In China again

What a difference a year makes… it was only a year ago that I took the long flight to the other side of the world and first experienced China in the company of fellow faculty members. A year later, I found myself back on the same flight, this time in the company of five students, all majors in my program area. During the flight, I kept looking up, expecting to see Sue or Zubair on their laps around the plane. But, of course, they weren’t on the flight at all.

When we got off the plane, another reminder of the last trip: Steven was there to greet us, with an iPad “sign” greeting. Tim Goines was also there, having just sent off the students from their short-term study abroad program (they were soon to be getting on the same plane we had just spent 13+ hours on).

One last reminder: the first hotel we stayed in was the last hotel the faculty were in last May. And that’s pretty much the end of the similarities…

More below the jump…

It’s much different to be here with students than it was to be here with colleagues. Last year, I was responsible for myself; this year, I share responsibility for five others who have never before visited this place–where I myself have only previously spent two weeks. (Fortunately, I am sharing this responsibility with someone who has far more experience with this place — and this task — than I.) Thus far, we’ve done some sightseeing and made a few casual observations; the next few days are a holiday (of which we were unaware when making plans), so there will be a bit more of that before we can move to the research. Already I’m trying out ideas in my mind of how we can get more time than we seem to have to make observations — two struggles in trying to work here are my inability to speak the local language and the nature of making requests here. The “price” of gaining access to resources (in the form of fields to visit) seems to be meetings, which seem to be taking place primarily in Chinese. I feel fortunate to be working here with a colleague whom I trust to speak well on my behalf, but it’s nonetheless frustrating to be in a conversation where I cannot even begin to guess the topic under discussion. (Clearly, if I want to find a way to continue this work, I need to find the time to begin to learn the language, if only to allay my frustration in these situations.) Fortunately, we are not required to subject the students to the entirety of these meetings, which while interesting for the two who have studied Chinese for two years, presents the same issues for the other three as it does me.

It’s been fun to watch the students experiencing China for the first time. Awe, wonder, and delight have been close at hand while walking through historical sites that are older than the country we came from. Food hasn’t been an issue, as expected given the variety and the quality of food in China. I’m not sure that the students were expecting every meal to be served family style, but they seem to be taking it in stride.

Soon we will begin collecting data. I am here this time on a grant from the ASIANetwork funded by the Freeman Foundation, the Student-Faculty Fellows program. Our goal is to study the actors in pollination, those insects (and other animals) that are performing escort services for flowers. Much of what we will do is observational, such that we will not damage or otherwise negatively impact any plants we observe. This also means that we can supplement our arranged plans with quiet observations anywhere that we see flowers.

Today we are in Shenyang, and we will be given a tour of the Imperial Palace and other sights. The weather here already is much better than it was in Beijing (we suffered through a heat wave during our time there, with temperatures in excess of 100F). We don’t yet have internet access on this campus, but I trust we will find a way to get online again soon!



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