Eight Months, a retrospect

194/365: for the birdsFor the Birds/#194/Nikon FE2/Delta 3200/Ditan Park/Beijing/China

193/365: Bookworm seriesBookworm Series/#193/Olympus PEN FV/Tudor Color 200/Bookworm/Sanlitun/Beijing/China

188/365: Hanging MonestaryHanging Monastery/#188/Nikon FE2/Fujifilm C200/Hanging Monastery/Datong/China

192/365: lanterns and stars

Lanterns and Stars/Olympus Pen FV/Tudor Color 200/Sanlitun/Beijing/China

189/365: GrottosGrottos/#189/Nikon FE2/Kodak Tri-X/Datong Grottos/Datong/China

It’s taken eight months, but finally my study has taken place. The data has been collected. Today, China’s National Women’s Day, across seven cities throughout China in seven different provinces, migrant women received HPV DNA tests to detect prevalence of HPV in this transitory population. It has been a nightmare of IRB approvals, food poisoning during my Chinese IRB presentation, miscommunication, and drafts and redrafts of protocols and surveys, but it has been completely worth every step. Each failure and its eventual resolution took me a step further in my growth as a researcher, and a bit closer to helping over 700 women today get screened for cervical cancer.

Research, I realize is slow, cumbersome, and full of bureaucracy. Things I knew before I started this year, but going through each step as the prime organizer/collaborator has been a totally different experience. Despite it all, to know that I am one big step closer to achieving what I had originally set out to do when I conceived and proposed the idea to my mentor over two years ago is really satisfying. Watching my project grow, evolve, and mature into real data that I will eventually analyze has been a beautiful ride that isn’t over yet. It’s finally happening.

It was surreal today. Watching these women come with excitement, laughter, and curiosity as they were guided through informed consent documents, surveys, and the screening tests. Migrants often do the jobs that no one else wants to do: janitor, servicewoman, cafeteria worker, etc. The kind of thankless jobs that would eat at the soul with the amount of monotony involved. But, despite the language barrier I felt that these women gathered in the Guangzhou hospital felt appreciated, felt special because they study was for them, not the higher socioeconomic classes of Chinese society. I know that across China that women participating at the other sites felt the same.

Beyond that, I’ve made friendships in China that will last a lifetime; friends that only China could create in such a short time. I’ve learned so much from the relationships I’ve created, even from the briefest of interactions. It saddens me that I might not see some of the wonderful people I’ve met in China for a long time, but better to have met and befriended these people then never have met them at all. Besides, I know I will see many of them again, someday.

Finally, it was amazing to be back in the States this January. I am so proud of my classmates and friends matching into their residencies for 2015. Watching them proceed to the next phase in their careers makes me happy. I am excited see their success and hard work finally pay off. It inspires me to put forth my best foot as I near my return date to Chicago and the last step of medical school. There is rust to be knocked off and still lots to learn, but I am excited to talk with patients again and play a part in people’s lives. I am excited to be a proper medical student again and in six months I will apply for a spot in the 2016 match. If the next six months go as fast as the last eight, I’ll be submitting my final application before I know it.


94/365: Afternoon SoloAfternoon Solo/#94/Nikon D7000/24mm/Beijing/ China

163/365: Tokyo MorningTokyo Morning/#163/Nikon D7000/35mm/Asakusa/Tokyo/Japan

174/365: buttonsButtons/#174/Olympus Pen FV/38mm/Fuji Across 100/Asakusa/Tokyo/Japan

164/365: ErrandsErrands/#164/D7000/24mm/Beijing/China

145/365: Moma FamilyMoma Family/#145/D7000/24mm/Dongzhimen/Beijing/China

142/365: Bao Chao Mian PortraitBaochao Mian Portrait/#142/Nikon D7000/35mm/Baochao Hutong/Beijing/China

140/365: Subway StairsSubway Stairs/#140/Nikon D7000/Beijing/China

130/365: Dynamic RangeDynamic Range/#130/Nikon FE2/Kodak Ektar 100/Jiu Zhai Gou/Sichuan/China

83/365: Great Wall SilhouetteGreat Wall Silhouette/#83/Nikon FE2/Ilford Delta 3200/North of Beijing/China

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in my time in Beijing is the importance of vulnerability. A very close friend in Beijing taught me the power of opening up and being honest with other people. Being vulnerable about myself and who I am is something I now realize I have struggled with and been scared to do my entire adult life.

