In Inner Mongolia 90% of the signs are in Chinese AND Mongolian characters.
This means that I can't read the signs twice over, but I love it anyway.


biggest lie ever told

Feels like particle board. I can no longer sleep on my preferred side due to the bruises on my hips. !!!




The good news is that I have a plan. I've morphed the things I wanted to do in the first place, and have figure out how to apply them to some different study plots in order to still get data that are relevant to my thesis. So, that is good.

Now, two hurdles stand in my way.

The first is money related. In the US I pay (or rather, my grants pay) to have all of my soil samples tested at a specific soil-testing lab at another University. This is a good plan b/c I don't have any of the right equipment at my school or, more importantly, the skills to do the lab work (I'm an ecologist, not a chemist!). I can rely on the results when actual chemists do the work, so it's worth it to pay for it. However, in this case things are much more complicated. There is some lab equipment here at the station, and I think some people just do their own analysis here. And that would maybe be an option for me if I knew what I was doing. Instead I have 2 options -- 1) send the samples (and a wad of cash) with one of the professors back to their university in Lanzhou to be analyzed there.
2) export the samples back to the US and use the same lab I always use. This is kind of preferable, for standardization's sake, but involves a whole lot permits and a hope and a prayer that they don't get seized at the border. I have the US permits, but the China ones don't seem to be happening for me. Either way it is going to be expensive. Quite expensive. This is a bummer, and makes me wish I has the skills (skilz) to do it here. Why didn't I pay more attention in chemistry?! (b/c I was busy staring out the window wishing I was out in the field looking at plants....).

The second hurdle is transportation related. I can't actually get to work until the driver is free to drive me to the sample plots. He seems to be booked with other things until at least tomorrow afternoon.

Rather than fret I am going to look on this as an opportunity to work on some stats for some other data, go through another Pimsleur language lesson, and maybe do some yoga.

All in good time.


field sites

field station dormitory

searching for the elusive science beast

I"m writing this post in part to give everyone an update, but also to get outside of my head and give myself a reality check about my situation. 

I have arrived to find that the work I had intended to do is completely not possible, for several reasons, mostly associated with the fact that people here are poor and its pretty hard to keep study plots fenced and protected when people need the land.  This is certainly not surprising, but a little disappointing.  The other site where I may do my work is very thoroughly studied by the researchers here, so I am struggling now to come up with something new and novel to do there.  Coming up with new research questions on the spot is always difficult, especially when you do not really know the area, or the previous research-- a lot of it is only published in chinese journals, which I cannot read.  I am comforting myself with the fact that I have only been here 2 days, so really I am still learning.  But everyone is, of course, waiting for me to lay it all out for them.  They will have to wait, I guess.  

In the mean time, I am learning so much about the ecosystem here, as well as the socio-economic side of the land degradation.  Scientists here are very pragmatic about restoring the habitat that has been lost to desertification.  They are not concerned so much with replicating the original assemblage of species.   Rather, their first concern is to find methods to stabilize the sand dunes and slow the desertification process. The true grassland restoration can come later.

More soon, and some pics to follow this post...


desert bound

A whole troop of grad students came to take me to dinner & then to my train. They will all be studying at the same research station as me, but won't arrive for 2 weeks.

Science in China, as with all other things, is about relationships first. I'm so used to being self-sufficient when it comes to my work, especially fieldwork. But here, I know nothing about the area, only a little about the research that is going on at this research station, and my original research plan had to be scrapped. Also my grasp of Mandarin is almost nil. So, I am going to let this first week be about making a good impression. The science can come next.

-- -- -- > I can't access blogger form here, so I have to update via email, and I can't check it to see if everything loaded properly.  Can someone pls. comment and let me know if you see a pic & text?  


hello smoggy

radio silence

all is well, but no blogger access except via emailing, so posting might be light while i'm here.


rest assured

So, my sister has kindly pointed out that I am making everyone a bit nervous with my Crazy.
(And isn't this why we have sisters, really?  To speak the truth?)
But listen, people.
Don't freak out, because I'm not -- anymore.
That's the nice thing about this whole blog endeavor; I can air the Crazy for all to see, examine it from a few different angles, discuss it's intricacies and deconstruct it's post-post-modern hegemonic bull, and then move on.  

