Monday, December 31, 2012

the sights at the Royal View Seafood Restaurant

To celebrate Ate Grace's and Kuya Nat's good news (they're going to have a baby!), Tita Ising brought Anna and me out to dinner at the Royal View Seafood Restaurant at the Mall of Asia.

The restaurant reminded me of the restaurant where Ate Tin hosted my graduation party in Brisbane three years ago. There were live seafood swimming in tanks, yellow lights glowing overhead, mirrors reflecting the yummy food... Royal View Seafood Restaurant is one swanky eating place!

Tita Ising bought so much food, all of them delicious, that I had a difficult time walking and breathing after dinner. What an opportunity to watch "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey", right? I burped my way through the first half of the movie. By the time the movie had ended, I still did not have room for dessert. The following day, my stomach still felt full!!

Thank you, Tita Ising, for the delicious dinner!

LOTR: The Two Towers and paradigm shifts

I write this as I watch The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers on HBO...

A few years back, I was taking a series of seminars on the Purpose-Driven Life. The lecturer, Uncle Sam, was talking about paradigm shifts. These, according to Uncle Sam, are changes in the way people think.

As an example, Uncle Sam made the class watch a snippet of "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" (and this was when I wasn't an avid fan of the book or the novels yet): 
Frodo and Sam had employed Gollum and he was leading them to the Black Gate of Mordor.  While they were resting, Gollum was debating with his alter-ego, Smeagol, about whether "Master" Frodo should be killed to get the Ring or not.  
At the beginning of the trio's journey, Sam and Frodo saw Gollum as nothing more than a creature who they couldn't trust; but as the time went by, Frodo began to trust Gollum more and more. Frodo's turning point (his paradigm shift, as Uncle Sam pointed out) was when he saw what he could become if the Ring consumes his mind; he began to take pity of Gollum. Gollum was no longer just a guide to Mordor; he was also someone who could potentially be saved.
Since that day in the seminar, I always remember "paradigm shift" (a term introduced to me on that day) whenever the movie gets to the Frodo-and-Gollum scene. 

Yet another reason why this Lord of the Rings movie trilogy has a special place in my movie playlist. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Review: Sisterakas (2012)

Before "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" began, trailers for entries of the 2012 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) were shown. I noted three films that I want to see during the MMFF season. However, the first one I watched wasn't one of them. This film, which I caught in SM Sta Rosa the other day, is "Sisterakas".

"Sisterakas" is top-billed by Ai-Ai delas Alas, Vice Ganda, and Kris Aquino. It's about half-siblings who had a falling out and how they redeemed their relationship. As if the drama of sibling revenge wasn't enough, the people who worked on the story inserted subplots about competing players in the fashion industry (taking inspiration from the reputation of an infamous fashion magazine editor) and a half-baked courtship story between a younger pair of actors. Vice's cross-dressing character moved the story forward, relegating his co-actors to supporting roles. Even the Tirso Cruz III was pushed to a very minor role (and he is great at playing villains!).

Throughout the unraveling of the three stories, I couldn't help but look around at the audience who were laughing at the verbal swordplay, led by Vice Ganda. The scriptwriters took advantage of slapstick, Vice's impeccable timing... and more importantly, his signature brand of comedy to bring in the laughs. The scriptwriters also veered close to the fourth wall, by referring to the cast's product endorsements, television shows and movies, and personal lives.

For someone who isn't so keen on watching local television (except for the evening news), it's puzzling to see what's so funny. My sense of humor differed from what the target audience had. It will take a different type of comedy to get me laughing heartily, I find. I did find the wordplay assigned to Vice Ganda to be very quick-witted. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

IRRI Bowling Tournament 2012

I'm not yet allowed to play. But that doesn't mean I couldn't watch and take photos. :) IRRI held its bowling tournament last November 10 (finally!). There was some drama at the beginning of the games; however, the games began in earnest as people settled down to strike as many pins as possible. I wasn't taking a lot of photos due to bad lighting in the SU bowling lanes, so I just ended up with these...

Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

On the night I couldn't breathe properly because I ate too much, Anna, Tita Ising, and I went to the SM Digital Theater at the Mall of Asia to watch "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey". I made that suggestion because (1) I am an avid fan of JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, (2) I loved Peter Jackson's take on the trilogy and wanted to see his interpretation of The Hobbit, and (3) I couldn't walk because I was too full! I needed to sit down and let my stomach settle first before moving any further.

As soon as the movie began, I felt like I was back in Middle Earth. But instead of going back to the land of Mordor or to Fangorn Forest or to Rohan, I was introduced to Legolas' and Gimli's homelands: Mirkwood and Erebor... and to their kin as well. Throughout the movie, I felt at a loss because I didn't see the Nine Travelers being led by Aragorn (but mostly because I didn't see the future king of the Reunited Kingdom). I guess it will take some time to get used to the presence of Thorin and his band of dwarves in lieu of the Travelers. After all, I don't think Aragorn was already a warrior during the timeline of The Hobbit.

The movie was great! I liked the way the story began just before Bilbo's party and how Frodo's presence bridged this movie with Fellowship of the Ring. I can't wait for the next two movies!!

Friday, December 28, 2012

"I don't want to miss a thing..."

On Christmas day, I was asked twice about my experience on December 21, the last day of the world as we know it -- supposedly -- except that the world continued to move on. :) And one of the things that happened struck me as having impeccable timing...

December 21, 2012
3:00 pm (or thereabouts)

It's the last day before the Christmas vacation. With people in markedly more relaxed moods, someone started singing along to Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" (I'm not sure if it's playing over the radio or was an mp3 file). Coincidentally, I had watched Armageddon earlier that week on cable and so I blurted out that the song was well-timed for the end of the world later that day.

For me, the song was perfect as it was the last day before the vacation and it was supposedly the end of the world too. Unfortunately, my statement fell flat because nobody in the group I was talking with had seen Armageddon recently and so they didn't know (or had forgotten) that "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" is part of the official soundtrack... or they didn't get the memo that the world was supposedly ending later that day.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Since the world did not end last Friday, Christmas celebration is on!

The lyrics of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" has struck a chord in me, particularly the lines 
"Through the years we all will be together, if the Fates allow..."
Perhaps because it has been my Christmas wish for several years now. Maybe it's because my family has been spending Christmas Eve in opposite sides of the globe for eight years already. Or it must be because this will be the first Christmas that the paternal side of the family will not be having a potluck at Lola's house on Christmas Eve.

