Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

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The places I called home, part II

Part II of the “Places I Called Home” series brings us to Waterloo and Glasgow, two very different but both very important and special cities to me. Waterloo was where I spent my university years, where I struggled through my classes and somehow fluked my degree, and where I met the best friends of my life. As for Glasgow, I’ve lived and worked here for almost two years and I am still discovering new things about the city every day! (Read part I about Guangzhou and Toronto.)

Waterloo – My undergrad years

Waterloo was more chance than choice. If I hadn’t by chance watched a show on nanotechnology on TV the year prior to my entrance to university, and if Waterloo didn’t happen to offer nanotechnology engineering as a new program that very same year, I would probably have stuck to the safer choices of either neuroscience or chemical engineering. Well both of the above happened, and so Waterloo happened. I won’t bore you with details of my academic life, but the decision to leave Toronto for university would become my threshold to a vast world that I had never known was out there. Waterloo would eventually bring me to Taiwan and the US (next post) as an internship student and ultimately lead me to Europe. However, Waterloo itself was already far away enough from home that I think my destiny of moving all around the world began there.

We used to joke and say that Waterloo was “the place where dreams are broken”, but I think without Waterloo, I wouldn’t even know what a dream is. Life in Waterloo was anything but boring. There were sleepless nights of studying for and worrying about exams, followed by crazy nights of board games with housemates and random bubble tea outings. The train tracks that run from DC to downtown Waterloo that I loved to walk on, the chill of waiting for the bus outside on a freezing winter morning, the animals at Waterloo Park that I wish we had visited more often – tidbits of life like these made up the moments that defined my undergrad years. Love, indulgence, anger, disappointment, infatuation, despair, hellos, goodbyes, see you later, good luck – these were the emotions and words that marked my growing up, leaving my teenage years behind and entering the fascinating world of the 20s. It’s been 6 years since I’ve graduated from university, but it may take an eternity to forget a place as special as Waterloo.

Glasgow – Where do I even start?

By the time I came to Glasgow, I had been so used to moving that it felt like just another usual event, another ordinary day. When I was in France, almost every day I thought, “Wow, I am IN FRANCE?” And when I came to Glasgow, it was more like, “Wow – how did I end up BACK in Europe again?!” Glasgow was a stranger that welcomed me warmly…or well, most of the time not so warmly because it is SO RAINY AND WINDY. If there is a day where the sun shines, I cherish it dearly because it is indeed a rare sight – so then here, I learned to appreciate many things that I often took for granted, like the sun. Like solitude.

While all of the other “places I called home” are in the past tense, Glasgow is in the present tense and one of the few that may appear in the future tense. At least I will be here for another year. Many people have asked me, “What next?” My default answer is, “Who knows?” A question to answer a question, because the future is questionable. Would I choose to endure the perpetual rain of Glasgow and stay here indefinitely? I can’t say yes definitely because as much as I adore the lifestyle in this Scottish city, I fear that the rain will drive me crazy one day. But maybe…I’ll get used to it. For now, I have one more year to continue enjoying and exploring my current home away from home, or let’s just say, home.

In part III: the internship cities – Hsinchu, Taiwan and South Bend, USA!

Life at the MiMe research lab

I’ve been part of the Microenvironments for Medicine Research Group (MiMe for short) for 20 months, so it’s really about time I write a post about my awesome lab, the place I spend a majority of my time nowadays. Research, science, experiments, papers, seminars – these comprise my professional life, but work can be fun too, especially when you’re around a group of people who know how to enjoy the fun bits of everyday life 😉

To begin, here’s a pictorial description of what we do in the lab. Obviously cells also need to exercise, party (drink a martini or two), eat their veggies, and dwell in a comfortable environment in order to become strong, healthy tissue! (By the way, that is a bone cell, not a snowman 🙂 )

Sometimes the lab could be a dangerous place to work, and that is why everyone needs to put on their thinking caps (90% common sense and 10% consideration for others) before entering. Let’s all be safe and happy when we do science!

Living and working in Glasgow means that we endure lots of rain, as you probably know. Someone very considerate came up with a remedy that would be helpful in cases of emergency…if only you use a bit of your imagination!

Here at MiMe, not only do we investigate some of life’s most profound questions, but we also hide Scotland’s national treasure…Nessie. Shh…don’t tell anyone that Nessie prefers hanging out with us. Maybe that’s why no one’s been able to find her at Loch Ness all these years, because she’s with us! (Whoever drew this spelt “Nessie” incorrectly…but it was a nice attempt 😉 )

Someone wanted to say hi…and gently remind everyone in the lab to work hard 🙂

I think the most amusing and amazing thing that I’ve found around the lab so far was the home/hand-made Christmas “tree” that was standing at the corner of the lab entrance. How creative! I had no idea who was involved in the construction of the tree and when the tree was constructed, but all I could say was, GOOD JOB GUYS. I was thoroughly impressed by the amount of talent in the group!

But of course the tree had to die after a few weeks and we were forced to say goodbye to it 😦 This also signified the end of the holiday season – back to work we go!