I crossed the threshold (for now).
I decided that if my research poster did not want to print, then that was a sign that I needed to pack it all in and spend the evening chilling out.
I went to yoga.
I wen to a bday/going away party.
I sat on the porch and watched the lightning.
I went to bed.

Everything always looks brighter in the morning.

PS-- T-minus 48 hours and three minutes to take-off.


pre-departure debrief

1. Detox.  In anticipation of restricted access to coffee I have been trying to cut back on my consumption.  As a result I get a massive headache every day at about 2pm, and it lasts until the next morning when I make the morning pot.  So, that's nice.  

2. Shoes. Can someone please tell me what is the appropriate amount of shoes to bring on a 2 month trip to China that will involve the following:  fieldwork (boots), travel by train (sneakers), sightseeing (sandals &/or sneakers), visiting various official offices (nicer shoes), presenting at a conference (ditto), attending banquets (dressy shoes) and wandering around Beijing trying to figure out how to get back to my hotel (hopefully not dressy shoes). Plus evening after fieldwork post-shower shoes (flip flops).  I am just now realizing that I do not own a pair of shoes that fit very well into the International Conference/visiting the Embassy category.  Rats. 

3. Language.  I have negative capacity to learn languages.  This handicap is not helped by the fact that I keep forgetting to take my Pimsleur CDs out of Adam's car. I am worried about making a bad impression.  Hoping that being the only American for hours will help this process along, once I get there. Trial by fire.

4. Departure.  I booked my ticket through the NSF's travel agents, and so I know that I had to think about the time difference in order to make sure I arrived on the right day.  But since then I have been so fixated on my arrival date, that somehow I stopped thinking about my departure.  I arrive in Beijing this Sunday, and I have started telling people/myself that I leave on Sunday as well.  Suddenly yesterday the 13 hr. time difference sprang to mind & I remembered that it is not actually possible for me to leave and arrive on Sunday.  I leave on SATURDAY.  I just lost a whole day of preparation.  Crikey. 

8. OhmygodIleavein3days.

9. Gifts.  I need to bring thank-you gifts to my collaborators/people who have been helping me with the planning, and will continue to help me while I'm there.  The only ideas anyone can give me are booze and baseball hats.  Neither of these thrill me with their originality.  But then again, I love it when people bring a bottle of whiskey to my house, so who am I to judge?  Also, booze is heavy.  

10. The Crazy. I can't believe the range of emotions I have been gone through in the past few months, in regards to this trip.  Excitement to freaked to stressed to excited to nervous to my current state: totally incredibly nervous.  I think the issue is that it's not like I'm just going on vacation.  I have to actually perform actual research, in a foreign country, with no one responsible for me, and a big fancy federal agency that I have to report my results to.  I have to get some data.  Please let the data happen!  So, pile all of that on top of the general nervousness that would come from traveling alone in Chine for 2 months and there I am.   I can't believe Adam has not locked me in a closet by now; I am driving him bonkers with my crazy.


the leather anniversary

I'll be gone for our 3rd, so I ordered his gift early. 


I'll be gone before they are ripe.



in which i become a style critic

We were back in NY last weekend, and in a fit of apartment-to-wedding-to-different-apartment hopping I lost my favorite sweatshirt, favorite jacket& a pair of sneakers, and somehow wound up going upstate to see our outdoorsy friends with a bag full of fancy dresses and high heels. I barely ever even wear high heels, much less have 3 pairs of them on my person at one time.  But there I was, at the Beacon train station, with a satchel of formalwear.  We all wanted to go for a hike right away, so I had to settle for my Toms*, which while not heels, are decidedly not made for hiking in the stony hills of the Hudson Valley.

