3 years!

Happy Anniversary!

I love you more than a fat kid loves cake.


end of the day

Waiting for our ride back to the station...

... hoping it comes before the rain.

This is Zuo Xaioan, my sort-of collaborator. Super nice guy.

for adam & pkm

Baby donkey!


how do you measure progress?

By the bag?

By the quad?

By the movement of a shadow across the pavement?

I thought I was on a roll, but today I realized I have made some plant ID mistakes that will probably result in me redoing about 2 days of fieldwork. So frustrating. I have to keep reminding myself that, due to time constraints, I have had to learn the plants as I go; never an ideal situation. The field assistants that actually know the plants, and could potentially help me, only know the Chinese names and do not speak any English. So I'm kind of on my own. Seriously regretting my general lack of proper botanical training. At least my 250 soil samples are all sieved and labelled!


on being homesick

Things I miss:
-my sweetie
-my pooch
-my bikes
-my bed
-my softball team
-STL in general

What? Did I just write that?
If you had told me 5 years ago that I would be living in STL one day, I would have laughed. My experience with Midwest cities pretty much ended at Grand Rapids and Detroit, and I had become pretty accustomed to life on the east coast.
But the opportunity presented itself. And, always up for adventure, we moved to the center of the country.
My mantra on the 18 hour drive from NY to MO was It can't be that bad!
And in fact, it isn't. STL won us over pretty quickly, in fact. But still, in that first year if you had told me we'd be buying a house there I would have resisted. It was fun, sure, but not for more than 2 years. Maybe 2.5. I missed my friends in the Northeast.
Then I switched to a PhD program.
Then the tax incentive for home buyers came around.
And meanwhile, bit by bit, STL grew on me.
The neighborhoods.
The parks.
The urban grit.
South City in general.

I'm not saying we'll be hosting Christmas for the grandkids there or anything, but when I get back in 3 weeks, it will be nice to be home.

(With that said, one big gigantic thing I do not miss: humidity.
And STL weather in general in summer and winter. Civilized people should not live that way.)

it's the little things

It is not the desert heat or the blazing sun. For that I wear long sleeves and a hat. (Note to eap: and sunscreen!)

It is not the thorns. For those I wear long pants.
It is not the incessant wind. That actually cools it down a bit.
It is the flies.
More specifically it is one bee-fly (I cannot tell which as it does not stop long enough for me to get a positive id).
The world's loudest bee-fly.
Take the regular buzzing of a fly, and then multiply it by one hundred.
And then send it swirling around your head and legs all. day. long.
Frantically swirling and bouncing off your hat, and pulling Top Gun stunts in front of your face.

Crazy. Making.


productivity fail

What I meant to do after dinner:

-enter data from the past 2 days
-start analyzing some data from a different project
-write a post for the research blog...

What I did instead:
-watched the lightning storm
-drank a warm Coke
-took a shower in the dark (power out!)
-wandered around my room
-made tea and didn't realize until halfway through that I forgot to put the tea in it. mmmm..hot water!
-listened to an old episode of This American Life while organizing digital photos (3 cheers for laptop batteries)
-did a yoga podcast (hip openers!)

Even in China, I am boring.



Today at lunch one of the grad students looked over at me out of the blue and said, "You are very independent".  I had to laugh.  It is true, but that independence has also been the source of some of my frustration here, as I am so used to being able to do my own thing, on my own schedule, as far as fieldwork is concerned, but here I have to exercise patience and just slow everything down a bit.  Also, I have had to learn to accept the help that people offer.  I am used to working alone, and often at the start of a new piece of the project I prefer to work alone so that I can have the luxury of mulling things over as I go along, and tweaking things a bit until I figure out just the right way to do things.  It is hard to be slow and methodical when there is someone standing there waiting for instructions.  However, this is not a good long-term plan, as some work is just so much faster with two sets of hands, and some of the people who have come out to help me have had good insights into my methods.  Additionally, the students here are anxious to learn about how I do what I do, to compare it to their methods, and even more excited to practice their oral english.  Plus, I like working with them, they are great. I just prefer to do it once I have everything figured out.  