In any case, Christmas Eve this year will just be Anna and me. No Christmas tree (I didn't have time to put it up, sadly) BUT I did make my first pot roast... on the slow cooker... perfectly timed for Noche Buena at 10pm. :)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

My top 8 simple joys this Christmas :)

While I may have outgrown the excitement that gift-wrapped presents used to bring, I am always thankful for blessings that come my way, no matter how small, coincidental, or unwrapped they are. My dad calls these "simple life, simple joy". And so I list them down, my version of "simple life, simple joys" this Christmas; akin to Sister Maria singing about her favorite things so she won't feel so bad.

Here's my current* Top Ten Simple Joys this Christmas:

  1. bumping into classmates fr high school at a local coffee shop & seeing that they're happy.
  2. catching up with friends who make it their business to make the world a better place to live in.
  3. driving on the road less traveled and seeing that the new route is scenic.
  4. drinking hot chocolate (soy) milkshake with peppermint syrup on a cold, windy evening.
  5. crossing yet another item off my to-do list as the holiday fast approaches. What a sense of accomplishment!
  6. after a tough day, I sit back, relax, and watch "The Muppets".
  7. having unplanned lunch with bestfriend-since-grade-school Noan.
  8. having some down time to read the newspaper while having brunch at a restaurant on a weekend.
* I aim to have 10 simple joys this Christmas season.

Friday, December 21, 2012

the world ends (again) today, they say.

The last day on Earth... supposedly (again!).

Will the interpreters of the Mayan calendar be wrong? So far, the events in 2012 (a 2009 movie, if I'm not mistaken) have not yet come to pass. 

But if the Mayan interpreters were right, what will the world look like tomorrow? And will anyone live to tell the tale?

We've got 24 hours (Philippine time) to find out.

See you on the other side.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

GQNC marks its 8th year

The Grain Quality and Nutrition Center (GQNC) at IRRI is now eight years old! 

A lot has changed since the GQNC began. The name of this organizational unit has changed several times over the years and people have come and gone. But the biggest change of all, so far, is the departure of its first head, Melissa Fitzgerald

New things are definitely in store for the GQNC as a new leader goes on board next year.

In the meantime, here's a link to GQNC's "family" photos of anniversaries or Christmases past.

Another one of those squirrel look-a-likes crossed my path

A bit over four years ago, I came across a mysterious animal -- a squirrel- or raccoon-like animal -- along Pili Drive in UP Los Banos. At that time, I had thought it to be an oddity because as far as I knew, there are no squirrels, skunks, or raccoons in the Los Banos area... but browsing the Internet proved me wrong.

Fast forward to a few days ago.

I wish I had a camera to take a photo of the animal that crossed the road!

Once again, I was driving late at night along Pili Drive. Once again, a furry, bushy tailed, dark-colored four-legged creature darted across the road and hesitated right in the middle of Pili Drive. If I were driving too fast, it would've been roadkill. The animal looked confused; it couldn't decide whether to cross the road or not. Its hesitation allowed me a closer look at the mysterious creature as I slowed to a complete stop. The animal had a grey body with slick fur (like a beaver's) while its tail was a thick furry black stretch (like a raccoon). There were no markings on its fur nor on its tail.  

Was it a beaver or a raccoon, then?

Based on the tail color and shape, I'd think it wasn't any of the two possibilities. Plus, a raccoon is too fat and too tall to be the mysterious animal. A beaver is of the wrong fur color too.

I related my sighting to people in the lab and they think I might have seen a civet this time around. Their idea might have some bearing. After all, scientists from the US have found evidence of two species of civets in Mount Makiling. According to references cited by Corazon Catibog-Sinha, the civet species in Mount Makiling are Paradoxurus philippinensis (palm civet) and Viverra tangalunga (Malay civet).

If the two mysterious animals were civets, I wonder what they were doing so close to human settlements. Are they pets? Have they escaped from cages? Where they looking for food? 

Maybe I'll see one of them again someday. Until then, I'll continue wondering.

That's got to be one of my more exciting evening drives in a long time!

Friday, November 30, 2012

dinner at Buon Giorno

Look at the photos I've unearthed! (I'm still posting material that originally came from my Multiply blog)


"Buon giorno" is Italian for "good day". It is an apt name for the Italian-themed restaurant Ate Maddie, Larees, Anna, and I went to in Tagaytay City after an afternoon of taking pictures in Caleruega more than three years ago.

I want to go on a photo walk again! :)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sunday, November 18, 2012

my first attempt at slow cooking.

I do mean S-L-O-W.

Some people say that patience is virtue; slow cooking in a crock pot certainly is certainly a test of character... and of hunger.

On Thursday night, I prepared lentil soup using my Kyowa Slow Cooker (KW-2802). I just placed the lentils, the mixture of sauteed onions, celery, tomatoes, and carrots into the crock pot and added some water. Then I added dried basil and dried oregano. Once all ingredients were in, I just placed the lid and put the slow cooker on high. Then I waited.

And waited...

And waited.

Four hours (and an extremely hungry stomach) later, I decided that the lentils must already be cooked. The lentil soup I made definitely did not look like the ones on the internet and was not as thick as the soup Anna and I had tasted in Tapella by Gaudi (Greenbelt 5). My soup was on the watery, bland side as well; I must have added too much water or skipped a step in the recipe.

But the nice thing about the bland lentil soup was that I could really taste the ingredients. I'd just add salt (or Anna, fish sauce) to the soup to get the flavor right. Better that than extremely salty soup, I think. Nevertheless, it made for a hearty meal. Eight meals, in fact.

I guess I need to change the soup's name: it's not lentil soup, really; it's minestrone with lentils. :)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

breeding rice into a lean, mean, food-producing machine

I attended the World Food Day celebration at the Asian Development Bank this year (October 15-16, 2012). The event was graced by Julian Cribb, author of the book The Coming Famine (University of California Press, 2010). In his presentation, Mr Cribb discussed the real possibility of a global food shortage in the near future brought about by scarcity of resources. To avert the food crisis, Mr Cribb recommends that people start working on and re-investing in agricultural and food R&D now (among others). Especially since technology adoption takes time. During the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) Asia Review, Kamala Gurung reported that it takes more than ten years for farmers to adopt current varieties in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal. 

