Thursday, April 15, 2010


Life is still kind of in flux (still trying to get a job and decide what I really want to be when I grow up) and I think what I miss most of all about really having a sense of where I'm going is the routine and ritual of it. Let me explain:

I get up in the morning and iron Ryan's clothes for him (not because I'm a 1950's housewife, but because he's feeding the baby and eating his own breakfast). Once that's done, I dress the baby and pack his lunch. Usually by this time Ryan is showered, dressed, and putting things in his pockets. By 0830 most days, they're out the door. I love this ritual. It makes me feel like our family is a little team of people working towards the same orderly goal....and then once it's over, I have a few wonderful moments of knowing that my day is my own until 1700. (Yes, I'm using military time. What? I grew up in a household where people said "Niner" instead of "Nine" when talking on the phone.)

After the boys are out the door, life is a bit harder to predict. My life changes from day to day--there's not a ton in the way of a set routine, and I miss it. Any time could be work time! Any time could be down time! Part of me is very invested in the grad school mentality of "OMG YOU SHOULD BE WORKING ALL THE TIME! ALL. THE. TIME." despite knowing that this is unhealthy, wrong and actually motivates me less.

In any case, despite valuing my ability to be very flexible in most situations, this is a time in my life where I wish I was a little more rigid, if only with myself. No one else is setting my time commitments, and so I have a vast canvas of time--I have the compulsion to try and paint it all one color and leave no negative space for contrast...To some extent a sense of ritual makes this into a paint by number, but at least that's a bit closer to the kind of art I want to create...

What rituals are you guys attached to (I know I haven't got many readers that aren't spam, but I do have some, thanks to Facebook)? How do you create that kind of structure when their is none?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Transition/Life list

Life is weird right now. This is the first time since I was about five years old that I have not been in school full time. Just for reference, that's nineteen years. Ryan and I are living in Boston, which is lovely and trippy and remarkably not that cold (touch wood). It's an college town filled with all kinds of academics, and suddenly, I'm not one of them any more. Well, technically I'm on filing fee (writing up my Master's thesis) with UC Davis, but it's not really the same.

Right now, I'm not totally sure I want to be an academic. Don't get me wrong, I really miss wonderful community it provides, and the obsession with things I love it fosters. I doubt I'll ever be able to turn the part of my brain that puts everything in an evolutionary context off, but I'm not quite so sure what I want to do with that part of my head any more. I have this wonderful (and terrifying) sense that there's a lot more options that I could pursue--chosing one is the problem.

All of which is making me think more about my life list. Hi, anyone who happens to be dropping by from Mighty Girl! (and Thanks! to Maggie for linking to me!). I hope there are some of you coming by, because I have a question for you: Is it fair to revise your life list? What if you don't want to do the things you thought you wanted to do? Have you lost your most authentic life, or just one version of it? How do you decide what to let go of? Would love to have you leave answers in the comments.

In case the idea of a life list is new to you, it's a list of one hundred things to do before you die. Here's mine (with the really private ones redacted), and Maggie has posted tons of other good examples as well.

1. Visit every continent
2. Live in Europe for at least a month
3. Eat a dinner at a 3 star restaurant
4. Build a home to my specifications
5. Live totally alone for a few weeks
6. Write a book
7. Get a PhD
8. Join a band
9. Travel overseas with close friends
10. Learn how to make a cappuccino
11. Raise livestock
12. Travel overseas with my mother
13. Send my son where he wants to go to school
14. Publish a first author paper in American Naturalist, and another in Science or Nature
15. Take guitar lessons
16. Adopt a dog from another country
17. Get my college friends together when we're older and act like we're still in college, but with more money
18. Brew a beer with my best friend, a passionate home brewer
19. Buy a pair of designer shoes
20. Learn to ride a horse, western style
21. Climb one of of the seven summits
22. Tour French wine country
23. Go on safari in South Africa
24. See every great ape in the wild
25. Get a tattoo (SCHEDULED FOR SATURDAY!)
26. Treat myself to a spa day
27. Help someone get their PhD
28. Start a scholarship fund
29. Give my family a year of ridiculously generous birthday gifts
30. Camp in the back country of an American National Park for a weekend
31. Have beautiful skin
32. spend a whole week doing nothing going to the beach and reading fun books.
33. make quilts for all the beds in my house
34. knit a favorite sweater
35. teach my son how to cook
36. know exactly where all of my money is going and what it's doing for me
37. Live up to my middle name (Grace).
38. Visit Israel
39. Visit ethiopia
40. see the wildebeest migration in both the Masai Mara and the Serenghetti
41. sleep under the stars with my husband
42. Live in New York city
43. Learn more about partial differential equations
44. Have a room set aside as a library
45. ***redacted***
46. ***redacted***
47. have my own office
48. learn to bake without recipes
49. get paid to speak publicly
50. sing pub songs in Ireland
51. inspire someone to something great
52. do yoga every day
53. visit Prague
54. introduce myself to a famous author and have an interesting conversation
55. learn to program in C++
56. memorize every country in the world, so that I can list them on the spot
57. visit New Zealand and find an empty place to hang out in for a while
58. see Celtic ruins on the solstice
59. scuba dive on the great barrier reef
60. attend a Japanese tea ceremony
61. learn to surf
62. live in a house by the sea
63. learn to drive a stick shift
64. Go on an Isak-Dinesen-style-adventure
65. paint an oil painting
66. Become a professor
67. Get tenure
68. build a lab culture that makes a great place to work
69. teach a large course that students really like
70. cook and serve a 10 course meal
71. see Machu Picchu
72. circumnavigate
73. travel to space
74. celebrate my anniversary with my husband AND with our friends
75. learn better focus
76. read all of darwin's books
77. read lord of the rings
78. build a tree house
79. make turkduckin for holiday dinner
80. run a five k at a non-embarasing rate
81. keep fresh flowers in the house at all times
82. have window boxes
83. Visit Alaska with my close friend from Alaska
84. Go to a black-tie benefit with my friend who's already working on charity boards in her early twenties
85. buy myself nice jewelry
86. go to carnival in Rio
87. see the northern lights
88. travel somewhere so remote that you have to fly and land on a non-runway
89. get good at keeping in touch with people
90. ***redacted***
91. learn fair isle knitting
92. climb trees with my son
93. Make deliberate choices about when and how I work
94. walk on hot coals
95. Celebrate the solstice somewhere it doesn't really get dark
96. See the daily show, live
97. perform a strip tease, and do it well
98. learn to use my camera without presets
99. Travel to desert cultural sights on camel
100. Bid exorbitantly at a charity auction.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

