Travel Post: A Trip to Old Manila

For my last weekend in the Philippines, my lab decided to organize a trip to Manila to show me some historical sites. It was so nice of them to order a van and plan a day for me because transportation can be hectic here and Manila is, well, overwhelming. In the morning, we toured around the oldest part of the city and in the evening, we ate dinner and shopped at Bonafacio Global City or BGC, a more modern area. It was such a fun day! Here are some pictures and tidbits of information:IMG_5230.JPG

We started by walking around Fort Santiago, a citadel first built by a Spanish conquistador for the new established city of Manila. The defense fortress is part of the structures of the walled city of Manila referred to as Intramuros. Although updated for today, the fort is one of the most important historical sites in Manila. Several lives were lost in its prisons during the Spanish Colonial War and World War II. It is also the site where José Rizal, one of the Philippine national heroes, was imprisoned before his execution in 1896. A statue of Dr. Rizal sits in the center of the area:IMG_5244.jpg

José Rizal was a Filipino nationalist during the tail end of the Spanish colonial period of the Philippines. An ophthamalogist by profession, Rizal became a writer and a key member of the Filipino Propaganda Movement which advocated political reforms for the colony under Spain. Dr. Rizal was executed by the Spanish colonial government for the crime of rebellion after the Philippine Revolution, inspired in part by his writings, broke out. Though he was not actively involved in its planning or conduct, he ultimately approved of its goals which eventually led to Philippine independence. Later in the day, we visited Rizal Park, also known as Luneta, where a monument honoring him depicts his execution:


During the morning, we also visited San Agustin Church, the oldest cathedral in the Philippines. It was a Sunday morning, so we actually had the chance to observe mass:


On the walk back to our van, we stumbled upon another monument depicted all of the past Presidents of the Philippines:


In the evening, we ate at a Thai restaurant and went to one of my favorite clothing stores: Uniqlo! It is a Japan-based company that also has locations in Chicago and New York. It was such a fun day thanks to my wonderful lab mates! I feel like I learned so much about the history of this country in just one day.


In this picture, Ate Ana is not snapping. She is making a heart with her two fingers:20476107_1618106818201671_6589802003040617366_n.jpg

Right now, I am working on my presentation detailing all that I learned during my internship and will present that on Thursday. Many interns are also leaving this week so I have scheduled out dinners with them to say goodbye as well. On Friday, I will pack up my things, turn in my exit clearance paperwork, and begin the long trek home! I fly to Taiwan, have a 5 hour layover, and then take a 15 hour flight to O’Hare. This summer has gone by so fast, and I have enjoyed every moment of it! Next blog post will be my last post and will be a final reflection about my overall experience and about my favorite things. Paalam Pilipinas!


My Residence, Tacos, and Pete Cocco

I realize that I’ve never shared my living arrangements here at IRRI! I live in a comfortable room with one roommate and we share a bathroom and closet. We get our laundry washed and sheets cleaned once a week. I’m also very thankful for the air conditioner and wifi 🙂 Here’s a picture of one side of the room: IMG_3540.jpg

After walking down two flights of stairs, I come out of the front doors of Swaminathan Hall (my dorm) and head to the cafeteria for breakfast. Outside of the dorm is a basketball court and a football (soccer) field:IMG_3434.jpg

Almost each hour, a coaster (bus/shuttle) departs for the U.P. Gate which is the end of Lopez Avenue. U.P. is the University of the Philippines which is one of the best colleges in the country and is also a partner of IRRI. This street is similar to Veterans Parkway in Bloomington where there is a huge line of restaurants and shops:IMG_3471.jpg

Because the street is so long, it is common to ride jeepneys from one end to the other and any stop along the way for only 8 pesos (16 cents). Here’s a neat view from the back:IMG_3499.jpg

On U.P.’s campus, there are a lot of palm trees lining the sidewalks which reminds me of California:


In other news, I have an update regarding my food hunt. For weeks, I have been craving Mexican food and have been searching for any kind of taco/burrito/quesadilla/etc. Well, it took me six and a half weeks, but I finally found some!! It’s at an outdoor restaurant called Fat Yards. The burritos and nachos were amazing and hit the spot:IMG_4483.jpg

Filipe from Brazil had never had Mountain Dew before so we opened his eyes to possibly the most sugary and caffeinated soda that exists. He really liked it:IMG_4441.JPG

