Thursday, October 30, 2014

#IRC2014: I know those people in the telly!

Late at night, after the opening ceremony, I started flipping channels back in my room. I settled on a local channel because there were no English channels. So with the ambient noise in check, I started reviewing Twitter posts about the event and catching up on unread messages.

Hang on... was that Dr Matthew Morell's face? And then there's Dr Bruce Tolentino! And the other faces... those were sitting in the front row of BITEC's grand hall earlier that day. The local late-night news covered the opening ceremony! (In Thai, of course, so I didn't understand anything.)

Unfortunately, I wasn't quick enough... I was watching the telly but I forgot to take a picture of the screen. 

A few days later, I was back watching a local telenovela, albeit not understanding a word of what the actors were saying, followed by a news clip (I think). 

I know those people, AGAIN!!! 

The clips were taken at the IRRI exhibit. Wow! The International Rice Congress really was getting some media coverage! :) And that's an example of how important rice is to the Thai people: An event, in which scientists from all over the world discuss rice, makes it to the news.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

#IRC2014: the IRRI exhibit

When the exhibition space opened, I was amazed with what I saw. This was IRRI's exhibit at the International Rice Congress, brimming with information about the science that we do to contribute to the alleviation of hunger, reduction of poverty, saving the environment, and conservation of cultures.

This was their chance to get their burning questions answered.

The Oryza modelling team. They had a workshop during the IRC.

Heirloom rice tasting with Violy, Matthew, and Liz. Gene was taking videos. Not sure if Lem took this shot.

Me with some of the faces of the IRRI exhibit. I saw them all in the tv news clip!
The main attraction, in my opinion, was the flood-tolerant rice display, with fish swimming in it. 

Thank you to everyone in the exhibit team! We had a blast during the International Rice Congress! Thanks to Paul, Tita Lolit, and Ate Mahlie for taking care of the rice-tasting portion of the exhibit while I attended scientific sessions. Thank you so much, Nese and Tony for flying me over to Bangkok to be part of the exhibit. And thank you to the delegates who dropped by the IRRI exhibit and tasted rice! 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

#IRC2014: I'm part of the press!

Sixteen years ago, I was the Science section editor of The Ruralite, the school organ of UP Rural High School. That was the year I last wore a press badge... Until I was given one on Monday, October 27, 2014. I was attending the International Rice Congress as a member of the press!!

The experience, I was sure, would be a unique one. I wasn't going to the conference as a delegate. I didn't have a talk or a poster. My main assignment as a member of the press, this time around, was to post tweets on my personal Twitter account. That was easy enough, I thought, since I've been doing this since the Global Rice Science Partnership took off a few years ago. 

A member of the press. For one week only. Ooooh! This brought back good old memories of running around looking topics to feature, people to interview, and articles to write, in high school!

Thank you, Tony and Nese, for sending me over to the IRC!

Monday, October 27, 2014

#IRC2014: The hunt for goldfish

I've prepped my part of the IRRI exhibit, which was why I wanted to see if there's anything I could do to help...

Paul: Can you buy fighting fish or goldfish?
Rochie: Fish? As in, live fish?!? What's the fish for?
P: We'll put it with the flood-tolerant rice... Buy fish food and anti-chlorine tablets as well.
R (scratching her head): Where in Bangkok am I supposed to find live fish?!?

Since Otep, another attendee at the International Rice Congress, was finished with his chores, I asked him to go with me to search for fish. The staff at the Bangkok International Trade and Exhibition Center gave directions to the fish shop and instructions on commuting via the BTS SkyTrain. It was an exciting time for me because it's my first time to visit Bangkok and I was already going to try riding the train! So, off Otep and I went, with spring to our step. This was an opportunity to see the city!

The hunt for fish had officially begun.

As per instruction, we disembarked at the Udom Suk station in Bangkok's Bang Na district. According to the instructions, we were supposed to cross the street and then pass by a 7-Eleven branch before we reached the fish shop. However, we must have gone lost in translation because we ended up in a fish market... You know, for freshly caught (and very dead) fish to be eaten, not live ones that could be put in an aquarium.