On non-kidlessness

I regularly read Female Science Professor, who often has some interesting points to make about being a woman in science. However, her readers sometimes irk me, more than a little. The comments on the post I've linked to above are a prime example.

They aren't the only comments, and I'm not even sure they're the majority of comments, but there are a decent number of people writing there who are saying some variant of "I couldn't have kids and an academic career."


Maybe you don't want both kids and a career, or maybe you've chosen a place that's bad about supporting both ambition and a family. Those are both legitimate things. If it's the first, fine, that's you're choice, and I have no problem with it. If it's the second, and you do want kids, then that sucks, and I sympathize with your difficulties--sometimes these choices get made before all the chips in the game are on the table, and I will work with you on making it a better world for women and families.

BUT: It is not impossible to have both a kid and an acadmeic career. Please do not say you can't, because that makes it seem like it's a problem with you. It's not. It's either a choice that you make (and that I don't think anyone should judge) or it's a problem with the university/department you're working with. It should always be POSSIBLE for women grad students, post docs, and professors to have kids and a career. I won't claim that it's easy, but I'm also a flawed, crazy, exhausted human being, and I can manage it.

Don't say you can't. Either you could, or your university ought to be doing the things that would make it so you could. If you don't want to balance that much, say that, and leave it at that. The next woman I hear saying "I could never do that" about my life is gonna get an earful. Yes, you could. Don't sell yourself short, because you're selling the rest of us short, too. It's not that we women can't balance career and kids--it's that there's a ton of stuff that's in our way that's not getting fixed because so many of us think that it's just us. Fuck that. It's not you, women. It's them.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Who's the worstest blogger in the world?

Me, because I'm crazy busy finishing up my second master's degree and planning a move across the country (Ryan and I are taking a break from academia due to a change of academic plans).

But, I found this map (thanks Bill!) and had to share:

The redder a place is, the more remote it is. I am here to tell you that this map is highly delusional. Just because there are roads somewhere does not mean you can drive in the same way you can in America--a dirt track in India (or, for that matter, a paved road) is very different from the equivalent road in America. Anyone who thinks they can practically drive across Uganda in six hours is fricking delusional--a day if you're really lucky, have a good four by four and a good driver. And sure, you can get up the Congo river in a couple of days--if there's fuel available, and often there isn't. Roads in Papua New Guinea flood frequently or are blocked via tribal violence. The cost of traveling by each of these different methods is an interesting factor--in order to travel according to the speeds they're suggesting in some of these places, you might as well charter a helicopter, cause the cost won't differ much in terms of how many helpers you'll have to pay, how many people you'll need to bribe, etc.

So all you adventurers out there, don't think that the world is quite so connected as this might make it seem. Just because you can get cell phone reception on safari in Tanzania (trust me, I have) does not mean that the only place you can go that's remote is Tibet. If I can find places that *I* think are remote (and my standards are high), then you can too.

Places to start, based on our experiences:
Papua New Guinea
Western (or eastern, or northern) Uganda
Namibia, especially near the border with Angola and Botswana.
Northern India
Northern Vietnam
Coastal Tanzania
Northeastern Zanzibar
The Beqqa Valley, Lebanon

For goodness sakes, people, just get away from the cities, away from the tour guides, and find a way to deal with just yourself and your traveling companions. See how much you can communicate with just gestures and a few words--Please, thank you, yes, no, hello and goodbye all go a loooong way. People say you need to know numbers, but so long as you have hands, numbers aren't that hard to convey. Eat the local food, drink the local liquor (cautiously--usually it's safe, but that doesn't mean it doesn't pack a punch), make kids laugh by showing them their pictures on your camera's screen and the games you used to play as a child. Bring gifts, and accept them, and realize that the important thing this map shows is not how easy it is to travel, but how interconnected we all are.

That's all for now.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Return to everyday life

Ryan and I are back home in Cali, settled into our new apartment and studying during the new school year. Oisin is with us, and though I occasionally miss the excitement of going a new place every day, I'm still somewhat giddy to be back going through the motions of my every day routine in Davis. Cooking my own food is a wonderful task, as chasing around a toddler, for the most part. He's back in day care during the week and so far seems to be enjoying himself immensely, which helps.