Spin-coating could be a monotonous procedure, especially when you have to go through hundreds of samples. That’s why the spin-coating hood has truly become a creativity outlet for many people. One of my favourite creations is this crossword puzzle of the names of the members of MiMe (though some new people have joined since this was made). Of course the author of this remains a mystery…unless someone bravely accepts credit?!

And here is a group photo of a lab event, finally! We love science but we love food even more, so we had our very own potluck a couple of months ago. Most of the group was here but unfortunately the boss wasn’t – I promise I didn’t pick this photo on purpose because he wasn’t in it! What a bunch of lovely people 😀

Around last Easter, we were visited by the mysterious lab Easter Bunny who showered us each with a Kinder Surprise! I actually got a roll of mini measuring tape, which should be quite practical, but I never found a good use for it. Still many thanks, Easter Bunny!

We also have some very thought-provoking discussions in the lab during downtime, including a very informative session on the discovery of gravitational waves. I didn’t understand it very well…so a colleague drew a diagram, albeit a VERY simplified one. I’m not sure if I could explain gravitational waves now by looking at this drawing, but at some point several months ago, this made perfect sense, believe me!

There is an appropriately labelled container in one of the labs – approach this area carefully! I would not trust anything that comes out of this container…

And finally, if anyone wants to support MiMe Research financially, here is our order list. On it are several items that we currently don’t have…such as a lab technician 😦 We will be more than grateful! Oh, more whisky is also very welcome anytime…

Street art in Glasgow, part 2

It’s been more than 6 months since the initial “Street art in Glasgow” post, and last weekend, I finally got some free time to track down some more murals and street art in this city, following the official “mural trail”. They really are everywhere, and so impressive too! I didn’t manage to find everything that was on the trail, but I did stumble upon a few surprises that weren’t part of the official trail. Let’s take a look.

Let’s start with my favourite one of them all, which I think was completed very recently. This gigantic mural is the work of artist Sam Bates, otherwise known as “Smug”, whose hands were the creators of several other works, including the girl with the magnifying glass in the previous post. I wasn’t aware of the existence of this mural as I was walking in the opposite direction on High Street. I saw someone take a photo of something behind me, and as I turned around, I was awed. Such beautiful piece of artwork with so much detail and colour, but the Man and the Bird (which is what I decided to call it as I don’t know if it has an official name) also elicited emotional resonance in addition to the visual pleasure. Oh, and this isn’t currently on the mural trail, so it was definitely the best surprising find of the day!

This is Glasgow’s Tiger, an installation that can be found along the quay of the Clyde River in downtown Glasgow. Previously, it had been a fiery tiger drawn in a different style (which I haven’t seen), but it had been replaced with the image of a realistic beast watching the river. While the tiger looked solemn and majestic, some people seemed to enjoyed using it as a backdrop as they danced to some music in its presence!

In an unassuming parking lot on Ingram Street in the heart of Merchant City, another piece of artwork by Smug revealed itself, named Fellow Glasgow Residents. Apparently this mural is supposed to represent the different types of animals found in Glasgow’s green space, appearing through what looks like holes in the wall. The three images form one long stretch from left to right and is so impressive that it makes one wonder if this is really a parking lot or a magnificent outdoor gallery… 😛

This lively mural on Argyle Street seems to show an unconventional type of bar – one entirely managed by animals! We’ve got an elephant, a shark, a walrus, a bear, a rhinoceros as the bartender, and a zebra and a moose having a relaxing drink. What a place! I wonder if the Scottish would like to frequent such a place – perhaps the zoo staff went on strike and the animals escaped?

Clutha, a piece installed at the Clutha Bar, is a work by Rogue-One, another artist who has contributed many pieces of stunning work to the city, with the Flying Taxi and the Cat with the Caged Birds featured previously.

I often pass by the Hip Hop Marionettes, another piece by Rogue-One, when I cross John Street. Taken from the description in the official mural trail brochure: “We thought that an interesting concept would be to have body-poppers or break-dancers in puppet form. I took my influence from a Beastie Boys cover and a Run DMC picture.”

The walls of some of the buildings in the University of Strathclyde also have some very colourful paintings that make you wonder if they are the entrances to art studios instead of offices and classrooms. The painting of a girl about to open a door located at the corner of Grahma Hills Building had me confused for several weeks, as THE DOOR was so realistic that I thought it was A REAL DOOR. I thought it was smart to paint a girl opening a real door, but when one day I finally realised that the door was a painting…it was a moment of utmost epiphany. Is this what art does to you?!

Continuing on with the Strathclyde series, just above the girl opening the door is this long, giant mural of what seems to depict classroom life at Strathclyde. It kind of reminds me of the days in undergrad, with rows and rows of desks and benches and many sleepy students that didn’t sleep till 3am the previous night…though the ones on the wall seemed (mostly) wide awake!