I did some fieldwork this morning, but it wore me out completely.  I passed out cold for 2 hrs after lunch, so I took this afternoon to do some desk work & plan out the next phase of my work here.  I really need another good experimental design chat with someone, but everyone is really busy right now, so I'm plodding through it on my own.  I know that I will have to tweak things a little once I get back out there, but at least I have a better idea of where I want to start.  

Sometimes I am anxious that I will get back and my committee will look at what I accomplished this summer and say "That's it?!  Two months and this is all you could do?!"  But I am trying to move past those thoughts and remember that this experience is about more than data (although the data are important too, for sure).  

The next big hurdle will be to actually get my hands on the equipment that I need.  There are around 15 grad students here right now, and everyone is vying for limited equipment.  By this point in time I have learned that I cannot just expect to be able to work on a particular day. I have about 2 weeks to finish up... cross your fingers! 


keepin' it real

Tourists go to Hohhot and pay stay in fake yurt camps out in the grasslands.
Locals just go to the Monoglian restaurant with the yurts and the entertainment indoors. 
Much more civilized.

recovery phase

I'm no longer marooned at a conference, but now I'm stuck in bed with a mystery illness.
I have some thoughts and pics to share when I am fully functional, but in the mean time a few brief notes:

I am going to recuperate in bed with Wild Swans, which I just borrowed from my friend and should be required reading for everyone, especially anyone working in China, especially women.  It is epic and grand. 

I hate to let on that I am sick to the people here at the research station, as I do not want them to worry, but it is a little hard to hide the fact that I have been holed up in my room and didn't show up for lunch.  People keep popping by to check in on me, and bringing food.  I can finally keep it down, so most of it is welcome, with the exception of this fine treat, offered up by one of the grad students.  They call it milk tea, but it is really neither.  More like bitter, watery Quik with chunks of clear gelatin in it-- this one is strawberry flavored.  No likey.



Please pardon all of the typos.  I'm at this conference with only my iPhone, and I don't have my laptop with its whiz-bang firewall-skirting software. Blogger is blocked in China so I can upload posts via email, but I cannot edit them once they are up.

reunited & it feels so good

got heads?


ode to a field notebook

This one is not the first, and it certainly will not be the last, but it is the latest in a long line of reliable field assistants.  Like that preppy family that seems to always have a Golden Retriever named Molly, I buy a new one of these babies every time the old one runs out of pages. 

It has served, in no particular order, as:
-data sheet
-rain hat
-battering ram
-plant press
-bug squisher
-and I'm sure several more uses that are slipping my mind at the moment.

I have used them to record everything from fire weather to GPS coordinates to plant lists to sampling locations and everything in between. 

The pages are waterproof, and they have grid lines.  Oh, I'm a sucker for the grid; far superior to regular lined pages.  

They come in spiral bound and flip top styles as well, but give me the traditional bound every time.  I like to be able to stack them together on my bookshelf; tangible evidence of fieldwork accomplished.

It is not too much hyperbole to say that if I did not love biology so much already, I would become a biologist just to get to use this notebook.  

The End.


living arrangements

Life here at the Naiman Desertification Research Station is pretty slow. I'm not really complaining-- after 6 months of total insanity, an enforced slower pace is probably good for me. However, sometimes I need a little more stimulation than hanging out with myself and my laptop in my little room every night.

Since I am a 'foreign guest', I am housed in the newest building (see dormitory). It has rooms for senior staff and professors on the first floor, rooms for Chinese guests on the third floor, and rooms for foreign guests on the second floor. I assume these divisions are mostly due to the style of toilet, but I haven't seen inside any other rooms to check out any other differences. I happen to be the only guest at the moment, so I have this floor all to myself. I am also the only woman in the building, as the staff, professors and researchers (kind of like post-docs) are all men.