I'm back to teaching and class and research, and keep finding wonderfully interesting new papers. I'm going to try and write about the most interesting things I find, and the interesting parts of being a graduate student, but they're fewer and farther between when I'm not in the field, so once the beginning of the quarter calms down a bit, I'm going to try to post some of the stories we didn't get to tell yet about the summer. For now, I leave you with a second video of dog sampling, this one of me taking the blood, so you can see what we're talking about. As a note, the calm reaction this dog has is the standard reaction we got--even the dog in the last video was this relaxed once we got the muzzle on.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Final stats from the summer

[guest post by Ryan]

36 flights
12 time zones
257:45 traveling hours [note this only counts flight-associated travel time]
64,374 travel miles
22 countries (counting all landings and time spent on the ground at all)
17 countries (counting only those countries we left the airport)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Number update

[Ryan here]

At the end of sampling, we've sampled 691 dogs (corresponding to 19,384 spreadsheet cells Cori and I had to fill in---and the spreadsheet was detailed enough that by the end dog colors such as "reddish tan and black with white chest and tips" were being autofilled). Anyway, more numbers (and these aren't done yet---we're still in Delhi waiting to fly home):

31 flights
11 time zones
208:15 traveling hours [note this only counts flight-associated travel time]
50,574 travel miles
21 countries (counting all landings and time spent on the ground at all)
17 countries (counting only those countries we left the airport)


I sampled my last dog of the summer today, a caravan hound named Rani, our 183rd Indian dog. All told, I've taken blood from 691 dogs this summer, and I gotta say, I can't wait to get home. India was lovely, if whirlwind, but I'm tired, really sick of airports and hotels, and miss my son. Tonight at 2am dehli time we board our first flight home, and in 33 or so hours, we finally make it to my mothers house, hallelujah. We'll of course keep posting this summer's stories on this blog, if only to tell the story of the Indian SIM card procurment adventure, the worst driver ever, and a few other tidbits from our travels. But I think I've finally got Ryan so he enjoys blogging, and his enthusiasm keeps me writing too. We've got loads of stories to tell and loads more adventures to have, so eve if we're eager for this one to come to a close, we'll keep you updated with whatever comes next.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Indian Engrish

[guest post by Ryan]

The splash/logon screen to our hotel's WiFi network:

Hotel New Woodlands is an ecstasy for business explorers and holiday makers in city, endowing with services beyond conjure.

Sampling Vietnam style

[Ryan here]

So in Vietnam we unintentionally played "dog sampling the drinking game," which involved taking frequent shots of locally, in-home distilled rice/corn "wine" (actually a potent distilled spirit, not wine like they called it). The pattern started out as sample dog, get invited into house, have bitter green tea and get a shot of homemade rice wine poured before we could turn it down. We finally had to take out collaborators aside and make sure they stopped it or at least cut it down to a shot every four or five dogs. Otherwise, Cori would not have been able to keep taking blood!

Still though, at night we had our fun:

Mob justice

[guest post by Ryan]

While we were in Kolkata, one local news story particularly hit home for me. At a local amateur one-day soccer tournament, an assistant referee made a controversial offside call in the semi-finals. The penalized team's manager swore revenge and headed off with a few others. After several minutes, he returned armed and fired several shots into the soccer field, killing one person (not the referee or assistant referee). The other team's supporters then chased him and his group into a neighboring resort where he was hiding. They lit the resort on fire and all of the resort's buildings burned down while 55 guests plus staff quickly evacuated the premises. Several hours later the police took control of the scene and the fire department put out the last smoldering ashes. Last I heard, the man who initially fired the shots is still on the loose as are the instigators of the resort fire. Meanwhile, the resort manager does not believe he will rebuild. The newspaper articles were silent as to the ultimate disposition of the disputed semi-final match or the fate of the referees involved.
While this story holds particular interest for me (an American soccer referee who has made his share of disputed offside calls), it is not at all unusual here in India. I have seen dozens, if not hundreds, of similar stories on the news and in newspapers in the last 10 days I've been in India. A truck driver ran into a motorcycle, killing one person and critically injuring another; that truck and at least two other trucks from the same company were then lit on fire and a national highway was closed for several hours before police took control. Two rival politicians got into an argument which became so heated one took refuge in a nearby police station; the other followed him in and shot him to death. In the melee that followed, the dead politician's supporters killed a constabul by lighting him on fire, burnt the police station down and burned at least five police vehicles. Police captured two Maoist leaders and then the Maoists blew up several train stations near where we were staying in retribution. The list goes on and on.
In a country with over one billion people, some will undoubtedly be mean and violent. The news outlets, of course, seek these people and their stories out so they can sell the most newspapers and titilate the most viewers. However, even with these caveats, Indian people, while generally not violent, seem to live with and tolerate an amount of violence in their culture than most Americans would find truly remarkable and alarming. Despite train stations being blown up nearby and trains threatened, the trains were still overflowing. As soon as the burnt wreckage of the trucks was removed, the highway re-opened and traffic flowed normally. No one seemed particularly disturbed by (realized) threats of Maoist violence or the notion of mob justice run rampant. The culprits rarely seem to be caught and no one seems to care about that. It's hard to juxtaposition this reaction with the peaceful disposition of most Indians; 30% are vegetarian for example. I'm not entirely sure what to make of it, but I think it is a good indication that bloody video games are much less likely than handguns and real violence to make one innured to violence. As an American accustomed to hearing about the degredation of culture and our “new” violent culture, it definitely gives me some perspective and food for thought.