Thank goodness for international roaming and a flat-rate data plan, I was able to search for a nearby pet shop specializing in aquatic animals. And by 'nearby', Google found a shop a kilometer away! Our only concern was that "Udom Suk Aquarium" might turn out to be similar to Ocean Park—a tourist destination—instead of a pet shop. The search pages I've scanned, however, suggested that it indeed was a store selling pet fish. 

And so we walked, with me wishing that I had flown my crutches with me and that I've wrapped my foot with Ace. Nevertheless, it was a good way of seeing this part of Bangkok. At last, we've reached Udom Suk Soi 15, the address of the fish shop.

Oh boy... I didn't realize, not being a fish enthusiast, that there are so many fish that look like goldfish! They're all orange! Otep and I just chose the fish whose sizes (we thought) appeared to be proportional to the size of the glass case where they'll live for a week.

Happy that we found the fish, Otep and I went back to the convention center. Paul then treated the water with the anti-chlorine drops (we didn't find the tablet form) and acclimatized the fish before setting them loose with the rice.

Looks like they're all happy in the water, no? Little did these fish know that they're about to become famous this week.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

#IRC2014: my journey to Bangkok was filled with laughter

Matty: Let's take the flight together. Then we can watch Fawlty Towers on iPad in the air.
Rochie: We are on the same flight!! Fawlty Towers flight!!

M: My iPad is completely Rochie-fied... Loaded with Fawlty Towers, Chef!, The Office, etc.
R: Cool!! We have lots to watch for in-flight entertainment. :D


And so my flight to Bangkok, Thailand promised to be something I could look forward to after a very long 72-hour day. The weather was good; not too hot and not rainy either. The traffic was fast-moving most of the way from my house to the airport. I got to the airport first; so while waiting for Matty, I was people watching... well, counting how many IRRI staff were taking the same flight that we were taking this afternoon.

During check-in, I forgot to request for us to sit together (something I've never bothered about before because I normally fly alone). Good thing he had an aisle seat a few rows up. It's easier to trade aisle seats than middle seats (one of which was my seat), which was why he was able to move over to my row for our in-flight entertainment package.

We watched Fawlty Towers and then Extras on his iPad for most of the flight. Since we were wearing earphones while watching extremely funny episodes, we were synchronously giggling throughout the flight, without realising how noisy we were. Plus, since the other passengers couldn't hear the shows we're watching, Matty and I must have looked like we were crazy, talking quite loudly above the volume of the earphones (so everyone can hear) and laughing our way to Bangkok.

That's why the four-hour flight didn't feel like a four-hour flight. As we landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport, I knew that the gap to the next Extras episode would be a long one. Back to The Arrow and to The Flash, in the meantime, if it's shown on the telly in my hotel in Bangkok. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

#IRC2014: buzzer beating photo finish

7:00pm-ish. Wednesday.

Rochie, we need to include a chart that shows improvements in rice breeding.

Rochie, please provide links to photos from the institute Flickr account so we can extract high-resolution images for the banners.

Rochie, use the previous posters as sources for the new banners. Let's include this and this... not this anymore...

Rochie, it's 7pm now. We'll need text and images tomorrow, by lunch time, to ensure that the banners will get printed on time.

Pressure, right? Lem, a member of the Comms team, described what we were about to pull off as a photo finish. 

Indeed it was. A buzzer beater too, if I may add, because Boyet, the layout artist was flying today to Bangkok to help with the exhibit set up.

Everything was made ready in time, despite the short notice, only because everyone involved worked as a tightly knit team. That part of the exhibit of which I'd be in became possible through the efforts of a lot of people working like a well-oiled machine. They just made the seemingly impossible possible. Nese, Tony, and members of the Comms team, thank you!! 

