Monday, June 28, 2010

Week 1 in China: A Summary

While I feel very homesick this morning, I have to report that my first week in China was a success on many levels. First and most importantly, I have learned to adapt to being outside my comfort zone. I also proved to myself that mental preparation is invaluable in surviving outside of the comfort zone. I have learned a lot already about Chinese culture, veterinary medicine, and how they value their animals, especially the giant pandas. The language barrier is a little harsher than I had hoped, but by the end of last week I think I befriended a few Chinese veterinarians at the base. The funniest thing is if Chinese people don’t speak English they just keep talking to you in Chinese as if you will somehow understand.

A list of Chinese habits that are outside my Westernized comfort zone:

o Spitting inside buses and buildings

o Amusement at animal taunting

o Lack of overall bathroom hygiene- the closer they come the louder they yell

o Eastern squat toilets and no toilet paper

o Rivers of raw sewage running through town

o Honking constantly

o Driving on any side of the road

o Lack of English in well- touristed areas

o Minimal veterinary medical training and understanding of physiology, anesthesia, and antibiotic use

o Whole pig carcasses carried by scooter

…to mention a few

My adventure to Emeishan was most certainly an adventure. It included hooking up with an Irish couple backpacking through Asia, staying in a monastery, numerous and sometimes scary macaque encounters, many sets of stairs, and discovering I do not like to travel alone. I am very glad I decided to travel there this weekend. It was a little more exuberant and adventurous than I bargained for at times, but in retrospect it was one of the cooler things I have done in my life. At no point other than a stand off with a nasty macaque out for human food, did I feel unsafe. For anyone thinking of braving travel in China alone, however, speaking the language even just a little bit can go a very long way to enjoying yourself more.

This week at the panda base will involve more ultrasound, possibly on the pregnant pandas and ivermectin treatments. I am also working on presentations on anesthetic monitoring and the importance of a manual CBC. There is a training for the zoo staff in Macau this week because they will be getting 2 pandas, so it will be a busy week at the base.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

China Week 1

Ni hao from Chengdu.  After a very long 20+ hours of travel I arrived at the apartment in North Chengdu, Sichuan Province.  The next day was a little rough in terms of jet lag, in fact I didn’t sleep well my first 2 nights which reminded me of Lost in Translation.  I struggled through the jet lag and got lunch and some groceries.  A little RMB goes a long way here in China.  People are nicer than I thought they would be.  They also stare at foreigners. The children are funny, they stare and giggle and say hello in English.  The bicyclists and mopeds try to run you over and crossing the street is pretty much like playing frogger.  The first few days I walked out of the apartment smiling.  Being in China is certainly a novelty to me, and while communication can be difficult, it has been fun.


I am proud of myself.  I definitely mentally prepared to be outside of my comfort zone.  I miss paper towels and cheese, but am doing okay for the most part in terms of culture shock.


The panda base is outside the city and is in a pretty setting.  It is essentially like a giant and red panda zoo.  The red panda exhibits are very crowded.  They are nicknamed lesser pandas by the Chinese, but I think they are exquisite creatures.  Many of them have tail injuries from fights and stress behaviors.  The giant pandas are truly amazing creatures, appearing gentle and playful. The Chinese covet the giant panda, but the respect for animals, while changing is not on the same level as it is in America.  The best way to explain this is to understand that training to be a veterinarian is simply like majoring in vet med in college.  They only go to post-high school for 4 years to be a vet and many basic physiology and pharmacology concepts are missed.  So while I am here to help with ultrasound, which I have been doing a lot of, I can help in many other little ways.


I help with translating documents for the panda base visitors. I started explaining to them the importance of looking at a blood smear, instead of just relying on the machine’s numbers.  I plan to give a presentation on the importance of anesthetic monitoring.  I will help research articles for reproductive topics they are interested in.  I have been showing them how to use some of their machines, including the ultrasound. 


I am by no means an ultrasound expert, but there are some basic principles I can teach them.  I am very happy to be here and I hope at the end of 3 weeks they are happy to have had me here as well.  I have to say being so close to the pandas is very fun and ultrasounding them is also fun.  Many of the pandas have been trained to lie on their backs for us, it has been very impressive.


Every day has been an adventure and so far I am so glad I decided to take the risk and come here.


This weekend I will take a trip to Emeishan a UNESCO world heritage site and holy buddist mountain.  I am going alone, but hope to find some English speakers at a Western-friendly hostel when I get into the town.  Sarah, an American who works in the conservation education office at the panda base is taking me to the bus station, and then I hope it’s as tourist friendly as the guide books say it is.  I will have my Chinese-English dictionary just in case.


Here’s to a great week 1 in China and hopefully a fun weekend trip.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

China here I come!

The next 6 weeks are going to be exciting and bittersweet. I have one more day of radiology. I have learned a ton, but I worry if I don't use it I will lose it. I hope to successfully pass the exam tomorrow. If I don't pass, I have to repeat the entire block:( Fingers crossed.

The other bittersweet reason is that I am going to miss the Blacksburg community. I will miss my yoga class, Crossfit, the summer solstice festival this weekend, among other fun things. I also worry about learning the real hospital paperwork during block 5, after most people have learned what's going on and how to write SOAPs, and who gets what copy of the numerous forms we are forced to complete in a state-run teaching hospital.

On the other hand, I am very excited to experience a new country, practice ultrasound, and work with the amazing giant and red pandas. This experience was one of my dreams when I first applied to vet school, so the reality of it coming t fruition is very exciting.

I am suppose to have internet access in China, so I hope to post pictures and blog posts with how it is going.

Until then, to a safe flight, safe drive back to DC, and success on my radiology interpretive exam!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Radiology and a 5 Year Wedding Anniversary

My "radiation vacation" has been interesting. I have enjoyed the parts of the day that are structured and involve learning, but there is a lot of downtime where I feel overwhelmed. I know I should be studying, but I cannot focus anywhere in the department and am unsure where to start. Rounds were intimidating because we had to interpret on the fly, but a good learning experience. Tomorrow is exam 1 of 2, which I have been studying for much to my dismay. I really find studying for tests boring now, but enjoy looking up areas related to current clinical cases. I hope I do respectably tomorrow morning on the first test at least, especially since it is "review." I will revisit the concept of "review" material in my next post. I will say it is very funny how much "review" material can appear brand new after only 1-2 years.

My 5th wedding anniversary was fun. An exotic vacation would have been nice, but we had a wonderful all-local dinner at the Bank is Pearisburg Friday evening. Saturday we got a late start but headed out for some day hikes on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Ironically, we got lost on our first stop to an elusive Nature Conservancy waterfall hike and got directions at Amhrein winery, which was my original anniversary date plan, but they had no events going on that day. The hike freaked me out for some reason, and we left. We climbed the Peaks of Otter and had a great time and great views from the top. We stopped for dinner at Thelma's Chicken and Waffles, which was delicious and then wearily wandered back home.

Sunday was just another Sunday like the past 3 years. Grocery, study for test, lay with dog, laundry, etc. I do not miss those days. Luckily only 1 other block has exams. Next year, however, 4th years could be taking an exam after each block. I do not envy them.