A Travellerspoint blog

Little Notes

Hi all!

Today marks my third week in China. This week has been completely in the field. I was very worried about how it would go, but it has been going very well! We have done about ¼ of our surveys. We have had no time to do anything at night. I would like to be further along in my work, but I guess when you are in a car for minimum 3 hours a day and barely sleep at night, I have the right to not do work. Tomorrow is a new day though!

Below are some observations from the field. By no means are these meant to be rude or anything of that sort. They are just some things I have seen and by no means apply to the entire population of China.

Sanitation: In many developing countries, sanitation is not a top priority. Sometimes people do not even know what they are doing is not the best thing to do. For example, many people do not cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze. Mind you, this is a trend I have seen everywhere, not just villages. Another is the toilet. Many of the villagers have a pit toilet. It is exactly what it sounds like. It is a hole in the ground with some wooden slats around it. You put your feet on the slats and hope you have good aim. Besides the ability for feces and urine to splatter, many times the toilet has an opening in the back to allow the waste to flow out. This then goes into these small canals where water can flow. As you can imagine, people walk through this, drink from here, etc. Even in urban areas, most sinks or water sources for hand washing do not have soap. It amazes me the small, inexpensive fixes there are for major problems in the world. If people were taught the “germ theory of disease” or basically how disease spreads, I think

Another is trash. Educated people here throw their trash on the ground. I was walking behind a guy who pulled his last cigarette from the box and then proceeded to toss the box on the ground. In the rural areas, you pass large heaps of trash that seem to have come together by luck, not purpose. In other countries, I see people burning trash. These environmental sanitation issues can have major consequences.

In my group, there is a girl who speaks decent English. The concept of population is very interesting. She was annoyed that many of the poor farmers in the villages have more than 1 or 2 children. She was frustrated that they could not wrap their heads around the idea that the more children you have that the poorer you will be. She talked about how if everyone just had 1 or 2 children then the parents could invest all of their money in those two children so they could have better lives than their parents. I find this interesting because of the One Child Policy. I feel from the outside many people see it is an invasion into people’s personal choices, but in China, it seems the citizens respect and approve of the policy. The Chinese people I have spoken to think there are too many people in China. Actually, they are highly disapproving of the amount of inhabitants. The girl I was speaking to said it is hard because the majority of the Chinese are very poor. While in the US there is a wide gap between the middle class and upper class, it pales in comparison to China. The majority of people are very poor. They lack clean water, electricity, and even sanitation. I have not gone in depth on these connections with my new friends, but I hope I get to over the next few weeks.

I have sad news and good news, I guess! My trip here will be shortened to early September. I have little work to complete after this time, and my professor and I feel I will accomplish more if I am back in Blacksburg. Unfortunately, a thesis does not write itself. BUT on the other hand, I get to come back with Brian! He was planning to come October 9-23 and meet me in Beijing. Instead, we get to fly together! I am really looking forward to travelling with him and not having to meet with him in Beijing. It will make our travel much easier.

So, I will leave the field next week. After all the kinks are worked out, I am essentially useless. I cannot speak Chinese so my time will be better spent in Kunming. I will be working with a Chinese colleague on the “seed mystery” as I am now referring to it as. As a quick refresher on my project, I am studying a specific type or variety of potato. We are now finding out that potato seed is not purchased very often and even then… IT IS NOT PURCHASED! A large plot twist! So in economics we assume farmers have the choice in which varieties they adopt. Well, in China, many local governments decide which varieties farmers adopt. This is a large plot twist because my econometric model assumes they have the choice. I think it makes it more interesting though. We can still study what characteristics farmers like in a variety, but now we can dig into who makes the choice and how they make the choice for which varieties are grown. The local government gives away the seed for free which is why many farmers do not purchase new seed after 10 years or however many. Why would you buy any if you got the first batch for free? I wouldn’t. Even then, many of the villages or even towns do not sell seed potato! So I am Nancy Drew on the case of the Missing Potato Seed. The mystery will be solved by May 2016.