Friday, August 28, 2009


[guest post by Ryan]

India has been a crazy, crazy whirlwind so far, and it will only get moreso. We flew out of Vietnam on the night of the 17th, spent a handful of hours in Bangkok and then flew into Kolkata (Calcutta) early the next morning. After clearing health inspection, immigration and customs, we got our (many) bags and attempted to buy a SIM card for our phone so we could give the taxi driver directions to the person's house where we were dropping off some extra bags. We found out that India has extremely tight security around their SIM cards...without several letters, foreigners can't get one at all. So we figured out the taxi system and talked our way into using someone else's cell phone to call the woman. We went to her house, dropped off our bags and immediately had to head out to the train station. The drive there past through much of the city; slums and nice sections. The mix of vehicles/bodies on the road was very surreal---trucks, buses, cars/taxis, motorcycles, bicycles, bicycle rickshaws, regual rickshaws (yes, actual human-pulled carts), push-carts, water buffalo, cows, donkeys, dogs, pedestrians and several harder-to-describe conveyances all competed for use of the same roads. Chaos reigned.
Once at the train stations, we figured out how to buy tickets onto the train we needed and then where to catch the train---neither of which were easy tasks given the amount of English the others' spoke and the amound of Bengali Cori and I speak. We found the train, but we were too late to buy seat tickets. So Cori and I sat on the edge of the train car with our legs dangling outside the train for most of the three hour journey to Katwa. During the journey, an amazing array of goods were offered for sale: coffee, tea, water, comic books, learn-to-read books, clean seats (via children sweeping your seat and surrounds), snacks of all description, shirts, ties, belts and many other things could all be purchased from vendors climbing on and off the trains. The biggest surprise to me was that no one offered any livestock for sale (or at least not that I noticed). I'll also spare you the details of the fun of using a squat toilet without TP on a jerky train...
Anyway, near the end of the journey, a couple seats opened up and Cori and I took them, as the romance of sitting on the edge of the train was waning with the increasing downpour (it's monsoon season here). Shortly thereafter, a transvestite (apparently working as an uninvited entertainer, which is common in India as it turns out) worked her way up the aisle to my seat and promptly sat in my lap, kissed me and attempted the cuddle me, much to the amusement of the other riders. Thus I learned that lap dances from transvestites were another item on sale in Indian trains. In any case, after a bit longer we finally arrived in Katwa, where we took bicycle rickshaws to our hotel and met with our collaborator there.
The next day, after very little rest for our weary selves, we sampled from 6:30am until 1pm when the skies opened up (monsoon season, remember). The sampling was particularly difficult because the dogs here are actually feral so, for the most part, we had to actually catch them ourselves instead of having help from locals. We did attract a lot of interest from locals, however; at one point we had at least 200 people crowding around watching what we were doing (and, I think, taking bets on whether or not we'd get bitten). We've also been interviewed for the local news and by a local blogger in India. After the rain started, we headed off to our collaborator's school, where he is a teacher. We met most of the teachers in a meeting, received small gifts, made a little speech explaining our research and went on our way.
The next day's sampling was partially recorded on video, some of which is posted on YouTube and linked from this blog. It involved our first sampling at a hospital for mentally challenged individuals— this wor does take us to many interesting places where we meet many interesting people. After sampling that day, we shared a bottle of whiskey with our collaborator and his friends (and sung American and Indian folk songs while doing so), went to be at 10:30pm and awoke at midnight to pack and head to a 1:10am train. We waited at.the tiny train station until 4:15am, when the train finally showed up (at which point we were told it always ran 3 hours late). So we arrived in Kolkata at 7:45am for our 7:15am flight out of Kolkata. After an hour's taxi ride through Kolkata rush hour, we arrived at the airport to wait in a long, crazy line in order to be able to explain our situation and buy tickets on the evening flight to Bhubaneswar. We then spent a couple hours driving into Kolkata, a few hours running errands downtown, a couple hours back to the airport and then took the flight to Bhubaneswar. Sampling there went well, though I'll save that for another blog post. I think Cori is posting about our sampling in Hazaribagh after Bhubaneswar and that takes us to now (tonight in a random hotel in Ranchi about to fly to Chennai tomorrow morning).
I also have one more post on PNG and one on Vietnam on the way, as well as a couple more on India. If I can ever get the time to write...

608 dogs sampled
26 flights
11 time zones
188:15 traveling hours [note this only counts flight-associated travel time]
47,085 travel miles
21 countries (counting all landings and time spent on the ground at all)
17 countries (counting only those countries we left the airport)

Welcome to the 19th century

We've just spent a few days in Hazaribagh, a town in India so completely off the map that visiting there was a bit like stepping back into the Raj. But then, that may just have been the person we were staying with.

Meet Bulu Imam:

Bulu is a true gentleman scholar, in the sense of the gentlemen who used to do all great scholarly research. He has time, and boundless energy, and so has devoted these two things to:
  1. Stopping global warming, especially via coal mining near his home.
  2. Conserving, discovering and studying the prehistoric antiquities of the area near his home
  3. Conserving and studying the current culture, specifically the art, of the area near his home
  4. Dogs, and promoting the Santal dog bread
  5. Sharing his vast knowledge with as many people as he can manage
  6. Writing poetry and prose
  7. Painting
  8. Tiger hunting, or, nowadays that it's no longer leagal or fashionable, telling tiger hunting stories
Not necessarily in that order. Bulu is deeply charming, tells wonderful stories, and knows all about the dogs of his region. After all, they're part of the people's lives here, much in the same way they've always been part of his life, traveling around on hunts and chasing after small game. This is Rosie, his pride and joy, archetype of the Santal breed, save for being just slightly too large:

