After an extended absence from internet and time, I've finally been able to update a few things on this site. I will keep adding entries about the past month over the next couple of days. In the meantime, there is a fresh new batch of pictures for perusing, so enjoy!
For the moment, we're back in Jiangkou to reconnoiter and plan the next part of the fieldwork. The rest of the trip will consist mainly of survey collection. So in the past couple of days, I've been editing the surveys with the knowledge gained from Baxi. I am happy with how the surveys are coming together and excited to be able to work with the results. Going through this whole process has been a great learning experience. Fortunately, we were able to get more information about participation in the reforestation program, so I've chosen the next villages and have randomly selected the individuals to interview in each village. (Administration levels in China go from county to township to village to group). So, starting Monday, Anna and I will be headed back into the field to do around 80 interviews near Heiwan station. After that, it will be time for the Chinese New Year or Spring Festival. As it is the major holiday of the year, I'll have to take a break from interviews for a week and a half. My translator Anna has invited me to spend the time with her family in Harbin, a city in far northeastern China. I'm excited to see a new area of this country and have always wanted to go to Russia, so this is the closest I'll have ever been. Of course, I am a bit nervous since they've been having 40 below weather there lately, but I can't wait to experience this holiday. Also, they have lit up ice castles there!
The challenging part to learning Chinese is that when I'm uncertain, my voice tends to have a questioning tone, thus ruining any chance at understanding in a tonal language. In any case, here's my new favorite word:
Chewing gum = kou xiao tang (literally 'mouth happy candy')
I wanted to thank everyone for the kind birthday wishes. I can't reply to some of them, so I thought I would say thank you here. It's wonderful to know you are all thinking of me. Except for a bout of sickness, my birthday was great. I got to eat a special rice dish and enjoy some birthday toasting. It was lovely to hear from you all when I got back to internet, so thank you!
Internet and Technology
Before my trip, I told some of you about a different blog that I had started, so you might be wondering what happened to that site. On my arrival in China, however, I discovered it was one of the inaccessible sites here (along with YouTube and Facebook). However, I discovered Shutterfly works, so I started a new site there, although I had to try a couple of times to choose a site name that would function (thus the odd website url). On a side note, even in the rural areas we've been visiting, people stay in touch with world events through their phones. Most people have nice cell phones, which are inexpensive here with long-lasting batteries (up to 1/2 a month! Apparently, Chinese cell phones are popular in many other Asian and African countries because of their price and quality and because of their multi-functionality for calls, internet, and music.) In addition, many people subscribe to electronic newspapers which are sent to their phones with local and world news. While we were in Baxi, we spoke with people about Google dropping it's China website and about the tragedy in Haiti.
Interesting tidbit for the day
In China, KFC and McDonald's both serve chicken, burgers, and ice cream, and they both deliver.
A note on money
So as mentioned before, I'd been having issues with accessing my bank accounts here. The ATMs in town do not work with my cards. A few things I've learned in trying to deal with this problem:
-Sometimes cards don't work even at ATMs where they are definitely supposed to.
-The one bank that works with your card may have been present in your town at one point but will probably have gone bankrupt recently.
-Asking for a manager right away at your bank's 1-800 number will dramatically increase your chances of timely success.
-Dealing with financial issues in China, even with a translator, is challenging.
-Dealing with financial issues without a translator would be impossible.
-If your PIN starts with a 0, sometimes it won't work internationally. This actually wasn't the case for me, but it's something I found out about along the way. Also, a piece of trivia: PINs in China are usually 6 numbers long.
-Western Union agents don't always offer the services they're rumored to offer.
-Sometimes you really do just have to beg your bank to raise your limit to a ridiculous amount for a day so you can drive an hour to the only ATM that works.
Well, returned safe and healthy from Baxi station. I had a wonderful time there. Our guide was amazing, and his family was incredibly friendly and fun. In down time, we managed to teach each other quite a few card games. As far as the field work goes, it was a very successful trip, although things did not go exactly as planned, which is expected. The drive to Baxi took about 2 hours. It usually takes 1 1/2 hours, but there had been recent snow and rain, which turned the roads into muddy traps. (On our return drive from Baxi, the roads had been repaired and covered with gravel. Road construction goes very quickly here!)