Since I have no other pictures, below is another picture of where I get to do my fieldwork. Rough life.

Quick story before I go: One day on the back from dinner, we were walking past a plaza and we saw people doing the Hustle! The actual dance Hustle... not the song, 'Do the Hustle'. So we joined in! It was a lot of fun! I was so glad I got to participate. Mind you, the other girls I were dancing with had no idea how to do the actual Hustle... but oh well. I really miss dance classes so I am glad I go to work on some of moves while being in China! Another quick story... below is a picture of a little girl who followed me for the 2-3 hours I was in this village. She was very shy, but we clearly because best friends by the end.


The Potato Lady

Posted by snmyrick 07:18 Comments (0)

Lake Side Livin'

Hi all,

The post below was supposed to have been posted on Saturday... so pretend it is Saturday.

Today marks week 2 of my journeys in the People’s Republic of China. It has been good so far. We finally finished the surveys and the copies should be off the press. Monday we begin surveying. I am a little worried, but I guess anyone would be right before collecting data for their thesis.

Today was the first day we really had to be a tourist and the first day we were without a Chinese speaker. Needless to say, it was an adventure. I think it was great insight into what my life will be once surveying is over. We travelled to the Green Lake in Kunming. Kunming is very interesting because it has over 30 ethnic minorities which is about half of the minorities in all of China. A few of these groups perform at the lake. It is more like the older people come to practice. One of the Chinese people I am with said the old people are retired and get bored so they come to the lake to perform for fun. It is very interesting to see them dressed up in their traditional garb and dance with music! So we walked around entire lake. It is rather large! Below is a picture of the lake. There are many lotus plants. Lotus plants are basically tall lily pads. It makes a beautiful landscape! Both times I have gone there it has rained. It is somewhat magical watching the lotus leaves fill up with water then tip over causing the rain to spill into the shallow lake. I find it fascinating the tricks and incredible versatility nature has.


We then travelled to the mall area to get lunch. The mall has many tiny booths were you can purchase a variety of food. On the way, we got lost and ended up in a “flower market”. One of my favorite things to do in a new city is visit the market. I think the way a market looks and functions really describes a city. For Kunming, there were many different booths of “jade” (probably not real) jewelry, carvings out of small pieces of marble, and booths where you can purchase a pet. I think where Kunming comes alive is really the small street vendors. Maybe this is because we are potato people and eat an assortment of potatoes, but I think it really does represent the love for certain crops such as potatoes. The market had many people but it was not tourist driven like other markets I have been to. It was not focused on food either.

Next, we spent the next hour or two trying to figure out how to get back. I MUST say though, I actually got us back. It took a little thinking though. I actually have pretty good directional skills. I do not do well in areas I have not been before. I got us back though! On the way back, we stopped for donuts and of course potatoes to eat for lunch. The Chinese are brilliant donut makers! The donuts are below. They stuffed a donut with CHOCOLATE. I have never seen this creation in the US, but I recommend someone take it. Overall, it was a good day. Tomorrow, I must have all my things packed for the 20-24 day journey around Yunnan. I will write when I can. I am scared, worried, and anxious, but I am also really excited. As Brian and I like to say (aka steal from one of my favorite movies), adventure is out there!


Also, small side note… I have had a lizard friend the past 2 nights. Below is a dark picture of me capturing him in a mug. At first he scared me, but by the end, we were friends.


The past two days have been travelling to the prefecture, Zhaotong. It is absolutely beautiful here! Below is a photo of the area I get to work in. Life is rough, right?


More to write after we complete our first day of surveys tomorrow! Hip hip hooray!

Steph (Xiao Xiao is my Chinese name… Miss Smell…long story)

Posted by snmyrick 07:13 Comments (0)

What does "normal" mean?