Bulu's house is large and made of several different outbuildings, including a huge maze-like building build of mud in the traditional style, with all the wonderful built in quirks that a child building a snow fort might add, except more permanent. There's also Bulu's large family's home, a museum of local art, and another outbuilding with a few more rooms where we stayed, all set amdist a gorgeous mossy overgrown tropical garden. Complete with servants (for someone who can barely handle room service, this takes getting used to), meals cooked over an open fire, mosquito nets, huricane lamps, and full libraries, it was a bit like living a very long time ago for a few days. I can't say I agreed with everything, but we got our samples, and enjoyed the company and a bit of rest for a few days. Every bit of India will manage to be different, I think, but this was probably the bit I was expecting least of all.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Travel stats update

24 flights
11 time zones
179:15 traveling hours [note this only counts flight-associated travel time]
46,128 travel miles
21 countries (counting all landings and time spent on the ground at all)
17 countries (counting only those countries we left the airport)

Muzzling dogs

Due to popular demand, and a very helpful collaborator, we've finally got video of us capturing and sampling dogs. Sadly, we only had one video of us muzzling a dog so we didn't have much to choose from. It's a little amateur hour, but it gives a decent idea of the process for muzzling dogs that do not want to be muzzled. This is video from a hospital for mentally disabled people where some of the patients kept dogs, so we had additional concerns in keeping people back which made it a little more difficult, but the patients there were very sweet and helpful generally.

While this guy freaks out a bit, he was not hurt at all, just scared of the leash. We're tapping him on the head because we didn't want him chewing through the lead, as we're down to three leads now, and still have to finish sampling in India. We'll post more videos of actually taking blood and such in a bit.

[Guest post by Ryan, with bits by Cori, heh]

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Kayaking with Jellyfish

[guest post by Ryan]

Our last day in PNG we went to an island where we could snorkel and kayak. Due to the extremely rainy weather, we were the only toursits on the island all morning (compared with about 8 staff members and a handful of wallabies an birds of paradise). We still managed to have great snorkeling, however (gotta love the always-warm northern Coral Sea waters). We saw a enormous diversity of corals and fish along with most of the characers from Finding Nemo. The fish came in every shade of color and some were absolutely gorgeous. In the afternoon we went kayaking. At first it was pretty normal then we saw more and more jellyfish in the water. They were pretty and interesting and so we were enjoying ourselves. Then my leg started tingling. I moved my leg to sit in a better position and there, right next to/under where my leg had been, was a jelly with very long purple tentacles. After paddling in trying hard not to touch it, we asked what kind of jelly it was. Apparently a Portugese Man O War. Somehow, luckily, I avoided being stung. So now I have been tandom kayaking with a Portugese Man O War.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Vietnam: thoughts, landscapes and cute puppies.

Maybe this is because I was a military brat, raised mostly during peacetime, mainly after the cold war was ended, but Vietnam to me has always been at least somewhat about the war Americans fought here. This was the war that I heard songs about, saw movies about, heard people talk about.

I think so many places on earth are like this for Americans--civilizations have existed in the fertile crescent for millennia, but in the emotional lives of Americans, it's still just Iraq, the place we sent American soldiers to die. That's what resonates. Bosnia is just a country that had a bloody civil war a decade ago, Lebanon is where Israel drops bombs, Rwanda is where they commit genocide, and places like Papua New Guinea, that haven't made news since the Japanese invaded in WWII, don't even really register on our radar. The great events that shape nations are what make news, but they don't constitute all or even nearly all of the existence of those nations they occur in. Still, they make up a decent proportion of our conception of places not America.

This of course is not a uniquely American phenomena--the young woman who translated for us in Turkey, while very (unnecessarily) concerned for our safety in Ankara, voiced her concern by saying, "It's like Texas out there!" Meaning, it's not safe. Now, I've only ever been to airports in Texas, and I'm sure that there are places that are not safe, but my general impression of the state is that it's not a particularly dangerous place, even if it's a bit more intimidating to outsiders than other places in America. I'm sure there are a lot of Texans out there that would be very surprised to know that an Albanian woman living in a country that borders Iraq considers Texas so treacherous. But I guess people overseas hear a lot about Texans owning guns, and so assume it can't be safe.

All of which is just to say, you can read a ton about what a place is like, and know it's history backwards and forwards, and you still will have very little actual concept of what the country is like. Knowing its history can help offer post-hoc explanations of why it is what it is, but it can never help you totally predict a place.

So what is Vietnam actually like? Well, in my experience, it's beautiful and challenging and full of stubborn but kind people. I have to say, after slogging around after dogs in the northern hills for a week, it would SUCK BALLS to fight such an ultimately pointless war here. Clearly wars suck all the time anyways (what is it good for, absolutely nothing!), but ultimately pointless wars must suck exponentially more (Good God, yall!). Fighting an ultimately pointless war in a country with this kind of weather, and this incredible feeling of remoteness probably ranks among the top miserable human experiences of all times.

Vietnam is hot and sticky in the summer. I don't mean hot like Qatar, where people at least have the good sense to sleep through the middle of the day. I mean so humid and sticky that you can't tell where the humidity ends and your own sweat begins. The upside (have you noticed that Ryan and I always find the upside?) of this is the incredibly beautiful and lush vegetation. Also, endlessly charming picture-postcard terraced rice paddies being farmed literally by the hands of women and men wearing conical hats. When you see tourist photos of places you think, clearly most of the country can't look like that. But really, much of the northern part of this country actually does look like this:

or this:

or this:

Trust me. I drove through most of it on bad roads in a full 4x4. I had lots of time to figure out what it looks like.

