Here is the first of Kevin’s e-mailed reports from China, dated June 1-3, 2006. In it, you will be able to see pictures of some natural beauty he saw in China, then another kind of natural beauty he saw in China, then yet another kind of natural beauty he saw in China….
I love the way he writes – he should (will?) be a great blogger. What a combination of a travelogue, a personal diary, and lab notes of a research scientist – all in one, the three aspects of it connected seamlessly into a single narrative. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. So, without further ado, here is Kevin:
Jiuchong, 1 June 2006
Sorry it has taken so long to get an email out – and until I learn how to use that blog thing I’m going to use this format [MSWord attachments on e-mail; B.Z.] (this way I can type everything up in my spare time rather than spending a few hrs in front of a computer typing up a blog – and therefore spending more money).
Everything has been different than I expected and many plans changed once I got here. For one, I have yet to camp out. Dr. Li and I decided going to various field stations at different elevations would be best. The temperature at the base camp (about 6,000ft) was in the mid-50s when we went through that area on the 27th of May. In order to try and standardize the seasonality we are hitting the low elevation spots first and working our way upward as it gets warmer and warmer.
My assistant, Ling Sung knows some English, so that is very helpful. It has taken forever just to get to Muyu (the “big” town in Shennongjia) – oh, and the term Shennongjia and reserve and stuff like that, I was mislead on that too. Shennongjia would be a generic term, like going to the sandhills, which is not necessarily the same as going to the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge – so the town is in Shennongjia but it is not the reserve.
On the drive up to Muyu, Dr. Li and I were in a taxi of course, the road was extremely bad – about as bumpy as taking a YJ out to Uwharrie (YJ = pre-1997 jeep wrangler). We eventually came to one spot where the road was out. I got out, took some pics, looked around: across the river and up an embankment were some other cars (originally heading in the direction we were coming from). I looked at Dr. Li and semi-jokingly asked “so it looks like we’re crossing the river?” he sighed and said “yep.” I wasn’t serious, but there was no other way into the town, going in from another direction would take about 2-3 more days he said. It was really weird seeing all these Chinese men, many in business attire grabbing luggage and walking down a muddy embankment, walking across rocks in a river and then crawling up the other side. I knew at this point that the trip was going to be pretty awesome.
So back to the field stations; each of these field stations is pretty nice (nice on my scale, not a normal person’s). For around 45 yuan I get a place to stay (an indoor bed), electricity, not always a bathroom, and 3 meals a day. When you convert into US currency, that’s around a $7/day living expense – for everything! Last year my living expenses in the sandhills were probably closer to $60/day ($10 for food maybe and approximately $40 – $50 in gas, depending). A 1.25 liter Pepsi or Coke costs 5 yuan, so that’s roughly $0.62. Everyone is huge into drinking alcohol and especially giving me toasts. I will get into the cultural aspects in a later e-mail, I’m mainly trying to hit the herp highlights.
So I didn’t really start getting into the field until 24 May. I found an unidentified Rana that night. Took me awhile to track it down. As I mentioned, the Chinese like to give toasts, and a toast usually consists of an entire cup of liquor, so I had roughly 8-10 shots or so that night (2nd night in the field station, called Jiuchong). So afterwards, I was bent on finding a herp, since I had gone the entire day before without one, so after dinner I stumbled down the road and down a river embankment (maybe 30ft) and tried tracking one of these frogs over the roar of the river. I do not recommend rock hopping on rivers at night while drunk. I did get the frog finally. It looks to be a Ranid but was on a tree branch and has semi treefrog-like toe pads. I do not have any amphibian ID books though, so it will have to wait until later. Another really weird find was a fresh water mountain crab. There were many in the river as I was flipping rocks.
The next day was FAR better. Ling Sung, Mr. Wu (the director of the field station), and I set out the next morning to the top of the road (on the first day in Jiuchong I insisted on herping of course and took Ling Sung, another local, on about a 4 hr hike up an incredibly long road, air temps at one point were like 96 or so. So far a lot of the trip had been reminding me of KS – extremely hot temps, low herps (unless you go in May), and flipping large rocks at the base of rock slides, or rock outcroppings on the embankment – of course a casual glance upwards to the towering mtns blew this thought, but still, while looking down, it felt like KS. It is hard for me to pick a single pic to represent Jiuchong of course, but here is one of my favorites:
So anyway, Mr. Wu, Ling Sung and I took some motorcycles up to the top of the road where there was a checkpost that cars weren’t allowed to pass (the “nature area”). We started walking and, at the first rock slide I came across, I flipped a rock – nothing, flipped another rock, and there was a baby Dinodon rufozonatum – again, reminded me of flipping a particular rock in KS, on the western slope of the 4-mile square and finding a baby speckled king, except replace the black and yellow pattern of speckled kings with red:
Very beautiful. I yelled “sh-uh” and picked up the snake. Ling Sung immediately started freaking out and was telling me to be careful and was like “Here! Here!” trying to hand me my 40″ snake hook to deal with a 15″ snake. Enjoying the hysteria, I took my time to tell them “mei yo do” (meaning non-venomous, literal translation is “no have poison”).