Hi all again,

I know this post is quickly after the other, but I am behind on writing! Today is the 1 week mark. It has felt like I have been here forever, but it has only really been one week. This week I spent the majority of my time working. As I had mentioned, the day after I got off the plane, I had a meeting bright and early. Since then, we have been working rigorously to get the surveys complete. For my project, we have a household survey and a community survey. We interview farmers for the household survey and interview a few members of a community for the community survey. It is pretty straight forward. The difficult part is asking questions that are clear and provide us the right information for the analyses we want to do. To see if we accomplished this goal, we pilot the surveys. Piloting basically means practice. We go to a village and ask them the questions from the surveys and see if we get the information we need. We have been meeting with Chinese colleagues at the Yunnan Normal University. Below is a picture of the campus. Isn’t it a pretty campus? The Chinese woman I am with asked what "normal" meant. I said oridinary and she thought it was hilarious that the university is just "ordinary". Although I am very sure that the naming of the university was not intended to infer it was only "ordinary". In fact, they conduct a lot of research so it is not by any means normal!


Piloting went very well! There were a few questions in which we had to alter or delete all together, but it was a very great experience seeing what the Chinese countryside is like. It was absolutely beautiful out there. Below is a picture. It is not the best, but you can see the mountains. Many of the mountains had terraces which is when farmers try to make layers within the mountain that are flat so they can grow crops. It creates a beautiful landscape!


Out of piloting, I learned a lot about Chinese culture. The two main things were drinking alcohol and smoking. To get on the good side of many farmers, you must drink Chinese wine (which in the US would be like moonshine or a very strong alcohol which is about 40% or 80 proof) and smoke cigarettes. When I say you, I mean men. During many of the interviews, as you can see below, men would smoke between 3-5 cigarettes EACH. You can imagine how smoky the inside of a house can get as men chain smoke. It really hurt my lungs since I have never been around cigarette smoke that often or that much in my life. The Chinese women I am with said that smoking is the most popular in Yunnan (where I am) because they grow the majority of the tobacco in China.
Drinking is another interesting idea. At dinner, many of the men drink and drink until they can no longer stand. I think it has something to do with “proving” how big of a man you are. If you refuse a drink, it can be considered rude. It seems many of the people are not fond of the tradition, but they say it is just the way it is. I think everywhere has some of these “just the way they are” type of traditions.
Now, at the end of my second week in China, we will begin surveying. It is a little nerve-racking because if we do not get the information we want then my thesis is going to be bad. It is hard to talk-up bad data no matter how good of a writer you are. I am excited at the same time though. I think it is so exhilarating to see people discussing with farmers about their work. From my experience, farmers are some of the most proud people and rightfully so. They GROW something. They FEED people. They NOURISH bodies. I think that is an absolutely incredible accomplishment, and I think farmers deserve to be proud of their work. I mean, to be honest, we would all be dead if it was not for them. So next time you talk to a farmer, thank them.

On a lighter note, some observations I have made about driving.

I always thought roads had lines for a reason, but that is not true. Roads are fluid in China. If you are driving in the left lane and the person in front of you is going slow, you just go on the other side of the road to pass, why not? And if you are in the way of an oncoming car, they will just honk. Also, many people ride scooters or vespeda here. I cannot help but laugh at them every time, but they make a lot of sense! There are a ton of people and cars here. Gas is also expensive. Also, scooters have their own lane so it makes it easier to move around. All around, it makes sense to buy one even if I laugh every time.

I am going to Dali on Sunday, so I hope to have an amazing time! Dali is about 3-5 hours away from Kunming, and we are travelling by car. It should be great! Then it is back to work on finalizing the surveys, conducting training, and preparing for the field!


Posted by snmyrick 06:11 Comments (0)

Hot Pot and Jet Lag

First days in China

Hi all!

