Cheryl’s last post here, for now

It’s the end of the trip. I’ve been gently restricted to stay at the hotel all day, right before leaving, I don’t feel very well. Not the way I planned to end the trip. But, like field work, life doesn’t always go exactly according to plan.

Tomorrow will be an exceeding long day for myself and our five students. We will wake up in Beijing, perhaps collect a bit more data, pack all of our things, and make our way to the airport. We’ll say goodbye for now to Steven, who won’t be making the journey home just yet, and board a plane that almost seems magical. When you look at your ticket, the flight only takes 20 minutes. Sadly, the total time on the plane will exceed 13 hours (I didn’t say it was good magic). But, we will both leave Beijing and arrive in Chicago on Tuesday, gaining the day we lost on our journey here. At the other end is home — my husband and kids, my students’ parents, siblings, and families. We haven’t seen them in four weeks, except for the occassional (or regular) video chat. But, I look forward to the hugs my boys will have for me… Continue reading ‘Cheryl’s last post here, for now’


Up, On, Over: Experiencing the Great Wall

Although I have visited the Great Wall many times, including both the eastern and western termini at Shanhaiguan 山海关 and Jiayuguan 嘉峪关 respectively, I have never quite experienced it like this before. Our research team is staying in a farmhouse at the foot of the Wall in Beigou Village 北沟村. From our patio, we have an unobstructed view of the Wall at Mutianyu 慕田峪. It is said that many of the residents here in Beigou and neighboring villages are descendants of Ming dynasty (1368-1644) laborers who built this section of the Wall, which links up to Juyongguan to the west and Gubeikou to the east.

Yesterday, it was a beautiful morning in Beigou Village; clear skies and clean air. We started our research by going into a valley that eventually leads up to the Wall. Mr. Cao, our host in the farmhouse, told us we may have better luck finding pollinators up there since the locals use pesticides around the village and in the valley below. After spending nearly two hours doing observations, we decided to make an attempt on the south face. After getting off a narrow paved road, we started our climb, which was well marked with arrows and dots painted on rocks, on a muddy path up the steep slope and to the Wall above us several hundred meters. At one point, we lost sight of the Wall on our ascent. It suddenly re-appeared after the final turn of a switch back on the path. At this point, I was in front and announced that we had arrived. The students behind me were rather skeptical, until they made that final turn and saw, too, before us all the foot of the Great Wall. It was a splendid sight, especially after our brisk climb up.

Ah, almost there.

Ah, almost there.

Of course, the way we had ascended meant that we still needed to get on to the Wall after climbing up to it. There was no official entrance where we had ended up. Obviously, there was only one way: we had to climb up and over the Wall to get on it. Now, this may sound rather daunting. Wasn’t the Wall constructed precisely to prevent such breaches? How could a group of seven docile pollinator researchers scale such a rampart? Continue reading ‘Up, On, Over: Experiencing the Great Wall’



One week. One week is all that’s left of a four week journey. Of course, there are still two more hotels, plus the one I’m in now–we have done a lot of travelling in the past week or two, and there’s more yet to come. Once again, I’ve experienced many ways of travelling here in China — a new one yet again today.

For the past three weeks, I have seen the same colleague and the same five students daily. We have generally shared at least one — if not three — meals each day. I have not tired of any of the bunch, and as much as I now miss my family at home, I know I will miss this bunch dearly.

We’ve collected a good bit of data in the past three days. But we have perhaps stumbled onto a pattern which surprised us in its strength. Of course, it’s irresponsible to draw conclusions before analyzing the data — and we have much more yet to collect. One day can be a glitch… too early to call it a pattern for sure.

One more week in China. In the past week, we were in Chengdu, Jiuzhaigou, Huanglong, Songpan, Xi’an, and now Beijing. The next big journey for most of the group will be homeward. Once home, we’ll have jet lag to get over, data to enter, sort, and analyze, and conclusions to draw.

But for now, I’ve got wet clothes hanging to hopefully dry quickly in the dry Beijing air, notes to write from today’s field work, and some sleep to catch up on, after spending two of the past three nights on trains. Tomorrow’s another work day, and true to form here, we’re still making plans.

And nope, I’m not writing anything more about transportation this time.



You Must Not Be This Tall to Ride (the yak)

I handed over a well-worn 10 yuan note (US $1.60) for a ride and approached the yak. Its handler guided me to the side of the hirsute bovine (the name in Chinese, 牦牛, is homophonous with “fur ox”). When I prepared to mount, the yak backed away several paces, presumably apprehensive of such a large foreigner climbing into its saddle. The handler, a young lady of the Qiang 羌 ethnicity that populates this region of Sichuan, told me that her yak was somewhat skittish around strangers. No problem. I had ridden horses before and knew how to get my foot in the stirrup and throw my other leg over the saddle—even if my mount was moving. On my second attempt, the handler suddenly shouted, “no, no, no” as I put my foot in the stirrup. But hadn’t I paid the 10 yuan for a ride? No. The handler told me I was too large for her precious, white yak. So, I only ended up getting a photo op next to the beast.

"No ride for you!"

“No ride for you!”

Continue reading ‘You Must Not Be This Tall to Ride (the yak)’


Ups and downs of field work

I love doing field work — getting outside and observing, seeing and recording what is going on, noticing what most others over the age of ten or so will walk right past without even a glance.

Part of my joy in this trip has been getting to share this with a group of students. These students did not necessarily sign on because they were excited to see what field work was about–I don’t fool myself that a trip to China wasn’t the big draw. (I do have students occassionally who would go anywhere for the field work, but none were in my radar at the genesis of this project.)

In the first days of data collection, I loved watching the transformation of this group, as will usually occur in any group given a similar challenge. As they stopped to watch the flowers and see what visitors arrived, they began to see what was happening on the flower. Some bees flit from flower to flower, spending significant time only when sufficient nectar is there to hold their attention. One little bee, that we could see often in Shenyang, stayed long at each flower, collecting more and more pollen for its significant store on its mid leg. They started to watch not just because they knew that they had to do so, but because they were interested and curious as to what these six-legged creatures, which previously may have held more fear than interest, were really up to. Continue reading ‘Ups and downs of field work’


Thank you, and goodbye


There are personal costs to going abroad for a long trip. Sometimes, we miss events that we otherwise would not miss for anything. Sometimes, news arrives that can just about break your heart… the latter happened to me this week…

Originally posted on ButterflydocBioProf:

I am still in China.

This morning, 13h ahead of Illinois, I checked my email before leaving for another part of the country. (Woke up early in Shenyang, spent several hours on a bumpy flight, and am now in Chengdu, under cloudy but bright skies, with probably several hours of daylight remaining.) Immediately, I saw notifications of posts in the several IMSA alumni groups to which I belong. Not reminders of coming reunions… but news of the passing of one of the many remarkable leaders of a remarkable place I had the great fortune to attend.


The picture above was taken four years ago: November 2010. It was Veterans’ Day, and I visited IMSA that day because they had invited a classmate, Ron McKenzie, to give the address.

I didn’t know it until later that day, but when I took this picture, Eric McClaren had already received a diagnosis of…

View original 324 more words


Shenyang, Imperial Palace, photos

Our first full day in Shenyang, we took a tour of the Imperial Palace. This was once a capital for the Qing Dynasty, and is apparently the only royal palace outside the Forbidden City in China.

We went with our local contact, Kevin (Xing Wang), his daughter (as it was Children’s Day), and several students from Shenyang Jianzhu University, our hosts while we stayed in Shenyang.

Of course, there are pictures.

Find them below the jump:  Continue reading ‘Shenyang, Imperial Palace, photos’


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.