Friday, October 24, 2014

AdMU days: and just like that, the term's over

I've taken up a teaching assignment at the Ateneo de Manila University. This semester, I teach Biotechnology for Everyone, a course designed for non-biology majors. I'll write about my experiences from time to time.

Once upon a time, these kids have dreamed of stepping into their dream university, ready to take on the world. One academic term into their programs at the Ateneo and now they are well on their way to make their next dreams come true: to earn a degree that will light paths to careers and experiences of their choosing. 

It's been a privilege for me to have known these bright students somewhat, because I only taught them in one course: how they think, how they see the world of science, and how they think and feel about contributing to the development of the country.

As they trudge on in college, I wish them all well and I promise them that everything will happen for the best. Later on in life, they will look back to faded memories and hazy images of their first semester as college students and I do hope that they will remember Biotechnology for Everyone favourably.
(Freshies no more. They survived one school term already.)

Good luck and God bless you, dear Freshmen! If there is something I can tell you about life 16 years after I entered the University of the Philippines Los Baños, it is this: You will surprise yourself with how far you have gone. Just keep your light shining brightly. 

Lux in Domino.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

AdMU days: Losing sleep over exams

I've taken up a teaching assignment at the Ateneo de Manila University. This semester, I teach Biotechnology for Everyone, a course designed for non-biology majors. I'll write about my experiences from time to time.

If there's one thing I've realised about teaching, it is this: It leads to several sleepless nights, particularly when preparing for lectures or for exams. Students like me (before I took this teaching stint) never really think or appreciate how much effort teachers put into each lesson, quiz, class activity, or test. This is why I felt, throughout the term, that I had a backstage pass–a the-making-of view, if you will–into what goes on in a teacher's life. Take note, I am hardly a teacher, spending only five hours a week in uni, officially; however, the pre- and the post-class tasks make up more time than I had expected.

I love preparing exams that challenge students to think (such as essay writing and problem solving). If students find these types of exams difficult to answer, just imagine how slow it is to check questions structured in those ways. I lose a lot of sleep hours because I need to comment and evaluate my students' answers before I give them scores.

One of those sleepless nights came right after I sprained my ankle. I had to check my students' final exams as fast as possible so I could submit their final grades on time.

I had a few days of rest–I wouldn't call them idle time–because I couldn't go home yet. Because of the injury, I couldn't drive and so I was pretty much stuck with my nephews and niece in my aunt's house. When I felt that I could already drive despite walking with crutches, I drove home (in lots of pain despite the NSAIDs) and resumed checking exams with The Hobbit playing on the telly. That was one long night!

With a lot more exams still waiting to be checked, I'm sure I'll still have a lot of sleepless nights. I just wish that I could get all these checking over and done with!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Not again! (*groan*)

Today ended so unexpectedly.

I had a pretty hectic day filled with meetings and number crunching. I was walking to Val's office fresh from a previous meeting. Val and I were supposed to work on our report but something more urgent came up for him to finish so he cancelled our workshop over the phone and I started walking back to the lab.

As I was getting off the curb at Pili Drive, however, I twisted my right ankle (inversion) pretty badly. At first, I thought I could deal with the pain until I reached the lab (which was still a good five-minute brisk walk); but my first step after my mishap was so painful that I opted to drag my foot to the clinic (which was closer) instead. The doctor at the clinic gave me painkillers and had my foot bandaged with Ace and Kuya Jun fetched me and brought me back to the lab.

A few hours later, I was in hospital, getting my foot x-rayed. Rhulyx and Rizza kindly drove me over to the hospital's emergency room while Tita Mely, Tita Lucy, and Ate Madie went there to pick me up and to help me buy crutches. Val also dropped by to make sure I was okay... He even transferred my car to a parking space closer to the lab later that evening because I was in no shape to drive anytime soon.

(In the hospital's emergency room. Photo by Ate Madie)

So what exactly happened to my foot? I was so surprised that I couldn't walk because of the extreme pain... That's despite the strengthening exercises I've done when the same foot was in therapy for a different injury. I mean, come on! I'm prepping for a 5-km road race in November!!

