The Coral Kingdom

A passage from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

It was 8 am.  At half-past we were clothed for our walk, and furnished with our breathing apparatus.  The double door was opened, and accompanied by Captain Nemo, who was followed by a dozen men of the crew, we set foot at a depth of ten yards on the firm ground where the Nautilus was stationed.

A slight incline brought us to an undulated stretch of ground at about fifteen fathoms depth.  This ground differed completely from any I saw during my first excursion under the waters of the Pacific Ocean.  Here there was no fine sand, no submarine meadows, no seaweed forests.  I immediately recognised this region of which Captain Nemo was doing the honours.  It was the kingdom of coral.

Coral is an assemblage of animalculae, united on a polypier of a stony and breakable nature.  These polypiers have a unique generator which produces them by gemmation, and they possess an existence of their own at the same time that they participate in the common life.  It is, therefore, a sort of natural socialism.  I knew the result of the last works made on this strange zoophyte, which mineralises at the same time that it arborises, according to the very just observation of naturalists; and nothing could be more interesting to me than to visit one of the petrified forests that Nature has planted at the bottom of the sea.

The Ruhmkorff apparatus was set going, and we followed a coral bank in process of formation, which, helped by time, would one day close in that portion of the Indian Ocean.  The route was bordered by inextricable bushes formed by the entanglement of shrubs that the little white-starred flowers covered.  Sometimes, contrary to the land plants, these arborisations, rooted to the rocks, grew from top to bottom.

The light produced a thousand charming effects, playing amidst the branches that were so vividly coloured.  It seemed to me as if the membraneous and cylindrical tubes trembled under the undulation of the waves.  I was tempted to gather their fresh petals, ornamented with delicate tentacles, some freshly opened, others scarcely out, whilst light and rapid-swimming fish touched them slightly in passing like a flock of birds.  But when my hand approached those living flowers, these animated, sensitive plants, the whole colony was put on the alert.  The white petals re-entered their red cases, the flowers vanished from my gaze, and the bushes changed into blocks of stony knobs.

But soon the bushed contracted, and the arborisations increased.  Real petrified thickets and long triforiums of fantastic architecture opened before our steps.  Captain Nemo entered a dark gallery.  The light of our serpentines sometimes produced magical effects by following the rough outlines of the natural arches and pendants, like bushes, which it pricked with points of fire.  Amongst the coralline shrubs I noticed other polypiers no less curious, melites and irises with articulated ramifications, also reefs of coral, some green, some red, like seaweed encrusted in their calcareous salts, which naturalists, after long discussion, have definitely classified in the vegetable kingdom.  But, according to the remark of a thinker, ‘This is perhaps the real point where life obscurely rises from its stony sleep, without altogether leaving its rude starting-point.’

At last, after two hours’ walking, we reached a depth of about 150 fathoms – that is to say, the extreme limit that coral begins to form itself.  But there it was no longer the isolated shrub nor the modest thicket of low brushwood.  It was the immense forest, the great mineral vegetations, the enormous petrified trees, united by garlands of elegant plumarias, sea-bindweed, all decked off with colours and shades.  We passed freely under their high branches lost in the depths of the water above, whilst, at our feet the tubipores, meandrines, stars, fungi, and caryophyllidae formed a carpet of flowers strewed with dazzling gems.

It was an indescribable spectacle!  Ah, why could we not communicate our sensations? Why were we imprisoned under these masks of metal and glass?  Why were words between us forbidden?  Why did we not at least live the life of the fish that people the liquid element, or rather that of the amphibians, who, during long hours, can traverse as they like the double domain of land and water?

Sir Jules Verne


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Year One

Wow, how time flies!  Today, it’s already been a year since I left Canada with the crazy idea that I could live and find work in China and to date I’m pretty pleasantly surprised with the outcome so far.  Before I left I thought I knew what I was getting into but it’s been quite a lot more difficult adapting to the new lifestyle than I initially had thought.  Take food for example, since I grew up in a Chinese family I wasn’t prepared for any culture shock in that department.  I remember thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could live without western food but soon after I landed I realized all the Chinese food I grew up loving was really just Hong Kong-ese, and it hardly even exists in the mainland.  They have a few gimmick restaurants in town but I haven’t really found any one restaurant with the same quality as one would find in Hong Kong… or Mom’s kitchen.  Just last week, I found myself roaming around Shanghai for hours looking for a hotdog stand to no avail.  Though I’m not as well-travelled as I would like to be at the moment I’m amazed with the diversity here even just between provinces, pretty much everywhere I go I find something unique to that region.  I noticed, however, that in general there are a few rules that seem to apply everywhere in China, and the following is a list of subtle or not so subtle differences that I have personally experienced and how I have adapted to them in this country:

1.   Sunday Stroll

This wasn’t the biggest slap in the face.  On the weekend I like to spend my mornings going for a walk on the way to grab some grub.  What is a peaceful nature walk in Canada has become an endless venture through a maze of people.  I tune out the noise by putting on my headphones and hang on to me wallet.