But just in case people do think that nobody is working on this issue now, I'd like to point out that agricultural scientists have not thrown in their lab coats. They are hard at work in laboratories and in test fields, taking steps to ensure that this food crisis doesn't come to fruition... or if it does, the impact won't be as bad as Mr Cribb is predicting. 

During the recently concluded IRRI Young Scientists Conference (IYSC), I have listened to several presentations about different approaches to stop, or to minimize the impact of, this food crisis. One was by boosting photosynthesis in the rice plant. Another approach was to make the rice plant more Earth-friendly; a lean, mean, food-producing machine -- if you will -- through the Green Super Rice Project.

The Green Super Rice Project aims to develop "resilient" rice varieties that can thrive in conditions where there is less water, less pesticide, and less fertilizer AND can produce higher yields than traditional and improved varieties. These green super rice varieties sound like a potential answer to the food crisis of the future, right?

Dr Jauhar Ali, the project's regional coordinator for Asia, talked about green super rice during the IYSC. He mentioned that by using a wide selection of rice varieties as parents and an IRRI breeding strategy that involves what breeders and molecular biologists call "pyramiding" and "introgression", scientists put a lot of the resilience traits from all the different parents into several "finished goods". The nice thing about these materials is that they can tolerate more than one type of stress at a time while having higher yields than the reference (or "check") varieties.

Just how environment-friendly are the varieties being developed via the Green Super Rice Project supposed to be? Dr Ali mentioned that the goal is to reduce inputs (including fertilizer and pesticide) by 25%. Doing so helps rice become more "green" because these new varieties will be lessening rice production's carbon footprint; for instance, a reduced fertilizer requirement means that the energy required to produce the fertilizer is also reduced. Aside from this, the Green Super Rice varieties will also have reduced gelatinization temperature. This means that the rice starts to cook at a low temperature which leads to reduced cooking time and probably to reduced cooking water. All that should be enough to deem these rice varieties as super.

But wait, there's more!

Aside from their good performance in the field, they are supposedly of good grain quality too. But that's based on the routine chemical tests. I wonder if anyone has actually tasted these rice varieties yet.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Do you dare to run with the bulls?

(Photo by Keil Marinay)

I think my sister has always wanted to visit Pamplona, Spain for the festival honoring San Fermin. Looks like she dared to be run after by a bull -- or a cow, I'm not really sure -- while in UPLB.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Plan B: boost photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis is an organism's way of producing food (if it can, like plants and algae, and several bacteria types) using carbon dioxide and sunlight. Along the way, plants produce oxygen, the gas humans and other organisms need to survive. Photosynthetic organisms, then, are both source of food and natural carbon dioxide scrubber. 

Despite learning about photosynthesis in school, I never bothered to understand it with such passion as the people working in the C4 Rice Project. See, the research areas that interest me tend to be closer to the rice eater sitting at the dining table than to clouds floating in the bright blue sky. 

But I digress...

Scientists from the C4 group are attempting what previously was probably a product of science fiction: to tinker with the photosynthetic processes in the rice plant and make them more efficient. During the IRRI Young Scientists Conference (November 8-9), a lot of the early-career researchers took to the stage to bring us, non-C4 scientists, up-to-date with the research they are working on about photosynthesis. Thankfully, most of them (if not all) started with slides differentiating the photosynthetic types in rice (C3) and in maize (C4). According to these researchers, C4 photosynthesis is much more efficient than C3, which is why this ambitious team of scientists are undergoing such a project.

Before a C4 rice plant can be made, a lot of obstacles need to be overcome or requirements to satisfy; among these are anatomy changes in the leaf and the addition or activation of several enzymes that will allow photosynthesis to become more efficient in rice. And based on the young scientists' presentations, the C4 group has certainly made progress in the various fronts of research.

Why do these scientists want rice to become more efficient photosynthetic machines anyway? 

According to the C4 Rice website, by boosting photosynthetic capacity of the rice grain, scientists can find a way to increase rice production under decreasing amounts of resources (land, water, fertilizer) and an ever increasing number of consumers. This C3-C4 transformation in rice is seen as an alternate route to the traditional way of improving rice yields: yield improvement in elite rice varieties are currently facing a road block. 

The C4 project is certainly right there at the tip of cutting-edge, almost-science-fiction research. Who knows, we might see rice panicles shooting from plants with leaves that look like corn someday.

We'll see.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Roland Buresh, on mentoring

Last Tuesday, November 6, I attended the lunch organized for participants in this year's Mentoring Program at the International Rice Research Institute. The special guest during this lunch meeting was no other than Dr Roland Buresh, IRRI's nutrient management expert.

And just like while listening to Dr Bruce Tolentino in one of the earlier lunches, I took note of three points that Dr Buresh discussed over lunch:
1. Stop thinking about why something doesn't work; start thinking how to make it work. In a laboratory, young scientists who are eager to test new ideas may, at times, feel like they're butting heads with brick walls. The younger ones shouldn't take it personally, according to Dr Buresh, because the elder scientists may have had supervisors who didn't entertain their ideas either. Dr Abdelbagi Ismail, another mentor present over lunch,  also said that we also have to observe the way we present our ideas. The way we say our ideas and suggestions affects the way other people react to them. In the end, Dr Buresh advised us not to be discouraged; instead, find other people who are more open to our ideas (they provide a conducive environment for brainstorming).
2. Mentors need to know how to be the bearers of bad news. Dr Buresh shared a day in his life as a grad student and how important a mentor's way of correcting someone can influence the future of that person's career. Someday, when I'm a mentor myself, I have to remember this point.
3. Learn to see the big picture. Scientists are trained to break things and concepts down to their basic components, according to Dr Buresh. At some point, he said, scientists have to piece them back together because stakeholders look at problems as a whole, not at the details. Somehow, this is similar to what Erik Mathijs discussed with us on systems thinking during the leadership course I had attended months back.
Yet another lesson-filled lunch at the Mentoring Program! I appreciate being surrounded by people who have gone through what I am just beginning to experience AND being around people who are in the same boat as I am. I'm looking forward to the group's next lunch!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Early-career scientists: new blood, new ideas

I was lucky to be chairing the morning session on Innovations and Novel Approaches during the IRRI Young Scientists Conference on November 8 because it provided a glimpse of what new technologies are being developed or being applied by young scientists for the rice sciences.