It must be a simple sprain because the initial analysis of my x-ray indicated that I didn't break any bones (thank goodness!). I hope that I don't have to write off the race. I fully intend to be road ready. As soon as I can, I'm going back to therapy and train for the race.

But as always, if my foot isn't ready to run, I'll just walk. My foot should be ready to (at least) walk by then.

Right? Right.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

the party continued after the wedding party

This must be how it felt like after The Avengers defeated the alien army led by Loki into Earth and they have proceeded to the shawarma restaurant in New York (post-credit scene).

Peace. Quiet. Good comfort food.

Well, in our case, my friends and I didn't come from a highly violent fight-for-our-lives episode. Instead, we came from Grace and TJ's wedding party and went over to Chili's for starters and for dessert! Party music was replaced with the ambient noise from the telly. The adrenaline rush (of 'competing' for prizes) had already worn off. It was time to simply catch up with friends I haven't seen for a long while and to get to know the significant others who were present (Prad, Christine's husband, and Benjo, Jyas' boyfriend).

Ahh... And yes, to be grilled about being the party's equivalent of the wedding bouquet catcher. Plus to hear a running commentary, from the boys, about their first impressions about the guy who won the garter. Hahaha!!

What a way to end the week!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Grace and TJ get married!!

An old saying goes:

"Good friends are like stars. You don't see them but you know that they are always there."

And then there are days when you just drop everything you're doing to be with your friends on special occasions. During those times, it feels like seeing shooting stars!

This year, one of my friends from high school, Grace, got married. It was one of the best wedding celebrations I have ever attended. How couldn't it be? There was good food, great music, and I got the absolute best seat in the house: on the same table with my high school barkada

Grace married TJ, who I met for the first time on their wedding day. This was also my first time to meet Christine's husband, Prad; Niña's boyfriend, Christian; and my second time to meet Jyas' boyfriend, Benjo. All the while, I was wondering: where was I for the last several years?!? Oh right, not in Manila.

Anyhow, being with them was the perfect way to set the mood. I think there was a bit of friendly competition between Grace's friends (us, from University of the Philippines) and TJ's friends (mostly from De La Salle University). The emcee, Atom, was pretty surprised when many of the prizes given away were received by people seated around my table. Our table was also somewhat singled out by the musicians when they needed audience participation. 

As always, I ended up in the hot seat. One, because I caught this wedding's version of the bouquet (read: I failed to grab vegetables) and two, I alone, guffawed when someone cracked what I thought sounded like a Pythonesque joke. Epic fail for me and my sense of humor!

Congratulations, TJ and Grace! Thank you for inviting me to witness your special day and make it one for the books for me as well. 

NB: I delayed posting these pictures below because I wanted the newlyweds to post official wedding photos first. :)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

AdMU days: First day high

I've taken up a teaching assignment at the Ateneo de Manila University. This semester, I teach Biotechnology for Everyone, a course designed for non-biology majors. I'll write about my experiences from time to time.

First day of classes finally arrived in June. My very first set of students was composed of economics, diplomacy, management engineering, and political science majors. They're freshmen, some being the cream of the crop of their high school classes. 

Nervous? You bet I was! 

Did they notice the nerves? I hope that they didn't because I know how students could behave badly when they get wind that they've gotten a first-timer for an instructor.

Anyway, the first day went as smoothly as it could be. I was quite happy. The students seemed to be bubbly eager beavers, which would definitely make my job of teaching them relatively easy. So on our first day, we just went through the syllabus and the house rules. The actual lessons would be dished out during the second meeting. That's when the hard work would begin...

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

my dream of flying came true! (sort of)

Anna and I were watching Sports Unlimited one Saturday evening and we saw a segment featuring Flying Trapeze Philippines. Right after the segment, we talked about doing it the next weekend. And so we went to Bonifacio Global City to give ourselves quite a scare weeks ahead of Halloween.