So, it's beautiful here. While there's definitely a somewhat intimidating socialist bureaucracy, it has run pretty smoothly for us thanks to a very capable collaborator. I've gotten quite good at ignoring the response to tense up when I see red epaulets with yellow stars, a reaction I didn't expect in myself given that I'm not exactly a big war movie buff or anything like that. As a westerner, it's quite hard to tell just how much people in such uniforms are actually responsible for getting in the way of everyday goals for people here--it might be nominally socialist, but I don't think I've ever been anywhere quite so eagerly capitalist. People's living rooms double as store fronts and everywhere seems to be selling something.

Still, it's a beautiful and cheap place. I'm sick of Pho for breakfast and miss dairy products, but other than that, Vietnam has been lovely and fascinating.

Also, there are adorable dogs:

Friday, August 14, 2009

Muzzling the dog

Is frequently one of the most dangerous parts. In this instance, I allow Cori et al to muzzle the dog while I take a series of photos: [guest post by Ryan]

Bride price

[guest post by Ryan]

Papua New Guinea has a culture of large gifts cementing trade and other relations. People compete to give away as much as possible in feasts and through direct gifts and, through the sheer size and quality of their gifts, become big men. Also receiving a gift obligates one to try to repay it plus some. One corollary to this is bride pirce, a negotiated price paid by a groom's family to the bride's family. These sums can be enormous---up to 100,000 kina plus other small gifts. One of our guides' families just finished paying off his brother's bride price---72,000 kina or about $25,000. To put this in perspective, correcting for GDP differences between the USA and Papua New Guinea, this would be the equivalent of a guy's family paying his bride's family about $400,000. No ideas, Leigh (besides isn't a grandchild worth more than $400,000?).

PNG Vignette 2

[guest post by Ryan]

Air Niugini Adventures

Wednesday: Make reservation for a round-trip flight to the Highlands. Told we should pay for them and get actual tickets issued Friday at 3.
Friday at 3:05 (at international terminal): “We're sorry the system is down. We cannot book tickets. Come back later.”
Friday at 3:20 (at domesticterminal): “We're sorry the system is down. We cannot book tickets. Come back later.”
Friday at 4:15 (at downtown office): “We're sorry the system is down. We cannot book tickets. Come back later.”
Friday at 6:00: “We're sorry the system is down. We cannot book tickets. Come back later.”
Saturday at 8:30am: “We're sorry the system is down. We cannot book tickets. Come back later.”
Saturday at 11am: “We're sorry the system is down. We cannot book tickets. Come back later.”
Saturday at 3pm: “We're sorry the system is down. We cannot book tickets. Come back later.”
Us: So what can we do? … after trying for a couple hours, we get them to book us stand-by tickets for the next day's flight, but they can only book the outbound flight and it costs 90% of a round-trip ticket.
Sunday at 3pm (trying to buy return ticket): “We're sorry the system is down. We cannot book tickets. Come back later.”
Tuesday at 2pm: “The airport has just been held up. It's closed now. Come back later.”
Tuesday at 5pm: Now business as usual at the airport and can finally buy our return ticket.

Also of interest is Air Niugini's listed reasons for canceling flights for which it won't reimburse travelers for expenses:
(1)Volcanic ash
(2)Tribal war
(4)Civil disturbance

[Welcome to developing world airlines 101.]

PNG Vignette 1

[guest post by Ryan]

Conversation with Taxi Driver in Port Moresby:
Cabbie: Where go?
Us: Comfort Inn

Cabbie: You know it dangerous at night.
Us: Yes, that is why we got a taxi.

Cabbie: Tonight very dangerous.
Us: Oh?
Cabbie: Other taxi just got held up.
Us: Oh that sucks. Is everyone ok?
Cabbie: Yes. It's okay. Happens every night.
Us: That really sucks.
Cabbie: Yes, raskols everywhere.

Cabbie: I'm from Manus....One time I robbed a plane.
Us: O...K...
Cabbie: My boys and I got guns and I pointed gun at pilot's head and told him I would shoot him.
Us: Uh...huh...then what happened?
Cabbie: Army came and we ran into the bush.
Us: Did you get into trouble?
Cabbie: No. Government took our land for airport so we were just getting payment. We rob another plane too.

Cabbie: One time raskols rob my cab. Had to get 7 stitches (points to the back of his head).
Us: Oh, that sucks.
Cabbie: I didn't see them except one of them. I remember his face exact.
Us: OK.
Cabbie: Then I saw him in that park over there. I didn't do nothing though. Called my boys over.
Us: We see...
Cabbie: We chased him. We caught him. Then we cut off his hands.

Cabbie: Now he has no hands.

Cabbie: OK. 13 kina 10.

A few exemplary pictures from the highlands of PNG

These are betel nuts. Everyone in Papua New Guinea chews them (mixed with lime (like from limestone) and mustard incessantly and spits out the blood red juice.
This is what it looked like when they got Ryan and I to try them. I don't think we'll be taking it up any time soon:
A bit more fun: Me taking blood out of the back of the 4 x 4.
And this deeply charming bit: An old woman who adopted Ryan as her son, and in the tradition of mother-in-laws to their daughters, gave me a bilum (the string bag). SO MANY BILUMS (seriously, I have like eight now.)
Here's the women making the bilums. They are constantly busy with them, which may explain why they feel they can give them away, even in a society full of people with so little.

All in all, it was an amazing trip. We would highly recommend PNG to any bold/independent travelers, especially those looking to meet charming local people while visiting beautiful mountains. Spend as much time as you can in the remote areas and you'll have a wonderful time.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Beaten path? What beaten path?