I know I have been MIA. It has been a crazy few days. I arrived on Saturday, July 11. It was absolutely crazy. I will give a very short version of it since this is not really the exciting part of my time thus far. I do not recommend 14 hour flights to anyone. The flight in general was uneventful and not very exciting, but it is difficult to not feel cramped by the end. I barely slept since I was anxious and nervous about catching my connecting flight. Thankfully my plane arrived 40 minutes early, because it then gave me 1 hour and 45minutes to catch my next flight. This required going through customs, catching a terminal shuttle, going to a different terminal, recheck my 50lb behomouth of a bag, go through security, and then find my gate. To my own surprise, I made it. So after travelling for approximately 20 hours, I finally got in my room and showered then slept. We had a meeting the next day at 9:30am.

Let me tell you… jet lag is REAL. That is no joke. I had never experienced serious jet lag before, but with a 12 hour difference, I guess it is inevitable. I was so incredibly tired all day. I took a nap, but it is hard to show-up and do a fairly intense meeting the next day.

But to the more exciting part… I will give my first impressions and observations about specific things and write more in a later post about my field work so far. I will start with food and write more when I have time. They have been keeping me busy! One example of my time was I numbered an entire survey incorrectly and had to redo my entire database. The life of a grad student.

The food is very good. It mainly composes of a meat with many types of vegetables. Yunnan Province, where I am, is known for their many varieties of mushrooms. I appreciate that there are so many vegetables in the food. Since it is not good to drink the water, it makes it difficult to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. All of the Chinese food I have had is cooked so that makes eating much easier. All the food is very warm and there are rarely cold drinks at the table. I am unsure if this is because the Chinese enjoy drinking tea a lot or it has to do with sanitation of food and drink. It is not a problem until I get very hot and want a nice cold drink. In this region, the food is very spicy.

Meals take a very, very long time. Since the food is very communal, it means you do not have your own serving of food. Instead, you use your chopsticks to pick what you want from the center plates to put into your own bowl. They mainly use bowls over plates as well. Another note is chopsticks are the only form of utensil so I highly suggest practicing before you come.

The Chinese also like to make noises when they eat. This means smacking the lips and slurping. I believe it is a sign the food is good. Also, many times, you are supposed to bring your face to the bowl rather than the bowl to your face when eating. I think part of it is they eat very quickly after the food comes out so it is hot so chewing with your mouth open helps.

Below is traditional Chinese hot pot. So essentially there is charcoal in the middle. A waiter/waitress brings out a steel pot of boiling water with broth which is mostly meat-flavored. For example, this one had half a chicken (head and feet included) in it. You then slowly add the vegetables as you see on the right. It is a process to eat the food, but it is very good!


It is very bad to not finish your food. It is expected that you finish what is in your bowl so beware of how much you take!

My biggest regret is not learning Mandarian before coming. I know it would have been difficult, but it would have been a more enriching experience. It is difficult to even “wing it” because Mandarian is not similar to any language I know. I am hoping to pick up more and more as time goes on otherwise it is going to be difficult to order food which generally is my top priority.

I apologize for the scatter-brained blog, but I thought it was important to tell everyone how I am doing which is very well!


Posted by snmyrick 07:16 Archived in China Comments (0)

Get Ready...

Hi everyone,

Let’s jump right into the fun. You chose to read this blog because 1) you think I am cool (not sure about that one) 2) you really like potatoes or 3) you think China will be cool. If you think all three, then you may be in for a treat! And why Little Lady, Big World? Clearly the world is big. And I am a little lady. I am only 5’3” and wear petite sized clothing. I always forget that I am shorter than average until I see a picture of me with friends. But as John Mayer says, “I’m bigger than my body gives me credit for.”

Anyway, how does one get ready for an almost four month trip about taters? Good question, because I am also unsure. I will be travelling to China from July 10 to October 23. I will be working on my research from July 10 to October 10. Then Brian, my wonderful adventure partner and boyfriend, will be travelling with me from October 10 to October 23. More updates on our route once we iron on the details but HINT: It will include an intense hike up the Yellow Mountains.

