Sunday, 11 April 2010

The Mountain Castle or Heart of Enlightenment...

Seemingly endless days of bus travel have left their mark. My life now seems to oscillate between Kafka and Conrad in equal measure, though more Buddhist versions of the two. I may still reach that elusive and difficult fieldwork goal.

Shixu now. 4200m in mid-nowhere. The monks of Ganzi have been replaced by feral dogs roaming the streets at night and sleepily growling during the day. Monks are around, just fewer. One approached me today asking if I was American. I told him English (Yingguoren). He then asked me about "he who must not be named". No, not Voldemort, but a particular Lama, who is not welcome in China. When I asked our Chinese students to help translate our fledgling conversation, he scurried away.

Onward to Luoxu...

Now, where IS Klamm?

Friday, 9 April 2010

Harsh winter in Central Asia

Our friends at the Snow Leopard Trust have highlighted the devastating effects in Mongolia of what has turned out to be an exceptionally harsh winter. It is claimed that around 4.5 million livestock have been lost (about 10% of the national total), with predictably awful consequences for the rural communities there. SLT are spearheading an appeal for aid. In China too, some areas have reported unusually severe conditions, though the severity and extent is not yet apparent. Sichuan for example continues to have unseasonally bad weather and our team will be in Xinjiang within the week and we will determine the situations there.

More when I can...


Hi All,

We are now well and truly up on the plateau, staying briefly in the small town of Ganzi from where we will head to our next field site in Luoxu. Journeying here is hard and the prospect of another 13 hour bus ride is not filling me with glee. This may not matter, since onward buses may not exist and we will have to explore alternatives. The local government forestry team are putting all their effort into getting us to the wilderness on time.

Ganzi itself is a curious, but friendly place. There are a large number of monasteries around and the town is awash with gangs of monks hanging out in their traditional red robes, with apparent time (eternity?) on their hands. There is a definite sense of other-worldliness that pervades these cut-off and remote outposts. Although we have flakey internet, I don't think many others have much contact with elsewhere. Nonetheless, the Tibetan people are demonstrating their unique hospitality (hic!).

Ever onward...

Monday, 5 April 2010

Like bloody paramoecium in a bloody fish tank…

In an effort to instil in our Chinese students the kind of enthusiasm that will get them to climb 2000m to our next field site, we have been conducting mini-tutorials over dinner. The nett effect of these sessions has been to spoil dinner. What I know is that students present as a diverse allsorts of types and we have those bead-covered clear liquorice pucks that are often left behind.  As a dedicated academic I am not deterred, but bean curd is not a hard enough substance to bang my head against. I’ll move these sessions to breakfast, where we have cake.

Incidentally, Joelene has been under the weather with something that turns people into Jabba The Hut (should that be hyphenated?). After being encased in carbonite and rescued by the feared Jedis, Oscar and Max, along with Dawn wearing  a gold bikini, I am now safe and she is on the road to recovery, thanks to antiJabbabiotics.

Having been in Chengdu for too long I now need more sleep and less Starbucks coffee.


Thursday, 1 April 2010

Sichuan update

Hello All.

I have a brief moment of connectivity and thought a bit of blogging would be my best use of time. Hmm... ok.

We've been working in Baoxing Nature Reserve, to the west of the more famous Wolong Biosphere Reserve. Both are panda hang-outs (red and giant, both of which were surprisingly good at hiding), and the latter was where our Sichuan Forestry Administration team managed to get photos of snow leopards (see example picture). Baoxing is connected to Wolong by a high altitude dendritic ridge, with steep sided valleys all around. Our interests are to see if snow leopards are dispersing along these ridges, and assessing the prey temptations that may motivate them. This part of the world is hugely bio-diverse, by nature of its topography, and so we are also keen to examine the relationships between snow leopards and the other predators that may influence their movements. Common leopard are found within the wooded slopes below the high-altitude grasslands, and bears and wolves wander around most habitats.

We have just come down from the higher areas of Baoxing, having set camera traps along the altitudinal gradient, which also constitutes in a habitat gradient. We have managed to enlist the cooperation of local Tibetan herders, who will maintain the cameras in situ while we head further west into the plateau (weather depending). The Tibetan people in this area have been fabulous and haven't missed an opportunity to invite us into their houses and ply us with baijiu, as is their custom. Having been working at altitude the sudden influx of booze made sure we all slept heavily last night.

The weather has been a minor issue, with heavy snowfall making transport difficult. Our horses in Baoxing braved all, but we did not want to put upon them too much. Nor our local support team for that matter. Despite some awful conditions, we made good progress and look forward to seeing some photo-fruits from our endeavours.

Much love,