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China

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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