Life in the Lab
The lab was a rather sad place this week. Mrs. C. was working on her proposal the whole week, so she was not around laughing too much. Most of the days there was not a single undegrad, J was gone until Wednesday and D never showed up before noon. And those people who were present spent most of the time in their offices, analyzing data I assume. The lab agony culminated on Friday, when two out four graduates did not come. To me, it was also the day when I had the least work done. I am supposed to compensate for that on Sunday. Assuming the little I have done worked…
Lab-wise, however, I cannot say it was a bad week. I did another qPCR and doing the huge pipetting project a second time, I felt much more confident, organized some stuff little better than the last time and had a feeling I knew what I was doing. Especially the later one felt so good! Moreover, with occasional assistance from Big E, I was able to reach the point of drawing some conclusions from my data. We will see if Mrs. C, when she sees it next week, interprets it the same way. I am glad, relieved and probably also little proud to report that I have seen a progress with the cursed PCR that kept me busy – and worried what the heck I do wrong – good three weeks. Mrs. C suggested a longer, yet working (!), procedure to get the desired band and now it is fully up to me how fast (and if) I can move forward with the little time I have left. This also explains the expected Sunday mini-shift.
Happened out of the Lab
In terms of out-of-lab amusement, it was a poor week (not a reason to complain though – after all, I came to experience a US lab and I am getting so much of it!) with no skating and one of few events worth a report being an evening trip to Food Lion. Under these circumstances, please pardon the following paragraph.
Being busy, and as a result of that tired (and lazy) to do my groceries any time during the past weekend, the plan was to do it on Monday morning before going to the lab. Because I volunteered (well, felt obligated) to help Big E in the morning, there was no grocery shopping neither a L’s lab meeting. Again. Unpredictability of my working hours lately and pretty empty refrigerator forced me to do an evening grocery shopping. I took a bus at 7 PM and was surprised how full it was. Hmm, it looks like that other people than just student know how to ride buses. I did not know that.
After a week of repairs, Food Lion got a new fruit/vegetable section. It is … I am short of an appropriate word. It almost looks like a separate room and at first, I thought it was a storeroom. Having seen a couple of customers going in and the staff not being alarmed, I decided to give it a try, too. It was a shock: it was much cooler there than in the rest of the store (which is cold already), everything was arranged like in a fruit gallery, the vegetable was sprayed regularly and I am pretty sure the light was special, too. You know, to make the fruits look better. The low temperature might help preserve the fruit longer (I indeed believe that) but I am unsure about the rest of the show. Will it really encourage Americans to start being on a healthy diet? Sorry, I doubt it. It was getting dark when I was finally done and as I never took a bus that late, I was slightly worried when it did not show up for a while but it eventually arrived and got me home safely. And my groceries, too.
This time, I also would like to – finally – mention the Freedom Tunnel located on campus. Its tradition dates back to 1939 and it is a place where graffiti is perfectly legal. To me it is also a welcomed shortcut, so I have had a chance to watch it changing. Literally, it never looks the same as new stuff is added every day. It is not thus surprising it is a rather wild place and often it takes time and lots of imagination to decipher the quotes and pictures. However, occasionally, someone takes the effort to paint “their” canvas white and creates a true art there. I have witnessed it twice and the second time, I took a picture of the finished picture.
I stopped for a while and admired the girl who created this one. She held a “normal” photograph of whoever in one hand and just by looking at her template, created a completely different style picture, yet looking exactly the same as the guy on her picture. I take my hat off to her skills and hope her graffiti will stay there much longer than they usually do. It is always painful to see something so well-done to disappear in few days.
A cooking moment of mine deserves a paragraph, too. The truth is that I am getting tired of cooking, running out of ideas what to cook and to top it off, I do not see my skills improving. Therefore, I appreciated a bottle of cheese ragu – moreover promising a tasty dinner – I found in the grocery store. I was naive enough to expect the thing to taste as well as the macaroni and cheese I had on July 3. Huge fault! I did not like its taste at all and it took me lots of time to improve it. For the first time, I truly appreciated all the spices available in the kitchen. I also added some roasted pepperoni (in other words, I improved an already fat stuff with some more fat), thus making a whole new meal. When I was eating it the following day it was not as bad as expected – I either indeed improved it or, more likely, after postponing my lunch for an hour I eventually was hungry enough to lower my taste sights.
