A Travellerspoint blog

Earthwatch week 2

sunny 24 °C

The next couple of days we head back out into the forest plots. We first get to climb up to pick up leaf debris out of the sample catchers in our first plot. Again scrambling around is necessary on the steep slopes to get around. We have dropped T off the roster as she is a bit crook. It takes us all morning to do one plot. When we head down, Jiang Shi Fu heads up to do the dreaded plot 12 afterwards. We are told it is too much for us, but he is done and back down in the time it takes us to wander back to the lodge. Back out to plots 8 and 9 to continue on leaf litter.lunch at plot 12

lunch at plot 12


We get to head way up the mountain to plot 12 and do wood debris surveys. The steepness of the plot, T being crook and LH unsteady on the slope, this is much slower work than some of the earlier plots. We are slipping, sliding and scrambling all over the place. T is no better, so she is helped down by Mr Jiang, L and Ad after lunch in the field. We keep on working through, and make our weary way down the mountain at the end, helping LH down.
The next day we do not let T up and out - she is not given the option, despite her objections. Different work today we are surveying standing dead wood. This is slow work, sorting through every trunk and checking if it is still living, even though this is one of the ‘flatter’ plots. For the last time we head down the mountain, leading LH and her sore leg down the steep bits. After lunch we leave LH and T looking after each other whilst we do lab work.
During these days we have plenty of things going on, with LH giving Chinese lessons, going for dawn walks, sitting around talking, drinking beer and sharing our experiences. We get to watch more climate change documentaries, including No Impact Man, Home and Wake Up, Freak Out. These all reinforce the need for action to start now, and be as big as possible. Earthwatch has this effect on people

Earthwatch has this effect on people


The second last night, we head out to Mr Jiang’s for dinner. He is one of the rangers working with the research team and has been essential in helping us in the field and the lab. When we head out to his place for dinner, it is a lesson in low impact living. All of the food we eat has been grown by the family in their garden, the only stuff bought in was the fish and the pork. And it was the best food I had eaten in China, great flavour and texture. And Mr Jiang had the big bottle of myrtle plums soaking in wine. He served this up and it was very smooth, sweet and flavoursome and I lapped it up. We ate dinner with Mr Jiang, his wife and granddaughter, a great night.Dinner at Mr Jiang's

Dinner at Mr Jiang's

It's my plum liquor, mine

It's my plum liquor, mine


On the last day T is much better, and we all spend the morning in the lab, before walking around and saying goodbye to the support staff, students and researchers who had been our guides over the last fortnight. We have the summing up of our fortnight and run down on the results of the past five years of research – the big takeaway is that Primary forests are nearly twice as productive as plantations, and support a much greater range of flora and flora. And we are the best ever lab team! Go US!!
We spend the remainder of the afternoon sharing around all our photos and doing the final packing of our belongings and loot. Dr Pei takes us to the village where I pick up the army uniform that most of the locals use out in the field. He also picks up a big cake for Anna’s birthday, more of that later...
A pleasant tipple

A pleasant tipple

Drs Ren and Pei - thank you

Drs Ren and Pei - thank you

At the final dinner we give out Amcor gifts to the all the lovely folks here who have made this fortnight a very special time. After this we head over to the HSBC common room to do a (kinda) haka for every one there, as taught by T, and to sing happy birthday to Anna. The cake is a massive confection with loads of cream, fruit, icing flowers and topped off with a lotus flower candle. The celebrations all go very well until the cream from the cake starts to fly around the room... The Amcor contingent beat a strategic retreat to our own celebration. There may have been one or two drinks, because Angus went red again, but not too many as Ren, R, L and I are left discussing the work at the CRCC until past midnight.
Happy birthday Anna

Happy birthday Anna

Posted by lostagain 04:37 Archived in China Comments (0)

