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Yes, I was right. I walked into our afternoon lab today; the image on the display monitor? A dead frog.

If only one of you had taken me up on that bet...

Ah, the many joys of dissection. It just never gets old. Of course, I always shock Ada with my lively commentary.

"I wonder what would happen if it were still alive?" "Woah, feel his skin..." "He looks like he's screaming." "How soon do you think we'll be doing people? What? Don't give me that look....I would donate my body to science..."

She jokes around with me a lot more now, so the hours pass by much quicker. Our sarcastic quips and bored jabber are priceless sometimes.

All of the professors decided to take a coffee break at once, so all of us with questions had to stand around and wait in the meantime. We were supposed to be drawing the major veins and arteries around the heart, but ours were covered in a kind of dried-blood paste; we tried to scrape away as much of the gunk as we could, but the cardiac arches just weren't visible. We wanted to get out of there before it got dark, but there was no one around to ask about it. So Ada and I entertained ourselves.

Me: *stares listlessly down at my drawing of the frog's internal anatomy* My frog is too fat. And it doesn't have enough guts.
Ada: *leans over to look at my diagram* I think it should be fine.
Me: *draws a tongue sticking out of my frog's mouth, in a parody of death* OMG DED!
Ada: *reaches over with a probe and pulls the real frog's tongue out of its mouth* Now your drawing is scientifically accurate.
Me: Ha! "I swear, Professor Martin! I was just drawing how the frog looked!"
Ada: *reaches over and draws a crown on the head of my frog* Give him a kiss!

(Disclaimer: This in no way is meant to be disrespectful to the animals that give their lives and bodies to science. We are all living things, and even in death, we deserve dignity. Unless our legs are sticking straight out and our tongues are lolling out of our heads. Then that's just funny.)

(Additional Disclaimer: The above was a joke. Don't be offended; I know the importance of respect for all life, probably better than anyone. But I'd also like to think I have a sense of humor, too.)

(Overkill Disclaimer: If you're still offended, then you should either get a sense of humor, or read something else. Sheesh...)

The beauty of having really long labs is that you get out after the Zoology building has officially closed. And that's when they feed the snakes. For those of you that don't know, our building has a special cafe for biologists. (Yes, the building's real name is "The Department of Zoology and Experimental Psychology", so the psychologists have their own cafe/lounge too. But we don't generally go there. Unless we want to lay down on their couches. Heh, yeah...I go there to take naps. Those couches really are comfortable. It figures, I suppose...)

Well, anyway, we all like to hang out in Darwin's Cafe when we have a free hour between lectures and nothing else to do. One of the walls is covered in glass windows; each one contains an aquarium or tank of some sort. You name it, they've got it; and beside each is a poster describing all the animals inside. It's really entertaining to sit there while you're eating.

I'll be there with my bag of chips, staring down a crab the size of my head through the glass. He'll reach down and strip the seaweed, and then quickly shove his claw to his mouth; I'll reach down and grab a chip, and then quickly shove it into my mouth. He'll reach down and munch, then I'll reach down and munch, then he'll reach down...And then I'll run out of chips, and he'll reach down again. I stand up to throw my trash away, and give him a long, silent look.

"Okay, Sebastion...You win this time."

He twiddles his eye-stalks at me, and reaches down again. Yeah, rub it in, why don'tcha...

Well, anyway, they were feeding the corn snakes that live in the very last tank by our laboratory door. There are two of them; one is the wild type orange and black, while the other is an albino. (I wrote an essay about their gene expression pathways yesterday, actually. Mutations in epistatic genes are so cool...If you have red hair, by the way, then you're a mutant for the same reasons that some mice or dogs have yellow fur.) I tell you, watching those snakes eat is better than TV. Seriously. As more and more people finished up the lab, the audience grew. We were all crowding around, peering through the glass like delighted toddlers. The wild type snake was hesitating near the mouse it was supposed to eat, no matter how much the grad student wiggled it. One of the professors mentioned that they usually don't like to eat if they're about to shed their skin, so that could be the cause.

Girl from St. Anne's College: It kind of looks confused...
Me: I don't know...I don't think I would be too confused if someone dangled a steak in front of me...
Guy from Christ Church College: Yeah, but what if someone was dangling a whole cow?

God, I love this school...
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Today was exhausting, but it was still very satisfying.

Last night, I had a lovely conversation with Alex about what they're really teaching me here. No, it's not biology; it's how to wield a large book with deadly force. Yes, Oxford is building itself an army; an army that can smite down even the blackest and most foul of ignorance. And I shall be its newest Lieutenant, thrusting myself and my trusty microorganism textbook to the forefront of battle. FOR GREAT SCIENCE!

