Two weeks in: Internet is a rare beast in the land down under

Like the title hints, finding internet and getting internet set up at my apartment has proven very difficult! Last Friday I finally got the ball rolling on internet at my apartment, but it will still be another 10-20 days before a technician gets out to my apartment! Hence, I concluded I’d better go ahead and write a post from my guaranteed internet at the laboratory…

As of Friday, Oct. 3rd I’d been in Australia for two weeks, but it feels like I’ve been here so much longer! Things have been moving pretty fast ever since day 1. Once I’d made my way through Brisbane customs and survived a Melbourne cab ride with a very lost driver I found myself in Fawkner, VIC (a northern suburb of Melbourne) at the doorstep of my colleague, Karen, who was kind enough to host me until I found a place of my own. It was about 10:00 am, so I had the whole day ahead of me.

The greatest shower of my life was the first thing on my to-do list (after traveling for 36 hours you get pretty…well, you know. Icky). Next I carpe’d that diem and set out on my first trip to the CBD (Central Business District) a.k.a. downtown Melbourne with the mission of activating my bank account and getting my phone up and working again.

Like I said, Fawkner is quite north of Melbourne, so I had to hop on the train to get down town. Now if you know me, you know I love a good public transportation system, and boy-o-bIMG_1026oy does Melbourne have one. It was a lovely ride all the way down to Flinders Street Station. As I made my way toward the city I must admit that panicked thoughts of “What the hell am I doing here?” began to creep inside my head. These anxieties kept persisting as I stepped out of the station into the bustling Federation Square, which is pretty much the main social and business nexus of the CBD. Yet I soon found myself on one of the smaller side streets where countless cafes, pubs, and restaurants lined both sides of the street. At this point I suddenly found a delicious cup of coffee in my hand and thoughts of “Oh yeah, this is exactly where I need to be” took over in my head.

Happily, those positive thoughts have not yet left my skull. This may also be because I’ve been too busy to even contemplate them leaving my skull. The first week was mostly consumed by hunting for a flat. The number one thing people said to me when they heard I was going to Melbourne was “Wow, I’ve heard that’s a fantastic place to live!”. The number two thing people said to me was “Wow, I’ve heard that’s a fantastically expensive place to live!”. Both conceptions are correct. Real estate is going for top dollar around here, so I definitely had to get rid of Nashville, TN preconceptions of what an apartment should cost! Initially I struck out on Craigslist looking for an apartment, but I rapidly abandoned that when one promising lead turned out to be someone trying to catch me in a clear case of escrow fraud (remember folks, if it sounds too good to be true it generally is!). In any case, after only a few days of frustration and gnashing of teeth I found the perfect place in the lovely neighborhood of Fitzroy. I’m now the proud renter of a balcony flat inside a lovely terrace house located smack dab next to an equally lovely pub and directly across the street from a even more lovely Carlton Gardens.

Coffee on this balcony is delightful.

Coffee on this balcony is delightful.

IMG_1687

A view from above

The Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens, right across the street

The Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens, right across the street from my flat

More Exhibition Building

More Exhibition Building

The other big piece of news over the last week is that I started work! So far things are going well. I’m definitely still the new guy and probably will be for awhile, but so far everyone I’ve met is incredibly friendly! I’m sure that friendly affect was helped by the fact that I was first introduced to everyone at the institute’s Friday Beer Club! It’s a lovely international group we’ve got working here: Australian, American, Chinese, Japanese, Sri Lankan, Spanish, German, Dutch, French, and others too I’m sure.

The Monash University Parkville Campus

The Monash University Parkville Campus

I was lucky enough to have these new friends by September 27th for the Australian Football League Grand Final. This would be on par with the Superbowl in the US, except absolutely everyone is watching, and not for the commercials (in fact, there aren’t that many commercials at all). I was invited to a watching party at which the Hawthorn Hawks (a Melbourne team) trounced the Sydney Swans. It was my first time watching a full game of Aussie Rules Football, and it was great! It’s a really fast paced, high-scoring game. At any given time there are 36 players on the field going nuts. I’m still working out the rules, but I’m sure that will come with experience when I watch next season! And believe me, I will be watching next season- AFL is THE sport in Melbourne. Something like ten of the 18 teams in the league are based in or around Melbourne, and even then teams like the Brisbane Lions and Sydney Swans are originally from Melbourne.

