2014 in review

The year 2014 was a particularly big year for me – even bigger than 2013 and so big that I barely got to write about it! The irony pains me because I absolutely love writing but writing for fun (AKA this blog) takes up time and effort that I could be using to write for my job. Anyway, this just means that I need better time management skills.

What went down in 2014:

I learned how to surf! Well, maybe learned is too strong a word. Maybe tried out is more appropriate. Haha. My friends and I went to San Juan, La Union and I climbed onto a surfboard for the first time. I finally caught my first wave by the morning of the second day and limited my falls by the morning of the third. Thank you so much Lea and team for your energy and patience! This 2015 means more regular trips to legitimately learn how to surf.

04 April 03_small

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Science Nerd Mode at the 3rd APCRS

These past few months have been pretty crazy. So these things happened this May and June:

1. Co-organized Nexcon, a f*cking kickass science fiction and fantasy convention
2. Went to Japan for the first time. JAPAN!
3. Helped train DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) personnel in coral reef survey methods
4. Presented at my first international scientific conference: the 3rd Asia-Pacific Coral Reef Symposium (APCRS)
5. Went to Taiwan for the first time to present at APCRS and to explore

The blog posts will not be in chronological order. There. You have been warned 😛

Anyway, this here blog post is about APCRS. The Asia-Pacific Coral Reef Symposium (APCRS) is an international gathering of scientists, policy makers, natural resource managers, and other stakeholders to share research and experience in coral reef biology, ecology, and conservation. I wrote about the conference here.

I wasn’t part of any research project and I didn’t want to ask for money from DOST (because that money always comes with strings attached) so I ended up paying for almost the entire trip out-of-pocket: the conference registration, hotel rooms, plane ticket, everything. I lucked out in that some of my labmates scored funding so they paid for the hostel rooms in Taipei both before and after the conference and since I have valid US and Canadian visas, I was visa-exempt for Taiwan.

We took an 11:00pm flight out of Manila on June 20 and landed in Taipei at 1:30am the next day. Took a cab to the hostel because the airport buses stop running at 12pm and arrived there at around 3am. Note to self: don’t take any more red-eye flights as much as possible. Gyah. June 21 was our lone “full” day in Taipei before taking the High Speed Rail from Taipei to Kaohsiung the next day. From Kaohsiung, it took a 2-hour bus ride to finally get to Pingtung.

This is me at Taipei Main Station killing time before our scheduled train. Since we were taking the HSR from end to end, we could take the express train with fewer stops and cut the travel time to 1 hour and 30 minutes instead of 2 hours.
02 me in taipei main station_ver2

Pingtung felt like Boracay sans the sand. Not sure why that is, but the Taiwanese don’t build permanent structures on the beach (local zoning laws maybe?). There are hotels, bars, and restaurants that face the beach but all the actual partying takes place on the road behind the hotels, parallel to the beach. I found that an excellent alternative to Boracay’s usual scene as it means less trash on the beach. After registering at the conference hotel, we walked back home and looked around for a place to eat. We met a Filipino waiter who recommended that we NOT enter the restaurant he was promoting because the food was expensive and not that good. Haha. When we asked him why he told us that, he said “E kababayan kayo e” (“You’re Filipino too”).

03 Pingtung night time

APCRS was a great experience. I learned a lot of new things from a lot of different people. Funnily enough, I just noticed near the end of APCRS that I ended up meeting a greater proportion of Singaporean, Malaysian, and Hong Kong-Chinese researchers and students because they were working on one of my favorite topics: the impact of pollution and sedimentation on coral reefs. I presented a paper (entitled Spatial Variation of Coral Recovery in the Shallow Water Reefs of Bacuit Bay, El Nido, Palawan one Year After the 2010 Mass Bleaching Event, co-authored with my adviser) during the mini-symposium on coral bleaching and the impacts of climate change on reefs (my other favorite research topic). It was a supremely nerve-wracking experience and despite practicing several times, I still ended up talking a little too fast and ended my presentation with several minutes to spare. Ack. The moderators asked me two questions and three (three!) people told me that my research was interesting. YES! Although fine, one of those was a friend so I suppose that doesn’t count. All of the other COMECO labmates who came to APCRS were fisheries people so I only saw them during the breaks and only one of them attended my presentation. Ah well. The perils of having differing research interests.