The Chinese graduate students (male and female) are housed in a building across the courtyard.
For the most part this is fine with me. I mean, I 'm not going to complain that I have my own bathroom and I don't have to hike out to the outhouse building all night. And it is not as if all the other grad students are over there having a party every night. Most of them spend their evenings in their rooms on their laptops too. But they have their doors open, and people are coming and going and chatting and whatever... there is camaraderie.

It is not so much that I am lonely, it's that I am bored with myself and my simple little evening routine of blog posting and yoga podcasting and chinese lesson listening....

I leave for a conference in Beijing in 2 days and I am so ready for a break. I booked my train ticket a day early so I can have a day in the city (still by myself, but at least there will be things to do!). Then in the eve I'll meet up with some other American grad students for some good old-fashioned happy hour. Hallelujiah.


So much STUFF:
Packing the night before I left was, in hindsight, not the best idea. I brought waaaaay too many clothes. I mean, obscenely too many. What was I THINKING? I can't even tell you the bad choices I made regarding footwear.

However, I did make a few wise choices. The smartest things I packed were:
plastic baggies of various sizes

I was feeling crazy for bringing them, but all were infinitely more wise than the 4 pairs of shoes I left back in Beijing in a fellow grad student's closet.
In fact, I should have brought more coffee. The coffee was definitely my best packing decision.

oh, the FOOD.
The thing about being at a field station is that I have to eat what they prepare, and I can't really skip a meal, or people get worried. However, this is not a prob b/c the food here is excellent, and I am going to come back to the US all roly-poly from my three gigantic meals every day. So many different veggies at every meal! (all cooked with meat in them, of course). Americans don't know what they are doing with vegetables.
This does not stop the station director from asking me quite regularly if I wouldn't really, honestly, rather be eating hot dogs. I try to explain that even in America I eat more Chinese food than hot dogs, but he's lived in the US, and knows that American-style Chinese food is pretty much the same thing as hot dogs, when compared to real Chinese food.

maybe you didn't get the memo, so let me fill you in on a little-known secret: Mandarin is HARD. Even when I think I know how to say something, I invariably get the tones wrong. And even when I'm pretty sure I have said things correctly, everyone still busts out laughing everytime I speak, and repeats what I say like an echo.
Me: "Han hao chi."
Everyone around me: chuckle, chuckle 'han hao chi!' chuckle chuckle.
All in good fun, though. Right?

Speaking of trying to learn the language, I might have to put all of that on the back burner a bit and focus on the real task at hand (research) and the impending Task of Doom which is my oral exams, which I have to take when I get back, and for which I should be spending all of my free time studying, except that when you don't even know how to ask the nice man with the keys for the key to the lab, and it is locked, and you need to work on said research, well... sometimes I go in circles regarding the priorities.

I have mentioned in the past how spending long hours in the desert turns my brain into a budget, poorly curated diner jukebox. Today's hit? Red Red Robin.
Yeah, that one. The bob-bob-bobbin'-along one.




trying to get started on data collection

It has been a week of ups & downs.  On the up side, I had a chance to take a day trip to another province to check out a research station there.  But I have been running into lots of snags on my way to getting my research really moving along.  I hit my lowest point a few days ago, when the communication issues, research planning stress and linger health-related issues all collided into a wet, soggy pile of kleenex.  I think part of the problem was/is also that, while everyone here has been more than kind, I have no release vale here -- no way to get away from it for a few hours and blow off some steam.  I need a happy hour!  But I've been receiving great support from afar from friends and family, which has helped immensely.  

i love the straight up old-school labs around here

Today I found some different equipment that will help me to do what I need to do in a more timely fashion, and had a chance to talk through my experimental design with one of the grad students here who had some really great feedback and tips, based on some of his previous research.  I'm feeling recharged and ready to get (re)started. 

I've also been tracking another blogger, as she documents her international research, and she is pretty much writing the exact words & emotions floating around in my brain, but in a much more coherent way, so maybe you should just go ahead and read her blog instead.

sample location H-S1-5

chinese Teletubbies

i know, right?

These clouds are intense.