Before we were allowed to fly, the instructors gave specific directions on the ground. We learned how to hook our legs on a stationary handlebar and then let our hands go; ready to grab the catcher's hand. We were also taught how to jump off in mid swing, doing a backflip (and look poised in the process)... all theoretical, of course, since we were still on the ground.

Then the most frightening part of it all, the first ascent to the platform where we'd grab the real trapeze handle bar. This experience reminded me of the first time I ever went on the edge of a building to rappel in San Pablo City; the first time I hopped off a boat into Caliraya Lake to wakeboard; the first time I stepped onto a ledge overlooking the Colorado River at the Grand Canyon West... basically, some the most daring things I've done in my life so far. The anticipation (in the case of the flying trapeze, the climbing part) was the worst. 

But a scare the jump was not! It was so much fun!

I have promised myself that I'm going to fly again soon. There is definitely a next time to flying trapeze. :)

Monday, October 6, 2014

there and back again: the Subic edition

Nelzo decided, at the last minute, that he wanted to go with me on my first road trip (ever) to Subic, Zambales so that he could join me in visiting our friend, Nellie Ann and her family. Since I didn't have access to the magical world's Floo Network, we didn't have much of a choice but to travel by land. Together with his churchmate, Khim, we drove along SLEX, NLEX, and SCTEX for about three hours to reach Subic. The landscape and the (no) traffic scenes on the NLEX and the SCTEX, on this rare occasion that I drove during daytime, were picturesque. However, since I was the designated driver, Nelzo takes the credit for the road shots. :)

Here's the thing: when I drive long distances, like this 400-km roundtrip road trip to Subic, I normally bring sweets with me to boost my energy. However, I forgot to bring some of my Skittles and my one bag of Maltesers for the ride (*sigh*). So we stopped at one of the giant NLEX gas stations to bump up my sugar supply.

When we arrived at the restaurant where the baptism reception was held, we found out that it had ended and that the food was being packed as take away. Nevertheless, we were able to spend time with Rizza and Nellie. I am very thankful that Nellie was such a graceful host. 

(I grabbed the photos from either Rizza's or Nellie's Facebook accounts)

After the luncheon, we took some time to check out a mall in Subic. After all, who goes to Subic without shopping right? It was a good decision, really, since it rained quite heavily while we're there... and I avoided driving in bad road conditions. I did get to buy things I needed, too.

Just when I thought that this was already a pleasant way for my Subic driving adventure to end, I got invited to have dinner in Calamba with another set of friends (at Ippon Yari)! So I drove straight from Subic to Calamba... making it there at about the same time as my friends. I wasn't complaining  about the long trip, though. That dinner was the icing to an already delicious cake.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

my top 10 teachers I want to sit in classes of

Being one in celebration of World Teachers' Day, and having first dibs at what a vocation teaching is, I list down the top 10 teachers whose classes (if they do hold classes) I want to attend or have attended. Interesting, this list turned out to be. When I started composing it from the top of my head, most of the names that popped up are not of biologists or food scientists. Most of them are experts in the social sciences. Prof Payawal, the only one from the Biological Sciences, even taught his course with a heavy dose of social science!

Does that imply anything? Perhaps, I'm trying to understand science in the social context? Or maybe my interest in the social sciences came even much earlier, back in senior year high school when most of the university applications I submitted had social science as my major. 

Without further ado, my top 10 list of teachers I wish or I actually had attended the classes of:

 1. Ambeth Ocampo

History has always been deemed as a steady, boring stream of dates, names, and places. However, he changed all that. The professor teaching the PI 100 class I had in back in college introduced the students to Ocampo's book "Rizal Without an Overcoat". That made studying history more fun: national heroes that are usually being deified are brought back to Earth through his engaging way of writing the heroes' stories. I just imagine sitting in an Ocampo class and learning and retaining a lot more information because he's able to make history relatable to students... they way that it should be.

