Having just gotten off the plane from Malaysia as I write this, I would rally to say my first journey into Southeast Asia was a success! I have been picky with what conferences I have been attending while not in school. Not being a student meant I would have higher rates to pay and have none of it refunded back to me; it’s one of the big reasons why I turned down all conferences in 2017. This time, however I was part of the student organizing committee for the International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC) and also plenary speaker for the first ever International Marine Kids Congress (IMKC). Here are my thoughts...
The Clothes Situations
As my departure to Malaysia quickly approached, I haphazardly threw summer clothes (long packed away since it is winter in the southern hemisphere) into my suitcase. For those who don’t know, Malaysia is 60% Muslim and I wasn’t sure if my regular summer clothes of shorts and v-neck shirts would be appropriate. I left the shorts and kept the shirts because they were the only short-sleeved kind I had. It led to a lot of stares the first day I travelled to Kuching solo. Walking along the riverside city, men catcalled and blew kisses when I wore a black V-neck shirt, a long skirt my mother had gotten me from India, and sandals. It was a bit annoying when I was trying to take pictures of the beautiful architecture. Clearly the thin wedding band I had on my ring finger was not going to do much to deter them. On the flip side, little kids came up to me saying they liked my hair and skirt, as did teenage girls whose own hair was tucked under their hijab's and niqab's..
My tips for clothes: While Kuching is quite liberal compared to neighboring cities, I wish I had brought more T-shirts that were not V-neck to wear around the city. Shorts that come up to my knees are NEVER going to be in my wardrobe, so long flowy skirts and dresses will be a must whenever I’m in an area that short-shorts are not appropriate. I wish I had funds to have bought some linen pants while in Kuching – I definitely will be investing in one or two for those muggy tropics.
Extra Info: Some areas of the city (like mosques) do require you to be covered – sometimes you could rent a hijab while you were in the building.
The food in Malaysia is fantastic! I love the spices and fresh-ness of the food we were prepared. As a Mexican, I live for my spice (hello chile-and-lime chips) and I sometimes found the Malaysian food to be a bit too much for my tongue… this was usually because I would confuse their chile with a meat sauce and pile it onto my plate until it was too late. This happened during the IMCC5 closing dinner and my sinuses were quickly cleared. Thanks to Diva who got me water as I tried to calm the heat in my mouth.
My tips for food: Try everything at least once but in small portions! We even went to Top Shop which is a famous seafood food court where you have a multitude of seafood options to try from. Warning up front, there are fish in there that are not sustainable. I was surprised how open they were about having stingrays and skates on display (usually the markets I go to have these hidden away if they are endangered or threatened species)! As sustainable fish consumers, we went on the recommendations of those who had gone before us and enjoyed a huge meal – like, I mean HUGE.
We took up the entire table with plates of food, all for around $60 USD. Food in Malaysia is very cheap, so enjoy and indulge!
We were told the tap water in Kuching “should be okay to drink” but tasted funny and is something most people did not consume. Therefore, when we were out on tours or in restaurants we were always given (plastic) water bottles to drink out of. I can hear it now. “Hypocrite! You advocate for a plastic free life!” And it’s true, I do advocate for people to use less single use plastic. However, depending the country you are in, this is sometimes a necessary evil for your overall health. Trust me, no one was happy about drinking out of these water bottles… but we also didn’t want to get sick.
My tip for the future: I’ll see if bringing a reusable water bottle with a filter will help any. But if I get sick, I’m sticking to the bottled water for my own health and safety.
Tale of caution: Not sure if it was the water or food, but a few of us did get ill during this trip. I spent a night vomiting and am wondering if I got food poisoning (doubtful because no one else who ate what I did got sick) or if something had palm oil in it and this was my body’s way of letting me know it doesn’t like it (I have never had palm oil because a) it isn’t an oil I use and b) my dad is allergic to it, so perhaps I may be). And before someone says, “Maybe you had too much to drink!” the answer to that is no. I had a mojito and two beers – I’ve had worse and not vomited. By the way, I was NOT a fan of the local “Tiger Beer.” The rice wine is amazing, though, as is their local sangria!
Much warmer than wintery Sydney, I was happy to be in weather that averaged high 20’s. Humidity is off the charts and for those with curly hair you will hear your hair frizz as you leave any building; basically my hair never looked good this trip because I left my hair styling products at home (whoops). It being summer, it constantly raining (spectacular thunderstorms), and us being in the wilderness meant we were prone to being bitten by mosquitos. Up to your if you want to bring the malaria pills, but it isn’t prevalent in the Kuching area. Praise those who had bought DEET and shared it, because otherwise I would have left Malaysia with more bug bites than I am leaving with. My legs are absolutely covered and these bites are itchy.
My tip: Bring the anti-frizz hair products. And the DEET. It’ll be worth it.
I was lucky to be a part of many field trips while in Kuching. If you have the chance to visit Kuching, I suggest doing the following tours:
Oh, and if you want a laugh... the cat museum...