02 me with APCRS sign

Aside from being able to learn from other, more experienced researchers, another thing I loved about APCRS was the chance to catch up with some science friends. I attended a training workshop in Sanya, China in 2011 (read about it here) and I saw many of the same students in APCRS. On the making friends front, I liked the IOC-WESTPAC training better because there were fewer participants (about only 2-3 per university) and and many of them also stayed in the marine station. In our case, we were billeted with the Thai and Malaysian participants, who were given a separate area because of their dietary restrictions. We added each other on Facebook afterwards and kept in touch. After three years of talking online, we finally saw each other again. Lots of hugs and “OMG you’re here!” all around, plus updates on what we’ve each been up to.

This is Mathinee from Thailand. She’s taking her PhD in Japan and the culprit behind the smuggled sake (more on that later). This brilliant lady studies coral diseases.

19 mathinee

And this one is Yan from Singapore. She’s taking her PhD in Australia, shifted her research to seagrass (noooo!!!), and became a Whovian because of her Australian friends. Dangly TARDIS earrings!

22 yan

And this is Eric from Hong Kong. His work focuses on how pollution affects coral reproduction (perfect research topic for Hong Kong, IMHO). We actually saw each other a few months after the training in Sanya when I went to Hong Kong. He also came to El Nido earlier this year but since I wasn’t based there anymore, I asked Virgie to help him out. He and his friends now grace posters promoting stand-up paddleboard tours (not because of Virgie!), but that’s a story for a different day.

20 eric

He and his labmates from the Chinese University of Hong Kong are campaigning against the construction of a third runway at Hong Kong International Airport because the land reclamation will, among other things, drive out the few Chinese white dolphins still left in the bay. The reclamation will be the second-largest in Hong Kong’s history, only beaten by the reclamation to construct HKIA in the first place. Read more about it here.

No solo photos with Iris but I do have this nice photo of Team Philippines courtesy of Richard 😀 Lots of Filipino scientists at the conference, including those who represented universities outside of the Philippines. Apparently, the National University of Singapore is a popular destination for recent MSI graduates.

team Philippines at APCRS 2014_smaller

I also (sorta) got to make new friends courtesy of the student night. They took all the students who signed up to attend and randomly distributed them around several picnic tables where they could talk while grilling their own food. A noble effort and I did get to talk to the guys in my group but I’m a naturally shy person and don’t make friends easily. Ack. The organizers supplied beer and soda but Mathinee smuggled in some extra-strength sake [rice wine] from Japan that she so generously shared with the other students. I thought I would be prepared for the burn because of the sake-tasting in Japan but I was wrong 😛 The students were also supposed to present a “cultural performance” per country. No one prepared anything serious but I have to give credit to the Thai group for gamely going first and kicking things off with a lovely (and slightly drunken) dance number. Everything else flowed after that. The large amounts of beer probably helped too.

These lovely photos came from Eric. The top one has Dr. Nina Yasuda, me. Rem (my labmate), Yuta (Dr. Yasuda’s student – he studies population genetics), and Eric.
02 instax photos from eric

APCRS 2018 will be held in Cebu so I’m really looking forward to it. Let’s hope I get to publish and do more research before then 😛

Macy’s Top Ten Taiwan travel tricks and tips

It’s been a week since I got back from a 10-day trip to Taiwan to present at the 3rd Asia-Pacific Coral Reef Symposium (APCRS). APCRS was my first time to present at an international scientific conference so YAY ME! After a hectic schedule of shuttling back and forth between Taipei and Pingtung, of balancing work and having fun, here’s my Top Ten list of (suggested) things to remember and/or do to make your trip easier, more fun, and less tiring.

1. Good news! Filipinos holding valid multiple-entry US, Canada, Japan, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, or Schengen visas are visa-exempt for Taiwan! Just register online 1-2 months before you leave and bring a printed copy of the authorization certificate with you. The authorization certificate is valid for multiple entries for 30 days, starting from when you first enter Taiwan. I have US and Canadian visas so the exemption saved me time and around P2,000 in visa application fees.