Switching gears, I wanted to share a really interesting story. Back in Illinois, Megan and I both attend a campus ministry at ISU. We had heard that the lead pastor of the organization had spent some time doing mission work in the Philippines and so we asked him if he had any tips for us as we prepared to go. His name is Pete Cocco and when we said we were going to live in Laguna for two months, he became so excited. He told us that he was leading a group of college students to the Philippines for a two week trip this summer. I could not believe it! What a small world! We coordinated a meet up in Los Banos, and a local church sponsored the group from ISU to visit and hold a worship night just last week. It was so neat to see familiar faces from Illinois brought together halfway around the world through different situations:


I am still in the middle of my research at IRRI as well as filling out secondaries for medical school back in the U.S. Time is flying by as I only have 10 days left here. However, I can see the end coming and feel a little uneasy. I know that it will be very hard to say goodbye to all of the friendships that I have made here with people from all over the world. Hopefully on day, I will be able to meet up again with my colleagues and friends because like I said, it is a small world after all.


Week 6!

It’s week 6!


Even though it has been fun to blog about traveling and food, I should probably give an update about how my research is going! I am still working on my gas chromatography experiment and am slowly moving into stage 2. Stage 1 includes de-hulling and cyro-grinding rice samples which is simple preparatory work for Stage 2 and 3: extraction and analysis…except when we have over 500 samples…and we run out of liquid nitrogen..


It’s okay, though! When I have down time from my experiment, my supervisor, Cindy, is very good at giving me work to do or new things to learn! I have observed and helped other researchers in the lab and have even done research on one of the current controversial issues in the Philippines: Fake Rice.

A report about the alleged fake rice came out after a man posted a video on social media and claimed that the rice he purchased in a market in Taguig City was plastic. The National Food Authority (NFA) assured the public on Friday, June 23, that there is no proof that fake rice is being sold in the Philippine market. It said that based on laboratory tests conducted by the agency’s Food Development Center (FDC), the suspected fake rice have starch granules, starch content and sensory characteristics typical of raw rice. The FDC conducted three laboratory analyses on six raw and two cooked rice samples submitted using microscopic analysis, starch analysis, and sensory evaluation to test if these contain harmful chemicals. NFA recalled that two years ago, there was a report on alleged fake rice in Davao City. But laboratory tests showed that the strange appearance of the alleged fake rice was only due to a “retrogradation process” involving a series of freezing, thawing, and heating.

Along with the research, I have comfortably set into a routine in the lab. I have learned a lot about scientific techniques and instruments (I used a sonicator for the first time the other day). I have also learned how to properly plan out and organize an experiment such as the necessity of keeping a detailed notebook. But, I also realize that the work environment is still a place enjoy your time. The camaraderie of the workers in Grain Quality is unlike any office I have been in. Everyone is always smiling and willing to help! They are all so kind, and I have had a lot of fun. They are always bringing in snacks for me to try and offering to give me things anywhere from Genetics textbooks to their favorite Korean dramas. Here are a few shots from a recent birthday party:


I swear the cake is the most delicious thing about this country.

Thanks to my lab mate, Herlyn, I have also been learning quite a bit of Tagalog. I can count to ten and say phrases such as good morning, good evening, thank you, you’re welcome, it’s hot, how are you?, I’m fine, that’s delicious, and let’s eat!

Hope things are going well back in the states! Have a rice day!


The Blog Post You Have Been Waiting For

Get ready for an entire post about delicious food found here in the Philippines! I can honestly say that I have no complaints about the cuisine here. I find myself trying new things all of the time, but also grabbing some comfort food found in the US. So, here are some pictures and brief explanations of my favorite dishes of the trip so far:

First, let’s start with breakfast!

img_3486.jpg-Eggs, rice, fruit plate with red and yellow watermelon and papaya, and flan (so good)

img_3503.jpg-Fried rice and orange slices

IMG_3502-Delicious dragon fruit/ pitaya

IMG_3596.jpg -Veggie Omelet and bread


IMG_4255.jpg -Hmm, the cafeteria food looks a little different here…

IMG_3867.jpg -Chicken Caesar Salad with fresh mangoes!

IMG_3889.jpg -Fish bowls and pansit (my favorite)

IMG_3677.jpg -Carbonara (Italian food is really popular and easy to find here!)