On our arrival, we had dinner with our guide's family and were introduced to our room. There were not a lot of spare rooms, so Anna and I shared one at the doctor's house. At first, we were both rather worried. There were only blankets on one bed. We were told we would just have to share, since there weren't extra blankets, but the bed was 3 feet wide! Luckily, our guide's family had a couple extra blankets. The house we stayed in wasn't heated, so a couple of nights were chilly, but we quickly got used to it. The toilets were floor-style of course, although when we were out visiting farms, the bathrooms usually consisted of planks over a pit by the pig barn. For washing our faces, hair, and clothes, we were able to use water heated on the stove and mixed with cool water in a large plastic bowl. The main room in the guide's quarters had a combination table-coal stove, so in the evenings, we would all gather around the table and play cards or study Chinese and English. It was challenging to learn the Chinese cards as well as the games, but we had a lot of fun, and they all enjoyed the fast card games I brought to the table. At first, the guide's children were a bit shy around me, but by the end of our time there, even the 3-year old was saying hello, calling me auntie, and insisting I play ball with her. In another house, they had an automated and heated Mahjong table. Although I'm getting the hang of some of the cards games, Mahjong is still a bit of a mystery to me, since I haven't learned the tiles yet. Of course, there was always tea heating up on the table, which warmed the afternoons and evenings along with the good company.
The deforestation sites I had planned on visiting for ground truthing ended up being too far away to go to. The closest one would have taken 8 hours of hiking one way to reach. Instead, I was able to visit several known deforestation sites in the area to record their locations and time and percentages of deforestation. In some ways, this was better, because I now have areas that I know were deforested in specific years and to a certain extent. Even better, most of them were deforested between years for which I have remote sensing imagery. In addition, I visited known reforestation sites and learned about what was planted and why. Our guide had extensive knowledge about the program and about the area, so he was incredibly helpful. Some of the sites we were able to hike completely around, which was fantastic for mapping. For many sites, however, that was not possible due to the incredibly steep terrain, so I took points and bearings instead and recorded as much information about the site as possible. The hikes also gave us the opportunity to see protected trees and animals in the reserve. While we were in Baxi, we also learned about the GEF (NGO) efforts in the area. They completed a program to educate children in conservation by taking them to visit other protected areas. In addition, they printed an educational book for the local farmers. Everyone seemed positive about the NGO's impact, the only complaint being that the children's educational trip was too short. Our guide also had good connections with the reserve workers, community leaders, and villagers, so we were able to also field test our surveys. This was invaluable, since we learned which questions worked, which ones needed tweaking to be more effective, which ones weren't necessary at all, and which ones were missing. I was especially grateful because it was a busy time for the leaders and guides, but they took some time out of their schedules to talk with us. There was also a forest fire while we were there. Once the reserve workers found out about it, they set off to help out. To get an idea of the difficulty of travel involved, it took them 2 hours of hiking to reach the area.
While in Baxi, I had the chance to learn a bit more about the local dialect, mostly through confusing experiences when I misunderstood people. In fact, while practicing Chinese and English with some local girls, my translator kept correcting my Chinese pronunciation since she was worried I would pick up the dialect and not learn proper Mandarin. The dialects in different areas of China can be incomprehensible even to other Chinese speakers. Here, the variations consist of changing the zh, ch, and sh sounds to z, c, and s. This was especially confusing for me at times, because it means 'four' and 'are' sound the same, and 10 and 4 sound much more similar. In addition, the 'ai' ending gets changed to an 'ay' sound, and there is virtually no distinction between 'l' and 'n'. The hardest part for me was wondering if I was speaking the Chinese I'd learned correctly because everyone else was pronouncing it differently anyways!
Logistics and Roadblocks
Well, after crashing all night I woke up to have a meeting with the director of the forest reserve to plan my time here. I had a discussion with Anna to discuss the plan beforehand, but we're still getting our communication style worked out, so there was some confusion at first. It was a bit discouraging but a good chance to work on patience. Thank goodness Anna is such a great person. I know this process is frustrating for both sides, so I'm glad we get along well. Eventually, we all understood each other and put together a plan for the next 2 weeks. Logistics were worked out to mutual satisfaction, so it's off to Baxi ranger station tomorrow. I'm excited to see how much we can get done in the 2 weeks we'll be there. The most significant worry on my mind right now is that my ATM card is not working. I have been discussing it with my bank and can't figure out the problem. Tomorrow morning, I will go with Anna to the bank here again to try to withdraw funds manually since I've heard banks with Visa logos will sometimes do that for people when their card will not work. This is a serious issue, since without access to my bank account, I am not going to be able to pay for everything here. Cash is a must. Of course, I could have brought all the money in cash from the US but I was not comfortable carrying a few thousand dollars around on my person. So if that doesn't work tomorrow, the trip to Baxi might be delayed so I can figure out what else to do. My other card might work, but I don't have the grant money in that account, so things could get tricky.
