Immersion and Brave New Girls

Immersion, an Asian speculative fiction anthology of fifteen stories which I edited with Allan Cho and William Tham is out! Two years in the making, we’ve used a lot of blood, sweat and tears on this project. The stories range from glimpses into loving relationships (with mermaids, grandparents, etc) to science fiction (using fish slime for fashion) to horror (supernatural beasts and an artist painting in blood). When we started the project we didn’t know what would come in the door. All we knew was we wanted to offer a chance to authors to send in the fantastic and surprise us! Towards the end we also did a cover re-haul and it looks completely different from before!

My latest published short story, The Curse, made it into Brave New Girls: Adventures of Gales and Gizmos. This anthology is the latest release from editors Mary Fan and Paige Daniels, featuring young adult science fiction tales about teen girls with a knack for science, tech, engineering and math… hackers, mechanics, inventors, and more! Proceeds from sales will be donated quarterly to the Society of Women Engineers scholarship fund.





Curing the Living Dead…With No Sugar Added!

“How are you even alive?” The Chinese doctor looked at me and sighed. “You barely have a pulse, do you eat anything at all?” I told him that I have been trying to eat more vegetables, exercise, etc. “Is there a problem with meat?” “No, I just thought I was eating too much.” “Well, you need protein for your cells to repair and function.” At this point I was flabbergasted.  He knew cell biology? He was a Chinese practitioner with 35 years of experience and worked in HK, Taiwan, and Canada. But I guess I had a stereotype that people usually chose one culture’s scientific knowledge over another.

It’s been 30 years since I have seen any Chinese doctor after the last one my parents dragged me to did some “bone reconfiguration” after I sprained my ankle.  So now I have two “ankles” on one foot due to a misalignment somewhere. “It’s not like you are crippled!” my mom yelled back when I told her why I was afraid of Chinese medicine.

With reluctance after trying to have a damn munchkin for so long, I caved into to seeing a Chinese doctor after my Western doctor became too “busy” to see me. It was a difficult situation with a parent there, as she explained to him how she thinks it’s a stupid idea for me to have a child as children are bad karma creatures out to collect debts from the parents. The doctor smiled politely and said, “You’ve shared your experience with your daughter, now it’s up to her to make the final decision.” A former university colleague of my mother’s, he knew her personality well.

He spoke for about an hour about how to eat properly as it turns out I was malnourished.  With not enough nutrition to function, how did I expect to grow a parasite? He taught a minimal cooking technique for green vegetables to preserve as much nutrients in the food as possible: Add 2 slices of ginger to a wok, heat up; add vegetables which have been rinsed in water only; cook for 3-4 min; add a little olive oil and water if needed; use lid to cover wok; cook for 3-4 min and add a little bit of salt for flavor.

In regards to cutting vegetables, he recommended not using a knife if possible as just hand breaking them preserves the cells better. Also, what I can eat depends on my body type, so he had to take my pulse.

Looking at my left wrist, he shook his head as my non-existence pulse.  After feeling my right wrist he frowned and asked, “You should be experiencing abdominal cramps after meals as you have a bad digestive system.” How did he know this? It was true, I get cramps once in a while, especially when I’m super full.

Then he looked under my tongue; there were black colored veins and when I relaxed it, the tongue did not have smooth sides.  “Your veins are black due to bad blood circulation and there are lumpy sides from your teeth.  When the tongue becomes swollen, it presses against the teeth which is why it is lumpy when you relax it.”  My mom, the energizer bunny, had a super healthy tongue of course.

After another hour of teaching me how to better take care of myself, he started to set my prescription for the next five days.  I had a weak body (low energy, bad blood circulation, heat based), but if I had too much rich food, that would make things worse.  He said there is lots more to know, but didn’t want to overwhelm me at the first meeting.  I have to return in a few days and have another assessment, then my instructions might change depending on how my body is doing.

herb powder ss
From herbs to GMP powder

My instructions:

-powder Chinese medicine mixed 2x per day in lukewarm water (on empty stomach, can eat 1 hour after).

I was expecting to have to buy herbs to cook, but he said that his GMP certified powders were tested for toxins and guaranteed to be the correct herb, unlike random vendors.  This technique of manufacturing Asian meds had been perfected by the Japanese.  Also, people don’t know how to cook the herbs properly which may mess up the meds too.  There were about a dozen powdered herbs in one “dose”.

-can only eat until 7/8 full for each meal

-can not drink water or liquids during the meal, as apparently I’ve been diluting my stomach acids.  I can have half a bowl of soup/water before and after meal that is warm in temperature.