The venue was absolutely stunning and for the most part had reliable wifi (depending where you were). One room did not have any wifi and that was unfortunate for those presenting there because it meant your talk was less likely to be live tweeted. The location of the Waterfront Hotel was in the heart of all of the action – I mean, we had a parade go right by it and even had fireworks right outside the last night many of us were there. Being close to the mall and the local markets meant getting local food was easy. The staff at the Waterfront Hotel were professional and often went above and beyond for us. The packages for the various fieldtrips were absolute steals!
For me, IMCC5 meant I finally got to meet many Twitter friends face-to-face for the first time. In fact, now that I think about it I’m pretty sure I had only met previously with one person (hey Lachlan) in the whole conference! It was really cool to place faces with twitter handles and hear people’s voices often for the first time. I also got to meet many people I had only previously dreamed of meeting- like Jane Lubcheno, the former head of NOAA (big thanks to David Shiffman for capturing the above gem of a photo I will treasure). She was one of the most down-to-earth people I have met and I’m glad she is such a role model for many women in STEM (many of us in the conference were
As the week went on, people trained their eyes to your conference name tag to see if they could recognize you. I was actually surprised by how many people recognized me! I had quite a few people come up to me saying they had been wanting to meet with me for a while, how excited they were to connect face-to-face, and thanked me for my outreach work. It was humbling to hear how many people loved my work with The Fins United Initiative and many of the delegates who spoke Spanish even recognized me from my podcast!
My plenary talk for the kid’s conference went well. The kids were attentive (the spongebob gifs helped, I think) and the questions were great! Super excited to have inducted them as official ocean ambassadors. As you may have seen from my twitter/Facebook, I had a wonderful science communicator “moment” during the talk.
A great moment was with one girl couldn’t speak English. I had her participate with the group and her brother (who knew only broken English) said she didn’t speak English but spoke German and Spanish. I began talking to her in Spanish and translated parts of the presentation to them— their interaction with the whole talk exponentially grew when they realised I could understand them and speak their language. Their faces lit up, and both hugged me as they left. These interactions make my bilingual outreach SO worth it. Every time I saw them on the lift they spoke to me in Spanish!
My oral presentation of shark mythology, legends, folklore and policies was pretty packed with people I am excited to say! I had many interesting conversations stem from this talk, with people reaching out to see what work I have written up thus far. Let me remind you this is 100% a “passion project” of mine, not funded or supported by any group or university as I am not a student – so the overwhelming support I got from the IMCC5 crowd was welcome and validating.
Oceans Online is an amazing day of merging science, science communication, and technology. My favourite section (outside of the outstanding plenaries) had to be Dr. Andrew Thaler’s where we debated what sea emojis we should do applications for. We had been chatting about this class the night before at the IMCC5 closing ceremony and I blurted out “Seahorse” and “Ray” and everyone at the table gave a resounding, “YES!” Both were unanimous the day of the class, and I’m excited to work with Dr. Thaler and Dr. Shiffman on those proposals. Who knows, maybe you’ll see those emojis soon thanks to us!
I was also excited for this day because I had two talks for this day. I sounded like I swallowed glass thanks to my enthusiastic karaoke and otherwise loud talking and was happy people could hear me.
My first talk, “Do it for the ‘gram” was literally standing room (or some sat on the floor) only. When I walked into the room after lunch I actually said, “Woah! There’s people here!” It was a lot of information to give to those who attended (keep an eye out on my Instagram/twitter for the slides) but afterwards I had many people say it was a great workshop. In fact, one new friend even said, “I just sat there and thought, ‘Wow. She is so good at this.’ I know you want to do your PhD, but you may also look into doing this sort of stuff as a job.” It made my heart swell and makes me wonder if I can follow the footsteps of other science communicators and hold workshops, classes or courses and maybe have this be viable paying gig. If anyone has any tips on how to start going down this path, please let me know!
My second talk was with Speak Up For Blue’s Andrew Lewin where we talked about podcasting for the ocean. Again, another talk that was filled up to the gills! Going into this, we didn’t want to talk too much about the logistics of a podcast because you can find that information on Google (though we did touch base on what works for Andrew, who is on a Mac, and myself who is on a PC). Instead, we wanted to make people aware that podcasts are a true commitment and ask people why they wanted to start a podcast. This led the way for great conversation and allowed for audience members to ask us any questions (which you can still do!). Andrew has been doing this for three years now, and I have just started, so it was interesting to see what we have learned at our different stages.
Overall, IMCC5 and Oceans Online was a wonderful experience and I am so glad I said “yes” to this conference – and will be saying yes to all future ones! See you in 2020 for IMCC6 in Kiel, Germany!
This isn't your average blog. THINK OF IT LIKE THE BRITISH LIBRARY, EXCEPT WAY SASSIER.
Hi! I'm Melissa, an Australian-based Latina science educator, podcaster, and freelance writer. I spend a lot more time on Instagram and Twitter, but blogging is my first love. Thanks for stopping by — I hope you stay a while.
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