2.   Single File

When it’s time for lunch, don’t start lining up like a chump.  After a week of “Um, excuse me sir, uh excuse me ma’am, um hey, excuse me? But I was fir… OW, exc…” I quickly learned to blend in with the rest of the apes.  There’s room for creativity, but I recommend a sword fight to the death.

3.   Exotic Dinner

Even a whopper costs an arm and a leg compared to Chinese food.  If you’re craving an All-American meal there’s no such thing as cheap average-joe prices, only I’m-a-filthy-rich-expat-living-in-China prices.  As a result, I rarely go for western when I eat out unless I really REALLY need it… and I do get a craving every now and then I’m afraid.

4.   Mealtime Convo

Okay, alright.  This one applies to the Hong Kong-ese as well.  What to say but monkey see monkey do?  Want a quiet supper?  Wait ‘til payday.

5.   Hot or Not

In the west we enjoy a nice turkey sandwich here and there all throughout the year.  Unless it’s a blazing hot summer day in China, it’s usually hot or not.  If you know me then you’ve seen me in the summer: cloudy with a chance of showers.  Rollin’ out the head band baby.

6.   Soft Drinks

Speaking of summer, who in their right mind wouldn’t want an ice cold glass of water when it’s 30 degrees outside?  It appears the Chinese prefer their drinks hot, regardless of the temperature outside.  They even drink warm beer, because Confucius say cold drink bad for body.  I’ll stick to my Coca-Cola.

7.   Everyone’s a chimney

‘Cause they’re always smoking.  Many people aren’t aware, but it’s actually illegal to smoke indoors in Shanghai.  The unsuccessful bylaw was passed last year but I don’t think it’s catching on.  After all, it is a part of the culture:  Eat drink and smoke.  Where I come from people usually smoke after a meal, but here I seen ‘em puff during.  I also find it amusing that the sign used to symbolize “No Smoking” in the west is sometimes used to symbolize 灭烟处, meaning “Butt Disposal” in China.  Enjoy it or suck it up.

8.   The Scouting Report

When the sun is shinin’ ladies bust out the umbrellas and the fellas got a thing for chicken legs with pasty, ghost-like skin.  No competition from me on that one.  I’ll pass, now where the beach at?

9.   Rush Hour

Remember how Mom taught you to look both ways before crossing the street?  Clearly, she ain’t Chinese.  ALWAYS look ALL ways, 360 degrees, red OR green.  The fast guy has the right of way, a four lane road fits six and the crosswalk means dodge.  Play Frogger with care.

10.          Baijiu

The locals drink baijiu, this rice wine that’s like 65% and tastes like rubbing alcohol mixed with formaldehyde.  At 3 kuai a bottle it gets you smashed for a low price, so it might appeal to the cheap drunks out there.  Otherwise stay away.

11.          Crouching Tiger, Hide the Dragon

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  I can’t do it.  Thankfully I haven’t encountered many in Shanghai, but sometimes they are inevitable.  You can see how easy it is for everyone everywhere.  They don’t sit on the bench in the park, they squat on it.  They squat while texting, they squat while smoking.  How do they do it?  The answer is simple and there’s only one logical explanation…….


Practice makes perfect I guess.


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Le Tour de Qinghai

October 2010

The Long Silk Road

I wake up in the morning with a grin on my face knowing that I finally get a break from Chinese school and the stress of the job hunt.  It’s the beginning of my vacation for China’s national holiday, when I plan to travel to Qinghai, a province adjacent to Tibet, for a bicycle tour of the largest and most beautiful lake in China.  Flipping through photos on the internet, I smile with the thought that I’m in for a real treat.  The final destination of over twenty different rivers and streams, Qinghai Hu, a saltwater lake, is a protected zone and sanctuary for numerous species of migrating birds, including some endangered ones. 

Within a few days I’ll be embarking on an adventure to test my physical limits and endurance at an altitude of over 3000 metres on a mountain bike riding about 400km around a lake that is a portion of the Tour of Qinghai Lake, a professional men’s cycling tour and one of Asia’s most elite races.  Going at full speed the round trip should only take 3-4 days for an amateur, but the game plan is to take my time, take some badass photos, have lots of fun and not kill myself… for 5 days.  All packed and ready to go, I set off in anticipation of a 24-hour train ride to Xining (pronounced shee-neeng), the province’s capital city.

