Turkey (No not the bird, the country)

Turkey’s rich history and culture make it an adored location for tourists from around the world. One of the most talked-about aspects of Turkish culture is the food. The fresh Mediterranean vegetables are often served raw with a dressing. In a conversation with a student who did an internship in Turkey last summer, I learned far more about the delicious food-consumption traditions than I did about the student’s actual internship experience. In addition to the healthy, wholesome meals, Turkish food is well known for the desserts as well. Baklava is a sugary-buttery dessert that is a local specialty (though consumed in many surrounding countries) and bülbül     yuvası is a clotted-cream, pistachio filled pastry eaten while it is very hot. As is common in this regions of the world, tea is an integral aspect of daily life. Families drink tea at least three times a day and it is usually the first beverage offered to guests in homes as a sign of hospitality. Typically served while it is burning-hot, individuals often add sugar but no milk.

Another famous aspect of Turkish customs is exuberant hospitality. They view every guest as ‘God’s Guest’ so they treat you in that manner. When eating a meal Turks will repeatedly offer you multiple servings, not wanting you to leave their houses hungry. This was another key point the intern I talked to emphasized about his trip to Turkey.

Historically, Turkey has been home to Julius Ceasar, the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire and many nomads. This historical longevity has resulted in beautiful, ancient architecture, providing aesthetically appealing architecture throughout the country. Its location adjoining two continents has resulted in it playing a central role in the Silk Road and trade throughout the region.

Turkey is 99.8% Muslim according to the CIA World Facts book so warning to all travelers, women must dress fairly modest and conservative. Women continue to fight in a struggle for equality and representation in the work force. As for cultural norms and interpretations, women do not smile at everyone they see because some men take a smile to mean an intention of being more than friends. Women have to be aggressively formal to make clear those are not their intentions.

Overall Turkey is a beautiful place with a rich history and culture that almost every tourist loves. I hope someday I get the opportunity to visit the country!

Passion-Driven Profession

Passion should drive what you do. Follow your heart.  Stay true to yourself. Let that light guide you. These are all cliché phrases we have all heard a hundred times before. They often seem overrated and abstract. Seeing them in action, however, can be quite beautiful.

This past Wednesday, Hannah Holman, a professional cellist from the New York City Ballet came to give a talk at our school about exploring a career in music and her path as a musician. When she started out with the cliché phrases I mentioned at the beginning, my immediate reaction was “That’s great but how do you survive on this type of a career?” My second questions was “we are currently hearing from someone who is highly successful in the music field, how can amateurs relate to her?”

Holman addressed my second concern very quickly as she openly discussed the highs and lows of her music career. Her path to musical success was nowhere near direct. She began as a music major at a well renowned music college on the east coast but hated the factory-like mechanistic feel of the school. She transferred to a local college, switched her major to the ‘practical’ pre-med route, only to change back to her true passion a year later. From then, opportunities presented themselves and Holman sought out the best, until she got it.

In regards to my initial question, Holman admitted that while it was difficult at times, you have to follow your heart’s desire. I didn’t appreciate this statement until she began playing her cello. The first piece she chose to play is one that comes on my Pandora station quite frequently and in this regard she was able to connect with me though I no longer play any musical instrument. But beyond that connection watching Holman play the very instrument she first learned to play on was emotionally moving. Holman seemed to traverse into a different world altogether as she played, allowing the music and her facial expressions convey the meaning of each piece. Seeing her absolutely submerge herself in the music proved to me that you don’t need to have that high paid profession to be happy and satisfied with what you do. This doesn’t mean that I walked away with the false impression that I can become a professional musician easily someday. Holman did, however, emphasize that with passion, motivation, and dedication, any profession can end successfully.

“A Crime Against Humanity” PLEASE WATCH ATTACHED LINK

On August 21, 2013, an estimated 1,429 civilians were killed by an odorless, colorless gas. After hearing what sounded like a bomb, innocent citizens were woken by an inability to breathe and a feeling of fire in their chest. Kids lay on the ground with seizures and uncontrollable muscle spasms. In this confusion and horror, some individuals become orphans and others died a very painful death. This silent killer was sarin gas.

In 1997 sarin gas was banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention for its horrific effects on the nervous system. By preventing the breakdown of the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine, this gas causes uncontrollable muscle movement which leads to an inability to control breathing, causing death with 10 minutes. 10 minutes may seem short but it is an agonizing amount of time for someone to endure this intense suffering and pain, and it is immeasurably long for a loved one watching one die.

