A walk through the neighborhood

Today is a nice sunny day in Vilnius.  I decided to take some photos of the neighborhood. Click on the photo to see a caption.

It is actually nice to be here in the off season, when there are not many tourists around.  It is quiet in the mornings.  People are working and getting ready for the winter. This weekend is Vėlìnės, which is All Soul’s Day, when people visit the graves of their ancestors.  But Halloween is also catching on here, and I see that there are a lot of advertisements for big Halloween parties.  You know things are changing in Vilnius when there are raw food restaurants.  You can see a photo of the vegan raw lasagne I had below at Raw 42 restaurant.  Very nice to be here!

Vegan raw lasagne at Raw 42 restaurant.

At home in Vilnius

Cathedral Square in Vilnius. It gets dark here early now.

Now I am in the capital of Lithuania. It is chilly outside but sunny, and soon the snow will arrive.   This is the land of my mother and all of her ancestors. I am sure that her parents never would have thought that I would be working here as a visiting scientist. Unfortunately, they died before Lithuania regained independence. But my mom is overjoyed.

I first visited Vilnius in 1989. It was the time of great movement towards freedom. I participated in the Baltijos kelias on August 23rd, 1989, when people made a human chain across the 3 Baltic countries. In those days, there was little to buy in the shops, or to eat in the restaurants. And everything was extremely cheap. I bought a lot of piano music (Polish editions) and had it shipped to the USA.

Gamtos tyrimų centras, Nature Research Center
My desk at the Institute of Ecology

Then when I first visited the Institute of Ecology of Vilnius in the winter of 2001, it was obvious that there was not much money for research. The laboratory didn’t even have heat in the rooms. But the scientists have since then become leaders in the field of avian parasitology. Funding for science is tight, but no different than in the USA or Sweden.

Now it is a completely different world. It is not much different than being in Germany or anyplace else in Europe. There are new skyscrapers going up every day, and huge shopping malls, where you can buy anything from all over the world. There is an IKEA, and cars choking the roads. Actually, it seems that traffic is the biggest problem in Vilnius these days. I certainly see a lot of expensive cars. On January 1st, the whole country will switch their currency to Euros.

I am staying at my mother’s apartment in the center of the old town. There is so much history, and with every step you can see buildings that are older than the USA. Lithuanians, Poles, Russians, Jews, and Germans: they all lived in and fought for this city. Yesterday I arrived at the airport, and was immediately whisked away by my very good friend to his sister’s birthday party. This was on a lake near Trakai, not far from the famous castle. There was music, nice food, and instant immersion into Lithuanian language. Today, I bought my favorite black bread from the ecological store, and I took the new fast bus, 1G to the Institute. This is my chance to catch up on writing manuscripts, and to learn how to rear mosquitoes and biting midges in my lab in San Francisco.   It actually seems very long ago that I was in San Francisco, but it has actually only been 3 weeks. Time slows down when traveling because each experience is so memorable.




You know you are in Northern Sweden when it is already snowing on October 22nd. It didn’t stick to the ground, but I built a mini-snowman. I had a wonderful time with my friends, and had a lab meeting via Skype. Now I am back in Stockholm, where we celebrated Diwali yesterday.

Overlooking Sundsvall, Sweden
Mini-snowman, it is already snowing in Northern Sweden!

I have learned what it means to be a TCK – Third Culture Kid. When I was in Namibia visiting my sister over the summer, I met a family at Sossus Dune Lodge. (The photo that is at the top of this blog is actually from Sossusvlei, in Namibia. This is one of the most beautiful places I have been, with the dead trees over a dehydrated pan of a lake, and the huge sand dunes at sunrise). The mother was from Sri Lanka, and the father was from Netherlands, and they told me the definition of a third culture kid. As I am a mix of Indian and Lithuanian, but grew up in the USA and spent significant time in Sweden and elsewhere, I am a classic TCK. This means I have relatives all over the world, several passports, and holidays that include Diwali and Easter. There are strong ties to my parents’ homelands, yet no single “home”. I will be in Vilnius soon, and hopefully in India sometime next year. The shoes and jacket I am wearing are from Sweden, my shirt and belt from India, and my t-shirt from San Francisco. I am equally comfortable and at home in Stockholm as I am in San Francisco. Here is a website describing typical characteristics of TCK kids. I think there are a lot of TCKs now, but I don’t meet too many who are my age.

Table set for Diwali at home in Stockholm. Lots of candles.
Home in Stockholm. We live on the 3rd floor.

I will write next from Vilnius.

Observations from an immigrant Swede who spends a lot of time in San Francisco

I am on a northbound train now, going more than 200km/hour through the countryside of Sweden. I am in the quiet section of car number 2, with an amazingly comfortable seat, and pleasant respectful Swedes around me. Somehow a foreign couple with their child entered the quiet section, so they were politely asked to move to car number 4. There was an announcement that “in car number 3, someone is allergic to hazelnuts, so please don’t eat hazelnuts in car number 3”. The internet is included in the price of the ticket, which is very affordable (about $100 round trip) for a 3.5 hour train ride to Sundsvall from Stockholm.   I am very happy doing my work, and catching up on emails. The train ride is not long enough!