TIME FOR CZECH SARCASMS. OR A TRUTH THAT IS HARD TO SEE UNTIL YOU HAVE AN EXPERIENCE FOR COMPARISON?
The following opinions are my personal and they may not reflect those of majority of people coming to the USA. However, being here for two months, I feel competent to describe things the way I see them, and moreover, to share these views.
A) WASTE PRODUCTION
No, I have not visited every single country in the world, yet I dare to say that Americans (to be politically correct, it probably holds true for foreigners who adapted enough, too) must be the top waste producers. Do your groceries and you come back with a ton of plastic bags your grociers were put in for you. More than you need and without spending a single penny for them. At the time, when European countries start charging for those. Hey, how do you want to dispose all that plastic?! And what is wrong about having a nice back that could serve for months if not years? Why plastic bottles are cash refunded in some (like nine) states, while the rest does not care at all?
An average Czech person either brings his/her lunch in a nice lunch box that can be used for years or goes out but also eats the food there (i.e. porcelain dishes get washed and reused). An American goes out and brings his/her food in a disposable plastic container. Later on, they get thirsty, so the buy a drink which comes in a plastic cup, with a lid and straw of course. And when they go for a coffee another hour later, the waste story repeats. In a few days, dustbins overflow with these items. I wonder how much the waste production will increase once the semester starts.
B) FOOD AND DRINKS EXPENDITURES
This supplements the food- and drink-related waste production. Even if one does not care about ecology, I do not see a reason to buy a cup of soda in a fast food place instead of bringing a bottle that could sit in a refrigerator and wait there for the time of consumption. I have a hard time in understanding why to buy a tiny portion of salad when you can have much more if you only had bought and chopped the veggies yourself.
C) ZERO CALORIES
I do not understand this either. How is it possible that something awfully sweet has zero calories? How?
D) 3 % JUICE
How can something that is claimed to be made from fruit contain 3 % of juice? And why is this information in bold capitals? Is it an achievement (the stuff you just bought is not fully synthetic, we still use some fruit) or warning (you may not want to buy this)?
E) NUTRITION FACT-RELATED (and other) MOTTOES ON WRAPPINGS
It is impossible to find a packed foodstuff that would not have them. Zero calories! Made with real cheese! Low in sodium! Fresh! Low fat! Now with 25 % more peanut butter! No with that fewer calories! If the stuff is too unhealthy or its recipe has not been changed for a while, then at least the consumption guidelines are provided. Sharing size! Save one for later! Twist to close! Easy open! Fresh pack!
This serving suggestion, however, is rather tricky – it looks like very advanced Chemistry class. Am I supposed to isolate the chocolate from the bar’s surface and melt it back into a nice cube? Then, the next would obviously be separating peanut butter from water is left from the bar and, most importantly, turn it somehow back into peanuts.
Being exposed to them for quite a while now, a food lacking them would look highly suspicious to me. I would not believe I am getting the best stuff, neither would I know how to consume it.
F) HUGE PACKAGES & CONTAINERS
If Americans have their overweight problems, unhealthy food (though the aforesaid mottoes may make you feel there is barely any) is only part of the problem. Both junk and decent food seem to be sold in large containers, making it so easy to eat more than one actually needs. You cannot have a cookie, you have to buy (at least) a dozen of them. It is damn hard to get a single can of beer – just a sample for a visitor. Instead, you have to buy six, twelve or even two dozens and no other option exists. A funny illustration of US large items follows:
G) DRIVERS and DANGEROUS PEDESTRIANS
I though that Czech drivers were inconsiderate and careless. When I am back home I will probably feel the same way but I will also know that Americans are not any better. In fact, crossing a road (on the zebra-crossing of course), might be even more dangerous here. Ironically, there are huge Day-Glo boards informing the drivers it is a law to yield to crossing pedestrians. Apparently, the message is not clear enough to an average US driver. In this context I truly admire people who dare to cross four-lane streets far far away from any crossing or traffic signal, and without any regard how busy the street or how poor the visibility are.