The semester for students here at Xiamen University came to a close last week. This brought work in my lab to a screeching halt as students sought time to unwind and celebrate the success of graduating students. Christy and I were invited to KTV, a popular karaoke chain, where we spent hours singing, laughing and enjoying a few drinks with our Chinese friends.
Our break continued with an extended-weekend trip to the Wuyi Mountains (武夷山) with the student I work with, Li Wen, and her 3 roommates. Getting there was simple enough for Wen, Christy and I: about an hour by bus from campus to the airport and a 40-minute plane ride to Wuyi Mountain. Wen’s roommates, who weren’t able to book discount air tickets, took the train, a 12-hour journey through the mountains of Fujian province!
Each day began with a traditional breakfast of preserved vegetables, hard boiled eggs (in tea, not water), steamed buns and pork filled dumplings. A couple of chickens, which Christy prayed we wouldn’t eat, wandered around the tables looking for scraps as we ate. Our days were spent climbing countless stairs as we followed winding paths through the mountains, down into cool caves and by the side of breathtaking waterfalls. Though not a problem I often experience I was just overcoming a slight cold and the heat was too much for me on our second day. Halfway up the side of one mountain I sat down with a splitting headache. It hurt so bad I couldn’t move my neck and struggled to open my eyes. Next thing I know one of Wen’s friends whips out a green box and passes her a dark vial with Chinese characters I probably won’t learn until the semester after next printed all over the label. Wen hands it to me and says “Here, traditional Chinese medicine”. Now I’m the kind of person who doesn’t take medicine or see a doctor unless I think I might be dying. I thought I was dying, so I downed it and hoped for the best. It was naaaaaaasty… but my headache was gone almost instantly. I sat the rest of that day out with Wen at the bottom of the mountain working on my Chinese and smiling for the camera’s of countless Asian tourists who wanted a picture of the “Laowai” with a fro (老外, literally “old outside”, or foreigner). Better days were spent rafting down the Nine-bend River and eating countless watermelon’s which could be purchased along almost every stretch of road in town. There was also a very popular cave called “Thread of Sky”. At the entrance to the cave was a sign that warned pregnant women and people with high blood pressure to take another route. We could hear people screaming but I thought it was because of the bats flying overhead. We didn’t realize that people were getting stuck in the path’s tightest point (30cm) until we were hugging the dripping rock walls ourselves.
We slept and ate most of our meals at a small, family run, budget hotel that I would highly recommend to any adventurous traveler heading that way. Come Sunday night we were all exhausted, thoroughly cooked by the heat of southern China, and ready to get back home to Xiamen. At dinner, however, we were greeted with the news that a typhoon had stirred up in the waters around Xiamen and that our flight had been canceled “until further notice”. The airline put us up in another hotel until our flight the following afternoon. After arriving in Xiamen the six of us hired two cabs to take us back to campus. Along the way we could see the damage that had been done by the storm, mostly tattered billboards here and there and a few fallen trees and large branches closer to campus. Everyone is fine though and we’ll be headed back to work first thing in the morning.
Wen and I have a lot of catching up to do with our work. We purchase the sharks (Scoliodon laticaudus) for our research from a local vendor at the fish market. The vendor also supplies us with the shark uteri for free since people don’t normally buy them. If we don’t call in advance though she doesn’t know to save them for us and we end up with a smaller sample size. That’s what happened last time, hence the “catching up”. I think our problem may also be tied to a little miscommunication since Wen doesn’t speak the local dialect, a fact the vendor always forgets and attempts to conduct business in when we arrive.
I’m a little worried that the pickings will be particularly slim this week because of the storm. Though we could always gather more uteri closer to the end of the experiment, it would help to have a significant number of embryo’s this week to increase our chances of producing a complete record of the developmental stages. I have faith in our vendor though and am sure that this week at work will be a fruitful one.