-hearted monotone “oh, that’s cool”. Kinda makes me want to stop bothering answering their half-hearted inquisitions about my day.

Anyway, I’ve decided I’ve made a ton more friends in Australia than I ever had in America in the short amount of time I’ve been here (haha I love how I sound Anti-American all of a sudden!). Granted, some were determined beforehand, and my labmates pretty much HAVE to be friendly, but still! I definitely feel more at home and such here in Australia. The average Australian is a TON more brainy/academic/SMART than the average Joe back home, or at least they are CURIOUS individuals. And that to me, is like a Utopia haha. Curiosity makes the world go round.

Haha, but I didn’t do much else, as Tuesdays are my relaxing weekday (well, minus the ulcer of having to sit through another inexorable waste of my time), as classes pretty much dominate it and I’d only get 2 hours in at work.

Wednesday I was in the lab again all day, and it was so lovely. And yes, I dare follow that sentence up with: I am a rat murderer. Haha, we perfused rats today! It was a mixture of frightening and exhilarating (I fear what neuroscience is doing with my psyche haha). It was traumatic to see the rats stiff with FIX solution and so cold and dead, but it was also super cool cutting open its brain and prying through its organs haha! Apparently I did a nice job, because we cut the brains afterwards and stained them, and they look beautiful! In perfusions, it’s all about timing (you must work quickly!), because if you wait too long to start the cycle of FIX replacing the blood in the body, blood clots can form and prevent the FIX solution from circulating to the brain, which is all we care about at this point. FIX solution basically ensures the biochemistry in the rat’s brain will not be changed from that point on: all receptors and chemical changes are fixated, and the tissue becomes a bit more durable (which is CRUCIAL for the cutting stages that come afterwards). Pretty much, don’t mess upJ . Oh, and don’t inhale the toxic parafimaldehyde being pumped into the rat as well (or die, seriously haha). Just so you know, it’s a part of the FIX solution).

That night, I went to the gym again, but got kicked out for wearing flip-flops *lame*. Twas unfortunate, but the good news is I came home and made this DELICIOUS pasta with cheese and hamburger (yes, hamburger helper, minus butter and other stuff, and the cheese was unidentifiable haha!). But it was goooood! And I ate too much and ruined my workout. Oh well haha!

Thursday I had class in the AM (we watched boring videos about the history of the English language and its influences on the development of Aussie English), and in the afternoon, I headed over to the lab. We stained the brains from our perfusions on Wednesday and then we mulled over more statistics. The brains look very good, and the rats are on food restriction at the moment and are losing weight very rapidly (which is good). I’ve noticed that the rats are super freaky without their precious food. One rat bit me today (it was cute, felt like a very gentle pinch on my finger) and they like sumo wrestle each other in their cages haha! But yes, all is well in the Belleine lab.

Thursday night was quite special. I went to a play with two of my Australian friends called “Glo” at the (drumroll please!) OPERA HOUSE. It was SOOOO sooo soooooooo cool! It was completely blacklighted and the characters wore caricatured masks and the sound effects and soundtrack was stunning and perfectly fantastic for the plot of the play. I loved every second of it! There were these ginormous inflated popcorn kernels that stormed through the audience (literally plowed over them haha) and they even had credits in the background by revealing white lettering for a couple of seconds and then turning it around to show the black backside once again (though this was under blacklight, so this means all colors are reversed, so reverse those haha). It was the neatest, most unique play I think I’ve EVER been to! I was so impressed and quite enjoyed myself! Anyway, I think I’ve raved enough about that haha (ahem, or at least I’ll contain the rest of my enthusiasm haha).

Afterwards, we grabbed some dinner at Eastbank Café, located in Circular Quay right by the Opera House, which is the same place I had the Italian mayonnaise and chips last time I was in Circular Quay. By the ridiculously exciting way, Italian mayonnaise now has a name. And it’s totally “aioli” haha! I’m soooo stalking the internet for its recipe and/or store locations. haha! But suriously, if you’re ever in Sydney and go to Circular Quay and want a nice place to eat, DEFINITELY go to Eastbank. Actually, promise me that you will! It’s that good! It even converted me into a seafood lover. That’s right: I’m a salmon, prosciotto, calamari fish-eating ninja. haha J

Friday was relaxing. I came into the lab later than usual, right after lunch. We ran some statistics and examined our pilot surgery slides under the microscope. It turns out our new lesion placements are beautiful and perfect, which is good news for the upcoming behavioral tests we’re running next week. After a bit of mucking around, we headed over to another building on campus to hear Tony Dickinson present HIS research, and it was another really cool talk. His research interests are similar to my mentor’s, Bernard Belleine. Dickinson aims to identify what part of the brain is involved in explaining the “Castaway phenomenon”, namely why Tom Hanks in the movie the Castaway (with Wilson :P) chooses to crack open the coconut instead of gauging it, when his primary need was to quench his thirst. The former option resulted in all of the coconut liquid from spilling everywhere BUT his mouth. Logically, Hanks should have gauged the coconut, yet he split it in two. Why? This is the question Dickinson aims to answer, and he believes it is influenced by learning and memory and a reversion to habitual learning when the decision to be made is conflicting. If the association is clear or learned, the behavior is logical. But if the association is made under conflicting stimuli, the behavior is habitual in nature, not goal-directed. This means Hanks split the coconut because he hadn’t opened a coconut before to know there was liquid in it as well. And furthermore, because the stimuli motivating/inspiring Hanks’ decision/dilemma, his thirst and his knowledge about how to get into a coconut’s insides, Hanks’ brain reverted to an automatic behavior (cracking it open) instead of a logical behavior (gauging the coconut). Dickinson believes our ability to form goal-directed behavior occurs right after the age of 2. And furthermore, that the anterior cingulate is responsible to explain the Castaway phenomenon. I think these seminars are my favorite parts of my internship so far! It’s just so neat to see what research is being done and by what methods, etc. It also gives me lots of cool ideas to mull over, which greatly entertains my brain haha!