Yesterday I had my appointment with the LifeGene program. This is a health initiative where the government is trying to get 100,000 Swedes to answer detailed questions about their health, and give blood and urine samples. We will be followed for the remainder of our lives. I was randomly selected to participate, but anyone can take part. I found that I am very healthy, and that I am living a very healthy lifestyle. I think I have good genes, plus I am a vegan, don’t drink, don’t smoke, and I do exercise. They will continue to ask me follow-up questions every year, but only take blood samples every 5 years. I think they are doing something like 23 and Me, which is a genetic analysis company in the USA.

Jag uppmuntrar alla mina svenska kompisar att delta i projektet: “LifeGene är ett unikt projekt för bättre kunskap om hur våra gener, vår omgivning och vårt sätt att leva påverkar vår hälsa.”

It is grey, chilly and rainy in Sweden now, and the dark months will be here soon. You can see some photos of Stockholm here.

View of Strandvägen
This is Stureplan very near to where I live. Anyone in Stockholm will know Svampen (the mushroom). This is an established meeting point.
Dramaten, Sweden’s national stage for theater.


I heard a wonderful concert last night, at the Grünewaldsalen in Stockholm. Baroque music played by the Rebaroque ensemble. My very close friend is the harpsichordist with the group. The audience was enthusiastic, as were the players. I was surprised that my ticket as an „Unemployed Person“ was not much cheaper than the regular price, $34 instead of $39. I guess the government is not encouraging unemployed persons to attend baroque music concerts.

I will be in Sweden until Sunday, when I fly to Vilnius.


Along the Rhein, view from train.

I took a train ride along the Rhein from Heidelberg to Köln. The most beautiful stretch was from Mainz to Koblenz, where you see old castles along the river, and friendly little German towns. If I had more time, I would definitely like to do a river cruise.

Along the Rhein
Along the Rhein

You walk out of the train station in Köln, and you are in front of the huge gothic cathedral. It truly is magnificent. I had seen it once before in 1987 when I did some traveling while living in Salzburg. But this time it seemed even more huge and imposing. Here is a photo of the devastation of Köln in 1945, but the cathedral was spared.


I found a very nice vegan restaurant called Cafe Hibiskus. At the information center just across the cathedral, a woman gave me a booklet of all the vegan places in the city.  No reason to think that it is hard to be vegan in Germany.  Walking around was lovely, and I also crossed the bridge where people attach locks to signify their commitments to each other. Lots of shops and some parts reminded me of Stockholm, especially the main shopping street with the many H&Ms that seemed a lot like Drottninggatan.

Hohenzollern Bridge with locks on it.
Potato soup at Cafe Hibiskus. They have lovely chocolate cakes too.
View of Rhein from Hohenzollern Bridge

I left the city with a fast train to Frankfurt, where I met my sister for one hour: I traveling to Stockholm, she to South Africa. What a pleasant nice time in Germany.

European Molecular Biology Laboratory

The EMBL stands out as one of the nicest research labs I have seen. It is in the forest in the beautiful city of Heidelberg. The building we are in is designed as a double helix, inspired by DNA. The facilities are excellent, and I saw 5 Illumina HiSeq DNA sequencers in one room. They are probably doing several whole genomes a day! They have a really nice cafeteria with big windows showcasing the view. There are plenty of vegan options every day. Today I had cabbage stuffed with couscous in tomato sauce, and yesterday was tofu curry. The course is highly subsidized, and we get free food, and even went to an all expenses paid fancy restaurant on Tuesday in the old town of Heidelberg. But even for the people working here, lunch is highly subsidized and costs about 4 Euros for the nice cafeteria. They say that they are paid well, and everyone seems very happy. The people working here come from all over the world, so everyone speaks perfect English, and actually it is rare to hear any German. This is simply a great place to work if you are interested in Molecular Biology.

The R course has been intense, and I definitely have learned things. Clearly, I am not suddenly a computer programmer, but I am no longer scared to open the program. The students and teachers were great, and I think I have some new friends.

Tomorrow night I fly back to Stockholm, but I get to be a tourist in Germany tomorrow afternoon. Here are some photos!

My classmates working with R
The double helix building at EMBL
Sunset over the Neckar River in Heidelberg
View of Heidelberg Castle on the hill.
At Heidelberg Castle
View of Heidelberg


R in Heidelberg

ISG European Molecular Biology Labs Hotel

I am at a simple nice hotel in Heidelberg, taking a course called “Statistical Bioinformatics using R and Bioconductor”. This is a true challenge, since I am not a programmer, and I am not too computer literate. But this will at least give me some foundation so I can continue learning on my own. Here is a photo of what I have been doing all day.

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 16.30.11
R on my computer screen

The course is 25 students from all over the world. They treat us well, with nice food, and snacks and drinks all day long. I will certainly learn a lot in this atmosphere.