 2. Paul Zafaralla

Another of my most memorable professors in UPLB. Imagine a summer... Instead of lounging by the beach, immersing myself in the lushness of rainforests, or simply just being a couch potato at home, I was attending a class which I'd call a blockbuster hit if it were a movie. His Humanities 2 class is the only one I've sat in where students are actually lining up and willing to sit on the floor or stay standing up in class because there's just too many students wanting to attend it... even if he was a tough professor... definitely NOT an easy A. Let's put it this way: He is UPLB's real-life answer to Harvard U's fictional Robert Langdon.

 3. Pacifico Payawal

If anyone has said that theater arts and science lectures could be done by one person on one stage at the same instant, I would have scoffed and said that this is impossible. However, I've seen it with my own two eyes... for one semester, I sat at his Bio 70 class in UPLB and was so fascinated with how he claimed that "people are children of the stars" and how he empathically and fearlessly predicted that one day, fuel supplies in the world will all be used up. He used the front of the classroom as his stage and performed a monologue, Tuesdays and Thursdays, week in and week out, without fail. One of the most fascinating teachers to watch... and his class had helped me understand that biology is not in a silo. It is connected with economics, with culture, with politics... Basically, heis lectures prepared me, mentally, for one of the last courses I sat in in UPLB: STS 101.

 4. Al Gore

I'm a fan of his Inconvenient Truth documentary. I even got myself a ticket months in advance so I could watch his talk in Manila! He shows that slide decks are important but the way the story is told is important as well. He addresses both the heart and the mind, with the expectation that people listening to him would support his cause. His presentation style, along with Steve Jobs' awesome MacWorld speeches, has led me to the works of Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds, actually.

 5. Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds

Their visual aid aesthetic philosophies are very influential as I develop my presentation skills. They say, in essence, that slide decks are not crutches; they are not hand-outs; they are not supposed to cause information indigestion. As I learn how to build slidedecks, I begin to appreciate the importance of going offline and drawing storyboards by hand as I solidify the 12-minute tale I will weave for the audience both for information dissemination and for entertainment.

 6. Neil Bearden

I flew to INSEAD to attend his lecture during an introduction to the MBA program there. And I'm so glad that I did! He was talking about the importance of distinction, of being different. For me, the way the concept was presented was new. He was confident in front of the classroom and he talked with such authority that my fellow orientees were all at attention. The vibe of his class was also one of excitement, of focused business-y discussions, and of practical applications... not so much of lofty, theoretical, and academic talk that I expected from a graduate-level course (Disclaimer: I missed out on the graduate school classroom experience because I was a research-based PhD student so I may have a very wrong expectation of what grad school is like).

 7. Cheche Lazaro

I am a big fan of her shows! This lady demonstrates what intelligent Philippine journalism is all about. Not like those pseudojournalists who tend to sensationalize every phrase that movers and shakers of Philippine society blurt out, no matter how disconnected these are with issues affecting the Philippines. If I studied Communications or Journalism (just like what my teachers predicted when I was in high school), I would've enrolled in her class back in college... if she's teaching back then.

 8. Winnie Monsod

Ah, yes... if it's Cheche Lazaro for Communications, it's Mareng Winnie for Economics. I used to watch her show on the telly (Debate with Mare at Pare) and imagine what it was like to be in her class. I bet that she's not an easy A just like Prof Zafaralla, but just being in her class to learn Economics and applications of it in daily life is enough. Never mind the grade on the class card !

 9. Jim Paredes

I attended a focus group discussion on his latest set of songs a few years ago. During that discussion, I saw how deeply immersed he is in music (along with everyone in the group) and thought that he must be a good teacher, rubbing off his passion for different music genres with the group. And later, I found out, the he indeed was! 

10. Randy David

This is the guy who shows how speaking in Filipino and how speaking in English the intelligent and educated way is done! I've always wanted to be fluent in Filipino but it tends to be too formal for everyday talk. I co-hosted a wedding reception with cousins once and they said that Taglish is better because it's informal. The Randy David influence forced me to write the script without code switching. And since I was no good in  informal Filipino, I just wrote in English.