Novel ways for observing plant characteristics
One of the challenges of phenotyping (that's technical jargon for describing or measuring observable characteristics of an organism) is that it is a slow process. For example, measuring length, width and/or height of plant parts can be tedious and slow. To save time on phenotyping, Katherine Meacham uses a technology that takes 3-D images of plants and automates the measurements. She uses this technology (among others) because she needs to develop mathematical models about plant responses to environmental conditions within the time she's required to finish her PhD.
New look at proteins involved in water transport in plants
Alexandre Grondin talked about aquaporins, proteins that regulate the flow of water  between cells from plant roots to leaves. The movement of water affects the opening and closing of guard cells, cells in the leaves that open to allow gas exchange to occur: carbon dioxide enters the leaf and oxygen exits the leaf. When carbon dioxide enters, water vapor escapes. Hence, understanding and learning how to control the movement of water through these aquaporins have implications in making the rice plant more resilient in the presence of drought and high-temperature conditions.
Mobile phones as decision-making tools
During the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRISP) Asia Review, one of the questions I had in mind was: how will farmers use the Nutrient Manager smartphone application being developed by IRRI? I got an answer during Maria Eda Apple Suplido's presentation. The app is designed to be used by extension workers or by tech-savvy farmers to get personalized information about fertilizer input at the right place and the right time. The option to get information via phone call to an automated answering system is still available. It takes 15 minutes to get through the questions though. With the current set of questions, the developers of the software observed a lot of unfinished calls and are now trying to reduce the number of questions in an effort to lessen client phone time.
Breeding by MAGIC
Nonoy Bandillo talked a bit more about MAGIC: Multi-parent Advanced Generation Inter-Cross. MAGIC allows breeders to get a lot of favorable traits from eight rice parents into one plant. Genome-wide association mapping (GWAS) is currently being used to locate the chromosomes involved in various characteristics that enhance yield and quality. Someday, the MAGIC rice populations will help overcome the yield plateau. 
Making sense of the rice genome sequence
Jeffrey Detras' presentation is one example of how information technology is used to make sense of the enormous amounts of data being generated by the high-tech genotyping tools now available. The people involved in the OryzaSNP Project decode the rice DNA sequence. In Jeff's presentation, he showed a method that measures how much of the DNA sequence of one rice sample is indica, japonica, or aus. It is interesting to find out, for example, that indica rice varieties could have DNA sequences coming from japonica and aus rice varieties.
Five interesting presentations, all from very different fields. Yet when these are seen together, they form a cohesive picture of what rice science could look like in a few years' time.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

the "Happy Birthday, Mommy" dinner

Anna and I, on one of the weekends she was off-duty, went to Makati to celebrate our mother's birthday. We ended up in California Kitchen in Glorietta 4. 

That's Anna with her pasta plate and the whipped cream-topped shake. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

I was a chair for the first time. Ever.

This time, I write snippets as I attend the IRRI Young Scientists Conference. 
No, not literally.

I was chairing this morning's session on Innovations and Novel Approaches in the first IRRI Young Scientists Conference (IYSC). Being a chairperson for the first time, I was clueless with what I was supposed to do; particularly because someone else was doing the moderator duties.

Thankfully, the moderator of the session, Shanta Karki was well prepared and organized. She had print outs of speakers' profiles (which I used to introduce the speakers), time-keeping and alerting materials, and certificates of participation on hand before we began the session. The back-end of this technical session felt like a well-oiled machine.

There were only a few people as the session start time approached. Luckily, we had Hei Leung in the audience. He was able to convince more people to listen in on the Innovations session. 

It turns out that chairing a technical session wasn't so hard after all. All I had to do was introduce the speaker before his/her presentation and then facilitate the question-and-answer portion... and keep the speaker and the discussion from going overtime. The challenge, though, was how to stop a lively exchange when time ran out and how to get the ball rolling just in case nobody had a question for the speaker. In my case, though, I didn't have to think of questions because experts sitting in the audience were asking away.

IRRI Young Scientists Conference opens today. :)

This time, I write snippets as I attend the IRRI Young Scientists Conference. 

During the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) Asia Review, I observed that early-career scientists are being given the exposure they need to move their careers forward. Just four weeks after, they are once again given the chance to talk about their work, to meet their peers, and to hear what their peers in other scientific fields are doing. I am talking about the two-day IRRI Young Scientists Conference (#IYSC2012) going on at the International Rice Research Institute.

According to Govinda Rizal (IYSC conference chair and current president of the Association of Fellows, Scholars, Trainees, and Residents in IRRI), the conference serves as a platform to bridge "between experienced senior scientists and those following their footsteps". Indeed, the conference did allow me to talk with more established scientists. I was able to discuss with the likes of Jauhar Ali (who used to be a post-doctoral fellow at IRRI and is now a scientist involved in the Green Super Rice project) and Randy Barker (Cornell University professor emeritus and former head of IRRI's Social Sciences Division) during the technical sessions... they're not grain quality specialists so I don't see them often. 

During the opening program, Robert Zeigler (IRRI Director General) reminded us, young ones, to enjoy the experience of being a student or a post-doctoral fellow because this time of our lives won't last. One day, we'll start getting administrative and managerial responsibilities and may not be able to be as productive, scientifically, as we are now. On the other hand, Achim Dobermann (IRRI Deputy Director General (Research)) remarked that IRRI has a growing population of young scientists. In the past three years, the numbers of PhD students and post-doctoral fellows have approximately doubled; MSc student numbers have gone up; the number of nationally recruited staff has risen too. The IYSC is a venue for these budding scientists to share their research with a wider audience. Thus, he hopes that the IYSC is not just a one-time event.

The abstract book for the IYSC shows just how vibrant our set of young scientists are. On the first day of the conference, there were six concurrent sessions with about 78 speakers! The variety of the presentations indicated that rice science is not just about being in the farm. It's also about crop improvement and protection, markets and policies, genetics and molecular biology, innovations, and environmental issues. Really, rice science is a mix of so many different scientific fields!