IMG_3667.jpg -Filipe, fellow intern from Brazil, was really excited to get a pizza all to himself

IMG_3518.jpg-Beef Bulgogi, Kimchi, rice, and raspberry lemonade at Seoul Kitchen! Korean food is also really popular here. I have never had kimchi before but it was decent. I’m just not a big fan of spiciness.


IMG_3513.jpg -Buko Pie! It’s the specialty of Los Banos!

IMG_3756.jpg -Chocolate Cake made of ooey gooey chocolatey goodness

IMG_3758.JPG -It’s a favorite of ours and we’ve gotten it three times already to split

IMG_3849.jpg -No explanation needed

IMG_4280 -Coffee jelly! It has bits of gelatin in it.

Wow! I’m starving now after writing this post! Research update next week!

Travel Post: Fun With A Selfie Stick

Happy 4th of July! The Americans are celebrating here at IRRI! I cannot believe it is July already and that we are at the halfway point.

Last weekend, the IRRI interns made the trek to Taal Volcano. It is a complex volcano located on the island of Luzon and is the second most active volcano in the Philippines with 33 historical eruptions. All of these eruptions are concentrated on Volcano Island, an island near the middle of Taal lake. The lake partially fills Taal Caldera, which was formed by prehistoric eruptions. It is located about 50 kilometres south of Manila. So basically, it is a lake in the crater of a volcano, surrounded by a lake, surrounded by land. No wonder it is compared to a Russian doll.

The scariest part of the day was not the possible eruption, but having to leave IRRI at 3 A.M. (eep!) The coolness of the air and the views of the sunrise were worth it, though:


From Talisay, we took a half-hour boat ride to island and then hiked about forty minutes up to the viewing platform a the top of the volcano. The views were absolutely incredible. Pictures do not do it justice:


Around the rim of the volcano, there are several holes that emit noxious smoke:


We were very grateful that Annika brought her selfie stick which are very popular in the Philippines. Unfortunately, about half of the pictures we took are of me sneezing because we were facing the sun. I could tell the rest of the group was getting annoyed even with their laughter haha:IMG_4162.jpg

The most memorable part for me was being able to drive golf ball into the crater for only $1. I wished I had practiced more at the country club before coming, but the hole was pretty big so you could say that I finished under par:


Overall, we had a great morning! We finished the day by eating breakfast, visiting local souvenir shops, and driving up the hill in Tagaytay to look at more of the beautiful country:


Happy Independence Day USA!!

Krispy Kreme for Lunch


Life is good here at IRRI! I am becoming more and more comfortable with my research tasks and look forward to going to work each morning! My supervisors and labmates in Grain Quality are extremely friendly and generous. They have brought in different Filipino fruits for me to try and tomorrow, they are making me try balut- if you don’t know what that is, Google it. So I’ll share how that goes next week haha.

For my research, I am busy dehulling and polishing rice grains in order to prepare for the rest of the experiment. I am working with Kuya Jun who has worked at IRRI for over two decades! He is the master of Liquid Nitrogen, which we use to freeze the metabolites of the rice flour. It’s so cool that I get to use this at work:


Other exciting things in Los Banos=

  1. Dessert! The six of us from IWU went out celebrating this week. I finally got my MCAT score back after waiting for a month and the others bought me an Oreo dessert from a place called Seoul Kitchen. I was the happiest guy ever that night:IMG_3778.jpg
  2. Videoke! Singing is huge here in the Philippines. Everyone loves to sing along to the radio and out in public. One very popular thing is karaoke, but here it is called videoke because there is a music video that plays in the back. Last Friday night, my friends and I went to a place that had private videoke rooms and we sang for an hour an a half. I lost my voice afterwards:IMG_3797.jpgIMG_3796.JPG
  3. Hiking! Some of the international interns went on a morning hike to the Mount Makiling Botanical Gardens. It was about a half-hour walk to the site and then a two-hour hike. Along the way, we got to see some neat plants, and I liked that everything was labeled with the scientific name and fun facts. My favorite tree that I saw on the hike was the Candle tree:IMG_3804.jpg
  4. Fashion! Last weekend, we also went to a huge, three-story mall about an hour away from IRRI. It was very American. I felt like I was back home because they had restaurants there like Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Dunkin’ Donuts, KFC, KRISPY KREME (I was so overjoyed). The mall had some really neat shops and I wanted to point out the fashion here for men in the Philippines. This is called a Barong. When the Philippines was ruled by Spain, the Spaniards would not let the Filipinos tuck in their shirts for reasons unclear. So, the Filipinos developed a dressier shirt that they could wear to work that was not tucked in. It looks pretty cool too:IMG_3802.jpg
  5. Random cool things around IRRI. The Institute is very high on environmental sustainability from recycling food products, making efficient use of water, sustainable rice farming, and also maintaining efficient use of energy. When I was walking back to work this week, new solar panels were being implemented on the buildings:IMG_3774.jpg