This past weekend I got to sample a few pubs in Fitzroy with my new friends Carmen and Thomas. Sunday night we went to Naked for Satan, a fantastic rooftop bar right in the heart of Fitzroy. As you can see, it offered beautiful views of the city and some incredibly good house ale. Apparently I missed out by not trying any of their specialty vodka cocktails.

IMG_1693

On top of Fitzroy!

A view of Fitzroy (foreground) and the CBD (skyline)

A view of Fitzroy (foreground) and the CBD (skyline)

The story/legend is that a Russian immigrant named Satanovich used to maintain the building in the 1920s. The locals nicknamed him “Satan”. When the depression hit he made illicit vodka in the building for himself and locals. During the summer the high heat in Melbourne combined with the furnaces in the stills made it so hot that Satan would strip down to his underwear. Thus the locals started referring to getting “naked for Satan” as slang for going to buy illicit booze from this guy. Regardless of the origins, Naked for Satan’s one of the better pub names I’ve ever come across!

 

 

Apologies for the radio silence…

…it’s taking longer than I’d hoped to get internet at my new apartment. I’ll recap the last thrilling weeks once I’m set up!

In the meantime, here’s a picture of an awesome graffiti/mural in the alleyway behind my apartment:

IMG_1676There is a whole bunch of graffiti in Melbourne. A lot of it is just hoodlums scrawling their name on a wall, but good bit of it is genuinely beautiful and cool art! As soon as I collect a good number of pictures I’ll have to do a post about it!

A Whooole Buncha Travel and The First Day in Melbourne

The time was finally here. After days of packing, weighing, repacking, reweighing, etc., I had finally produced 2 checkable bags that condensed all of my worldly possessions down to 100 lbs (in addition to a hefty “personal item” and a very, very hefty roller carry-on). So, visa in hand (or rather, in the aether, as Australia uses electronic visas) and American accounts closed, we loaded the bags into the car and my dad and I set off on my 72+ hour journey to Melbourne.

IMG_1009

Before getting on any planes, we stopped for a visit with my grandmother in Inman, SC to rest and to enjoy one final, tasty, Southern-cooked meal! The next morning we set off to the Charlotte airport. Despite my worries about bag weight, the attendant didn’t blink an eye and I was checked in in an instant! Dad and I shared a bittersweet farewell cup of coffee before saying our farewells as I hopped into the security line.

There isn’t much to be said about the air travel. I went from Charlotte to Dallas to Brisbane to Melbourne. As is normal these days it consisted of huge planes with little leg room. At least on QANTAS they let you have free entertainment in the headrest consoles. I got caught up on my pop culture movies of the last couple years, watching X-men: Days of Future Past (meh.), Django Unchained (great!), and Midnight in Paris (also great!).

Big plane, Little Seat

Big plane, Little Seat

By the time I was wrung through customs in Brisbane, I was a bit shell-shocked from the flights and the general idea that I was now on the opposite side of the world. My flight to Melbourne was at 7:00 am, and it helped me recover a bit as the sun was rising, coffee was being served, and I was able to munch down on some muesli.

After a cab ride from the airport I was at the doorstep of my old colleague (and new colleague), Karen, who has been kind enough to host me until I can get a hold of my own place. Once I was settled in I was faced with the fact that, despite being sleep deprived, I had the whole day ahead of me. So I decided to get acquainted with the Melbourne public transportation system.