Despite the complexity and diversity of rice science, there are people who tend to go only to sessions that are related to their fields of study. Both Drs Zeigler and Dobermann thus urged us to go to presentations on topics we don't normally listen in on so we don't become intellectual silos. Instead, we'd get the opportunity to become well-rounded, balanced scientists. Perhaps, this is one way to follow on Dr Buresh's lesson during the Mentoring Program lunch this week: learn to see the big picture.

No doubt, the future of rice science appears to be secure. The young scientists at the IYSC are surely "sustaining excellence in rice research".

meet Ninja, the kitten.

We named this cat Ninja because it's the first tortoise shell cat with predominantly dark patches. As a kitten, she was so dark that she's almost invisible at night. That's an almost perfect camouflage and she uses it to her  advantage... and to my annoyance whenever the "prey" she's set her eyes on is my foot.

She's not shy around humans and love to use their shoulders as perches (hence the photo above) and their pants-clad legs as scratching posts. She meows to announce her presence or just to greet us when we arrive home. She sometimes also races past me through the door into the house for reasons only she knows what.

Apparently, I'm not the only one to notice this unique tortoiseshell behavior. The blogger of The Conscious Cat has written a piece of what is termed as "tortitude". I am certain that Ninja displays  that.

I'm a blood donor (again) :D

Before I went for my three-week training in the USA in September, I donated blood during the IRRI-Rotary Club of West Bay blood drive. This is the annual activity that I participate in which requires me to gain a few kilos to qualify as a blood donor.

This year, I went along with Cindy and Crystal. For the first time, because I got good results for weight and blood pressure, the doctor did not ask too many health-related questions anymore. Crystal didn't donate but Cindy qualified to be a donor.

I didn't know what was up with my arm, but it took quite a while to get enough blood from my veins into the blood bag. The nurses, the phlebotomists, and the Rotarians were certainly helpful: I was given a stress ball to squeeze at while the collection was ongoing; the phlebotomists kept playing an MP3 of Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love" (I wanted to finish fast because I didn't want to hear it for the nth time!!); and the Rotarians provided congee and fruit juice for the donors.

At the end of the donation, I had something for show-and-tell back home: the puncture wound was visible and the skin around it had started to become bruised. Two months later, the scar is still visible.

The puncture wound, hours after I donated 500cc of blood.

Of course I was also able to bring home a more tangible souvenir: a pin from IRRI, the Rotary Club of West Bay, and the Philippine Red Cross. :)

My reward for donating :)

Here's hoping that the blood I donated will help people in need wherever in the Philippines. :)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

bitter dinner

"A wide array of bitter foods are... good for you." -- Elliott Essman
Last night, I had to eat bitter gourd for dinner. Plus a few eggshells, give or take.

Bitter gourd
Filipino name:   ampalaya
Scientific name: Momordica charantia

This hard-to-swallow veggie packs a powerful health punch; it's known to have antimicrobial, anticancer, and antidiabetes properties. Just one tiny detail: it is BITTER!

A lot of people have devised a lot of ways to remove the bitterness from the bitter gourd, from squeezing the juices out to putting a lot of salt onto the raw vegetable. Unfortunately, this kitchen novice has never cooked ampalaya before. I just blanched the bitter gourd and then scrambled five eggs to add the cooked vegetable in. The eggs certainly did the trick. The ampalaya was not as bitter as its aroma suggested! The accompanying pieces of chorizo also helped mask the bitter taste of the ampalaya.

Now, I've still got four pieces of cooked ampalaya. What should I do with them?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

I was at the LAX the day after Endeavour arrived!!

During the week that I was in training in Los Angeles, I was looking forward to see one thing: the flyover of NASA's Space Shuttle Endeavour. It was all over the morning news everyday the whole week.

On September 22nd, I was quite sad because the space ship already landed the day before and I didn't see it fly over LA because I was indoors. I wasn't even sure that I'd see it while outdoors because it might not have flown by Torrance (where I stayed) or Rancho Dominguez (where I was training). So I contented myself with watching the news coverage of the space shuttle's LAX landing.

I was wrong last year. While watching Endeavour's final flight last year, I thought that the next time I'd see this would be when it's a museum piece. It turned out that the world would see it one more time before it goes to a museum!

There's one consolation for me though: while the plane that was flying me from Los Angeles to Sacramento was going from the terminal to the runway, my fellow passengers and I got a glimpse of the NASA Boeing 747 jumbo jet just outside one of the hangars; if I remember correctly, it's the United Airlines hangar (but I'm not sure... wasn't able to take a photo while the plane I was in was taxiing).

Saturday, November 3, 2012

shoe shopping (yet again!)

Thanks to the foot pain, I've become a more picky shoe shopper. I couldn't buy shoes that don't have the right kind of support for the arch (thank you, tendonitis!); as such, I became limited to getting mostly running shoes and a pair of comfortable black pumps. 

Until I discovered Danskos last November.

Dansko is a brand of footwear catering mostly to people who have to be standing a lot like medical professionals and restaurant employees. The shoes are designed to be very comfortable and non-slip. So, I thought, why not get one for myself? I'm also on my feet most days and I'm known for slipping on the flattest of surfaces (hence the rehabilitation doctor told me to jog on a treadmill, not on the road yet).

Just in September this year, I finally got the opportunity to buy myself a pair (at The Walking Company branch in Sun Valley Mall). Initially, I wanted a pair of the red leaf patent or the funky knit patent. However, I ended up with the one that caught my eye last year: the black scribble patent. It's the prettiest too, in my opinion. 

My black scribble patent Dansko clogs

While I was breaking it in, I thought it was the heaviest pair of shoes that I owned. Yes, it was comfortable but the loose fit at the heel bothered me a lot in the beginning. In a few days' time, though, I got used to it (except for the squeaking noises as I walk in a quiet place). Imagine not feeling foot pain for the first time in several months!

My Danskos have virtually replaced my running shoes for weekday wear! My athletic shoes are now my weekend and my indoor jogging footwear. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Lolo Bats

Lolo Bats' grave, Nov 2012
I barely knew my paternal grandfather, Lolo Batangas. My only recollection of him was when he dropped by our house with a wound on his knee; he had taken a fall from his bike back in Padre Garcia, Batangas shortly before he visited us. I was, I think, almost five years old at the time.

I was drawing on the back of some piece of  cardboard using a permanent marker. It was supposed to be a sketch of a girl skating on an ice rink. When I showed it to him, he said:

Ano yan, kuwago? (What's that, an owl?)

