Fieldwork in China, or a Huge, Frustrating, Dynamic, Messy Learning Process


My fieldwork site: Kunming’s Yunnan Nationalities Village (pictured is the De’ang Village).

My past couple posts have focused on my experiences traveling in China, but haven’t really touched on my academic research, which is the whole reason I’m here!

With absolutely zero fieldwork experience and minimal preparation (see my post on Preparing to Do Research Abroad, which describes my research topic and preparation process), I hopped on a plane to China. I figured my research would be just as straightforward as I’d proposed in my grant application: I’d go to ethnic minority tourist sites and interview employees and tourists. I had no idea that a huge, frustrating, dynamic, messy learning process would await me on the other side of the ocean.

Here is an account of that process. [Read more…]

There ARE Black Beans in this Country, or the Impact We Have on the World Around Us

Brief update from my previous post: I FOUND BLACK BEANS. I heard rumors that black beans occasionally grace the shelves of the nicer grocery stores, and we finally had a chance to go this week. They were expensive, so I was only allowed to buy one can using our grant money, but I take what I can get.

Anyway, on to the next topic.

This koala was pretty content munching its eucalyptus; it let us get pretty close and snap a few selfies

Koala bear don’t care–it was pretty content munching its eucalyptus and posing for pics

Since my position as a field technician this summer entails spending all of my time in the outdoors observing how wildlife and the habitats they live in influence each other, it’s hard not to notice the impact we as humans have on the environment. Usually “impact we have the environment” calls to mind the obvious negative havoc that humanity has wreaked on the planet—oil spills, habitat destruction, pollution of various kinds, endangering of species, etc. Most of the impact I have observed is often indeed detrimental, although not always so obvious and sometimes unintentional. One of the most noticeable human impacts is the presence of invasive species in the area. So many plants and animals are introduced, sometimes by accident, sometimes deliberately, and many of them have really taken over. [Read more…]

The Publishing Saga, or What I Do

Cecil’s learning the ins and outs of publishing, too! Chirp, chirp.

“So… What exactly do you do?”

I have been asked this question so many times in the past nearly-two months, but I still have yet to come up with an eloquent, concise, comprehensive answer. People are usually looking for no more than a 30-second response to this question, but I still haven’t found an explanation short enough, aside from “Everything, honestly,” or “Um, editorial stuff, mostly.” Neither of which is very helpful or interesting.

So, here is my attempt at answering the question. [Read more…]

5 Discoveries About Traveling Alone

I’m doing independent, pre-thesis research in China, and a byproduct of that is traveling on my own. Before I arrived in China, I was excited about the research and the going-to-China parts, but much less excited at the prospect of being alone for such a long period of time. I’m not one of those people who needs much “me time” and I thrive when I’m around people. On top of that, I’d heard all kinds of reminders to be extra vigilant because my race, gender, and age would make me a great victim for any number of crimes. But now that I’ve been through four cities and five hostels on my own, I’m much less terrified and I’ve even made some discoveries along the way.

1. I’m surprisingly not lonely. Being lonely was my number one fear, but I honestly don’t think I’ve gone more than a day or two without meeting up with someone. I know people in most of the cities that I’ve been to, so I’ve reached out to them and met up. Beyond that, I’ve made a few friends (Chinese and foreign) from staying in hostels and have joined them in grabbing meals, doing touristy things, or going out for drinks. And then of course, in this age of iPhones, social media, and Skype, I can reach out to my friends and family anywhere in the world if I want to talk to someone (if I have wifi, which is sometimes a big if).


With my friend Yang Yang in Hangzhou.

[Read more…]

There Are No Black Beans in This Country: Unnecessary Adventures and What We Take for Granted

Whether it’s the nature of fieldwork in general or the nature of fieldwork in Australia, things that should be simple end up as an adventure.

Let me give you some examples.

The little black dots are ants! This picture does not do the size of the colony justice.

The little black dots are ants! This picture does not do the size of the colony justice. More poured out as we removed the black plastic.

The task that should have been simple: grocery shopping. Every week, we go on a shopping marathon to buy food for six for a week. We throw grocery bags in the back of the truck (named Matilda), visit three different stores, since each has better prices for different types of food, and try to feed ourselves properly on a field budget. The complicated process can be attributed to the nature of fieldwork and generally having to rely on a grant. But the creatures of Australia make it more of an adventure. The other week, we opened the back of the truck to throw in the grocery bags, and instead found that a colony of ants had taken over our vehicle.

Since it would be unwise to put groceries in the middle of an ant colony, we had to get rid of them before beginning the grocery-shopping marathon. We drove slightly away from our cottage and tried to sweep them out, but that was highly ineffective. We decided to take Matilda into town and buy some ant spray, only to discover that Matilda no longer wanted to start. Eventually we restarted the car and make it into town, but it took several days to get rid of the ants. We had to carry groceries (for six people with large appetites) on our laps in the car. [Read more…]