Last Day in Los Banos: Korean Restaurant

We went to a Korean restaurant on Friday. It opens at 11 am, so we waited for a while. It is worth the wait.

I ordered a “beef Bibimbap” . Bibimbap is the traditional Korean food, consisting of rice, vegetables, meat and Korean hot sauce. It came with a dish of pickles, which is the most popular side in South Korea. In addition, we ordered “Kimbap” to share. It is like sushi.


I was really surprised that the tastes of these dishes were quite authentic, compared with some Korean restaurants in China. On the other hand, the atmosphere there was sweet and comfortable. I noticed that there were some couples dating.

It was the end of my experience in Los Banos. In Los Banos, the local culture of the Philippines is well preserved, while there is also culture mixture under the trend of globalization. Los Banos creates a balance between local traditions and foreign culture, which is quite impressive.

Possible Policies to reduce arsenic pollution

My another on-site supervisor, Dr. Peter Sprang, arrived at IRRI on July 20. He is a specialist in global sustainable development, especially in rice-based system. Therefore, his advice will be quite helpful for my research. We had an in-depth discussion about the potential strategies to deal with arsenic pollution. I first introduced why arsenic pollution is now a global environmental issue, and its negative impacts to the human society. Then he asked several questions about the detailed information of different countries. My project focuses specifically on Southeast Asia countries and China, as they are the major rice-production countries. I pointed out that the national standard of Bangladesh for arsenic in water is higher than the FAO standard. It would be difficult for Bangladesh to accurately recognize its current arsenic contamination. Dr. Sprang said that Bangladesh is one of the most typical cases of arsenic pollution and has been studied by a lot of researchers. He provided one possibility for me to think about. The general arsenic level in Bangladesh is higher than other areas, so it is reasonable to have relatively loose standard, as people there have already got used to it and might not think it is a huge problem.

I also mentioned the economic difficulty for developing areas to implement the strategies, since some of them might be too expensive. Dr. Sprang provided me some new ideas from his perspective, and we discussed their feasibility. One of the strategies is to polish the rice. Based on previous studies, polished rice can eliminate up to 50% of arsenic, while the negative side is that it will also eliminate other nutrients. Another one is to pump deeper ground water which has not been polluted for irrigation and daily needs.

All of these policies and strategies require the government to notice the issue and actually take actions.

Arsenic Pollution in Rice: A World Problem

This week I read several papers about arsenic pollution in rice at the global level. I saw that the arsenic level in some parts of the Pearl River Delta Area in China is quite high, which is one of the major rice cultivation areas in China. The rice grown there can feed millions of people. However, the Chinese government never mentioned such a thing. Arsenic pollution is becoming more severe in recent years but most governments are not willing to expose it to the public and are not willing to take action. It is because they are afraid of potential costs and panic if they take action. Not only arsenic but also other heavy metals are included. Therefore, we should provide some reports and give suggestions to show the negative results the pollution will cost, which is the concept of environmental risk assessment. One impressive method I am thinking of is to quantify the potential economic loss caused by arsenic contamination, such as the pressure on the health care system and agriculture, and compare such loss with the potential costs of proper policy implementation. I have never thought it as a severe problem until I came here and studied all these issues.

Here I want to relate to my previous rice planting experience: Rice planting is the daily activity of farmers. If they work under the arsenic contamination condition, the arsenic can easily enter their bodies and cause chronical problems.

Phuong Restaurant

We visited a tiny Vietnamese restaurant hiding in an alley. It is called “Phuong”, which should be the owner’s last name. IRRI shuttle has restarted this week, which connects IRRI gate with the gate of University of Philippines, Los Banos (UPLB). The shuttle is free and convenient for us to travel outside the campus.

The restaurant is quite small. It seems like the owner’s kitchen and living room. five people nearly occupy half of the room size. The owner is an old lady and maybe her daughter, and they were both surprised by our visit.

I ordered the most classic type of Vietnamese Pho, which consists of rice noodle and beef. There were some seasoning leaves with quite special taste, and bean sprouts. The best and the most important part of pho was the soup. Southeast Asian food usually emphasizes the freshness and original taste of the food, so it has lighter flavor than other types of food.

South Supermarket and Jollibee

The South Supermarket is the nearest market within walking distance. It has most kinds of basic products including daily necessities, and it also sells fresh food and vegetables. I go shopping once a week or two weeks since most of the time I eat at the IRRI cafeteria. There are several snack bars inside South Supermarket, so I will try one of them every time I go there. They are mostly Asian snacks. One of my favorites must be the dumplings. It is just like Chinese fried dumplings. There are “chicken adobos” and buko (coconut) water as well.

I was asked for several times where I am from and they always said, “Enjoy your time here!” I think it is because the local people seldom meet foreigners.

Sunshine in the Philippines is always bright and strong, so it is quite hot.