I generally had the idea that I wanted to activate my bank accounts and get a new SIM card for my phone, so I took the train downtown to the CBD (Central Business District). I rolled into the Flinders Street Station (the main train hub for Melbourne) and just started walking. The weather was right up my alley: cool and breezy! I found myself wondering up and down Little Collins Street peeking my head in at every cafe and bar (of which there were many per block). I finally settled at one for a late lunch of lamb stew and my first “long black” coffee (a double espresso). After that, getting my errands done was surprisingly easy!

With a new phone # in hand I was able to arrange to meet Karen for an evening drink at the Brunswick Green followed by pad thai at the Kao Thai restaurant next door. About that time 36 hours of nonstop travel had caught up to me and I struggled to make it to 9 o’clock before hitting the sack. The good news is that that struggle enabled me to sleep all night long!

All in all the first day in town was great! The public transportation is amazing and (so far) very efficient. Food and drink have been fantastic too, although beer strikes me as absurdly expensive (~$18 AUD for two pints!).

Renovations are coming!

Obviously, four years in grad school cut back on my blog posts, but more content is arriving soon!

Several weeks ago I completed my Ph.D. in chemical biology at Vanderbilt University. Next up I will be traveling to Melbourne, Australia in mid-September to begin a postdoctoral research fellowship at Monash University!

These new adventures call for a redesign! Over the next week or so I hope to overhaul gintree.wordpress.com to suit my coming travels. Keep a look out!

Spring Arrives, Porch Parties Ensue

Spring has finally arrived in Nashville. I’ve been trying to enjoy the exceptionally beautiful weather between the equally-but-differently beautiful thunderstorms- unfortunately exams kept my nose in a book for most of the week.

Luckily for me the really beautiful days saved themselves for this weekend. Albeit, I’m still studying- but at least I can do it outside!

I’m going to try and take a lot more pictures this spring/summer. In organizing my photos the other day I noticed that I’ve taken a grand total of about 20 photos this year so far- unacceptable. These are some of the best times of my life, I should document them better.

Last weekend my apartment building had its first porch party of the season- beer, tenants, friends, dogs, and music.

Then, on Sunday I took a walk in the lovely weather over to one of my favorite bars, The Patterson House. My friend Michael’s brother, Sam, was in town to guest bar-tend. Sam’s a rockstar in the bar-tending world, creating a wide variety of amazing concoctions and flavors with which to take your alcohol.

Michael’s parents, coworkers, and a bunch of our mutual friends were also there. Lots of great drinks were had. I’d love to describe them but I don’t even know what half of the ingredients were!

Wiley, doing his best Bogart impression

This weekend started off with yet another porch party. This time it felt more like the usual next-door-to-Vandy crowd: a lot of alumni, researchers, and graduate students

An emptier, Spring-ier courtyard

Graduate School Marches On…

The demands of my first year classes have prevented me from posting too much. Things are going well- learning advanced organic reactions, deriving Michaelis-Menten enzyme kinetics, pioneering novel treatments for type II diabetes- you know, science.

In other news is….. our lab! Check it out:

http://www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/reporter/index.html?ID=10341

Hopefully as the semester winds down I’ll find more time to get off my sorry butt and post some more. Until then, here’s a bit of what I’ve been doing with my free time: Going to see the USA national soccer team face off in an international friendly game with the Paraguay national team at Titan’s stadium!

It was a bit wet early on...

Steve and Mary Beth came as well

The Great Grad School Bonanza

In August I began graduate school at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. This will be my second degree at Vanderbilt as I did my undergrad here as well. I’m studying to get my PhD in Chemical & Physical Biology, and the majority of my research will revolve around medicinal chemistry, drug discovery, and pharmacology.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center...I work in the big glass building on the right, Medical Research Building IV

As was expected, classes and lab have left me with very little free time. Every week is packed to the gills and by midweek the next week is filled up as well. So I thought it would be good to keep a running update of what I’m up to here so family and friends won’t feel wholly disconnected when I’m not calling or emailing very often.