Okay, for those of you that have been wondering, this is how things work around here:

1) I don't choose my classes. There's no registration day here at Oxford; they tell you what classes you're taking, and that's that. The first year is all introductory biology, so everyone is taking everything. Next year, I'll be able to decide what I want to focus on; your second year, you choose three general subjects that you want to study in-depth. Then by your third year, you should know what you really want to focus on, and you choose subjects accordingly. Your third year is also when you do your thesis, so people usually spend the summer between their second and third year traveling (to places like Malaysia, to study endemic butterflies; or the Great Barrier reef to experiment on the reversal of coral bleaching).

2) Each of my terms only last eight weeks. They are numbered accordingly, and that's how we keep track of them. There are three terms in each school year, and eight weeks in each term. So yes, I'll be spending six months of each year in Oxford, and the other six at home (or somewhere here in England, if it turns out that way). When I get my schedule for the term, it shows where I have to be according to the week. For the first four weeks I have labs every Monday and Tuesday, from two until five in the afternoon. But on weeks Two and Four, I have Thursday afternoon labs as well. And on Sixth Week, I only have a Monday afternoon lab, but it's coupled with a full-day lab on Friday. It's crazy to try to work out, but we all managed somehow. It's still kind of funny to walk around and hear people say things like, "How are you finding this term?" "Oh, it's mental! You should see Fifth Week!"

3) I generally write two papers per week. If any of you guys would like to read them, I'll send them your way. Some examples of the titles are: "How widespread are sedentary and sessile organisms? How do they feed, reproduce and disperse?"; "What is a species? Critically appraise the various criteria employed to split animals and plants taxonomically. How do species arise in nature?", "What is a skeleton and what use is it? Review the major types of skeleton found in animals and plants and discuss their advantages and disadvantages. Is it better to be 'squishy' or 'rigid'?"; "What is an arthropod? They are often considered to be the most successful group of animals on earth. What does this mean? Do you agree? Justify your opinions, using appropriate examples." My latest prompt is, "Using examples, discuss the main similarities and differences between the major vertebrate Classes."

4) I have cut open just about everything. As we focus on each ascending phylum of animal, we have to dissect at least one of them. So far it's been Cnidaria (jellyfish and Hydra), Platyhelminthes and Nematoda (various worms), Annelida (more worms, including polychaetes), Mollusca (squid), Arthropoda (we observed just about every insect you can think of and some chelicerates as well, and then cut open a crayfish), Echinodermata (starfish), and Chordata (lancelet). From there we've been focusing in on the craniates, including the cartilaginous fish (cut open a stingray) and the teleost fish (cut open a trout just this afternoon). And from there? I'm willing to bet a whole lot of money that I'll be facing a frog tomorrow afternoon.


It's been so tough lately; I've been working from nine until five at least three days a week. They usually give us an hour here and there to eat lunch or whatever, but I had to run to the bank today instead of eating. Well, I had no idea how to quickly get from the science area to the corner of High Street and Cornmarket, and time was definitely of the essence. After being giving bad directions twice, having to turn around and go back down the street I had originally been down, just taking a guess at which little side-street I was actually on, and just getting turned around in general by Oxford's maze of streets, I found my way to the bank. I figured that I would be late for my afternoon lab, and spent the whole way back planning how to apologize. Well, I got back to the Zoology building, and what do you know? I was twenty minutes early. Go figure.

But I now know how to get straight from my classes to the Eagle and Child pub. Hooray for exploration, and a photographic memory to go with it. One of my new hobbies this term is to worm my merry way through every nook and cranny of this city. It shall be my playground. (Except not in the way most students "play" here.)

In other news, it's unbelievably cold here now. During the hottest part of the day, I could see my breath. And it's supposed to get colder. That cold front from Russia? Yeah, it's coming....for my soul. Ada spoke on the phone with her mom today, and from what she says, all the water is freezing right in the pipes in Poland. And the cold is slowly creeping West.

My reaction? I'm going to die. O.o

But I won't go down without a fight. I've armed myself with new gloves and a crapload of sweaters.

Bring it on, Moscow!
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Yeah I know, Becky; it's been a while. Even I was starting to believe that I had died...

Well, last week was bad. There's this thing called "The Fifth Week Blues", but I somehow managed to catch it a week early. Just my luck. But all the girls on my floor have been going though it as well.

"Oh, I just felt so homesick, I called my mom and she came up to see me for the afternoon."

.....Mhmmm.....I'm trying to imagine how something like that could work in my case. Nope, it's just not there.