Jollibee is the major fast food restaurant in the Philippines, just like McDonald’s in the United States. One interesting thing is that Jollibee and McDonald’s are always neighboring each other. They are the business competitors. In the Philippines, Jollibee is more popular than McDonalds’ as it is both delicious and cheap. Another thing I notice is that every restaurant in the Philippines provides rice meals. Rice plays a pivotal role in Filippino’s diet.


Trips in Los Banos

Traveling in Los Banos, I have experienced its natural beauty and cultural landscape.

It is the Laguna Lake, the most popular natural scene spot in Los Banos. Here we enjoyed the winds, blue sky and sunshine.

Laguna Lake “I LOVE LB”

The city street is quite old-town style. The major vehicles in the Philippines are tricycles and jeepneys. Tricycles are motorcycles with an additional coach. It can carry up to five people. Jeepneys can travel longer distance, and it can carry up to 20 people.

Then we walked pass the streets to look for buko pies (coconut pies) and carabao milk. The food and drinks here have original and fresh taste, which is quite enjoyable.

The people here are very friendly and kind. They love to introduce their culture to us and express their hospitability. I feel really welcomed. It is a process of learning about a completely different culture, while I can still see some similarities with my home country as we are all parts of Asian culture.

carabao milk
buko pie

Internship at IRRI

I work at the Sustainable Impact in Rice-based Systems Platform under the guidance of Dr. Varunseelan Murugaiyan and Dr. Peter Sprang. Since Dr. Sprang will not be back until July 15, I study with Dr. Murugaiyan about environmental pollution in agriculture, especially the arsenic contamination in rice.
Arsenic is a widely distributed metal existing in organic and inorganic forms with various toxicity on the Earth. Arsenic pollution has already been a severe environmental issue all over the world, since arsenic will pollute the groundwater and soil, and they are the fundamental sources of nutrients for crops and people’s daily lives. If people consume food like rice contaminated by arsenic for a long time, it will lead to chronic diseases including cardiovascular and lung problems. My current work is mostly collecting data and information about the current situation of arsenic pollution all over the world, especially in Southeast Asia, which locates a lot of major rice cultivation countries. Specifically, I am comparing the national limitation of the arsenic level of each country with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) standard for arsenic contamination, and comparing the average arsenic contamination in rice in these countries. The differences among them indicate the potential difficulties of measuring the actual arsenic pollution since the arsenic level in a country might surpass the FAO standard but meet the national standard. I try to look at some policies that can be implemented to reduce arsenic pollution, and reveal the importance of such policies for the whole society, including the consequences in agriculture and the health care system.
Dr. Murugaiyan said that I am the first student in this department to focus on the policy side since their concentration is on biology and chemistry.
After Dr. Sprang comes, I will be mostly learning about key sustainability tools, such as the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) standard and performance indicators. I might also be able to explore the market potential for rice with a sustainability or quality mark claim in the Chinese market. I feel quite excited about that as well.

Arsenic affected countries of the world with intensity shown by the size of the plots (see Table 1, Table 2). Note that South Asian and South American regions are the worst affected (source: Ali et al., 2019a and references therein and web sources (;

Rice Planting Activity

beautiful fields and roofs

This Friday, we went to rice fields to experience the complete process and methods of rice planting. It was really tired but interesting. I did not take pictures because we were in mud and the phone might be dropped.

The first method I tried is called “carabao plowing”. Carabao is water buffalo. Under the instruction of one farmer, I took the control of the carabao and started to plow the ground. I was actually pulled by that carabao because it was so strong.

The second method was machine plowing. The machine was quite heavy and it was a little bit difficult to control its orientation. However, it was much faster than the carabao plowing. During this process, my T-shirt and trousers got completely muddy.

Then I tried to plow the ground by pulling a plow. It was the most difficult one because I must plow the ground following a straight line, but it was hard to walk straight in the mud.

The next step was seedling. It was the most difficult part for me because I did not know how to not let them fall or incline. Thanks to the Indian students who were from another program. They taught me the specific method such as how to hold the seedlings. Finally, we broadcasted the seeds in paddy fields. They will grow after about 21 days, as it is the regular rice growing cycle.

After all of these, I felt that wasting food is embarrassing, because these activities are the everyday lives of farmers. Thinking of the famous Chinese agriculturalist, Longping Yuan, I felt so respectful for all his efforts in the fields, as well as all scientists who contributed their whole lifetime in the rice planting. Although we now have better living standards, we should still learn the hardship and efforts in how food is grown, so to not waste food and have a more sustainable lifestyle.

My T-shirt

IWU Freeman Asia Internship in IRRI

IRRI campus

“The International Rice Research Institute is an international agricultural research and training organization with its headquarters in Los Baños, Laguna in the Philippines, and offices in seventeen countries. ” –Wikipedia

“Innovate. Catalyze. Transform. ” –Our Goals, IRRI

IWU Freeman Asia Internship is a series of program supported by the Freeman Foundation and Illinois Wesleyan University to provide students funded internships in Asia.