Over my time in China I’ve been grappling with being vulnerable and my confidence, but the former didn’t have a name until recently. I am beginning to grasp what it means to be vulnerable and its ability to create deeper and more authentic connections with people. Only a short time since this epiphany and I already feel a deeper sincerity in my connections to strangers, friends, and family.

Being vulnerable isn’t easy. Writing this blog post is difficult, terrifying really, sharing this idea of opening up, displaying my self-perceived weaknesses, but naming it allows me to understand the problem and work to solve it, endeavor to show the courage to further open up with people. I know that this lesson will make me an infinity better physician in the future. I now understand how important it is to realize vulnerability in my patients, embrace it, and use it to further deepen my relationship with my patients. I also see how crucial it is to be vulnerable with my patients, to show them that I care and give them authenticity in return for their trust. I believe that this will allow for the fostering of genuine collaboration between my patients and me.

Being more vulnerable with people will allow for a more real and deeper rapport to be built with not only my patients, but also everyone I interact with for the rest of my life. It has taken me 26 years to realize that the fear and anxiety I associated with being vulnerable is the most human way to create connection. It’s funny how things keep coming back to a David Foster Wallace quote:

“The most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.~David Foster Wallace, “This is Water” commencement speech

Thank you Nicole, you’ve changed the way I look at life. I wish you all the luck back in the States.

The Ted Talk that started it all: Brene Brown discussing “The Power of Vulnerability.

Day 73- WWHD?

63/365: Come on inCome on in/#63/Nikon D7000/798 Art District/Beijing, China
64/365: Two Frames; One Story
Two Frames; One Story/#64/Nikon D7000/798 Art District/ Beijing, China
65/365: Behind the Bike
Behind the Bike/#65/Olympus XA/China Lucky Color 200/Baochao Hutong/Beijing, China
66/365: Houhai Swim
Houhai Swim/#66/Olympus XA/China Lucky Color 200/Houhai Lake/Beijing, China
67/365: On Display
On Display/#67/Olympus XA/China Lucky Color 200/798 Art District/Beijing, China
68/365: Fish Gatherings
Fish Gatherings/#68/Olympus XA/China Lucky Color 200/798 Art District/Beijing, China
69/365: 798 Trees
798 Trees/#69/Olympus XA/China Lucky Color 200/798 Art District/Beijing, China
70/365: Curious Dog
Curious Dog/#70/Nikon D7000/Cha Er Hutong/Beijing, China
71/365: Just Woke up
Just Woke up/#71/Nikon D7000/Cha Er Hutong/Beijing, China
72/365: Dog in Alley
Dog in Alley/#72/Nikon D7000/Cha Er Hutong/Beijing, China
73/365: Drained Moat
Drained Moat/#73/Nikon D7000/Guangming Bridge/Beijing, China

You wouldn’t think it, but climbing up a 8 foot tree stump to take down a flickering light is a lot harder than I had anticipated. This may sound confusing. It is kind of confusing. But, I was the photographer for Bactagon Projects’ Bibliorium project. They had brought in massive trees with carved indents to hold books/magazines as an effort to (re)engage people with printed media. It was a beautiful event, and still going on. I could only take photos over the weekend, but there I was in the middle of a dilapidated hutong warehouse on top of a branchless tree trying to change the light. Looking down seemed a lot farther than 10 feet. After maybe five anxiety soaked minutes of struggling I got the light switched. Mission Accomplished. It was a blast.

China has really forced me to get outside of my comfort zone. Something that I know I will bring back with me to the states. Several times I have been confronted with the option of staying indoors or going out and experiencing what Beijing has to offer. With the knowledge that this time is short (already 2.5 months through the journey) I am really trying to live my life here to the fullest. I think it is so easy to get lost in the familiar. To go to the same restaurant and eat the same thing, especially in a foreign environment like china, the need for adventure, for making mistakes, for change can be too overwhelming at times. Almost paralyzing. But, I know I can’t let that get to me.

I don’t want that to happen to me. I do not want to get lost in the familiar. I much prefer the sense of accomplishment I get when I have persevered through the unknown. Sometimes for results less preferable than the familiar. So I have a bad lunch, so I make a poor decision but the poor lunch is worth more than the cost of staying in my bubble and not venturing beyond. I cannot accept that. Never. I recently heard a song by Jens Lekman called WWJD, or what would Jens do? The song is about whenever he is confronted with a choice to make he looks at his bracelet thinks what he would normal do and does the exact opposite. The logic is that his normal choices in life haven’t gotten him anywhere good, so might as well do something different. Maybe a gimmicky song, but it stuck with me. I do love me some Jens.