And I finally had that serious case of food poisoning that I've been joking about for weeks. Yeah, remind me to never joke about that again. Also, I missed one of my lab practicals, and absolutely panicked. I talked to my tutor about it, and he said that it's okay, that these things happen, and that I should be fine. But enzyme-mediated reactions are not something to take lightly, so I'm going to have to study that uber-hard so it's not a weakness on the final exam.

But this week was fine, at least in my mind. The light on my bike broke and the seat is twisted, but I'll just have to go get those fixed this weekend.

Last Friday, we had our tutorial with Dr. Watkinson out in the woods instead of our usual room in South Building. Her specialty is fungi, and when I say that, I mean it. You know the essay I wrote last week about pathogenic fungi? Well, I used the recommended textbook on fungi as a reference, and guess who co-wrote it? Yep, Dr. Watkinson. (Or "Sarah", as she has us call her...) This is why I love this place so much. She's the top of her field, she literally wrote the book on fungi, and she was taking us all out on a jaunt in the woods to identify and collect specimens. How awesome it that?! She's also kindly invited Ada and myself to have lunch with her this Sunday, because we're the international students, and the homesickness always gets pretty bad on the weekends.

The girls finally managed to pry me out of my room last Saturday for Bonfire Night (aka Guy Fawkes' Day), and we walked down to Green College to see their fireworks. It was nice, but I swear...I prefer my firework holidays to be summer holidays. Only the British would be crazy enough to have a holiday where everyone stands around outside in the cold. Heh, of course, the holiday was created because of a crazy British nutjob, so I suppose it's only fitting...

We were going to head to Teddy Hall's party afterward, but it was canceled because of a highbrow concert or somesuch, so we ended up at The Turf. I adore it there; it's just full of so much history. It's the pub that I mentioned before, the one that's nestled into a bunch of alleys near the old city wall. It was famous for cockfighting in the eighteenth century, sword fighting in the seventeenth century, and...something about the owner dying on the job in the sixteenth century, but I can't remember what the circumstances were. So yeah; it's old. It was incredibly crowded so we ended up drinking in the open air in the back courtyard, which would probably be where people used to leave their horses...

And I'm sure you're all waiting for me to talk about rowing. What can I say? It's currently the most interesting thing about my life.

On Wednesday morning, I was staring at a pair of locked gates. It was five-thirty in the morning, freezing cold, with all the gates locked up and not a porter in sight. So I'm standing there with my bike, glancing back and forth between my watch and the sign that said "back in five minutes", for about fifteen minutes. Finally, one of the porters comes strolling back from South building, and trust me, he was taking his sweet time about it. After acting like I was inconveniencing him (Look, buddy; this is your job...) and making a point of asking me if I wanted to go out and why I needed to go out, he finally unlocked the bike gate.

That's right; take your time. Oh, no, don't worry about it...I was just standing out here at half-past five in the morning because I felt like getting hypothermia. It's a hobby of mine, you see. I also like being late for rowing practice, so if you could take a little longer, I would really appreciate it...

Our first regatta is in a few weeks, and it's going to be huge. The Christ Church Regatta, and I hope we're all ready. I don't think anyone is ready, frankly, so it's good to know that we're on even footing with our opponents. Novice B is really giving it everything we've got. We're the ones that have all taken the swimtest; we're the ones that were able to catch up to and pass another crew on the river (while they were rowing full eights and were we only using bow four). We had an erg session last night, and we raced Novice C for three thousand meters. We won, and it felt really good.

I still have a ton of work to do personally, though; I felt like I was going to be sick that last fifty meters, and I had to more or less crawl off the erg afterwards. Wuss, wuss, wuss, wuss... They have two ergs down in Hall, behind the bar, so I'm going to hit one of those for a while tonight, and every night I can for the next few weeks. I wasn't able to make it to the gym session last week, but I will this weekend. And now that our Tuesday practices have been moved to Thursday, I should be able to make the Tuesday morning weightlifting practice before class now. Go for it, go!

As the girls here would say: Keen to the point of madness.

But chatting with friends back home who've done crew is always a joy. I'll paraphrase one for you.

Cass: I just ordered my rowing kit, and I'm (apparently) going to be in a regatta. What Crew Gods should I be praying to?
Ross: JOBU.
Cass: .....What now?
Ross: Jobu. God of rowing. And bow ball.
Cass: ...How do you pronounce that?
Ross: Joe. Boo.
Cass: Okay, just checking. That's hilarious; so where did that one come from?
Ross: SCC. You offer him rum, and fine cigars. And strap him to your bow ball.

Kevin and Evan's input/advice are always valuable and entertaining, as well. I don't know what I would do without my friends; die of boredom, probably. But with friends like these, I'll never have to worry about that.

I can just laugh, and concentrate on killing myself with an erg.

^.~

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May 2008

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