Weekend around Gutianshan

sunny 22 °C

After a light breakfast, we head out to the Wuyuan tourist village area. We are travelling mainly on local roads and the curves, bumps, braking and swaying all add up to me being sick. All motion sickness, honest injun. Feel much better straight away and as soon as we are off again with me in the front seat the road straightens, but too late for me.
We arrive at the village and have a nature break, and the state of the toilets is breathtaking. Inside the village there is nothing but trinket shops lining the main laneway, which is about 1.2 metres wide. The shops have stuff along two or three limited lines. If you want bracelets, fans, combs, necklaces, compacts, weapons, carvings, tea and stonework you are in luck. We have a quick look around before lunch. Lunch is in a little restaurant just off the main drag, and we have pleasant food not unlike we are getting at most meals.
We head out to the actual village. There are a number in the Wuyuan area. There is a long walk through rustic fields draped with electricity lines to the village. We head past the village dam and into the village proper. There are some buildings that look just the same as most we have seen throughout China, but also some older places. These have not been renovated or lived in for a while which adds to their atmosphere. We wander around looking at the houses, photographing the people and each other.
J in Wuyuan

J in Wuyuan

Courtyard

Courtyard

LH in Wuyuan

LH in Wuyuan

P at Wuyuan

P at Wuyuan

It is pleasant but there are new modern houses being built right amongst the old ones which seems odd as they try to encourage tourists. There are some early wooden houses, then some more elaborate stone buildings too. It is a very pleasant interlude, but it is time to risk the shopping lanes again. With all the little stores selling tat, if you show interest at one, you get hassled at every stall to buy more of the same. I did come out with a few purchases, but not nearly as much as L who came back with a sword and a massive jewellery box – he will be in the good books. Stuff here is cheap, even at their first price, which can then be bargained down, but I keep thinking how much stuff we have at home, why get more just because it is a bargain?
So we head back to Gutianshan and the hotel in time for a wash up before dinner. The bus trip back is decidedly easier than coming out in the morning...
Sunday is a free day and we start off after breakfast up to the Observation tower, Dr Pei tells us he can get up in 30 minutes. We start off and it is quickly apparent that it is going to take us longer.
Taking a breather

Taking a breather

The track is an impressive construction of stone steps which ascends 325m in 900m length! We are very impressed with the people who hauled all the stone for the 1000 steps into place, then more impressed with those who hauled the 250kg concrete power poles up there. After an hour and 15 minutes, we reach the top and the observation tower. I cannot describe how good the view was from the tower...because the bloody thing was locked!
R leads the way

R leads the way

P and Angus at the observatory

P and Angus at the observatory

After discussing how to take out our frustration, we settled for sitting at the bar out the front, drinking water and eating snacks. The climb down was quicker, especially as we have lunch waiting for us.
After lunch we get domestic and do washing and since it is Sunday, crack a beer.
Getting relaxed, LH breaks the mood when she reminds us this is cooking day. Between us and the HSBC crowd, we are taking over the kitchen to provide meals for both teams.
This proves to be chaos with too many cooks. LH is guiding our team in our endeavours, and despite my help, we are quite productive and have all our dishes finished only 30 minutes later than normal service time. The HSBC teams who started after us seem to have chosen more elaborate dishes and as a result we are finally sitting down for dinner at 8pm! The final meal though is great with loads of different meals from all the different countries represented by the teams.chef!

chef!

Posted by lostagain 05:21 Archived in China Comments (0)

Earthwatch - exploring the local culture

Around Gutianshan

sunny 23 °C

The following morning we are supposed to go up to the observation tower to get an overview of the area, but the path will be too wet and slippery to go up. Instead we walk out to Ping Kung a local village, and we all dress for more rain as forecast. So as we walk out the sun is blazing in the sky overhead and we are all very hot. The road takes us up the side of a deep valley, always up and up. The road is very well made for such an isolated area. Then as we turn a corner there is a new looking tunnel. So it looks like this road is newly installed to provide a new access to the village.
L makes a Discovery

L makes a Discovery

Welcome to Ping Kung

Welcome to Ping Kung

Then we head into the village itself. It is quite different to any of the places I have been before in my travels. The village spreads out along the road, which itself follows the river as there is really no other place for it to go. Some of the places look quite old, but there is a significant amount of new housing being built. We have been told by Justin that this is because the children go into the cities to get work and then bring the money home so a new house can be built. These are usually three stories high and faced with tiling and have balconies. On closer inspection the ground floor at least is unfurnished, as there is not enough money yet to buy more.
All around the village the latest rice crop is spread out to dry, as are beans, chillies, soy beans, lemongrass, black beans, sliced radish and bok choy. This utilises every bit of flat ground, sometimes a small concrete slab in front of the house, but also on the roads as the black surface absorbs more heat.
drying the harvest ping kung