I guess I am trying to say that I am not going to live to be content. I want to push my boundaries. I will seek out new experiences, places, and friends. That is the way I want to live my life. Gotta keep climbing trees!

Day 62- My Birthday and 缘分 (Yuan Fen)

54/365: No ReplyNo Reply/#54/Nikon FE2/Kodak Ektar 100/Cancer Institute/ Beijing, China
55/365: Piano Silhouette
Piano Silhouette/#55/Yashica Electro 35 gsn/Kodak TMAX100/Chicago Cultural Center/Chicago, IL
56/365: Gutted
Gutted/#56/Nikon FE2/Kodak Ektar 100/Zhong Tao Hutong/ Beijing, China
57/365: Cig Games
Cig Games/#57/Nikon D7000/Gulou Area/Beijing, China
58/365: Nightime Sales
Nightime Sales/#58/Nikon D7000/Sanlitun Area/Beijing, China
59/365: Art and?
Art and?/#59/Nikon FE2/Kodak Ektar 100/Gulou Area/Beijing, China
60/365: Coffee Break
Coffee Break/#60/Olympus XA/Kodak Tri-X 400/The Other Place/Beijing, China
61/365: Spring Batteries
Spring Batteries/#61/Olympus XA/Kodak Tri-x 400/Spring Cameras/ Beijing, China
62/365: As Tall as Skyscrapers
As Tall as Skyscrapers/#62/Nikon D7000/Dongzhimen Area/Beijing, China

Again a lot has happened this last week. And, again a lot is still the same. I had a birthday; I’m officially 26…swinging right into the late 20s without a problem. Spent my birthday with a bunch of amazing people at a bar called Heaven. It was a blast, even if the Yellow Tail wine was way overpriced. I have a lot to work towards this year. In one year I will be submitting my residency application, I will have been back in the states for 2 months already, knee deep in my final year of medical school. It has been a surreal experience as I watch my best friends write and struggle with the monotony of completing their residency applications and I’ve been sitting in China taking pictures and doing research. While there is a component of feeling left behind, I know that this isn’t the case. I’ve made the conscious decision to leave behind the traditional medicine path, because, I’ve realized, there is nothing traditional about my dreams. Though it is difficult to articulate the destination my dreams will take me, they provide me a direction, a road to follow. And, so far this road has been nothing but non-stop adventure with its fair share of twists and turns.

All my life, I’ve paved my own road. I might hear a phrase or read some article that captivates me and I go with it. It has gotten me this far, but now I’ve reached a point on my road where the forks are a bit more dubious. I’ve been lucky so far to meet several people that have been able to give me advice, but in the end it comes down to me. And while I am not sure where I will be in 10 years, I know I will be pursuing something that makes me happy.

The other day I had the fortune to meet an old Chinese man and his wife at a restaurant. In China, if there is an empty seat during the lunch rush, it will be taken. So I got to sit next this old couple. The conversation started like most other conversations…

Are you Xinjiang Ren?

No, no, I am an American.

No way, that’s not possible, you look Chinese

Well my birth mother is Korean, and my birth father is Mexican

But that is where the similarities ended, rather than default to the normal line of oh your Chinese is excellent, he started to ask me more questions. I could see the genuine curiosity in his eyes. And something in me changed, I kept talking, I kept listening, and for the most part I was able to handle the conversation. Of course, there were parts I didn’t understand, but we talked about my research, about the cancer issues in China, and what we were trying to do to solve them. We talked about what he did, his children, how he and his family had lived in the hutong down the street for years. It was an amazing conversation. He ended it with saying that our meeting had yuan fen 缘分, a word that I have come to love. It basically means the destiny that brings people together. There is not a word like it in English, and it is something I’ve considered and know I’ve shared with many of the people I’ve met in my life.

To top it off, he said my Chinese is okay. This definitely means my level is increasing, as Chinese people won’t tell you the truth about your level until you can establish some sort of relationship, and if you can only kind of speak, you can’t establish any relationship. He felt comfortable enough with me to tell me my Chinese was okay. It was an amazing validation.

Until next time!

Good luck friends with your Residency Interviews, I honestly know you won’t need it though.

Day 53: Mid Autumn Festival!

