“We are One Sweat”

A little bit of team bonding, some long work days, a lot of humidity, and a touch of heat stroke & dehyrdation led to that gem of a quote (perfect for a blog title!).

I have loved traveling for a long time and I have grown to love traveling with a purpose. That is why I am so appreciative of the travel opportunities for university students. Last year, while organizing our final year schedules we had the option to apply for 4 weeks of ‘selectives’ in areas of veterinary medicine we were interested in. My last selective was the 2 weeks I spent in the Northern Territory working with community dogs & cats.  I sent in an application and went to an interview and was picked as one of four students to attend a veterinary international development trip in Myanmar.

The 11 day whirlwind trip was fantastic! I loved the country, the people, and especially the work we completed! There really is so much to say about this adventure that I’ll try and keep it summarized for you…

We were part of a pilot project for a bigger research organization that has been established in Myanmar for many years. We worked with a team of veterinarians from the University of Veterinary Science, Myanmar. Rural village visits were arranged ahead of time. We set out in our two vans and traveled to these villages where a Unimelb student + Myanmar veterinarian would interview sheep and goat farmers. The questions were asked in Myanmar language and written down in English. We asked questions about the herd structure (how many males/females, young/old), how many were bought or sold or died? We also asked questions about who took care of the animals (gender of the person, age, etc) and which duties were performed. Then we asked the farmers about which health conditions were most important in their herd and if they performed any treatments on their animals.

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One of the Myanmar vets writing down interview answers

After the interview with the farmer we would go out to the sheep or goat pen and observe the herd for any obvious signs of illness. The most common things we saw were: itchy animals, lots of coughing/sneezing, old diarrhea, and a few lame animals.

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Gathering outside a typical sheep pen preparing to start our observation of the herd

Lastly, we took blood samples from two animals from each herd.

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Collecting a jugular blood sample from a sheep. It was rewarding to teach & assist the Myanmar vets in performing venepuncture. 

Every night we came back to the hotel lobby and set up a mini laboratory with a centrifuge and our samples. We ran a few tests and transcribed our data into computers.

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Preparing blood smears during some free time at the village

We did a quick look through of our data and made some brief presentations so that we could give a summary to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) office in Bagan. Even though this was just a pilot survey and we barely skimmed the surface of research and agriculture in Myanmar I thought our results were extremely interesting! I loved experiencing and adapting to the challenges that presented themselves to us; I feel like it made us stronger as a team. I saw the importance of working in international development. The health problems that these animals are experiencing could be cured with some involvement, education, a few diagnoses and some medicine –easier said than done!

And of course, aside from the university side of the trip we tried to squeeze in some sightseeing. I haven’t spent a ton of time traveling in Asia before, but every time I’ve been I’ve loved it! The food is all different and exciting; we ate a lot of soups and curries and I quite enjoy eating goat meat! There is fresh fruit juices at every meal. Myanmar tea made of condensed milk and red brew demands at least 2 cups during every tea shop brekky.

The roads are a crazy mixture of on-foot traffic, motor bikes, cyclists, cars, and bullock carts. Honking is common!  Our last 2 days were in Bagan, a city packed with thousands and thousands of temples, pagodas, and stupas.  There was a lot more tourists here and the traffic a bit calmer; which meant it was the perfect place to rent E-bikes and drive around for hours in the hot sun visiting ancient buildings!

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This is just one of the many many ancient temples we visited. They are just as amazing on the inside as they look on the outside! 

Something I was particularly struck by was an appreciation for human generosity. We did not speak Myanmar language and many of the people I met did not speak English. Yet, we managed to communicate through a few key words, charades, and overwhelming kindness. Any time someone anticipated that we might need or want something they would jump up to do it! I hadn’t brought a hat with me and ladies kept offering me their woven straw hats to keep the sun or rain off. Traditional sunscreen was applied to my face several times. The heat was sweltering (!!!), and at every house we were offered water, tea, or paper fans! At one point, someone even stood up to fan us while we conducted our interview. Amongst our own team generosity was overflowing as well–everyone was willing to share water, gastro-drugs, itch cream or lend a helping hand if someone was feeling off.

 

 

I can’t thank my fantastic team from Unimelb and UVS enough for being such good travel companions and research colleagues!

After such a whirlwind of traveling over the last few months I’m appreciating a week at home to sleep and work on my research project! Next up is my dairy rotation…

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Chinese New Year in Singapore

When I started vet school I made a lot of new friends. Out of all the international students in my class the majority are from Canada and then Singapore. So naturally a lot of my new friends are from Singapore. This year I managed to find cheap flights (while I was procrastinating studying during final exams) and decided to go visit some of my friends in their home country. It was a quick vacation but jam packed of activities and celebrating Chinese New Year!

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Some of the MANY Chinese New Year treats we tried 

Something I have wanted to do for years was visit the Singapore Aquarium. Its on a little island called Sentosa which is full of tourist attractions. Our first day in the country included touring the aquarium and navigating the crowds around the rest of Sentosa.

Our friends have been raving about the food in Singapore since I first met them so this trip was definitely intended to be a bit of a foodie adventure. That being said…. We ate way too much! But there was so little time! A few of my favourites included the world’s cheapest Michelin star restaurant, fruit stalls in Geylang (jackfruit, mangosteen, jambun, and rata, and experiencing hawker food centers. Sanitation and food safety in Singapore is very important so the government inhibits street food vendors like you might see in other Asian countries. Instead, all the food vendors have been moved inside into ‘hawker centers’ where there is tables and chairs, sinks, inspections, and regular cleaning of facilities.

…I told you there was a lot of food….

We toured through both Chinatown and Little India. I really loved the murals and statues in Little India. We also walked along/through several shopping streets and districts. There is multiple shops of very high end brands everywhere! Tourism/shopping is one of Singapore’s main industries! I did not buy anything….

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Year of the rooster! Happy New Year! 

One day involved a big walk from Marina Barrage (with views across the water to Indonesia) all the way to Gardens by the Bay. At GBTB we visited the Flower Dome to see the displays. It was extremely busy inside, but very beautiful. Once the sun went down we stayed for a very impressive light show in the Supertree Grove. The tree structures are completely self sufficient as they have solar panels on them that collect sunlight energy during the day to power the night-time lights!

Another cool thing we did was a quick stop in at the Central Perk café (from Friends). It was very expensive so we didn’t order much but we hung out on the couch and watched a few episodes and took a lot of cool pictures.

I wanted to go to the zoo but we just didn’t have time. We walked all along the Singapore river and saw spectacular views of the Singa skyline and impressive buildings.

One of my favorite things we did was actually just before we left was called lou hei. It is a tradition you usually do on the first day of Chinese New Year. Everyone tosses the food into the air with chopsticks and shouts sayings of good luck for the new year. Whoever tosses the food the highest will be the best off.

Anyways, thats a few of the highlights (it barely covers everything we saw/did/ate in our week)! Thank you so much to my friends who took me into their houses, introduced me to their families, and included me in their busy CNY celebrations. I appreciate it so much and loved the experience. Thank you 🙂