Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ecology Training - Yunnan University

The head of my department Li and the director of my institute Yang were really happy with my work. They sent me to Yunnan University for training in a special ecological topic. I stayed in Kunming for about three months. With a nearly 2,400 year history, Kunming served as a transportation hub in Southwest China, linked by rail to Vietnam and by road to Burma (Myanmar) and Laos, the southern Silk Road running to Burma and India. In World War II it was a Chinese military center, American air base (Flying Tigers fighting Japanese), and transport terminus for the Burma Road. The famous Shangri-La is located in the west. Twenty-five ethnic minorities live in Yunnan. That is nearly half of the total number of ethnic minorities in China.
     The city was called the “Spring City” where it was mild year-round although we did encounter heavy snow—the first in one hundred years. Most trees on the streets were down. It was cold and no one had enough clothes. I had to buy a winter coat there for that week long winter. Local people were so excited. They all went out to take pictures and play in the snow. Most had never seen snow their whole life. Camera film was even sold out in the city temporarily.

A once-in-a-hundred-years snowstorm in the Spring City, Kunming
     I remember a few different cultural aspects from the Han people. Although they were our neighbors, they ate rice noodles instead of rice most of the time. You could see pickles sold on street corners as a snack. At the market, farmers tied up their eggs on straws so these looked like a necklace. I always wondered how they did that. Also they sold “milk skin” which was similar to cheese but dry. Those who smoked had a huge bamboo that looked like a cannon or little chimney that they put almost their whole face into. When they smoked, you heard water inside make a “gou gou” noise.
     For youngsters to choose their future mates, sometimes they had huge singing competitions where young men and women were in separate groups and while they sang, they observed their possible choices. They asked questions and answered them in song.
     We ate our three meals in the dining hall. Sometimes, we went out to have some local specials. Most memorable is the one place where dog soup was sold. I never had dog meat before. I never had any other meat except beef, pork, chicken, duck, and fish. I heard about people, who had tried cat, dog, bear, etc. We heard that dog meat would keep us warm since there was no heat and it was very cold because of the snow. So, I went along with my friends. Surprisingly, it was like an evening market crowded with people. We had to wait our turn. The soup was in very small bowls about the size of a coffee cup with two or three tiny pieces of meat and the soup sprinkled with cilantro on top. Surprisingly, it was good and the meat was lean. The soup was delicious. It did make us warm. We went back a few times. There were several traditions for eating exotic foods. I was not interested in eating those things though. Some ate silkworms. They said that they were highly nutritious. I just felt too sick too eat silkworms and snakes. I knew that most farmers refused to eat beef because cows were esteemed for their help. They were one of the family members.

After relaxing in a hot spring called “The First Spring” (天下第一汤-安宁温泉) outside of Kunming
     Yunnan University was founded by the warlord Tang Jiyao (唐继尧) in 1922. Since Kunming was not directly involved in the fighting during World War II, many excellent Chinese scholars were there from Beijing and Nanjing. They had returned from well-known American universities and had moved away from the northern war zone.
Tsi-Tung Li (李继侗) received his PhD from Yale University in 1925 and published “Soil Temperature as Influenced by Forest Cover” in 1926.
Zou Bingwen (邹秉文) received his BA from Cornell University and PhD from the University of Michigan.
Hou X Y. (侯学煜) received his PhD in 1949 from Pennsylvania State University
Liu Shen-e (刘慎谔) received his PhD from Université de Lyon in 1929. He published his book "Trees of Northeast China" in 1955.
Hu Xian Su (胡先骕) received his BA from University of California Berkeley in 1916 and PhD from Harvard University in 1925. He started the first edition of Flora of China.
Chen Huan Yong/W. Y. Chun (陈焕镛) received his MS from Harvard and worked together with Hu Xian Su.
Qian Chong Shu (钱崇澍) studied in University of Illinois, University of Chicago, and Harvard University from 1910 to 1916. He finished Forests China in 1950.
     Raymond Laurel Lindeman (林德曼) at the University of Minnesota did his thesis work on the history and ecological dynamics of Cedar Bog Lake in central Minnesota. He collected massive data and could not figure out what it meant.  His Chinese roommate's book of Chinese proverbs were like light bulbs for him.  He suggested food chains/webs from “大鱼吃小鱼,小鱼吃虾米,虾米吃泥巴 (which means the big fish eats the little fish, the little fish eats shrimp, and shrimp eat mud”和“螳螂捕蝉,黄雀在后 (which means mantis preys on cicada, mantis did not notice the oriole behind him)”. He also suggested ecological trophic pyramids are from “一山不存二虎 (which means one mountain cannot hold two tigers)”.  I found out later that none of these things were even mentioned in Western literature.  However, Chinese text books stated that Lindeman thanked his roommate in his acknowledgments of his thesis. He was a postdoctoral researcher at Yale University and with the noted limnologist G. Evelyn Hutchinson, he submitted his thesis for the journal Ecology that outlined the Ten percent law. His manuscript was initially rejected, so Hutchinson and others had to convince the editor of the paper's merits. This classic and landmark paper publication appeared in 1942, shortly after Lindeman's death caused by a rare form of hepatitis at age 27.
    After training, I went back to my institute and presented a seminar on my studies. I especially stated that many of us were still very proud of our ancestral heritage and historical achievements. I felt ashamed for not being able to do enough to stop destroying our environment. We were far behind in taking effective measures to protect our habitat for future generations. We needed to do something for our future generations to be proud as well. My seminar was well received and I had made myself known to everyone in the institute.