Of course, I didn't know what a kuwago was until my parents explained that it's a bird with huge eyes (the girl I was drawing had big googly eyes :P).

Despite not really knowing him, I feel like I know of him enough based on my family's stories about him and even from people he had helped long time ago. From what I gather, he was a quiet man who always smiled. He worked really hard to keep his brood of six children in the best schools. My grandma, Lola Bats, fondly retells of their days as ice cream makers and bakers; their experiences when they stayed in the USA for a while; how pets (a dog and a horse) were very fond of Lolo Bats. My father always talks about my grandfather's high regard for education: he believed (and preached) that highly educated people live more convenient lives than people who didn't graduate from college. My aunts talk of how close they were to Lolo Bats; it gave me the impression that each daughter felt that she's my Lolo's favorite. My cousins relate of their days learning how to drive a tractor directly from him (they were preparing the land for sugarcane cultivation). People my grandpa had helped talked about his generosity in helping them with their businesses or their farms...

In short, I may not have known the man, but I know the legend. It would have been cool to know him, I think. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

going ahead of the all saints' day crowd

October 31 to November 2. Those are the days when I absolutely avoid traveling by road in the Philippines (aside from Holy Week, if I can help it). No, it's not because I'm afraid of fictional Freddie, Jason, or Chuckie. They're icky now, not scary. And certainly not because of ghosts, ghouls, trolls, or poltergeists... JK Rowling has helped popularize them in a kid-friendly way.

I don't like traveling on those dates because the roads to the cemeteries become parking lots. Vehicles are in a standstill while passengers just get off the vehicles and walk. And if I'm fortunate enough to be able to navigate the car through the barely moving traffic, there comes the question of the parking space inside the cemetery... particularly where my late paternal grandpa, who we grandkids call Lolo Batangas (the grandpa from Batangas), is buried: the Manila Memorial Park in Sucat Paranaque. 

My solution: visit him way ahead of the All Saints' Day crowd. This year, I dropped by a week before the holiday. I wasn't the only one, I found out; other people had started putting flowers and candles on grave sites. However, the atmosphere in the Manila Memorial Park was still peaceful because the place wasn't crowded yet. No blaring music, no vendors selling candles and flowers, no ropes to cordon off people from the road. Perfect setting to enjoy the place and to reflect upon happy childhood memories here.

The man-made lagoon

My family used to visit Lolo Batangas on his birth and death anniversaries, aside from All Saints' Day. Back then, we'd bring roller blades, bicycles, tents, and picnic on the grass beside his grave. One of my elder cousins used to practice driving over the bridge and we'd occasionally ride with her as she took her place behind the wheel. We also used to visit the zoo within the memorial park... there were monkey there. Lots of good memories.

Eventually, we didn't do those anymore lest we disturb his "neighbors". By the time I was in college, we'd just drop by, say a short prayer, and greet him. And with Lola Batangas (my paternal grandma) becoming frailer as she goes into her late nineties, she couldn't join us when we'd go even if she wanted to.

This is the garden where Lolo Bats now rests

Now with my family in opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean or on different schedules, visiting Lolo Bats as a unit has become even more of a challenge. So on this beautiful afternoon, I went -- even on my own -- to say hi and to get his grave cleaned up (since I got ahead of the rest of the clan).

Sunday, October 28, 2012

the blog migration continues

Since I've got a few minutes to spare today, I thought I might continue migrating content from Multiply to Blogger. 

The good news is that I've already obtained the .xml file of the Multiply blog posts. :)

The bad news is that what have been imported before are imported again! So there's a bit of manual tweaking involved to get the two blogs in sync before the December 1 shutdown of the social functionality of Multiply.

At least the posts are now in Blogger. It's just a matter of determining which ones are duplicates of what's on Blogger.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

the smallest plane I've ever flown in... so far

I am fascinated with airplanes; always have been, ever since I first saw a replica of one at the Fiesta Carnival back when I was still in pre-school. Actually, the fascination with planes has extended to my interest in manned space flight. I even went twice to the Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Festival to see them up close! The first trip was okay because I got to see the private planes but the second trip was better because there was an AirAsia passenger plane parked right on the plane garage!

Anyway, someone once told me that my fascination with airplanes will eventually die out when being a passenger in one becomes a more common occurrence... particularly after getting tired with all the security checks. I disagreed. I think that I will stay in awe of these giant metal birds until I am able to actually fly one...

... Even if it looks like a bus with wings.

On the last leg of my US training in September, I had to fly from Los Angeles to Sacramento. Probably since the flight was under an hour and there were only a few passengers, the airline chose to bring passengers to Sacramento via the smallest plane I've ridden on so far: a Canadair Regional Jet (CR9 or 7, I can't remember). Based on the passenger count, it's literally a bus with wings! Plus, while walking towards the plane via the jetway, I saw the sky above the plane... this plane was not as tall as the Boeings or the Airbuses, I thought.

The smallness of the plane was further emphasized by a crewman who mentioned that my carry-on wouldn't fit in the overhead compartment. That made me worry that the plane was really tiny! And it really was. Thank goodness the flight was short. I wouldn't want to ride this plane from San Francisco all the way to Manila!

And I'm note even complaining about the smallness of the economy cabin in international flights. :)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Want to go paperless in the field? There's FieldLab for that!

I interrupt regular personal blog posting to give way to some insights from the Global Rice Science Partnership Asia review. Let's shift towards more scientific stuff, sort of...


Ten years ago, I'd go to the rice fields to collect data about flowering time every morning and come back to the lab to process the data that I collected in spreadsheets. One time, I was startled by one of those big birds that call rice fields their home. Then there was a time when I fell down into the rice paddy because I had slipped. On both occasions, the paper I was using to record my data in got muddied up. That made it hard for me to encode information into the computer.

At this year's Global Rice Science Partnership Asia Review, as I was listening to Ed Redona, the global coordinator for the International Network for Genetic Evaluation of Rice (INGER), I learned that data entry in the field has moved forward a lot. Instead of just paper for data entry, researchers these days have a another field data entry platform:  an Android-based application called FieldLab. With it, anyone with an Android smartphone can go to the field and record their observations; this saves on time and on paper (thus, is more environmentally friendly).