-3 meals: breakfast (something small, carb or protein), lunch (palm size meat with 2x vegetables and some carbs), dinner amount is same as lunch, fruit 2x

-meat = chicken, fish, pork; my body can not handle lamb or beef

-vegetables and fruit must be different if eaten in the same day

-no caffeine = tea, coffee

-no alcohol

-no pop, too much sugar

-speaking of sugar, avoid as much as possible as body can not digest this well

-ARH!  NO CHOCOLATE!  I might as well be dead!

-Vitamin C, 500 milligrams; taking prenatal multi-vitamin ok as much of it will be peed out anyways

-breathing exercises, no more than 5x each or I might damage something (no aerobics as I didn’t have enough energy for that)

-no spicy or fried things

-less soya, tofu due to hormones in them

-No eating of frogs, toads, quail spit, placentas (really?!)

-snacks can either be fruit or yoghurt (Apparently the Japanese have the best yoghurt which is not available in North America)

I had questions about my use of Western medicine and he said that I should not stop as it would be a shock to the system.  I told him it was too late as the doctor pulled me from all meds after my last failed baby attempt.  He said it will take a while for my body to recover, but my body wasn’t too terrible compared to other women he had seen with the same problems.

He told a few stories in which he knew what to prescribe, but held back as he was worried about lawsuits as there is not much confidence in Chinese medicine in the Western world since Western medicine dominated.  There was some communication issues, as my background in science had been taught in English and his in Chinese.  So there were some moments which was like a game as we tried to describe the cell part we were each talking about.

In previous meetings, my Western doctor had said that I was about to take the last step in how they can help me and if it didn’t work, there was no other alternative.  So, I guess, I’ll have to give this Chinese medicine a try as I’m not sure what to do anymore. I am feeling hopeful, which is always a dangerous thing. Wish me luck!

Starvings Brains on Our Planet! Alas, Poor Post-Docs!

Dining with former colleagues who work in Neuroscience research tonight made me think about my past dream of becoming a mad scientist and holding the world hostage for wealth.  When I was a child, I had seen too many Nintendo cartoons (Super Mario or Captain N: The Game Master?  Can’t remember…) with “Mother Brain” among other villains and thought that it would be great to become a mad scientist.  After all, they always had the goal of trying to take over the world and had great hair along with super duper technology (except for Mother Brain).


 I did give research a shot, working in labs that studied the plant arabidopsis thaliana (the model plant) and different types of cancers which grew in children.  The work was very interesting, but long and tedious.  The cycle was obvious – you have to do experiments, write the paper, beg for grants for money for more experiments and the circle is infinite.  All my bosses were females that were married w/o children or divorced.  They were tremendously dedicated to their work and experts in specific subjects.  There were no plots to take over the world or become billionaires.  Doing the work to expand mankind’s knowledge was their goal and a very altruistic one.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that affects about 1-2% of the population.  During my time in the labs, I found myself sleeping on the floor of the lab and becoming very upset when experiments didn’t work out.  As my OCD got worse, I decided to not go into research, but to try clinical work instead – which is how I ended up in Nuclear Medicine.  Here’s a video and quiz on OCD to see if you have it too!

Years later, speaking with friends who made it through the PhD programs alive and found post-doc jobs; I was shocked to find out what their salaries were.  They all accepted that low salaries were a way of life and those that wanted more stable income, left research for administration roles.  Speaking to one hospital administrator, she said that the highest paid post doc there made $65,000/year.  As my Viking husband dislikes anecdotal stories, here is some data to prove my point.

In the US, NIH Minimum Funding FY14 & FY13 for people with 7 or more years of research experience maxed out at $54,180 USD.  This was already an increase from 2012’s $39,264 USD.  Typically what happens is that the principal investigator (PI or the boss), applies for grants and a certain amount goes towards salaries for post docs.  If they are nice and smart, they would also get some money from the institute’s foundation or split some other grants to increase a post doc’s salary.  In Canada, the funding agency NSERC grants $40,000 CDN per year for two years for post docs.

Two blogs out there: 27 and a PhD  and Ever On and On are two blogs written by people living their dream in the science community.  They speak frankly about their choices and the reality of doing research in the US/Canada.  Why does this problem exist you ask?  Well, there are so many faculty positions available at the end of the day and many PhDs competing for them.

Not all hope is lost – they are forming union groups and organizations to increase their quality of life and wages.  But if you are a post doc, I suspect you are already looking at this list of the best places to work in the world as listed in a 2013 Scientist article.  When I told my about friend this list, he said that I should help him look for a list of where to get easy faculty positions!  Did a quick search, didn’t find anything to help him…


To add to the madness, you can only be a post doc (with no benefits) for so many years…then you are suppose to get a real job.  Alas, poor post docs!