So, why do I keep mentioning taters? The reason I will be in China is because I am collecting data for my Masters’ thesis in Agricultural and Applied Economics. My field focuses on applying mathematical, statistical, and economic theory to real world problems. Mine is about potatoes. Every time I think of my project, I think of this video from Lord of the Rings where Smeagol asks what a tater is.


So, why would anyone study potatoes in China? China is the world’s largest potato producer. It produces over 4 times the amount of the US. The amount of potatoes grown in China has quadrupled since 1960. A lot of this is attributed to the breakdown of communes and the expansion of potato markets to urban areas. The Chinese government is pushing for the potato to become a staple in the Chinese diet. If stored properly, it can last months, uses less water, and takes less land than wheat, corn, and rice. Potatoes are a large part of the agricultural economy for China and will continue to grow. A large portion of the growth in potato production has to do with the expansion of Western fast foods. Apparently, KFC is the largest American fast food joint in China. With incomes increasing in urban areas, the demand for processed potatoes (mainly French fries and chips). Moral: potatoes are awesome. Boil ‘em, mash’em, and stick ‘em in a stew.

My study focuses on a specific potato variety, Cooperation-88 or C88. The amount of land that C88 is grown on is expanding. The real question is why? That is my job. I will be writing and conducting a household survey which will ask farmers questions to gain a better understanding of their potato production and reasoning (or reasoning not) to adopt C88. I then will want to gain information to better understand the economic impacts of C88. Here is a short article, if it interests you, where you can see what the adoption of agricultural technology does to the economy. The method used is the economic surplus method: http://www.tropentag.de/2004/abstracts/full/48.pdf

I will be spending the majority of my time in the Yunnan Province. It borders Laos, Myanmar (Burma), and Thailand. It has the most ethnic groups in China (I believe over 30?). China in general has hundreds of ethnic groups which makes the country interesting and great. I am excited to be in Yunnan and to get the chance to learn more about these groups. We chose this area for our study (to collect over 600 surveys), because Yunnan has the most C88 adopters.

What am I doing to get ready? Doing some Chinese studying… that is for sure! I thought learning Chinese would be extremely difficult, and it is, but I have come to see how beautiful of a language it is. If you listen carefully, it has a musical flow to it. Try it! I am also trying to figure out how to get 4 months of medication at once, every medicine I may need to survive, a lot of Cliff bars, determining how many pairs of shoes a woman may need (this is a huge struggle), how to pack for two seasons while being able to carry a backpack, and how many and which books to bring. Suggestions? I have the Help, Reading Lolita in Tehran, the first two books of the Lord of the Rings, and I believe that is it. I also am getting a few immunizations. Nothing screams excitement like getting a shot for a disease transmitted by mosquitos that makes your brain swell and sends you into a coma. Ironically, where I am going and for how long I am going qualifies me for the most shots and preventative medicine in China. I deserve some sort of award or merit badge.

I am preparing by trying to spend as much time with friends and family as possible. Three and a half months is a long time to spend away. I will miss everyone, but this really is an opportunity of a lifetime. When I went to Ecuador, I loved every moment of it. I loved working with individuals in foreign countries in an attempt to conduct research that can hopefully better people’s lives. It is hard work that takes a lot of time and thought, but I really do enjoy it. I am not good at expressing myself most of the time, but there is something about riding in a truck through the countryside of any country. It is beautiful and quiet but very lively. It is basic living but it takes a lot to be a farmer, and that is something I respect.
I hopefully will be able to update this blog periodically. Continue to check in on me and my Chinese tater adventure. I promise you will learn more about potatoes than you will have ever wanted to know. They don’t call me the potato lady for no reason.

Don’t call me tater salad (Ron White reference…),

PS If you are interested in my research trip to Ecuador, see my other blog: http://aventurasalegres.blogspot.com/
I had to make a new one since Blogger would be censored in China.

Posted by snmyrick 17:21 Comments (1)

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