Smartphones. Mobile applications. High-tech computing. Agriculture certainly now requires its students and practitioners to be increasingly tech-savvy. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

prepping for my GRiSP 2012 five-minute presentation

During the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) Asia Review, I was tasked (along with Tita Dory and Crystal) to talk for five minutes (each) about a year's worth of scientific progress. The five-minute talk was definitely a challenge because of the length; the time limit was a good thing too, because that meant that the audience's attention spans won't be something to worry about.  

Some people say that the five-minute presentation just a matter of creating five text slides and allotting one minute to talk about (or read) the contents of each slide. No rehearsals necessary. True, sort of. That's quick and simple to do. It, however, makes for five very slow minutes for the audience (unless they want to write down what's on the slides), just like in class. And rehearsals are still needed to make sure that the presentation is within the time limit.

I didn't want to present my report that way, definitely. 

As usual, I went back to my speaker role models for some inspiration: Al Gore and Steve Jobs. There are three things I find these two speakers really work on (aside from them both using Apple Keynote): the story, the presentation style, and the visual aids.

The story. Each Stevenote and Al Gore's talk in Manila engrosses people because there's a plot, a storyline that they could hang on to. Aside from seeing this in Jobs' and Gore' talks, I have always heard Dr Fukuta (my first supervisor in IRRI) talk about the importance of the story in each presentation. For my GRiSP 2012 talk, I asked: how do I plot the story into a five-minute talk? What are the major plot details? What can I leave out and just talk about when a question arises? What do I need to build up on? How do I end narrating an unfinished story? These questions were answered when I talked with Melissa, former head of the lab I'm in. I liken it to a storyboard session. 

The presentation style. After getting a story together, I had to figure out how to weave it with how I was going to talk about it. I definitely wouldn't go slide-less because this was a progress report BUT if there were technical issues and my slides won't work, I should be able to present my report without them. I definitely wouldn't do an Al Gore- or a Steve Jobs- styled presentation because I wouldn't have enough time, or material, to build up the suspense (a la An Inconvenient Truth or a MacWorld keynote). In the end, I think I mixed elements of Lessig (slide transition cues and no slide count limitation) and Godin (high quality photos plus statements) with a few bullet points (grudgingly). The Lessig style required a lot of rehearsal to make slide transitions seamless. My five-minute talk actually took quite a few hours of mentally practicing my lines and "time trials" considering I had prepared my presentation mere days before my talk. If I could master my talk so that it took less than five minutes to present in rehearsal, I would be right within five minutes when the nervousness kicked in during my presentation.

The visual aids. Unadorned slides are like blank canvases and so are my favorite starting points. However, there was a pre-made slide template for GRiSP so I had to stick with that. A few good images I had taken were included; the font sizes were all big enough to be readable in the back of the lecture hall; animations were not used. 

The preparation helped a lot for my presentation. I won't say that it's perfect because I did get tongue-tied and mispronounced a few words but I think that the story came across loud and clear within the time limit. That was most important.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The King and I at the Resorts World Manila

After "The Sound of Music", my aunt and I watched the Philippine production of "The King and I" at the Resorts World Manila's Newport Performing Arts Theater. That was over the weekend. I have always been puzzled why I couldn't seem to finish watching the movie version of this play, even if it was the 1956 film starring Yul Brynner. And I actually fell asleep when I was watching the 1999 Anna and the King film! (That's the one with Jodie Foster as Anna. To my defense, I did have jet lag at the time)

The matinee show was led by Bo Cerrudo as King Mongkut of Siam and by Sheila Valderrama as Anna Leonowens. Bo Cerrudo is great as the King, but Yul Brynner had made the role synonymous to him that it's difficult to imagine someone else playing the part. In fact, I don't even remember who Anna was in the 1956 movie. On the other hand, the stellar performance of Sheila Valderrama kept teacher Anna Leonowens from being overshadowed by the King. The artist who played Lady Thiang was the perfect example of poise, dignity, and grace... truly the first of the King's many wives. The dancers who performed Uncle Tom's Cabin, particularly Eliza, were so good!

Then there were the sets. I particularly liked the intricate detail of the palace sets with the gold elephants. It must have taken ages to create those! The ugh factor in "The Sound of Music" was the digital, highly pixelated imagery in the backdrop; it was a big distraction. But in "The King and I", the set designer made sure that the LED screen enhanced the scenery (like temple view from a balcony or a window), not drew attention from the actors. I just didn't like the presence of the TV screens at the sides of the theater; these got me confused -- Where should I look? The stage? The TV monitors?

At the end of the show, I realized why I didn't finish seeing the whole thing in the movies: the show was three hours long! 

If there was one thing that made watching The King and I a challenge, it was the presence of a lot of children in the audience. By the time the play had finished the first act, kids were standing on their seats or talking loudly, or running all over... with their guardians not seeming to mind! Next time I'd watch a play like this, I'd go to a gala performance, that's for sure.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Best Western Plus Avita Suites


My home, during my trip to the US last month, was where my suitcase was. The second leg of my trip saw me transfer from the bayous of New Orleans to the coast of Torrance (in the Greater Los Angeles Area).

During my training week in Los Angeles, I stayed at the Best Western Plus Avita Suites. It's my first time to stay in a suite so I came largely unprepared when my room had its own kitchen area. There was no stove but there's a microwave, a coffee machine, and a fridge. I didn't bring eating utensils and dishwashing stuff! Aside from the kitchen, my room also had spacious living and working areas. And note that staying here was a lot more affordable than staying in a hotel! No wonder I saw a lot of families also staying there (probably on vacation) and people who looked like they were on business trips.

I liked my stay in Best Western. Aside from the nice room, the place is very close to the shopping mall (walking distance) and the beach (a 20-minute bus ride from the mall). It was, however, quite a challenge to go around without a car since public transportation is not as easy to access as in the Philippines.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Flat Stanleys

Flat Stanley by the rocks at Redondo BeachFlat Stanley in Redondo BeachFlat Stanley at the Del Amo Plaza in TorranceFlat Stanley with Mount Makiling in the backgroundFlat Stanley beside a rice fieldFlat Stanley outside the Grain Quality and Nutrition Center in IRRI
Flat Stanley with Mount Banahaw in the distance

Flat Stanleys, a set on Flickr.
Via Flickr:
I first met Flat Stanley when Jeanne Lea introduced me to this children's story character.