So, from there we hiked a beautiful trail, saw a Sphenomorphus skink that escaped. The next day it was supposed to rain so we decided to head back to Muyu. We had only spent 3 days in Jiuchong, and one of those was raining (the 24th). Our “taxi” was a motorcycle, which we had to strap down my backpack, camera bag, duffle bag, Ling Sung’s duffle bag, and my rifle case containing all my snake-catching gear, then add Ling Sung and I on. So you can imagine how cumbersome it was when we were biking down the road and I yell sh-uh. The bike stops, I hobble off, and run back to find a DOR Mandarin Rat, a very fresh kill and was still moving… Pretty upsetting.
We got back to Muyu. Oh, I forgot a little bit of background info that is semi-relevant. So when Dr. Li and I came to Muyu back on the 20th he took me to his favorite hotel, Yuan Yuan. We walked in and behind the desk was an absolutely beautiful girl. She smiled (as many of the Chinese girls have been doing – so I didn’t think too much about it) and helped me take my stuff up to my room. When Dr. Li and I started signing in and were about to head out to dinner she was talking to Dr. Li, he turned to me and said “she says you are very handsome” – of course I was flattered and said that she was very pretty. She gave a “Shank you” (like “Thank You” except with an “S”).
So anyway, I get back to the hotel after my first outing, and she wasn’t there. I was kind of disappointed. Later that night I get a knock on my door, it was Hi Yin giving me a fresh thermos of hot water (water everywhere is boiled and kept in the huge thermos’ – hotels, homes, everywhere). So I invited her to take a look at the pictures I had taken at Jiuchong.
The next morning Ling Sung came to pick me up to take me to the next field station (where I currently am now – Xiagu). So I went down to check out and Hi Yin’s mother was at the desk. I told her I was ready to check out and she gave me the “hold on, come with me signal” and motioned me upstairs.
I think she could see our flirtatious behavior – as much as two people that can’t understand one another can flirt. Anyway, she led me upstairs to Hi Yin’s room where she was sleeping and told her to get up. I apologized to Hi Yin for waking her up – I did not know that was her mother’s intention. After checking out, I asked her to write down her name (I had asked her at one point, but unless it’s written down, it’s pretty hard to remember) and she writes down her name and telephone number, then after that she breaks out a bunch of photos of herself and wanted me to flip through. There was one pic I liked in particular which she gave me:
Nothing like a beautiful face as an incentive for learning a foreign language…
OK, so anyway, after that little “whatever” I was basically smiling all day long, which was good b/c it was a semi-boring day, mostly riding in a taxi over the mtns to the Xiagu field station. Scenery was great of course, and we got out at 2900 meters to take some pics, which is when it was in the low to mid-50′s. We headed down, into another field station for lunch. So many people I meet say they would be honored to have me for lunch or whatnot. Ling Sung always offers them money afterwards for lunch which is always declined.
Well that is about all I can write for now. I have been here at Xiagu for 7 or 8 days I think. I will try to send out of email covering each field station – there have been some very cool things in Xiagu
Hope everything is going well back in the states,
Google earth coordinates
Dinodon rufozonatum: N 31 26.394 E 110 32.410
Elaphe mandarina: N 31 23.926 E 110 33.394
(For a sneak peek of Xiagu):
P.S. 3 June, 2006
Ok, I thought I should add this. I just got back to Muyu from Xiagu, of course I was happy to see Hi Yin. Later that night I had trouble with my room key, I asked her for help, and afterwards she asked if I wanted to look at those pictures again, after dinner. I told her “Of course” (before, when I had to leave for Xiagu, I was only able to look at a few pictures before the taxi was ready). So she brings up the photo album, I looked through some of the old pictures I had seen before. There are a lot of pictures with some other guy in the picture that I thought was her father, she gives him some other name that I didn’t recognize. Then I get to some pictures and it hits me – she’s a model! Here are a few of her modeling pics:
Tomorrow: Kevin in Xiagu, with more pictures…