This week, the professor that coordinated this program to send students to Asia is visiting us here at IRRI! It will definitely be nice to see Dr. Amoloza, a familiar face from IWU. Have a great week!


Putting the Cart Before the Carabao

Lots of things happening this week! I’ll be discussing my current research and some of my adventures in rice planting!

First, I’ll give a brief intro to my research so far:


Here in the Grain Quality Lab, I have been assigned to work on a project involving metabolomics which is the scientific study of the set of metabolites present within an organism, cell, or tissue, or in this case, rice. For my first couple of days in the lab, I have learned how to accomplish GCMS which is an analytical method that combines the features of gas-chromatography and mass spectrometry to identify different substances within a test sample. I have covered this technique many times in organic chemistry and while studying for the MCAT, so it is exciting to actually perform the spectroscopy for myself. I have also been labeling centrifuge tubes, taking inventory of chemicals, and reading literature in preparation for our lab group’s big experiment beginning next week. Again, some aspects of my research including specific procedural techniques and data belong to IRRI and are, therefore, to be kept confidential.

On Tuesday, today, all of the members of AFSTRI received an orientation about traditional and modern rice planting practices. AFTSRI stands for the Association of Fellows, Scholars, Trainees, and Residents of IRRI. The organization helps visiting employees acclimate to IRRI and help to provide information about all of the services here. They also organize trips and hangouts for interns, which is especially nice for international interns. We visited the RiceWorld museum first:


One of the most interesting things to me were the different hats worn by rice farmers around the world:


Then it was time to get into the fields ourselves! We learned and practiced the traditional method of rice planting (by hand), and then were able to use machinery to till the land and then plant. One of the methods involved a cart pulled by a carabao, or water buffalo, which is common here in Laguna:


(Photo taken from Mr. and Mrs. Peterson)

We took a picture in front of the field we just planted:


I’ll post more pictures of us planting in the next blog post!

In the afternoon, we visited The International Rice GeneBank. Maintained by IRRI, it holds more than 127,916 rice accessions and 4,647 wild relatives as of January 2017. It is also conserving 24 wild Oryza species and nine species from 7 related genera. The gene bank is biggest collection of rice genetic diversity in the world. Countries from all over the world send their rice to IRRI for safe keeping, and for sharing for the common public good. All of the labeled countries have contributed to the gene bank in some form:


We also visited the freezers which preserve the seeds. One is kept at 2-4 degrees Celsius while the other is kept at -20 degrees Celsius! It was freezing so we had to wear coats:


The girl in the photo above is Mara, a high school student from Iowa who won an award to come and intern here at IRRI for the summer! She traveled all the way here by herself! I can’t imagine doing what she is doing when I was in high school. Our group has taken her under our wing and has invited her to meals and our weekend trips as well.

The weather has been gorgeous as usual. For coming during the rainy season, it has only rained on two days out of the 12 we have been here. I will probably never get over how gorgeous this country is:


Research Time!!

At IRRI, I am interning in the Grain Quality and Nutrition Center under the supervision of Dr. Nese Sreenivasulu. Advances in rice science have typically veered towards increasing food production to feed a growing population. Rice breeders have been focused on replacing low yielding varieties with higher yielding ones–to produce more grain. However, these efforts often fail to combine high yields with superior quality grains, leaving farmers with a low-value product and consumers with rice they find unappealing to eat. The mission of the GQNC is to probe the value of rice grain with premium traits.


Rice quality is primarily assessed based on physical properties such as head rice recovery, chalkiness, grain size and shape, and grain color, and premium quality traits such as aroma have extra value. Eventually, a genetic understanding of sensory attributes can ultimately help breeding programs predict the quality of their newly developed breeding lines at faster rate. More information can be found on IRRI’s website.