The rest of the night I just relaxed and thought about some stuff concerning my future, while I simultaneously rotted by brain in front of the 4 channels we get here. It was sort of a blessing that all of my roomies went bar hopping, because I got the apartment to myself.

I’ve been thinking about several things today. A girl who is currently still writing her thesis applied to work at the BMRI and was touring today. At first I thought she was another intern, and my heart dropped. It’s as if I wouldn’t have as good of a time there if I wasn’t the only intern. What’s up with that? What does that mean?

Secondly, I really like the University of Sydney. Like a lot. I’ve thought about how cool it would be to be a student here. And moreso, why I think it would be cool. Australians are smarter and have more wit as a whole than Americans. They are actually curious and interested in what you have to say, which I love. But am I idealizing this culture? I know not ALL Aussies are quick witted and fantastic (though all of the Aussies I’ve met are amazing!), but would I be as happy as I’ve been during my internship living here? Among other very interesting ideas I have that I’m hoping to control for when I reflect back on my experiences here and in my internship and draw conclusions about how stellar of an experience I’ve been having, I feel it’s a wise decision to admit that perhaps it would be a tad different if you were to actually live here.

The weekend was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant! I got to see my Aussie friend again and go up to visit his family. On Saturday, we spent the bulk of the day in Sydney’s Botanical Gardens and we stopped by Sydney’s epic library (and it was totally English style, with the bookshelves’ backs to the walls in one ginormous room.. think Harry Potter haha.. sooo cool!) on our way out of the city. The next stop we made was in the southern part of Sydney to probably the most beautiful lookout point I’ve been to so far here! It was called Wollongong and it was wayyy up in the mountains. After gracing my retina with the most gorgeous images in my LIFE, we headed up to Newcastle for the night, where I ate way too much Crunchie flavored ice cream haha (it’s the chocolate bar I was raving about before) and I also introduced myself to Malteasers (which are similar to this rounded chocolate candy in America) and a Violet Crumble (which is similar to a Crunchie, but the Honeycomb is more of a solid, instead of a liquidy gooeyness in your mouth.. if I had to pick, I’d go with the Crunchie again, but Violet Crumbles are definitely another Australian gem!). Yeahhh, I pretty much went into a carbohydrate coma that night haha!

Sunday, we drove three hours north to attend a meeting located at some campgrounds in Glenbawn Dam. The view from their cabins rivaled that of Wollongong. It was breathtaking, and I even saw kangys in their natural habitat (haha I love how bouncy their legs are! is that weird??)! It was SO cool! They were just hopping around like they were like some of the children at the meeting. I absolutely love the community aspect of my friend’s church. It’s a Christian group called “Christedelphians” and they are more community based than location based. Christedelphian branches all over the world are very well connected and travel to another country can easily be accommodated with connections and friendships made through their community. I think it’s such a lovely and amazing idea. I would love to have that sort of a community at home! Anyway, the children were no doubt adorable and everyone was very friendly and accepting of my awkwardness and alien/foreign country-ness haha. We had probably the closest resemblance to Mexican food I’ve seen in this country so far for lunch! They were wraps, but the contents were identical to that of a burrito, so it was totally a burrito haha!

We headed back to Newcastle that night and we devoured some garlic noodles for dinner haha. They totally had never eaten them before, so it was their first experience, and apparently it was a hit! Monday was a national holiday (Queen’s Day) and everyone takes off for it, so I didn’t work, so I had one last day in Newcastle. We had this HUUUGE barbeque for lunch with his family and some neighbors and his grandma even came over. It was so delicious. Roasted lamb, potatoes (that I *didn’t* eat because I was trying to watch my carbs bahaha!), chicken smothered in this delicious sauce, and tons of fruit! Ahhh, it was sooo good haha and I totally ate too much. I also had another version of hot chocolate, called “Akta-Vite”, which is apparently old school Australian hot chocolate, but an Australian icon as influential as Vegemite. I tried it, and it was a lot less sugary than normal hot chocolate, which I SO like, and more creamy. At the same time, you either like it or you don’t like it (much like Vegemite), so if you try it, my advice is to try a small cup of it before you commit to a ginormous bottle of it haha! I never say no to chocolate though, so you totally know I was all over that!

As if I hadn’t had ENOUGH food and sugar for one weekend, I had dessert haha! For dessert, I had this very Australian cake called “Pavlova”, which is made largely of eggs and sugar, with various fruits on the top. I gotta say, I’ve never had passionfruit before, but it was quite an experience! It looks like clownfish eggs, but the texture was so refreshing, especially on top of a slice of cake! Loved it! Unfortunately my stomach was like not loving the eggs or something and my body rejected it later on, BUT I still highly recommend it for non-egg aversive eaters! It was SOOO good and it wasn’t too heavy (very light, actually) on the digestive system!

After lunch, we headed back to Sydney to catch a free Fire and Water show that was happening down at the Rocks. It was pretty lame, to be honest (just someone trying to make a Youtube video), but it was really cool watching all the cutsy children running around with big eyes and being adorable haha! I had a nice time, at leastJ .

It was a huge weekend for Australian cuisine, but I must say the social aspect of the weekend was totally a more amazing experience than that of my taste buds! I feel like I’m totally immersing myself into Australian culture by spending my weekends in Newcastle and I’m very blessed to have such a truly amazing opportunity!


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