The 2013 attack occurred in Damascus, Syria, killing over a thousand civilians. The chemical warfare was so horrendous that the UN Secretary of General called this “A crime against humanity.” In addition to the horrendous attack, the complete lack of medical equipment to help these individuals resulted in huge open morgues, with no place to burry those who have passed. Not only did this effect the current civilians, but it affected future generations to come. One lady who was pregnant at the time of the attack, has now given birth to a son who has seizures around 3 times a day, due to the brief exposure to the sarin gas. Though no one has officially been held accountable, the evidence strongly suggests that President Bashar al-Assad ordered this attack.

I am only blogging about this incident now because little evidence and information had been released about the attack earlier. Today, 60 Minutes had a very difficult to watch story about this attack and I felt it needed immediate attention. With cell phone footage today, viewers were able to see exactly how the events unfolded that night, and we are now aware such chemical warfare is occurring. Unfortunately, there could have been countless incidents like this that we simply do not know about.

I cannot fathom how any human being is so cruel and merciless that they would instruct this kind of killing. Watching that story on 60 Minutes made me extremely upset and aggravated. Our global society needs to understand that violence is NOT an acceptable retaliation against rebellion or differing views.

This is a link to the 60 Minutes story. Like Scott Pelley I will warn you that this may be difficult to watch, but I strongly recommend you see this. (I have not included an image in this post for this very reason)

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/behind-60-minutes-decision-to-show-disturbing-video/

History and Sakura

History sets the stage for the future. History gives today meaning. History develops values and beliefs. Anyone who disputes the importance of history classes, fails to understand how instrumental the past is for today’s decisions and tomorrows society.

2 week ago my history class reached the 1960s, a period of rebellion, turmoil, and change in America. As we get closer and closer to present day, I am valuing the impact of history. What I am learning in my history class is showing up on the news because the policies of yesterday influence the laws today, weather that regards Cuba, NASA funding, or foreign aid support. Learning history also helps me understand my parents’ and grand parents’ outlooks on society today. Their morals and values were shaped by the culture they grew up in.

I now understand that the televised Vietnam War in the 60s raised a huge population of anti-war individuals who were and still are unable to accept any war in society. I also understand that America’s foreign policies with countries like Japan stem back to this era where treaties were signed and contracts were made.

Last week while I was watching 60 Minutes there was a story about how Ambassador Caroline Kennedy is a huge success in Japan because of her father’s (John F. Kennedy) legacy with the nation. By understanding history I am able to get a better picture of the events of today.

The story about Ambassador Caroline’s duties covered many Japanese rituals and focused on the current cherry blossom season. Cherry blossoms are a huge part of Japanese culture and are historically significant. Every spring aromatic blossoms decorate all of Japan, bringing in thousands of tourists. Metaphorically these blossoms have always symbolized the beauty of life, in Japanese culture. The blossoms’ short growing season, demonstrates the development, simplicity, fragility, and wonder of life. The flowers also serve as inspiration for meals. All the local restaurant use the cherry blossom fragrance, branch, design, or another aspect, to enhance their food.

Hanami is the name for this blossom viewing season, and in regions of the country it is a ritual that involves elaborate celebrations, dancing, drinking, and viewing cherry blossom trees. A tradition that started several centuries ago, Hanami is very prominent today and has now spread form the elite classes to the rural country side.

Globally Japanese Cherry Blossom trees are a symbol of peace between countries. In 1912 America received 3,000 trees from Japan, and through history other countries including Brazil and Turkey have been offered these beautiful trees as gifts.

Many aspects of nature hold a symbolic and historical presence, influencing cultures and the policies of today.

A Baking Disaster

A part of culture is food, and this is a point that has been iterated on this blog multiple times. Often recipes are sent down the family line, hence the ever common term ‘Grandma’s Recipe’. Cookbooks also used to be a common household item. However, more and more people are getting recipes in less conventional manners these days. With YouTube how-to videos, Pinterest, and other social media site, recipes are being shared all around. YouTube videos can teach you how to make anything from a chocolate cheesecake pie to a traditional Indian curry.  Personally any time I want to make a dessert, I look on the Dessert board of my Pinterest page.

So Thursday night, during a period of creativity, I decided to make cream cheese strawberry cookies. This is the picture I saw on Pinterest and it looked delicious so I thought why not give it a try.

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I got all the ingredients I needed and proceeded to carefully make the cookies, trying not to make a mess (I am well known for my messy baking). Everything was going smoothly and the cookie dough tasted sweet and wonderful. What could go wrong right? … WRONG!  As I was putting the cookie dough on the pan, my mom was helping clean up and she noticed that there was the same number of butter sticks as there had been before I began baking. I FORGOT to add butter to the cookies.