43/365: Bridge smoke
Bridge Smoke/#43/D7000/Beijing, China

44/365: Milky Way
Milky Way/#44/D7000/Yinghe (Milky Way) Soho/Beijing, China

45/365: Dreams of Chicago
Dreams of Chicago/#45/Nikon FE2/Fuji Neopan 400/Lakeshore path/Chicago, IL

46/365: Xiang Shan Sunset
Xiangshan Sunset/#46/D7000/Xiangshan Summit/Beijing, China

47/365: Pleasant Lady
Pleasant Lady/#47/Nikon FE2/Fuji Neopan 400/Beijing, China

48/365: Last train home
Last Train Home/#48/Nikon FE2/Kodak Ektar 100/Urumqi Train Station/Urumqi, China

49/365: Blocked Connection
Blocked Connection/#49/Nikon FE2/Kodak Ektar 100/Gulou Subway Staiton/Beijing, China

50/365: Suave in the Hutongs
Suave in the Hutongs/#50/Olympus XA/Kodak TriX 400/Nanlouguxiang Hutong/Beijing, China

51/365: Night Lights
Night Lights/#51/D7000/Qianmen/Beijing, China

52/365: Hutong Dispute
Hutong Dispute/#52/D7000/Nanlouguxiang Hutong/Beijing, China

53/365: Beijing Beverages
Beijing Beverages/#53/D7000/Nanlouguxiang Hutong/Beijing, China


This last weekend I officially celebrated my first Mid Autumn Festival. It’s a holiday in China that normally takes place around September (officially it is the 15th day of the 8th lunar month) and is meant to celebrate family and friends. Unfortunately, in this day and age many Chinese live far away from their hometowns and their families and don’t have time to return home. Because of this many Chinese gather together and celebrate their friendship and fellowship together in their transplanted homes with, of course, food and moon viewing (the 15th day correlates with the full moon).


I am no different. I am thousands of miles away from the people I love and care about but I have a lot of new and wonderful friends here. My colleagues at the Cancer institute were kind enough to invite me to celebrate the holiday with them.


So I spent my Mid Autumn festival at Dragon Lake Park with my new friends. We ate delicious fruit, chips, beer, and they even had me run a quick class on how to make “American” sandwiches. They even got “American” cheese slices. Though they insisted I was wrong when I said ketchup on a ham and cheese sandwich is a little weird, they enjoyed the American cuisine nonetheless.


It was a beautiful time, my mentor Dr. Qiao explained that one of the beautiful parts about the Mid Autumn Festival is to watch the clouds chase the moon. He had even prepared a few songs on his phone to further illustrate his point. Lucky for us, the pollution in Beijing was almost non-existent, the moon was full, and it was gorgeous. Clouds were scant across the sky, but Dr. Qiao exclaimed in excitement when they began to come close to the moon.

It was a beautiful day and a wonderful night. And I am very happy I got to spend this traditional holiday with my new friends in China. The meaning behind the holiday is something I really enjoy and hope to bring back to the states as a reason each September to gather together and celebrate friendship.

Speaking of which, I miss you all! I hope you had a wonderful Mid-Autumn festival back in the states.

Hutong Life- Day 42

31/365: Among Emperors
Among Emperors/#31/D7000/Panjiayuan Flea Market/Beijing, China
32/365: Manual Labor
Manual Labor/#32/D7000/Baochao Hutong/Beijing, China
33/365: Convenient Welcome
Convenient Welcome/#33/D7000/Zhong Tao Hutong/ Beijing, China
34/265: A Game of wits
A Game of Wits/#34/D7000/Beijing, China
35/365: Dusty Flats
Dusty Flats/#35/D7000/Gulou Street/Beijing, China
36/365: Ladder Nap
Ladder Nap/#36/D7000/Andingmen Road/Beijing, China
37/365: A man and his dog
A Man and his Dog/#37/D7000/Beijing Hutongs/Beijing, China
38/365: Sky Bridge at Dusk
Sky Bridge at Dusk/#38/D7000/Beijing, China
39/365: Where everyone should be looking
Where everyone should be looking/#39/D7000/China National Museum/Beijing, China
40/365: Batteries Not Included
*Batteries not included/#40/D7000/Pearl Market/Beijing, China
41/365: Couple in Bamboo
Couple in Bamboo/#41/D7000/Zi Zhu Yuan Park/Beijing, China
42/365: Bubble Ride
Bubble Ride/#42/D7000/Zi Zhu Yuan Park/Beijing, China

Why did I choose China? Out of all the other countries in the world…China? It’s a question I get asked often. The reason though is a bit complicated. I guess you could say its due to my poor Spanish skills.