drying the harvest ping kung

There are some great sights and lovely people who come up to ask us where we are from and what we are doing here. Fortunately a few of our team can be translators for the non Mandarin speakers amongst us, and there are some limited conversations happening. We get to talk about the crops they are drying, and they are all quite forthcoming. We have a look around the river near the top of the village and then head back to the lodge for lunch. Afterwards, we drive out to a small town where the school has just finished for the day and we are followed by a huge group of kids, particularly T who with her long blonde hair is a bit of a revelation to the kids. We get to muck around with them and take photos with them all. Beer and firewater are bought ready for dinner which will be at a nearby farmer’s restaurant in another village.
Queen of the kids

Queen of the kids

At this village there is a very nice scene with the wooden pedestrian bridge across the river and a small pagoda nearby. We take lots of photos and pretend to throw each other in the river before heading in for dinner.
Village bridge

Village bridge

Dinner is local food, which in reality is similar to what we have been eating at the hotel, but it is tastier. Also with dinner, Dr Pei has recommended firewater – the local hard spirit at 56% alcohol. It tastes pretty good, and the first glass goes down pretty well. The dinner goes along with Dr Pei’s tricks, and a bit of singing and fun. Justin reveals himself as a good singer, singing a very moving folk song. After the good start we head up to have a bit of fun and music and the common room which goes until midnight.
Dr Pei's bunny

Dr Pei's bunny

Posted by lostagain 04:27 Archived in China Comments (0)

First days in Gutianshan

Starting our Earthwatch expedition

rain

Breakfast, looks surprisingly like dinner, but with meat dishes replaced by meat buns and sui mai. Dr Pei the field director then takes us for a walk to the waterfall a few kilometres up the road. As we head up we are shown the different trees, birds and insects around the valley. With the river running down the side it is a very cool and moist to support lots of life. We see mantises, frogs, spiders, crabs, lizards and can hear birds. The waterfall has a drop of around 15 metres and is very picturesque so we spend plenty of time photographing each other in front of it.
the best of friends

the best of friends

the serenity...

the serenity...

We head back down to the common room for a briefing on the project with Dr Ren who explains the design of the experiment, what sort of data is required to support the hypothesis and the length of time the project will have to run to draw a conclusion. The project looks at the rates of carbon dioxide generation and absorption from all the different mechanisms in the forest, through trees, fungi, animals, insects and harvesting. This will lead to the development of a model which will help predict the carbon take up of forests and the effect of human activities.
Lunch is on the same lines as breakfast and dinner, and is a chance to fuel up before we head out. We are going up to the first plot we are measuring is close to the lodge, so we are there quickly. Once we are there, the plot is not too easy to get around as the ground is slippery because of all the leaves and as we head up, because of the slope which in L & T’s plot is nearly vertical. We are sampling fallen wood debris, taking small samples that go back to the lab to measure annual litter fall and rates of decay.
As we have started late, we don’t get the plot completed in an afternoon. We will have to come back in the morning.
So it is back to the lodge for a big dinner which is welcome after all the clambering about. We are all pretty tired so we are back to bed after a short time.
In the morning we are back to Plot 5 to finish it off. We have a lot of clambering around the bush to do, across streams, and up rocks, wherever the sample lines go we have to follow. I have to say that our work would not be possible without the help of Mr Jiang, who helps us spot with access, tools and all the hardest stuff.
Lunch al fresco

Lunch al fresco

We have a packed lunch to eat out in the field, so it is fried rice and yoghourt drink for lunch today. We get back into it and have it all finished by about 2. It is too early to stop for the day so we go straight to the lab and get a quick lesson in sorting fallen leaf litter which has been sampled by other groups. The samples get broken down into leaf species, bark, twigs, fruits, flowers, nuts and insect poo which are then weighed to estimate the rate of decay in the forest. It is very detailed given there are more than 120 samples taken each week to complete the picture. We also today saw an instrument that measures the rate of soil respiration. There are again over 120 of these, which are tested every two hours in a 24 hour period (right through the night) each plot being done once a month.
Back at the lodge, L and I get some washing done, and it does its trick. We put it up that night and by morning there has been a thunderstorm pass through and a big dump soaking everything. We spin it dry and then hang it up in the room.
We can’t get out because of the rain, so it is back to the lab to do more sorting. Today we are helped by Mr Li and Mr Li. We are getting the hang of the species identification a bit, so the process has sped up since yesterday. In the afternoon, Dr Pei gives us a run down on the science of climate change, and the science is very detailed and complex. But there are some very clear conclusions: the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is much higher now than at any time in the last 650,000 years – and as carbon dioxide levels rise, the earth’s average temperature rises. This rise will negatively affect the areas where 80% of the earth’s population lives with more droughts, floods and higher pest infestations.
This is backed up after dinner when we see ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, the Al Gore movie. This is certainly not good news, but reinforces that we have to do something.

