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...