Greetings from Kuala Lumpur! We're currently in the airport here, wishing the free wifi worked just a bit better. Much of this post was written in Goroka, a town in the highlands which literally cannot be reached overland from the capitol city--there are no roads connecting Port Morseby to the highlands. Papua New Guinea is beautiful and still wonderfully wild, and we really enjoyed traveling around there. We're not much for the beaten path.

That, by the way, is how we found ourselves in that tiny church in Goreme--we drove past the main part of the World Heritage Site there, which looked crowded, was closing, and cost a good bit of money. Instead, we chose a random sign marking the tiny Reflection Church, and wound up exploring the cool empty caves Ryan mentioned in his last post.

Now, Paris and Belgium and Amsterdam were all lovely, but god, soooo many tourists. We managed to have some really nice meals in very local places, but following the Rick Steve's Paris guide's advice for delicious dinner locations, even if the book as excellent as the reviews say it is, doesn't totally let you feel as though you're eating like a local... Especially when half the other tourists are also carting around the same little blue and yellow Paris guidebooks.

Now, mind, all the other tourists here are toting around little Lonely Planet Guidebooks to PNG and the Solomons, but it's hard to feel like too much of a tourist when you spend your time in villages where few white people have ever visited--while we were in Port Morseby we took trips out to Gaba Gaba and Porebada, two coastal towns with very helpful people.

From Goroka, we drove to Upper Bena, home of the Bena Bena people, who were amazingly kind, generous, and engaged in what we were doing. The genuine fascination with a scientific project on dogs caught me off guard a bit--I'm always surprised how much of this project transcends different cultures and educational levels and amounts of biological understanding. I'm so pleased that even in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, people understand that by collecting blood from dogs in many places, you can tell something about the similarities and differences between groups of dogs. It's quite cool as a scientist to arrive somewhere and have the people there find your research not just strange or interesting as a curiosity, but actually engaging and even relevant to their lives.

As I was typing this, an Australian couple came and asked us about the internet--they commented on our clear internet addiction and we pleaded our withdrawal from the web in Papua New Guinea. That led to questions about why we'd gone there and a whole bunch of inquiries about what it was like, and so even here, in the airport, with strangers, we're always finding people interested in what we do, asking questions about dogs and travel and science. Awesome.

Anyways: Back to the Papuan Highlands

In Bena Bena we stayed with a local council president, who put us up in a thatched bamboo hut. Amazing how well you can keep warm in a cold highlands night in one of those. The people were shockingly welcoming. It's truly amazing to me when people who clearly have so little are so generous-hearted--one of the older women adopted Ryan as a son and me as a daughter-in-law and different people in the villages we visited insisted on giving us no less than five traditional string bags (bilums), two highland hats, and a bow and arrow for Ryan. I was quite glad that our being there also gave something to the community, but even despite that the generosity and kindness of the people we met was stunning.

Back from Papua New Guinea

[guest post by Ryan]

We just got back out of Papua New Guinea and are now in the Kuala Lumpur airport, back in the land of free and readily available Wi-Fi. We had a great time in PNG and will have several blog posts about it forthcoming. We are headed to Ha Noi now and then the northern reaches of Vietnam where I think there will be more internet than PNG, hopefully. For the first blog post, I'll post some photos of our sampling in the coastal areas of PNG near Port Moresby. Later we'll have photos of our Highlands sampling and some stories---there were some great moments! Without further adieu, some photos with blurbs for context:

Me weighing one of the dogs; always a favorite with the children.

Cori showing off her cassowary-feather bag (bilum) given to her by the village leader's wife. It was the first of eight bilums we got...

Cori appearing as the Virgin Mary in the midst of the villagers (damn dirty lens). In any case, all those people crowded around the truck we were sampling in for the entire time!

The dogs in PNG were very small (some as small as 6 pounds full-grown); the smallest we've sampled yet. Many of them also had cute, enormous bat ears, like this guy here.

A very proud dog owner with his less-than-thrilled muzzled best friend.

Smiles all around :).

Cori drawing blood in the bed of a pick-up truck by the sea.

Cori drawing blood on the verandah of a stilt house over the sea.

The view from said verandah.

This dog does not look particularly comfortable/willing, but she's quite cute.

Such a friendly, friendly dog making friends with Cori!

The guys helping us at the Port Moresby Pound. Not a fun place to work and I'm sure they get paid a pittance, but there are people like this all over the world helping animals in whatever way they can.

This is a very mangy dog at the Port Moresby Pound. The way this pound works is that they get calls from people about very, very sick dogs on the streets. Then they collect the dogs and determine if they are beyond the ability to save. If so, they euthanize them. It sounds barbaric, but really this seems like one of the more humane and targeted ways at controlling the problems associated with unrestricted street dog populations. Still it was sad to see and take blood from several dogs destined to be euthanized in the next couple days.

When the dogs arrive at the Port Moresby Pound, they are washed---with up to a dozen dogs in a cage! They are not well-funded and do the best with what they have, but it was sad to see the conditions there. You certainly can't blame the Pound employees though who seemed to be doing the best they could with the resources they had.
Also, here are our current stats:
20 flights
9 time zones
139:15 traveling hours [note this only counts flight-associated travel time]
39,846 travel miles
18 countries (counting all landings and time spent on the ground at all)
14 countries (counting only those countries we left the airport)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Turkey Photos II

Driving along a random dirt track on the Marmara Coast that we stumbled upon accidentally. Adventure and "off the beaten track" just seems to find us...

The ampitheater at Troy. One of the best preserved buildings there.

