Student Adventures Around The World

Omair, Taiwan

Map of Taiwan
Omair is a senior biochemistry major conducting medical research in Taiwan for the summer. He is one of eight students selected nationwide for the project sponsored by the National Science Foundation and Texas A&M University. A native of Richardson, Texas, at SMU he is active in the Japan Club and helps plan the annual Japanese Film Festival.

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June 10, 2006

I'm writing from my dorm at National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) in Tainan, Taiwan. After doing a 2-day orientation at Texas A&M University in College Station, we flew out to Taiwan. Being here is just an amazing experience. Taiwan is full of so much to see and so much to do. There are neon signs everywhere and bubble-tea stands at every corner. ^_^

Bubble tea and bento boxes
This week was intended to be a week of orientation and sight-seeing in Tainan. In the morning we had a 4 hour intensive Chinese class -- basically all of which was very boring to sit through for me. Afterwards, we went out to lunch. The food here is just amazing! Tainan is considered the best city in Taiwan for food and it's extremely cheap, too -- an average dish costs about $60NTD which is about $2 USD. And whereas bubble tea in the US costs around $4USD, here it's $25NTD (less than a buck!).

Friday we went to Koxinga's shrine and museum. He's the guy that took Taiwan from the Dutch back in 1662 and was a big leader in the anti-Qing movement. The shrine was interesting, mainly because of the amazing architecture. The museum, though, was where I learned quite a bit about Taiwanese history and its culture of the past. That weekend our Chinese teacher took us to Chia-yi, a city about 1 hour south of Tainan. We were there to go see Mount Ali and Fenqi Lake. The area is inhabited by an aboriginal tribe of Taiwan, the Tsou. We had a chance to see them perform a few of their traditional dances for us -- it was totally amazing! The chief of the tribe wore feathers in his hair which was very reminiscent of Native Americans. We spent the night on the mountain at a hostel.  It was located in between a few tea plantations (Mount Ali is famous for its tea and wasabi production). Fenqi Lake was not really a lake, but just a sea of rolling clouds located in the middle of the mountainous area.  It's famous for its bento boxes, which we had for lunch -- totally delicious!

Temple tourism
Monday we went to visit a few more temples (Chih-kan Tower, Sacrifical Rites Martial Temple, and the Great Queen of Heaven Temple). These temples were Taoist and Buddhist...but I can't remember which was which. Most of them look the same on the inside which was a bit of a disappointment to me. However, I did get a chance to try Taiwan's most famous winter melon tea at the famous "Winter Melon Tea Shop" which has been in operation for way too long. It's probably my favorite drink I've had here. Tuesday we went to Mount Wu where we had a chance to visit the Taiwan Macaques in their natural habitat. Some of the people in my group bought bananas to feed them. The main thing I remember was that they were really stinky...

Wednesday was more touring -- the Old Fort of An-Ping.  I liked the Dutch architecture it retrospect I think that architecture is something that I'm beginning to notice more than I did before. Finally, Thursday we went to visit a night market -- one of the only places in Taiwan where you can buy sketchy items and bargain. Unfortunately it was a big disappointment for me. There wasn't anything that was particularly interesting for me to buy.

Speaking the lingo
I really love having the chance to be able to practice my Chinese here. I'm glad that I chose to take traditional instead of simplified -- Taiwan's one of the only countries left that uses the traditional system of writing. My roommate, Nate, and I usually go out exploring at night. Exploring gives me the perfect opportunity to use my knowledge of Chinese to find things. Very few people here speak English, so I'm forced to use my Chinese. The best example of this was when we went out looking for a 3-prong to 2-prong plug converter. I have no idea whatsoever as how to say prongs or plugs in Chinese...but with some creative explaining and the use of many hand gestures, I finally found a place that sold them.

I also love all the Asian pop culture that's everywhere -- and it's not just Taiwanese. Japanese and Korean culture is everywhere, from clothing to hair design, movies to music. It's just amazing! I love walking past a store and hearing one of my favorite Japanese songs being played. It really is different from America.

I start my research on Monday. More to follow later...!

May 25, 2006

I will be working at the Institute of Oral Medicine, Institute of Basic Medical Sciences at National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, Taiwan. I will be researching the design and development of Fe-core, Au-shell tumor specific peptide functionalized nanoparticles that have the potential to do multi-gene delivery in clinical therapy.

A perfect fit
A friend of mine showed me the program at the NSF (National Science Foundation) website. The program is organized by Texas A&M University. I thought that the program fit me perfectly -- the fact that I can further my research experience while engaging in another culture and practicing my Chinese is awesome! Knowing how intense the competition would be, I thought that I would never get in, but I still applied. And after a fun interview, I was among eight people chosen to go to Taiwan!

Best of both worlds
I am hoping that this experience will be rewarding in many ways. Although my major is in biochemistry, I am doing my minors in Japanese, Chinese, and mathematics. Chinese is the most widely spoken language in Taiwan and Japanese is the most popular foreign language to study -- so I think I get the best of both worlds: A chance to do more research while gaining strong culture experiences. The SMU Chinese Program allows its students to study either traditional or simplified Chinese. Simplified is the track that most students pursue since it is used in Mainland China, however, I have been studying traditional Chinese because I think that traditional Chinese is more beautiful and gives a deeper understanding of the language and its history. Since Taiwan is one of the few countries that continues to use traditional Chinese, this is going to be a perfect opportunity for me to go further with my fluency in Mandarin.

Getting ready
I honestly have not done any extensive preparation for my research yet. The program is designed to be an inclusive experience in doing research from the start of a project to (hopefully) the end. However, I have been working in Dr. Edward Biehl's organic synthesis lab for about two years now. I have one publication in the journal Synthetic Communications and another one is underway in the Journal of Heterocyclic Chemistry. I hope that my experience working in Dr. Biehl's lab will enable me to excel in my research in Taiwan.

Goal: Medical School
I am hoping that my research experience will strengthen my application for medical/graduate school. I am planning on applying for an MD/PhD in Cognitive Science in order to study artificial intelligence and language acquisition. It might seem as if my major in biochemistry is entirely unrelated, but all neurological processes, including behavior, are rooted in the chemistry that occurs inside the body. I hope that my technical and laboratory experience will be helpful in pursuing these degrees. Additional research experience in Taiwan should help make my application more competitive.