I have this obsession with appropriate footwear.  The shoes must fit the task.
No super tappy high heels for Sunday morning diner or at school.
No running shoes ... for anything, really.  besides running. (Sneakers, fine. But not running shoes. Please don't make me get into the semantics here...)
Fieldwork boots for fieldwork.
Hiking boots for hiking.
Flip-flops and flats for very nearly everything, but not totally everything, and not when it is even remotely cold out. 

And so, it is with great ambivalence, that I have purchased my first pair of Chacos.  
Sport sandals + Me had previously = a strong desire to do a clog dance.
But I have been racking up the number of occasions where a pair of sport sandals would have been more comfortable, and/or more practical than the shoe at hand. 
Everything from climbing into a canoe in a strong current with flip-flops gripped between my toes, to fording a stream during fieldwork in wet boots, to just kind of wanting to go hiking in the humid STL summer without having to wear socks.... 

So I acquiesced to the sport sandal, and here is what I think so far:

1. They look & feel like I have ping-pong paddles strapped to my feet.  Ping-pong paddles with arch support.

2. Said arch-support is much more comfortable & better for my back than my 3 year old Reefs.

3. These shoes do nothing for the look of my hobbit feet.  In fact, they make them look more hobbitish.  But maybe i'll get used to it?

4. What everyone says is true: they are comfortable.  comfortable, but kind of funny looking.  

And then I was walking through the park and a big stick got jammed in the webbing and I was bleeding all over.  I think the shoes were getting back at me for thinking unkind thoughts about them.  So, I will wear them for sport-sandal appropriate activities.  The sport-sandal niche has been filled.

*Toms may not be made for hiking, but they are made for making you feel a) like you are wearing your slippers around all day and b) like you are a secret ninja.  Wait, that's redundant I think.  Anyway, secret slipper ninjas rejoice.  I've had mine for years and they are just now beginning to wear out. I love them.

terrier love

The other day I was at the Tower Grove Farmer's Market & I decided to take Moxie.  Taking her can be a little chaotic, what with all the people, the dogs, the smells, the tight spaces.  But she loves it and people love her.  We had almost finished making the rounds when a guy approached us from another booth.  He bent down to pet her and asked her name.  When I told him, he literally rolled his eyes and said "that's kind of played out." 
What?!  I don't even know you, man!
I went on to explain how it is kind of a homage to Maine, where we used to live, and there is this soda there...yada yada, and then in the same snotty voice he cut me off, "I know what Moxie is." 
And then walked back to his stall.
Am I the only one that finds that crazy in this?  Tell me I'm not the only one.

Anyway, regardless of whether the name Moxie is 'played out', it suits her personality to a T.
However, I will have to confess that there are 2 bostons out there that have her beat in the name department.
The first is one we met at a dog park.  He is fat and round-headed with a white face and a black eye patch.  Winston Churchill.
I know, it's insane.  

The second is Chet Baker. And the story that goes along with that one is pretty good too.


in which i become a movie critic

Have you seen this movie?  I thought it was going to be about a big confusion regarding Don Cheadle working for the American government whilst trying to infiltrate the infidels.
And sure maybe that's the plot, but certainly not the point.
The point of Traitor?
Any brown person could be a terrorist!
You should fear ALL brown people.
Even the hip looking ones.
Especially the hip looking ones.
Because brown people are secretly mocking you while they serve you coffee and design art installations and put out fires, and they are just waiting for other brown men with much thicker eyebrows and slightly thicker accents to come and call them to duty.  
And then they threw in a few platitudes by the white government guys about how there a people on the good and bad sides of every religion, (some Christians are in the KKK!) just so they could pat themselves on the back about being fair.  
And then the most religious person of all saves everyone, so don't you see? It's not the religion, man!  It's the people who try to twist it to boost their own power!  
Except it's all so much more nuanced than that, and anyway, that point is kind of lost behind the much more blatant message of this film, in which all white people are good and all brown people are scary!!!