I just want to put in a word of thanks to whatever stars sent my translator to me, because she is amazing. Of course, there are the usual challenges and frustrations of miscommunication, but Zhang Wanjun (Anna) is incredibly friendly and helpful and also fun. We get along well, which makes things easier. She is a student in Ecology at Beijing University, but she is originally from Black Dragon River. Her English is generally great, although we've had fun laughing at ourselves trying to explain some things (like culture shock and satellite imagery). It probably hasn't helped that I'm deadtired from jetlag and my mind is shorting out like a computer that just got coffee spilled on it! In any case, I am glad about having her around. I wouldn't be able to do this without her!
Task 1: Fly to China - Check!
Well, I've arrived in China! It's been an interesting trip so far, which means there have been a few challenges already.
The flights went beautifully. I actually got on an earlier flight from San Diego since the commuter flight had open spaces, which extended my layover time in LA. I jumped at the chance, since on checking in at San Diego, they couldn't access China Southern Airlines to check me in for my international flight and I would have to go through the whole process again. LAX is not one of my favorite airports. The way the terminals are set up is illogical at best, but I suppose considering the amount of traffic that they have to accommodate, it's the best they can do. After unerringly following my geographer's nose to the international terminal, I stepped into the crush of people almost overflowing out the doors. Checking in went surprisingly smoothly, but the security line was wrapped around the whole terminal. It took forever! Everyone kept walking hopefully past the giant line before they sadly returned to take their place in the back with disbelief on their faces. Not only were there a lot of people, but it sounded like there were security scenario drills going on as well. The guards kept shouting in unison in response to calls and at one point I thought I heard the words 'code brown'. Once I got past security, I realized there's basically nothing there, even in the international terminal. I had to walk half a mile to find someplace that had food. There were flights to China and Australia at the same time, and I thought it was interesting that most of the Asians were waiting at the gates while many people waiting for the Sydney flight were at the bar.
The Long Haul
So then it was on to the 14 hour flight to China. An interesting cultural difference is that Chinese people don't do lines quite like Minnesotans. It's more of a bit of a rush to the goal, which I became acquainted with right away boarding the flight. There are also different concepts of personal space, so I'm having fun adjusting to these differences. The flight itself was a bit different from the one I took on Japan Air last May. That time, they walked around serving tea and checking on you constantly. This time, they woke everyone up a bit abruptly and after feeding us all turned off the lights and ignored us for 9 hours. Still, the food was amazing. I was glad I was so tired from moving, because I managed to get quite a bit of sleep, despite the fact that there was a crying toddler right next to me the whole way. The family was very apologetic and it turned out they were from Costa Rica, so we had a nice time chatting about that. On arriving in China, I went through customs. They still have you fill out health forms to stop swine flu from spreading. In fact there is an informative and entertaining cartoon that kept being shown as part of the airline videos that involved singing pigs and rabbits educating everyone on swine flu. No hiccups at customs, but the official did stare at me rather hard and even asked me to remove my glasses. Apparently when not wearing overalls, I do not look like my passport photo. Maybe it's the long hair....Waiting for my next flight was fairly uneventful, except for the vomiting fellow passenger and violent shouting match. Then it was on to Tongren airport. Exiting the plane, I realized it's a bit colder than I had expected. Took the breath right out of me, so I'm glad I brought my long johns. Then it was my first Chinese test. There weren't any obvious taxis so I had to ask a random stranger how to get to the train station to meet my translator (yes, I did say translator. If I didn't have interviews to do as part of my fieldwork, it might be a different story, but for now it's kind of essential). I was proud that I didn't even have to repeat myself before they threw me into a communal travel van. By this time, I was pretty dead from jet lag but excited to see China again. It's such a beautiful landscape here, with the mountains and farmland. I was surprised to see most people hanging out with each other outside or with the doors wide open with how cold it is, but many places aren't heated here, so it makes sense. It's just strange to meet with people in their offices and be able to see your breath.