Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Our First Sample Collection Experience

Today marks our three week anniversary of landing in Sibu, and Iooking back, I am in awe of all we have accomplished and experienced. This past week, members of the Swine Study (Laura, Kerry and I) started collection of bioaersol samples after facing some unexpected hurdles. 

For those of you who don’t know what I’m doing this summer, I’ll give you a bit of a cliffnotes. Laura, Kerry and I will be working closely to find out if a host of viruses are present in the air. Kerry and I will be focusing on the collection of bioaerosol samples using a pump in a backpack, and Laura will be focussing on the collection of nasal washes as well as bioaersol samples using a pump on a tripod. 
(Photo of chickens in newspapers being sold. Photo, Kerry Mallinson.) 

(Photo of the Swine Study Members at Sibu Jaya. Photo, Greg Gray.)
So, this Wednesday, our small team visited Sibu Central Market, one our collection sites. This open air market is often boasted as the largest in Malaysia; however, I’m sure most of the Sibu Six would rather attach the superlative “best bagels” to the market instead. In fact, our very own native New Yorker, Kerry Mallinson, seems to be more excited about this find than the Rainbow Bagel trend that has been making its way onto every Instagram feed. This infatuation has set Mallinson on a wild goose chase in search of cream cheese as a pair to her newfound love.

(Photo of Sibu Central. Photo, Rick Tsao.)

(Back to business…) To use the samplers that we had brought to the field, it is necessary to calibrate pump and do some other setup work at the site. This meant that we had to pull out our pump, adorned with a huge timer display and some flashing green and red lights, to mess around for a few minutes. Surely, you readers know how this would look. Well, so did we. Thankfully, we were able to discretely run through the set up with no conflicts, and we’re still allowed back to the place with the nice bagels. 

(Photo of me at Sibu Jaya. Photo, Kerry Mallinson.)
In the market, we had a set amount of time that we intended to walk around and collect air. And while the suspicious looking pump with the lights was discreetly placed in a sound muffling briefcase and then stuffed into a normal-looking backpack, there was still a plastic tube that popped out of the bag and connected to a metal device on one of the shoulder straps. In other words, I still looked incredibly suspicious (see below). However, we were only approached once, and that situation resolved itself pretty fast when we explained that we were conducting research. We did notice that some were some side-eyed glances, but it was, overall, a successful trip.

We had arrived at the market around 11:30, in the middle of the day. Nearly every stand was open, and the market was simply bustling. The market serves the local population, selling seafood, produce and other household essentials everyday of the week. In addition, butchers come every Thursday through Sunday. During the sampling, we got the opportunity to browse the oddities offered by the market. We saw everything from sharks to snake-skinned fruits, called Salak. Exotic fruits such as waxed apples and guavas are also sold here. This is certainly a must for any travelers passing by and wishing to sample Sarawakian culture. 

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