Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Biotechnology Asia Expo 2006


The front of the UMS booth which incidentally won the best booth award for the expo.

It was a double blessing that I managed to hook onto and join the UMS entourage for the recent Biotechnology Asia Exposition held at Putra World Trade Center from the 9th to the 11th of August. One it gives me the opportunity to finally enter one of the projects i've been involved in for a regional competition against others from the scientific community as well as NGOs, and another point is that if I win this will go a long way towards some recognisation for any future venture or job I may apply to. Not forgetting too that this gives me an all expense paid trip down to KL for a long sought after holiday as well as to catch up with some long lost friends.


Our little corner for our own display with exhibits and posters.

Things were a bit hectic as I was put in charge of two projects, one of our own natural products laboratory and another for the Institute of Tropical Biology and Conservation. Things did not go smoothly as I wished it to be, there were equipment breakdowns, schedule overshoot, problems with batch fermentation, the irritation of handling all the paperwork and chasing after the suppliers to get the finished products ready in time for the show. But at least in the end all went well except for a few hitches with the other project. Packing was sheer hell as there were a ton of stuff to lug, its not as if we were from UM, crossing the South China Sea in a plane requires the shifting of tons equipment (our overweight charges alone amounted to near RM700) and personnel. The worst part was that most of the otehr exhibits were mostly Professors or lecturers who have experience attending trade shows and expositions overseas, the look of sneers and put down I had to swallow nearly made me want to scream outloud, not to mention the severe axing of our poster by our esteemed Datin and my Dean of Institute.


Trade visitors viewing our booth and hearing explanations on the product.

It was nice this was the first time I actually followed a UMS team for a competition and the people were very friendly especially those from the Pusat Penyelidikan dan Inovasi (PPI) such as Kak Zarinah, Kak Azie and my roomie in the hotel, En. Awang who is a jovial sort of fellow though his one fault was that he chain smokes. Sitting in MAS also was a treat as I usually take Air Asia, the food seems to have improved from the hard spongy egg mass I has when I first came to Sabah, this time the nasi lemak was even nice and enjoyable. KLIA was as usual busy with people coming and going, we wanted a legitimate ride with the Limo Tazi but they could not provide us with the van to transport our stuff so too bad even when we want to go legit in the end the system failed us so we had to go with a taxi tout which turned out to be top notch surprisingly from what horror stories we had been told, it was such a nice ride that we decided to retain him for our journey back. Haze in KL was bad, with an already irritated throat from a recent bout of flu, things was really hard to breath, the KL skyline was a total white fog. If there was anything I miss of Kota Kinabalu was the clear skies and fresh air.


Closeup of our marine silage display with fermenter, products and of course the gold throphy.

The organization was pretty bad this time around, setting up of the booth only commenced a day before the exibition started and when some of our lecturers came late due to flight delays the guards would not allow the Tun Razak Hall to be opened past 9 pm. We thought we still had time to make changes but the following day we were told judging would commence immedietly in the morning and the frantic pace the professors assembled their products especially the larger reactors and machinery was a sight to see. It didn't help that the arrangements of some of the displays was wrong and it took a while with the help of the booth construction team to set things right.


Closeup of the final product, PROFEED marine silage for fish feed.

The first batch of judges were quite bad tempered battering the entrants with questions and snide remarks without giving a break. It was even worst when we found out that our poster for worm enhanced compost would be disqualified when the researchers name we registered with didn't include mine and one of the judges would not allow it to qualify as an entry due to this technicality that my name was not on it. So scrap that. At least the ones judging our marine silage was quite a good crowd, we were peppered with questions but they seem receptive and was not too pushy and negative, it was nice talking to them even. True to our supervisor's advise, as soon as the judging was done with, we all let our guard down and relaxed. It did catch us offguard that the judging took place so soon and mostly panicked from the rush. The next two days were a breeze compared to these first few hours, we even had time to skip to lunch at the Mall and even made trips to Low Yat to spot some cheap software purchases.


The UMS contingent receiving the innovation awards.

The announcement of the results was a nail biting affair, more so because one of our posters was disqualified and if the other didn't win I really won't know what to say to my supervisor who was hedging his bet for a medal not to mention I would have to explain to the head of institute that we didn't win anything and her project was disqualified. I really sweated buckets but me and my colleague discussed that we could hope for the least a bronze or if God willing a silver. So it was a tense moment when the moment of truth came. The bronze awards went by and UMS managed to garner 3 of the awards. So a little of our soul felt like it left us as our names were not there. Next the silver, one of the lecturers was ticking off a count sheet of the medals awarded and with every silver announced, we were already planning our last will and testemant for when we were eaten alive by Dr Charles. So when the final award was given away and UMS garnered another 3 we felt our heart stopped and truly understood the phrase 'like a chicken running about without it's head'. I can safetly say that we both gave up all hope of winning anything and was wondering what excuse we were to tell sir, we really thought we had no chance in hell of a gold truthfully. Already the others looked smugly at us and we felt quite small. Worst was that one of the lecturers was from our old institute and his poster which was a last minute entry got a bronze, i can just hear what my supervisor would scream at us for this.


Closeup of the trophy and products.

Imagine the surprise when at the 11th hour and more precisely the second last gold award given out, we heard our names being called. We actually stopped and looked blankly at each other for almost an eternity wondering if our ears were playing a trick on us and someone would come out from behind the partition and scream 'Gotcha'. But it wasn't a trick and as everyone of the lecturers in front of us including Datin Ann, head of biotech institute and Prof Dr Perumal, medical facualty lecturer as well as the other higher ranking lecturers all turned their heads towards us in the back with saucer liked eyes, it must have been true. I really felt like a corpse recently risen from the depth of hell and given a second chance. Coming back from the stage, my colleague was clutching the trophy and laughing hysterically nonstop and I can imagine my own face was mirroying the same expression. We WON the only GOLD award for UMS and one of only 9 given for the exhibition, it was a miracle.


Me holding onto the trophy next to our winning entry.

Surprisingly after we won everyone was more polite and amicable towards us, maybe the shock of master students beating professors who had entered and won international events was too much but we didn't care. When my colleague called Dr Charles in Japan the conversation went something like this;

MY: "Sir we won a trophy, guess which?"

Sir: "Gold right?"

MY: "Gold that's right sir."

Sir: "GOLD..... you sure? Not pulling my leg?"

MY: "Yes sir, its gold no joke about it"

Sir:"Eer ok then congrats"

He must have been as shocked as we were, I'm sure he was expecting a bronze or at most silver from us. It was nice to be able to surprise him like that I can tell you. Well we won Gold, we had a nice time, I had a refreshing holiday, life is good.


Me and the team from the PPI on a Airbus 330-200

I'm happy that the event was a success and also there was a chance to catch up with some old friends, had dinner with one of my ex roomies, Kuok Sum who now works as a fire investigator, met up with my old form 6 school pals for dinner, it seemed like forever that we last saw each other and had breakfast with my old lab mates now working in KL. I hope there will be another such opportunity like this but till then its back to the daily crunch of work.

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