Trying not to panic I tried to mix some butter into the remaining dough and I have to say it seemed to combine perfectly. Disaster averted right? … WRONG AGAIN! The cookies pancaked out in the oven, becoming flat and colorless and then they had a spongy texture. I was devastated, the original plan had been for me to take these to a class party but I was no longer sure if I wanted to present this disaster. My parents tried the cookies and said they still tasted alright, but that was probably just the comforting, reassuring parenting in them.

In the end I did decide to take them my class Friday. Though the texture was off, most people enjoyed the taste and those who didn’t hear the disastrous story behind the cookies, said they were delicious.

The take away message from this story is not to get too discouraged when things don’t work out. If it’s not this time, there is almost always a second chance and who knows, maybe you are simply being too critical about yourself.

Every Kid’s Dream

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Piccadilly Square is the Times Square of London. The square is full of life at any time of day with improve musical and dance performances. Boutiques, restaurants, and stores line the streets. The latest curved-screen TVs are mounted on the top of the high rising buildings, advertising business logos and local shows. All in all the place is lively and exciting, the perfect place to be on a Saturday night. With the variety of stores there is something for everyone. High-end retailers provide business wear for adults, ethic restaurants offer fire works for the palate, and toy stores provide entertainment for all.

Personally the two highlights of the square are Hamleys (the most amazing toy store ever) and M&M World (who even knew there was such a thing)! Walking into Hamleys feels like entering Fred and George’s magic store in Harry Potter. The latest technology is used to make self-flying toy drones, magically-hovering balls, scratch pads for kids to explore their artistic skills, and boomerangs that never fail to come back to you. When entering the store, enthusiastic employees shoot bubbles everywhere and show off the coolest new toys. Multiple demonstrations run on every level of the five story building. Magic tricks are in one corner, self-swimming mechanized frogs are in another, and colored water that pulsates to the beat of your music is in another.  As if this wasn’t enough, the top floor had Lego replicas of the royal family right next to a Harry Potter world. Walking in I felt like an amazed five year-old, unable to keep my hands off any of the toys and staring in awe at everything I passed. No matter how old you are, Hamleys is a must if you go to Piccadilly Square.

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A close second to Hamleys is M&M World. Entering the store, I couldn’t believe I had spent the last 16 years of my life clueless to the fact that there existed an M&M World. I walked in to the delicious smell of chocolate, and found myself in a room with ever possible color of M&Ms. There were M&M Easter eggs, M&M treasure chests, M&M dispensers, M&M hot chocolate, M&M clothing, M&M mugs, and more. Even I, the world’s greatest chocolate lover, was overwhelmed.

These may sound childish, or for young families, but trust me when I say these are must-see places in London!

A Green Beauty

We often think we can see a lot with the naked human eye, but there is a whole world of organisms, functions, proteins, and more at a microscopic level. Microscopes are the eyes that allow us to travel into this minuscule world. Since I began working at a molecular biology lab last summer, I have got the opportunity to work with a host of microscopes ranging from a simple dissection scope, to an epifluorescent microscope, all the way to a confocal microscope (which uses lasers to scan every layer of the sample).

Every experience with a microscope is amazing because of the level of detail that opens up, but my best experience by far occurred on Saturday. I got to do my first live imaging with a special confocal microscope. For the first time I was able to observe green fluorescent protein (GFP) in real time. Typically, for quantification purposes, I use a long staining protocol so my samples are preserved and as part of this staining I get fluorophores to bind to the desired protein to see a fluorescent image under the microscope. This artificial staining produces beautiful images but it is hard to forget that it is after all a human induced product. On the other hand, with live imaging, I was able to dissect my tissue sample and observe its natural fluorescence and structure immediately.

When I saw the first follicle appear on a TV-size screen (hooked-up to the confocal microscope) I was nothing short of giddy with excitement. This tiny egg that is practically impossible to observe with the naked eye had hundreds of cells within it. The cells themselves had large protein in the nuclei and I was able to observe all of this with a microscope!

I ran many samples on Saturday, observing differences between different genotypes and variations of the same protein. Though the follicles looked identical during the simple dissection process, the each proved to be unique specimens once I revealed their full details under the microscope.

I often hear of scientists falling in love with their profession when they look under a microscope for the first time. This wasn’t true for me immediately because I was spoiled with the facilities to use basic microscopes from a young age, but after observing live-imaging over the weekend, I felt I had to pursue a vocation in the sciences.

Never limit yourself to the world you can grasp with your naked eye. Understand that there is a whole world of microscopic organism and another universe out there.