Basically, Flat Stanley travels all over the world and has his photo taken wherever he finds himself. In these photos, he has gone to different places with me as I traveled in September and October 2012.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

shopping mode

More rice science and GRiSP in the future. But first, I'm back to writing more about personal stuff...


On one slow evening after I'd gone back to my suite in Torrance, I took to surfing the internet about the shopping malls I've gone into, particularly inspired by my visit to the Del Amo Shopping Center. I realized, as I was reading about them, that I've been to some of the biggest shopping malls in my travels!

The floor areas are from Wikipedia. Naturally, most of the malls that I've gone to are in the Philippines. I was surprised that the local malls dwarf the one's I've seen overseas! I guess this indicates that Filipinos are mall rats, huh?

Here's a rundown:

SM North EDSA (504,900 m²)
In reality, I haven't been able to go around this huge mall just yet. The last time I went there, I was with friends for lunch and snacks. This shopping mall is different, compared to other malls, because the roof area was converted to al fresco dining spots and a waterfall was put in place too. A sky dome has been put in place to allow the sunlight to enter the mall. This mall is accessible from the south via EDSA both by car and by train (MRT-3).
SM Mall of Asia (390,193 m²)
Now this one is a bit closer to home. Easily accessible via the Southern Luzon Expressway or via Sucat Road and Macapagal Highway, this shopping center is more accessible for people driving their own cars than to people who take public transportation (or I just don't know how to go there by bus?). You'd know you're there because you'd be welcomed by the giant globe right at the roundabout. While the mall is huge, especially with the recent addition of the sports arena (the venue of the Manila run of Cirque du Soleil's Saltimbanco), the floor area dedicated to shopping space isn't as big as that of SM North EDSA.
SM Megamall (348,056 m²)
This used to be the biggest mall that I had been to. I've been there just this week and it still feels huge! To walk from one end of the mall to the other (which is in the other building) takes what feels like ages! Take note, there are a lot of people in the mall whether there's a weekend discount or not. I normally take the train when I go to the Megamall because it's the fastest way to go... traffic in this area of the metro is bad.
SM City Cebu (268,611 m²)
Another big mall. It's so big that I didn't have enough time to actually see what's inside it. The funny thing, though, was that I flew all the way from Manila to end up in SM City Cebu. Because the stores in this mall are mostly the same ones that are in Manila, I didn't feel like I traveled at all... well, except for the language. The people in SM City Cebu spoke in Cebuano but would answer in Filipino when I asked them (because I'm a Tagalog).
Greenbelt (250,000 m²)
Whenever I'm in this mall, I don't know if I feel empowered because I could walk here and window shop or feel sad because I couldn't afford, or refuse to buy (because I feel they're overly expensive), many of the beautiful things being sold there. This mall is home to some of the world's more expensive brands and caters to the shopping tastes of both the upwardly mobile middle class and the truly rich. I don't go here to shop most of the time though. This is the place to eat (for me and my sister) because it has a lot of different cuisines in one location. 
SM Southmall (205,120 m²)
It was big before it was renovated; now, it's huge! I haven't been to this mall for many years because the traffic going to and from is heavy most of the time; I couldn't stand waiting in traffic. When my sister used to figure skate in this mall, the skating rink looked really big. But after seeing the ice at the Mall of Asia, I think that the present rink in Southmall either looks really small; either its size shrunk during renovation, or I've just seen a bigger one to compare it with.
Ala Moana Shopping Center (200,000 m²)
I visited this mall with fellow graduate school students back in 2008 when we were all attending the AACC International annual meeting in Hawaii. I don't remember much about the department stores since it's been a long while, but I do remember enjoying walking in it because the corridors inside the mall were lit naturally by the sun. The outdoor mall was also a good place to walk in. The only experience that I didn't enjoy so much was eating the poi at the food court. I heard that it's what people traditionally eat. For someone who's used to eating rice, the texture of the poi is something I need to get used to.
Del Amo Fashion Center (200,000 m²)
This is the closest tourist spot to the hotel I stayed at in Torrance CA... for someone who has no car. The sheer size of it requires someone to allot one day to explore it or chop the trip there into shorter doses over several days. I chose the latter because I found the interior of the mall to be a bit too dark for me. It reminded me of the Quad in Makati back in the 1980s, before it was renovated and is now known as the Glorietta. The outdoor shopping area is another story. It reminded me so much of Ala Moana, actually. It's sunny outside (conducive for shopping?) and is where some of my favorite clothing brands are located... plus my go-to southern California afternoon snack bar for the week I was there: Jamba Juice.
Sunvalley Mall (130,000 m²)
Another one of the dark malls in California. Even in daytime, I felt like it's late in the afternoon inside. I haven't explored the whole mall yet. But my trips going to this mall has always been pleasant because I'd go there with my family. I didn't mind the rather dark interiors too much. (The malls in the Philippines are so well lit inside that I lose track of time inside... I even feel surprised if it's dark outside!)
Lakeside Shopping Center (89,800 m²)
I guess that when you've been into one shopping mall everything else looks similar. Still, I was expecting something quite different from this New Orleans shopping center. Maybe because the Louisiana cuisine is unique or because the state is known for its musical roots, or maybe because I've always associated New Orleans with voodoo and Halloween is approaching. I did see some stained glass decorations and tiny figurines about New Orleans in the gift shop but I didn't feel so much of the festive atmosphere New Orleans is famous for. 
Broadmarsh Shopping Center (45,000 m²)
My first encounter with this mall was when I was searching for the bus that I could ride to get to the University of Nottingham. It was an interesting walk: I was pulling my luggage on cobblestone roads, still not believing that I landed in England in winter clad in summer clothes! I was looking for road signs but there were none; so it took me about half an hour to locate the bus station in the biting cold. But that didn't dampen my mood; nor did the gloomy weather. I was in England, after all; what student attending a conference would not take on such an adventure? My next trip to the mall was when I had intended to see Robin Hood's statue near the Nottingham Castle. Since the sun set too early for my afternoon walk, I settled on visiting the mall instead. The  architectural style in the surrounding area made me feel like I traveled to the past but the mall's interior reminded me that I was indeed still in the present.
Have I had enough of shopping malls? There are times when I feel that I have. During these times, I stick to grocery stores and supermarkets and then prepare home-cooked meals. But groceries and supermarkets are another story altogether.