In high school my Spanish teacher made it known to me that I had the worst Spanish accent in her 30+ years of teaching. The worst. Not the kind of motivation to get your students to continue language study, so I entered undergraduate with the idea of taking a different language; an Asian language. I wanted to study Korean, the language of my biological mother, but Vandy didn’t have that option so I settled on a more practical choice: Chinese. I’ve been studying Chinese on an off since my sophomore year of college and while my skills are intermediate at best I continue to push myself to understand. I’ve had too many patients in the hospital go unheard because of the lack of Chinese speaking physicians. I would like to change that. I would like to be able to build rapport with these people and help further their trust in the American healthcare system.

But before all that motivation I decided to study abroad. To take full advantage of my college career and after only 1 year of Chinese study I flew off to Shanghai, China for 2 months. What ensued was beautiful chaos.

China has a way about it, it is rapidly modernizing and the China of today is nothing like it was a decade ago, but it still has many of the old world charms that I love. I love going outside not sure what I am going to run into. No clue on what I am going to find. Of course not every day is a crazy adventure, but most days are. Most days have something special about it, whether that be something I see or something I put into motion.

For instance, this weekend my roomie and I went for a 7 mile run around the Forbidden City. I ran with my hand outstretched grazing the walls of the palace. Exactly. There is something surreal about jogging around the ancient palace that was built 400 years before America was even “discovered” by European colonists.

Some days can be a slog, days in the apartment reading articles, writing proposals, emailing back and forth, but it is within my power to get out an explore. Every nook and cranny has some secret, some unknown history. That is why I chose China; to learn some of this country’s beautiful secrets.

Day 24-30, A week in Review

24/365: Trapped
Trapped/#24/D7000/Cancer Institute/Panjiayuan/Beijing, China
25/365: Succulent Shot
  Succulent Shot/#25/D7000/Beijing Hutongs/Beijing, China
26/365: Motherly Care
Motherly Care/#26/D7000/Gulou Hutongs/Beijing, China
27/365: Crashing a Sanlitun Photoshoot
  Crashing a Sanlitun Photo shoot/#27/D7000/Sanlitun/Beijing, China
28/365: Killing Time
Killing Time/#28/D7000/Beijing Subway/Beijing, China
29/365: Parallel Lights
  ParallelLights/#29/D7000/Red Brick Art Museum/Beijing, China

30/365: Soho Abstract

Soho Abstract/#30/D7000/Sanlitun Soho/Beijing, China

What a week. Almost everyday I experience something new. I have an amazing friend who once told me that when you’re on the right path you can feel it. I feel it. The amazing people, the people with coinciding interests, the conversations, my growth in photography, I feel at home. Within the last week I’ve attended a conversation between young global health professionals, each trying to make their mark in a variety of unique ways. Each doing work that is really astounding and groundbreaking. When I talk about my own research, and they look at me with mutual respect, and I know I need to work even harder. Being able to interface with these individuals regarding my views, my opinions; I left the conversation beaming and with new friends.

My research has continued to progress. I’ve almost finished each component of my IRB application. Just need to finish a few more pages of work, get it reviewed by my mentors, make necessary changes, translate it into Chinese, and submit for approval. Things are becoming realities. My ideas from 2 years ago are becoming real. Everyday I get a little closer. Everyday another word is written. Everyday, I am closer to impacting women’s lives all across china.

As part of my work in China I got to attend the 2014 APEC Cervical cancer prevention and control workshop in China. Eleven nations throughout the APEC region came together to try and put together an action plan to help solve the issue of cervical cancer in this region of the world. Hearing from different countries on their strategies and difficulties in treating their respective population was incredibly interesting and enlightening. It also reaffirmed what I initially believed all along, just because Americans and the western world continue to believe that Asia is much better off than the likes of Africa and Latin America, that is simply not the truth. In Japan, less than 50% of the women in that country are screened for cervical cancer. Japan, has not approved the HPV vaccine for administration to young girls and boys. Japan, one of the most developed countries in the world, does not give its young women the services necessary to keep them from needlessly dying. That sort of inequality, that disparity is something I want to fight. These sorts of issues exist all of the world. The fact that so many Americans assume that because you have a strong economy and you’re not in Africa must mean you’re healthcare system must be good That is just a lie.

The collaboration though, the brainstorming, these experts in their respective countries coming together and attempting to provide uniform consensus to help each member state advance their own health was amazing. As a medical student in the infancy of my career, it was inspiring.

Outside of work though, I’ve been to art museums, I’ve eaten great food, and I’ve made great friends. I can’t ask for more. I’m incredibly blessed and everyday I realize more and more just how lucky I am to be here in Beijing. Thank you.