This week, I was given my own desk:IMG_3553.jpg

And labcoat and goggles (Vito was the previous intern):IMG_3561.jpg

My main duties this week were to read the literature concerning grain quality that IRRI and other organizations have published. I have also been taught how to use some of the equipment and instruments of the lab. Unfortunately, the experiments that I am currently being assigned to are to be kept confidential, so I cannot share any specific information at this point. What I can say is that they are super interesting and I am doing a lot more chemistry than I thought I would be doing (which is great because I have more experience in chemistry lab settings).

Dr. Nese was incredibly kind when I arrived, and we had a meeting to discuss my research background and interests in the current projects. Because Dr. Nese is going back home to India for three weeks, I was assigned to Cindy who is an assistant scientist here at IRRI. I thrive on structure and scheduling and so I was happily surprised when she starting making me an hour-by-hour schedule of my daily tasks.

All of the scientists in the Grain Quality Lab are extremely nice. It already feels like I belong to a little family here. We all have lunch together in the break room and it is common to bring snacks to share for everyone. There is also one other summer intern from Manila named Herlyn, and so we have bonded over the fact that we are young (she is 20) and are the newbies in the lab.

Finally, one of the best things about going to work is the view outside from my desk in the morning:


This weekend is another three day weekend because on Monday, the country observes the Birthday of Jose Rizal, a Philippine National Hero. The other interns and I are planning on visiting a nearby beach and maybe even going to the hot springs that are famous here in Los Banos! Have a great weekend!


In Tagalog culture, the primary language of the people in Los Banos, a younger person addresses an older person by taking their hand and placing on their forehead. This is to show respect for elders. It is common for young people to then say “Kumusta po kayo” which means “How are you, sir?” The elder can then respond with “Mabuti” (pronounced Mah-BOO-Tee) which means “I am fine”.

This lesson was part of our first orientation here in the Philippines the day after the other interns and I arrived. We were given a crash-course on the history, culture, and language of the Philippines which is extremely interesting. It will take a while for me to learn Tagalog, however. Right now, I can only say “Thank you,” “Hello,” “Yes,” and “No.” During breaks of orientation, I would stand outside on the balcony and take in the gorgeous landscapes:


After orientation, we were transported to eat dinner by jeepney! Jeepneys are the most popular form of public transportation here in the Philippines. They were originally made from US military jeeps left over from World War II and are now known for their crowded seating and kitsch decorations. Better yet, they are super cheap and convenient! Some of the interns and I had permission to climb and settle in before leaving:


The restaurant for dinner was composed of floating pavilions on a lake which made for a beautiful views:


We were served authentic Filipino food which included pancit, tilapia, pork belly, luzon, chicken adobo, and for dessert, halo-halo. Halo-halo is a popular dessert which is shaved ice with fruit and a runny milk-based glazed. You stir it all together and bon appetite!:


Also, Kim got a coconut to drink:


We do have a support staff here in the Philippines of around 5 people who are just a call or text away. They are extremely nice and helpful! I feel very safe and comfortable with them here. One of the grandsons of our support staff was so funny and we had a lengthy conversation about basketball. When I asked him what his favorite subject in school was, he responded with “Civil Engineering.” He’s 6. We had to get a picture with him:


The next day, we traveled to Villa Escudero. Villa Escudero Plantations is 800 hectares of working coconut plantation and hacienda located 10 kilometres south of the city of San Pablo, Laguna Province on the border with Quezon Province in the Philippines. It is a premiere Eco-Tourism Resort that showcases the Philippines’ cultural heritage. We were able to take a carabao (water buffalo) ride, go bamboo rafting, and eat at a restaurant where the floor is a river coming from a waterfall:


Today is Independence Day here in the Philippines! It is an annual national holiday in the country observed on June 12, commemorating the Philippine Declaration of Independence from Spain on June 12, 1898. The interns have the day off and have decided to explore more of Los Banos before we have our IRRI-specific orientation tomorrow. The real research work begins later this week and I can’t be more excited to start!

Comment with any questions or any pictures you would like to see! Also, the best way to contact me is through Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp! Thanks for following my blog, and yes, right now..”mabuti!”