My advisors are Drs. Craig Lindsley and P. Jeffrey Conn. Both are former Merck researchers who broke away to set up their own drug discovery program in an academic environment. What’s resulted is the Vanderbilt Program in Drug Discovery, one of the most drug research consortiums in academia. The VPDD now consists of many more labs than Lindsley’s and Conn’s but those are the labs of which I’m a member.

I’ve worked for Craig since undergrad, he’s essentially the reason I decided to go to graduate school. His lab focuses mainly on the medicinal chemistry side of things while Jeff’s lab focuses more on cell based assays and, eventually, in vivo mouse and rat studies. Check out the links to their lab websites above if you’re curious.

Currently I’m working on finding an antagonist for the muscarinic acetylcholine receptor subtype M4. If found, such a molecule would have the possibility of alleviating symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, seizures, and other dystonias. This project may end up becoming my primary thesis, but it’s too early to tell.

I hope this will be a start to some regular updates on what I’m doing in research and in life around Nashville. Right now I’m off to prepare about 40 compounds for a cellular assay, keep your fingers crossed for good data!

A Nashville Ice Age

On Friday Nashville received a massive snow dump (and by massive I mean about 5 inches, but hey, we Southerners impress easily). It was getting so bad on midday Friday that my boss sent everyone home- Woo! Snow day!

Jennifer also had been sent home early, so we got together, grabbed some sleds (read: bent to shit cookie pans), and hit the slopes (read: hill in the business park across the street from my apartment). Speeding down the hill towards West End, shouting my head off, I noticed some drivers looking at me with, dare I say, disdain– I am writing this off as mere jealousy that they did not have half a day off. I love how snow has the ability to turn everyone into kids again.

After we were thoroughly iced and soaked there was a brief break for hot chocolate and cooking our clothes in the oven. Then we suited up again to go to a giant snowball fight in Centennial Park that we were alerted to thanks to Nashvillest and Nathan Baker.

Snow!!! (Credit: Alice G.H. Kim)

A sock-handed, snowball throwin' machine!

The snowball fight started off slow, just a few of us tossing missles by the Parthenon, but then we noticed a mass of people at the other end of the park. As we approached them there was a Braveheart moment as we released blood curdling screams and charged them!

Unfortunately for us we were outnumbered by 3 to 1, so I guess it was more like a Tennyson “Charge of the Light Brigade” moment. In any case, we made quick friends with the newfound warriors around the van brought by a wondrous Nashville beverage company, whose name I am not at liberty to disclose. Once we’d warmed ourselves with beverages, we collectively decided to sneak up on (as much as “sneaking” can apply to a group of thirty or so people) a Channel 4 News van that was parked nearby. They fought briefly, but mainly stayed cloistered in the van…pansies. Still, Jenn and I got them with a few good scoops of snow from our sleds!

Courtesy of the Tennesean photographer we tried not to hit.

Also courtesy of the Tennesean photographer we tried not to hit.

Jennifer lying in wait

Here's to an awesome snowball fight!

The after parties were every bit as fun as the fight itself. We stopped at Sweetwater and puzzled the 60 something alcoholic crowd there, then we hit up Rotiers, where every employee seemed to be pissed off that they couldn’t go home yet. Finally we wound up at Jennifer’s place with a few of our newfound friends and forties. We drew dominoes to see who got which forty. As I recall the selection order went something like this: PBR, Colt 45, Steele Reserve, Coors Light, Bud Light, Bud Light Lime. Yes, that’s right, PBR and Colt were the first to go…I think you can deduce how fun the rest of the evening was.

The Infamous Stringdusters at the Station Inn

One of the biggest treats I found upon my return to Nashville was the Infamous Stringdusters’ Artist in Residence series at the Station Inn. Every Wednesday for the month of January the Stringdusters played an incredible set with a special guest. I was lucky enough to see the latter three of the four shows.

If you haven’t heard of these guys, even if you’re not a fan of bluegrass, you need to check them out. They are without a doubt the best live band I have ever heard. All of them are incredibly talented musicians, but more than that, they are skilled at playing with each other. The improvised solos and duels they screw around with onstage are slackjaw-worthy.