Further along George Street, we have a technology-themed and an ocean-themed mural here amidst some of the science buildings of Strathclyde. Seems like Strathclyde (and the city centre as a whole) has a lot of these full-length building murals, and I am genuinely impressed…once again!

As I have mentioned at the very beginning, I haven’t completed the mural trail and some of the murals on the trail actually eluded me even though I supposedly passed by the spots where they were supposed to be. So, knowing me, I will set out again to find those that are still scattered around the city, and a part 3 will be posted!

The four seasons of Glasgow

When people ask me what time of the year is Glasgow’s rainy season, I tell them that every season is a rainy season in Glasgow. At least that’s what it felt like during my one year as a resident of Glasgow.

Nevertheless, the city is still beautiful in every season, even though it sometimes seems as if summer doesn’t exist. Aside from the rain, which is a constant in every season, we do manage to see different colours at various times of the year – a green spring, a blue summer, a red autumn, and a white winter. If you mix everything, the overall impression might still be “gray”, and any rainless day is a cause for celebration 😉

Spring

Spring is the time of the year when life begins to revive after having been asleep for a few months. Blooming flowers are to be seen everywhere, painting Glasgow in vibrant colours and the hope of warmth. Ditch not your umbrellas and rain jackets, however! Rain is aplenty and will wash the city at any given moment, but a forecast of sun for five days in a row (!) reminds me that the toughest months of November to February are over. Weekends can now be spent outdoors, hah!!

Summer

Ah, summer. It is rarely warmer than 25 degrees Celsius in Glasgow, and I’ve heard that the Scots consider it a heat wave if the temperature rises above 24 – is that true, my Scottish friends? Daylight is abundant, and the first rays of sunshine through the window often wake me up at 4am while the sun does not set until 11pm. How awesome is that! Then again, it is easier to lose track of time during the summer – you think it’s only 7pm but all of a sudden it’s midnight. Wasn’t it still bright half an hour ago?!

Autumn

While autumn is my favourite season in Toronto, I’m not sure if I feel the same way in Glasgow. The temperature begins to drop, and the transition into winter is especially difficult to adapt to as gray skies and drizzling rain dominate the atmosphere. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. The sun becomes especially scarce and precious during this period of time, and we really do learn to appreciate every moment of sunlight. We do have some gorgeous red leaves, though, which is a source of consolation and at least adds some colour to my walk to work.

Winter

As a Canadian, I’m raised to believe that winter is incomplete without snow. Luckily (for me, perhaps unluckily for others) that there had been snow during the two Glaswegian winters that I’ve experienced, and I definitely prefer snow over rain! When I heard from my friends and family that the temperature went down to -15 degrees Celsius in January, I was quite glad to have avoided the bone-chilling shivers and thankful to be here with this gentle snow. This year, it really “snowed” only on one day, but that was enough to get me quite excited! Although the snow only lasted one day and pretty much melted away by the next afternoon, I was satisfied to say that it was a REAL winter, hehe.

And now, it is the beginning of February. Yesterday was Groundhog Day but I think the groundhog in Glasgow would have been pretty pissed off when he emerged from his burrow to see another rainy day. I’m not sure if spring is coming soon, but I’m happy to see that the sky is gradually getting brighter when I step out of the office at 5:30pm. And today was an entirely sunny day! What a gift! 😀

The question is not “Do you see my shadow?” but “Where’s my umbrella?” 😦 😦 😦

Glasgow – A belated year-end reflection

15 months ago I arrived in Glasgow, a little more than a year ago. One year is a noteworthy milestone because well, we tend to think that a “year” is quite important, though it could always be arbitrarily defined.

I felt like 2015 has been a stark contrast to the previous years in many ways. 2014 was a year of instability. I was back home, unemployed for a while, and at one point worked three part-time/freelance jobs. And in 2015, I seemed to have “settled down” again. None of that mobility scheme during my PhD where I was moving between France and Belgium every few months. It was Glasgow. Scotland. And I was here to stay for three years whether I liked it or not. And thank God I do like Glasgow. To think now that soon I would be halfway into my contract is quite…unfathomable, if not scary at the same time, for lack of a better word to describe my feelings. Where has my time gone?

I began to think a lot more deeply into a lot of things – human relationships, freedom, responsibility, the academic field, the future, God and faith…the list goes on and on. I gained many friends, lost a few, laughed a lot, cried a little. I wrote a lot less because many other things kept me busy. I fell in love with hiking, fell in love with cooking and travel all over again, and well, fell in love.

Have I grown within the past year? Certainly. Did I learn from my past mistakes? I’m not sure. Am I optimistic about the future? I had never been anything but optimistic.

But what about now? I think that though I have found my place in this rainy city that I now call home, I still have a lot to learn and discover. There is a sense that God must have placed me here for ulterior reasons behind those that I’ve already realised, and the joy and anticipation of unravelling the unknown keep me curious and hopeful. As my old friend liked to say, “We’ll see…”

In the end, I may still be by myself, but I’m anything but alone.

Small house-warming party with some lovely lady friends at a new flat in Glasgow, January 2016

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