Posted by lostagain 04:24 Archived in China Comments (0)

China - Hangzhou and Gutianshan

rain 20 °C

At Hangzhou Airport, there is plenty of attention, but no action as we get through customs reasonably quickly. Out in the airport there is no ATM in arrivals. The one in departures doesn’t work. Neither does the one in domestic. Finally found one working, so I fill up and head outside after finding where the bus to Xiaoshan leaves from. I get sharked by someone who tells me there is no bus for 90 minutes (the only true thing he said) and that he could arrange a meter taxi for 120 RMB. It took ages to appear, and we were heading into the car park so I knew something was going on. When the taxi did arrive, he insisted on the full 120 up front and no meter, so I hopped out, grabbed my bag and headed back to the terminal and the taxi queue. Hopped in, the driver said he knew where it was but we seemed to take a long time getting there. The trip eventually cost 90 RMB to the Xiaoshan Holiday Inn.
With all the buggerising about, I did not get into the hotel until 5pm, too late to head up to West Lake to look at the sights. I felt like nodding off, instead went for a walk around the local mall and around and around and up and down the floors. There were some faux fashion shops selling clothes, jewellery and stuff on the ground floor. Inside there was food, outlet store shops and gaming areas, around a three storey high open area. I wandered around for a while, got lost, then found my way. Dropped into a cafeteria to have some dinner, all of 20 RMB for rice, meat and 2 vegies. Headed back to the hotel and worked on the blog, with Band of Brothers on the TV in the background.Hangzhou smog

Hangzhou smog


In the morning I had noodles and sui mai for breakfast. With a bit of time to spare, I had a wander around outside. I chatted with a family out walking about, and we took a few photos of each other. He asked if I had got to West Lake to have a look, as it was so beautiful – but there is no time.
Call me Golden Bull

Call me Golden Bull

I had to meet up with the other Earthwatchers at the hotel. This is the reason I am in Hangzhou – my company, Amcor, has sent five people to China to help a team from the Chinese Academy of Science with their research into how climate change is impacting forest growth. Every year Amcor send 15 people worldwide off to do 2 weeks of volunteering for projects like this world wide. It is done in conjunction with Earthwatch ( www.earthwatch.org) who have hundreds of projects run worldwide each year into climate change, biodiversity, oceans and ecosystems. These are peopled by volunteers who pay to go on these projects, or corporates like Amcor who send groups. In the lobby, I meet the other Amcor volunteers (L, R, T and LH) and those from HSBC also on this project.
The bad news is we have a 6 hour bus ride to Gutianshan forest where we are staying. The good news is that I am sitting next to AJ and we have a lovely chat for the following hours. During this time we also stop at a roadside caf and have lunch. A while after lunch, I nod off for a bit until the road breaks up and we are getting jolted around a bit. The roads are getting smaller, so we must be getting closer, and right on time we pass through the grand gates to the Gutianshan forest reserve and lodge.Truck stop lunch, China style

Truck stop lunch, China style


There is time for a quick freshen up before we head in for dinner. There are around a dozen Amcor, Chinese Academy of Science and Earthwatch people around the table on which are a similar amount of dishes. There is usually 2 or 3 meat dishes, 6 vegie dishes, rice, noodles and watermelon. To drink there is green tea. It is all quite tasty. We have a polite dinner whilst people get to know each other. The HSBC group is big enough to have their own room, so we don’t see much of them.
After dinner we have a quick Earthwatch briefing on the project schedule, safety and procedures. By this time we are all fading and turn in pretty early. The bed is hard – it feels like an Australian bed base – and the pillows soft, but I sleep pretty well.

Posted by lostagain 04:14 Archived in China Comments (0)

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