When one microscopist meets another, even though for the first time, there is little need to make conversation. It just flows. That was exactly what happened when I finally met up with Mike Dingley, founder of the Postal Microscopical Club of Australia (PMCA), in Sydney on July 19th on my way back to Christchurch from Singapore.
We met on the Internet and have corresponded a few times before. I subsequently became the second overseas member of the PMCA. In that sense, there was a link and we were not exactly total strangers.
Even though Mike lives in the Blue Mountains, which is about a two-hour drive from Sydney, he wanted to pick me up at the airport when I arrived - at 5.15 am in the morning! Gosh! That would have meant he had to jump up from bed at 3 am in the morning to make that drive. The better idea I thought was for me and my wife, Siang, to check in at the YWCA hostel first and then give him a call at 7.30 am in the morning. That was all agreed even before I left Christchurch on June 20th for a month-long vacation to Western Australia and Singapore.
So on the morning of July 19th, I called him from my hostel at the YWCA. We spoke for the first time and I immediately detected he has not got an Aussie accent but a British one. I supposed he was surprised that I didn't exactly have a distinctive Chinese accent. After the short conversation, Mike said he would come and pick us up in about two hours' time.
The knock on my hostel door woke me from my nap. When I opened the door, it was Mike with a big smile. He struck me immediately as a very friendly and warm person. The chemistry was right from the start.
Before long we were on our way to his house in his brand new car. The drive was delightful and the weather could not be better. The conversation was pleasant, relaxed and went beyond microscopy. I learned that his wife cautioned him against meeting someone from the Internet he didn't actually know! On the way home, he stopped and picked up his son, Jonathon, who was practising tennis.
We arrived to be greeted warmly by Mike's wife, Julie, who was formerly from Hong Kong. She swore that I resembled his brother ...
We had a quick tour of the house and discovered it was on 1 1/4 acres of land! And native bush in the backyard too. I would love a house like this for, being a bird lover, I can spend untold hours watching wild birds.
Julie and Siang had a instant liking for each other and whilst the ladies chatted in the lounge, Mike and I disappeared into his laboratory which was outside of his main house.
What a well-equipped laboratory it was. There was simply a lot to feast the eyes of a fellow microscopist. Over 300 books on microscopy. Pictures pasted all over the room. All sorts of laboratory equipment that a microscopist would ever need.
Photo' 1: Camaraderie between microscopists : One for the album.
The most striking things were the two huge research Nikon microscopes on the table, one of which was a stereoscopic type, the other armed with the best Nikon Planapochromatic objectives and looked awesome. Back-up wise, he has virtually everything to meet any whim and fancy - complete video and photography set-up and, a monitor screen to view the specimens directly from the microscope.
We were examining some desmids which he collected earlier, trying out various objectives to see the difference. The beauty of these algae was simply beyond words, especially if you have objectives as good as Mike's. Resolution was superb and every feature looked so alive and fascinating. I simply glued my eyes on the oculars.
Then we went to diatoms which he had a few prepared slides. We tried all his higher powered Nikon objectives - 40X NA 0.75 Dry, 40x NA 1.0 Oil, the 60X NA 0.95 Dry. We also tried a 100x Oil. He had another turret fully loaded with additional objectives.
At one stage, we wondered what had happened to his 60X objective as a clear image couldn't be obtained. A few swipes with alcohol and still the problem remained. We put the tiny front lens bead under the stereo and discovered that the problem laid with microscopic droplets of fluid trapped in the crescent-shaped element and couldn't be wiped. Then I did some sort of 'micro cleaning' by rolling a lens paper onto a needle and dipping the tip with xylene. A few delicate and careful swipes and gradually the problem was resolved. A lot of concentration and hand control was needed but perhaps not quite micro-surgery. What a triumphant feeling we had.
Photo' 2: Yen Fook trying his hands on one of Mike's impressive
Nikon Optiphoto microscopes.
So the diatom examination continued. At the end of the day, it was obvious the 40X NA 1.0 oil emerged winner as it has the best resolution and able to resolve the diatom markings most clearly.
A few more drops of pond water were examined. An amoeba was captured and its image transmitted onto a monitor screen. It was beautifully embellished with countless algae. What a sight! We just watched and admired its ever changing shape.
We were so engrossed with the microscopic world that it was only when Jonathon came in the room with two plates of huge sandwiches and tea that Julie and Siang prepared that I realised we were starving. Even then it was food and work intertwined. When the meal was done, Jonathon would periodically come in with beverages.
Mike showed me his B/W darkroom and how he made prints. Then he came to his favourite topic - field and antique microscopes. I can't remember how many he has got but his collection was mind-boggling and he showed his whole range. I was fascinated. He went into incredible detail and passionately described each of his prized collection.
Then time was running short as we have to catch a train back to Sydney as Mike has to meet his brother on an urgent matter. Little did we realise that we spent almost five hours in his laboratory experimenting with his microscopes and talking about microscopy. Time flew.
Then we finally tore ourselves away from the microscopes and went back to join the ladies who, by this time, were almost like sisters.
I then showed Mike and Jonathon what were inside my camera bag. The Nikon F4E and F90X and the other Nikon lenses caused quite a stir. Strange, I thought, we are both Nikon fans and yet I own a non-Nikon microscope. Maybe I should get a Nikon set some day.
Anyway, we bid farewell and invited the Dingleys to stay with us if they came to New Zealand. Mike took us to the train station, which was only a five-minute drive from his house, and we boarded for the trip back to Sydney. We had to fly early next morning to Christchurch.
It was a memorable time even though it was only one afternoon. But then, we have achieved a lot in that time.
Chew Yen Fook
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