Then I had a good friend pick me up and take me to Ladenburg for dinner. This is one of the oldest cities in Germany, founded by the Romans in 68 AD. There are some Roman ruins, but basically it is a picturesque German town on the Neckar river. There were men playing bocce ball in the sunset, and people quietly eating in the restaurants. Carl Benz was from here and there is some kind of auto museum in his honor. A beautiful sunset over the river, and kids riding their bikes around the ancient walls of this place full of history.

Ladenburg, Germany
Sunset over the Neckar River




Frankfurt am Main is not only an airport. I have never been in the city, even though I must have flown through the airport dozens of times. I remember the first time I flew through Frankfurt. I was maybe 7, and my mom bought me a nice sweater at the airport; thick and green.

My sister who lives in Pretoria had to be at a meeting in Turin, and she was flying through Frankfurt. I have a course in Heidelberg, so we decided to spend the Saturday together in the city. Wonderful idea. We saw two museums, the Modern Art Museum and the Städel Museum. Both were excellent. I saw some paintings by Gerhard Richter that I hadn’t seen before, in black and white.  He is definitely one of my favorite artists.  Expressive and such a diverse body of works. We had some good Thai food, Ethiopian, and then saw a wonderful performance at the opera, La Boheme.

The atmosphere on the weekend is relaxed. People are walking around doing their shopping and strolling or jogging along the river. My sister had coffee and I asked her if they told her where the coffee beans were from. I said that in San Francisco, you would probably know if they were from Java or Papua New Guinea and if they were bird safe etc. In San Francisco we would see people riding expensive custom bikes. People wear trendy clothes in Stockholm. Frankfurt is more crowded but there seems to be less of a need to make a statement.


I am sure on a weekday it would be very different, with the business people and the European Central Bank and German stock exchange. But today it was serene.

Tomorrow to Heidelberg.







Full Moon in Stockholm

Full moon from airplane window
Full moon from balcony at home, Lill-Jans Plan 4, Stockholm

Greetings from Stockholm, Sweden.  I left the heatwave of San Francisco, and now have been transported to the autumn of Northern Europe.  Here are photos of the full moon, one from the plane, and one from my parents’ balcony.  There was no lunar eclipse here, so I didn’t get to see the red moon that was visible from California.

The first thing I always notice about Stockholm is how the public transportation works so well.  Buses are on time and not too full.  Cars have to pay a fee to enter the city, and the money goes to improving public transportation. There are new restaurants and shops popping up.  There are new thai massage places and yoga studios.  The taxi driver who drove me home was from Kurdistan, and although his Swedish was not great, he was telling me his views of politics and how America should stop bombing the Middle East, because it is just making things worse for everyone.  This city is much more cosmopolitan than when I first moved here  in 1992.    But there are still a lot of blonde people here!

I will fly to Frankfurt on Saturday morning.



Second Bassoon

I am about to go to the airport, but to those of you who don’t play bassoon, you were probably always wondering what it is like to play the second bassoon part of the Sibelius Violin concerto. The Berkeley Symphony performed this last Thursday, and I somehow can’t turn the music off in my head. First of all, I am glad I don’t play first bassoon. But the second part is challenging, mainly because the second movement is pianissimo in the low register. This means fiddling with reeds to get one that plays quietly but in tune. It means understanding that the piece begins the 2nd half of the first measure. Then it means coming in on a low B flat which serves as the fundamental for a slow build up of a B flat major chord. It is beautiful, but can contribute to stress dreams. There are some nice parts in the first and third movements too. Of course everyone is paying attention to the violin soloist, who in this case was a dazzling Jennifer Koh, but I do think that if the bassoons came in wrong, people would notice.

Here is a review of the concert.


Castro Street Fair

Castro Street Fair
Armistead Maupin signing his books

Always the first Sunday in October: the Castro Street Fair.  It is Indian Summer here in San Francisco, and we are having a heat wave.  Living only one block away, I went through the fair 3 times.  In the morning people were relaxed and the atmosphere was mellow.  By the afternoon, it was a party.  Here is a photo of me with Armistead Maupin, the author of Tales of the City.  There were plenty of music and food, plus naked people.

I am getting packed and ready to go on Tuesday.  Next stop, home to Stockholm.

Full Moon over Dolores Park

Harvest Super Moon over Dolores Park

There was a Super Harvest Moon on the 8th of September.  As I was watching it rise over Dolores Park in San Francisco, I recognized that for the next full moon, I would be in Stockholm.  I decided then that I would take  photo of each coming full moon and write about where I was to watch it.

From Dolores Park there are beautiful views of San Francisco.  I lived in the Mission for 10 years, and then moved to the Castro: so I have lived on both sides of the park.  Now it is being renovated, and half of the park is closed.  It is always full and even on chilly foggy days, people will have picnics and kids will be playing on the new playground.  Yoga and Boot Camp, and people sunning themselves on the shelf.  It is the people’s park.  Come visit me next year when I return to San Francisco and we will have a party in Dolores Park!