04 visa exempt stamp

2. If you’re between 15 to 30 years old, apply for a Youth Travel Card at the airport Visitor Information counter when you arrive. It’s free, the card gets you discounts at participating attractions (the National Palace Museum is included!), and it makes for a cool souvenir. Unfortunately, I didn’t do enough Googling prior to leaving so I thought that you could only get it at the airport. Since the counter closed at 10pm and we arrived at 1:30am AND I didn’t know that you could get it elsewhere, I wasn’t able to get the Youth Travel Card myself. So yes, this tip comes from a (sorta) shallow well of bitterness 😛

3. Get an EasyCard. This reloadable tap-and-go card is the single-most important thing you’d need to travel around Taipei and possibly the rest of Taiwan. It works for the MRT, buses, the High Speed Rail, the Tamsui ferries, even the Taipei Zoo! You can also use it in convenience stores. Some Starbucks branches also take it 😛 It’s basically the equivalent of Hong Kong’s Octopus card. You can get the EasyCard at any MRT station. A NT$100 deposit is required plus any credits that you want to load on the card. You can return the card at the end of your trip (also at the MRT station) for a refund of the deposit and any unused value, minus a NT$20 administration fee for a card that’s been in circulation for less than 3 months or used less than 5 times.

01 easycard

4. Taipei Taoyuan International Airport is Taiwan’s main gateway but it’s not located inside Taipei itself. The airport is about 1 hour out of Taipei and the cheapest and most convenient way to travel between Taipei and Taoyuan Aiport is via bus. Kuo Kuang Motor Transportation operates express buses between Taipei West Bus Station (beside Taipei Main Station) and Taoyuan Airport and the trip generally takes 50 minutes to an hour. Adult tickets are NT$125 each. Operating hours are:

Taoyuan Airport to Taipei West Bus Station: 5:30am to 12:20am the next day (buses leave every 10-15 minutes)
Taiwan West Bus Station to Taoyuan Airport: 4:30am to 11:50pm (buses leave every 10-15 minutes)

Since we arrived at the airport at 1:30am, we had to take a taxi to our hostel. The taxi cost NT$1,200 with similar travel time as the bus.

5. Unless you want to take advantage of discounted early bird tickets and/or are traveling during super peak times, there’s really no reason for you to buy High Speed Rail tickets in advance. I got my Taipei-Zuoying ticket at NT $1300 (30% off) instead of the usual NT $1630 but my Zuoying-Taipei ticket was at regular price. My friends had no problems buying tickets even five minutes before the train was scheduled to leave.

6. Get a translator app and maps. Yes, this seems like a no-brainer but I thought it worth mentioning it anyway just in case you somehow forget it in the rush of getting ready. None of the taxi drivers we got spoke English – one of them asked us (politely?) to get out of the cab once he found out that we didn’t speak Mandarin. He only agreed to take us to Taipei Main Station once I pointed it out on the map. The map itself was in English (the street names were also in English) but Taipei Main Station had a cute illustration to mark the spot and the driver recognized it.

7. Eat at the roadside eateries and streetfood areas. All of the places we ate at served cheap and delicious food AND we didn’t get sick. Hooray! If you plan correctly, NT $400 can get you 3 square meals plus snacks. The only semi-letdown was the not-so-stuffed takoyaki I got at Shilin Night Market. Boo 🙁

8. If you’re the type that flinches at the idea of no Wi-Fi, never fear! Taipei offers free Wi-Fi in many public areas, including the MRT, bus, and train stations. Some users can register using their mobile phones (depends on the country where your mobile phone is registered) but for others, you’ll have to register at one of the many Visitor Information Centers. A valid ID is required to register at the centers.

9. Bring an umbrella if you’re visiting in June. Seriously. I’m Filipino so I’m used to the heat but Taiwan’s heat and humidity is something else. I felt ready to take another shower after just three hours of walking outside.

10. Bring a little notebook with you to collect stamps. Yes I’m serious again. In a brilliant (IMHO) move by Taiwan’s tourism authority, they have stamping stations located in their top tourist destinations and even the MRT. The collected stamps are a fun, cute, and free souvenir of your trip. If you’re a completist, the stamps can be a standalone goal. Bonus points if you buy your stamping notebook in Taiwan and get the ones with Taiwan maps and images on them (like mine!).

05 stamp collecting