Some building foundations at Troy and the view from Troy. As you can see, it occupied the high ground and allowed one to see for miles in all directions. For those of you who've read Homer, it puts his works in more perspective.
Troy is actually 9 successive cities built one after another, each on top of the one before it. This picture allows one to see three layers in one area. It's a bit like paleontology, finding the layers and the expected remains in each. Unfortunately Troy was discovered and initially excavated by a treasure hunter in the 1870's, so much of it was poorly excavated resulting in damage to the site and most of the best removable finds were taken away from Troy and out of Turkey.

We saw no fewer than five enormous versions of the Trojan horse as we neared Troy.

Turkish, while at least using a Latin alphabet with a few additional letters, was not particularly easy to learn on the fly. But the again, neither was Croatian (I'm sorry but Zwj is not a valid start to a word).

So many sunflowers.

OMG there were so many sunflowers.

A mountain pass on the small road to Amasra. Such a pretty, pretty road. They were also demolishing part of the mountain to build a larger road as we came through the pass so it got very smoky.

A cute mosque along a stream that followed the road to Amasra for miles and miles (or kilometers and kilometers I suppose). There were so many cute villages with cute mosques and also, as it was Friday evening, a number of people dressed in traditional garb, some even with drums, walking along the road.

Turkey Photos I

[guest post by Ryan]

So we haven't written much about Turkey especially given that we spent 10 days there and drove around nearly the entire country. It was quite the adventure, even if it was frustrating at times. There was the hustle and bustle of Istanbul, scenic country driving and several seafronts to drive along. There was a day with 16-17 hours of driving in which we would up sampling only three dogs. We laughed, we cried, it was better than Cats. In any case, I think we've made a strategic decision to spare most of the details and instead will share several photos in this post and the next with a few short stories or details regarding some of them. Plus this way we can feel "caught up" and focus on blogging what we're actually doing now instead of staying two weeks behind!

One of the things we noticed driving around Turkey is that, more than anything else, Turks seem to enjoy two things: patriotic displays and funny hats. For example, there were flags EVERYWHERE (some buildings had a half dozen or more; any hill of more than three meters had one on top). Often they'd combine their two loves and have a statue of some patriotic figure wearing a funny hat.

This was a beautiful sunset in Cappadocia, which is a very beautiful area. This is specifically in Goreme, which is a World Heritage Site where all the houses, churches, etc were carved into the rocks.

These were our impromptu hosts in Cappadocia. They showed us around the random 5th century church (see below) and fed us a home-cooked meal with homemade wine. They also entertained us with some dancing. If any of you go to Cappadocia, we highly recommend looking for the Lemon House which is up past most of the touristy sites on the road through town.

See, the homemade wine is in the plastic jug on the table... (it actually was pretty good).

Here are some pictures of the 5th century church called the Church of the Reflection in Goreme. When you arrive there along a seemingly forgotten path past the touristy area, you're greeted by a very friendly guy who gives you a mini-tour, allows you to explore the church alone some with provided flashlights and, after it all, serves you tea. All for about $2 each. The church was built directly into the stone and had a couple decorative rooms at the front.

The church had tiny passageways to interior and 2nd floor rooms with Indian Jones-style rocks that could be slid across the passageways to seal them off.

I only just barely fit through the doorways....

Here's a picture of the old part of the city of Goreme, completely built into the stone.

Another photo from Cappadocia:

Here's a view of beautiful Amasra, Turkey, on the western end of the Black Sea coast. The water in the Black Sea was surprisingly warm.

Western Europe Trip in Pictures

[guest post by Ryan]

Some beautiful stained glass in a European church. The Catholic Church does know how to do imposing and grandeur. No arguments there.

Sacre-Coeur on Paris' Montmartre. Gorgeous. Pretty cool interior as well, though way too touristy for our tastes generally (but better than Notre Dame in that sense).

Ryan (me) at the North Sea, one of 9 bodies of water I've entered thus far on the trip (Persian Gulf, Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, Sea of Marmara, Dardinelle Straits, Aegean Sea, Adriatic Sea, North Sea, Coral Sea)

Saint Deny statue in Paris, featuring Saint Deny carrying his head up Montmartre after he was beheaded partway up it when his executioners became too tired to walk the rest of the way up. Legend has it he then picked up his head and hiked the rest of the way up before collapsing dead at the top.

Cori feeling very special drinking champagne out of a Paris souvenir mug in front of the lighted Eiffel Tower, waiting for the hourly lights show (which actually is just them randomly turning on and off white lights all over the epileptic's nightmare).

Cori with the Mons monkey. Mons is the town in southern Belgium I lived in for some of high school. They have a gorgeous Grand Place (town square) and an inexplicable little brown monkey statue on one of the buildings in it that you rub for good luck. Especially if you're a primatologist.

Chariot in the church in Mons. Every year they put the patron saint's body (in one container above the altar) and head (in another container on the side of the church) in this chariot, pull it to midway between Mons and a nearby city, have it meet up with a chariot containing her husband's body from that neighboring city's church and then pull it back to Mons. They have to pull/push it up a hill at the end to get it back into the church. Legend has it that when they don't succeed on the first try there's bad luck that year (as in 1914 when in September Mons featured the first shots of WWI...on November 11, 1918 Mons also was the scene of the last shots of WWI).

Canals in Brugge, cute...though many of the towns we went to had canals.

Beer from the ancient brewery we stayed at in Michelen, Belgium (though sadly the bar was closed during our visit but the beer vending machines worked and several nearby restaurants served their brew):

Cori's uber-girly Hoegaarden Rosee (which was what she switched up to from other uber-girly framboises):