I heard bad things about these trains.  They’re packed, they’re uncomfortable, they’re loud, and they’re dirty.  I walk into the train expecting the worst, embracing it as one of the Chinese cultural experiences that I so longed for.  Arriving at my assigned bunker on the train, I pass the time like I always do by tuning out the rest of the world with some good ol trance music and watch the scenery gradually change.  I spent the first few hours staring at a few rundown looking small towns, the next few hours at vast cornfields, and by the next day I found myself glancing outside at an earthy terrain I’ve never seen anything quite like before.  I was surrounded by mountains that resembled mines, terraced much like those rice farms I’ve seen pictures of from the south, only the steps were a lot bigger and it appeared a little too arid for anything to grow.  Watching an old man dump a cartful of trash into a creek, I chose to ignore also the mountains of trash that had built up on the side of the road, the result of reckless ignorance and terrible waste management.

At last I find myself in destination Xining, historically known as a commercial trading hub on one of the Silk Roads en route to Tibet.  It was surprisingly cold, I think to myself as I get off the train, opening my bag to put on a light jacket.  There isn’t much scenery to see here, but you can enjoy a lamb kebab or two with some yogurt made from yak’s milk and if you’re open-minded you may come to appreciate the myriad ethnic minorities that have settled here or are also visiting.  The people here include a mix of mostly Chinese Hui Muslims, who are descendants of Arab and Persian traders who married into Chinese families, and Tibetans as well as a few Kazakhs and Mongols.  Xining is where thousands of Islamic people rendezvous at the Great Mosque, one of the largest religious gatherings in China.  Built during the Ming Dynasty in the 14th Century, the Great Mosque is also iconic in Chinese design for the architectural enthusiast.

Unfortunately, me being me I was too stubborn to do my research ahead of time and missed out on this opportunity, besides I’m not sure how I would’ve felt being one of the few raging tourists amidst a sea of genuinely devoted worshippers. Instead, I ended up doing what I do in every new Chinese city I visit: wander around aimlessly.  After a brief first impression though, I soon came to a conclusion that I hated this city.  The air quality here was so abysmal my throat hurt; I couldn’t take a single breath of air without feeling like I was doing something dangerously hazardous to my health.  I couldn’t wait to get out of this city, but I had to stay a night because I had to make sure I bought return tickets early the next morning, which was not a pleasant experience.  Buying train tickets for October holiday in China is a bit chaotic like the coat check at the end of a long club night; swarms of people who don’t always wait their turn in line push and shove when they approach the front.  Understandably so, the people who work behind the counter treat you with utter disrespect and rudeness.  I woke up at 7am, rushed to the station, managed to buy my tickets among the madness and went back to the hostel to catch up on some extra shuteye before noon.

The Atomic Lab

Later that afternoon I was on board a bus to Xihai, the town north of Xining where I would rent my bike.  I found out when I got there that it used to be the testing ground during the construction of the Chinese atomic bomb.  I tried not to think of the possibility that there could still be radiation present today.  There was something rather odd about this town.  Unlike all other places I’ve been in China, Xihai was unusually clean and very quiet… too quiet.  On the surface it appears to be a peaceful town, but somehow it gives me the feeling that something is going on there.  Some of the locals seem to just stop what they’re doing and glare at you, saying nothing, and it gave me the creeps like I was living in the beginning of a horror film.  The bike rental / hostel I stayed at used to be a research facility, and there I was chatting with the owner asking for directions to the bomb museum.  Noticing my Hong Kong-ese accent, he told me not to speak.  Apparently the locals here have issues with non-Chinese visitors, and I was trampling on the borderline.

“Folks will be a little sensitive about you since Hong Kong is not strictly a part of the mainland.”

“Uhh, what if I’m actually Canadian?”

“Do not speak!”, he repeated again, and ended up telling me that I’m from Guangdong, China’s Cantonese speaking province.  Shrugging, I made my way to the museum. 

Le Tour de Qinghai

The Voyage Begins

Initially I had planned to camp out at the end of each day, but the owner of the bike rental highly recommended against it.  He said it was below zero after dark, also the locals may not appreciate random people setting up camp on their land.  I can honestly say I’m really glad I didn’t go all cocky-Canadian because indeed, it was freezing out at night.  I mean it’s one thing to be out playing ice hockey at minus 5, another to sleep outside in a tent.  I left a bunch of stuff at the hostel and found that my pack was still pretty darn heavy.  So again, the moral of the story is do your research people!  It rained a bit on the morning of my departure, so my trip was delayed for a couple of hours but when I finally set my foot down on that pedal and started riding, the feeling was exhilarating…

Alas, the voyage begins!

The first 5 kilometres was a gruelling task.  I was pedaling against the wind, and the road was deceptively progressing uphill in a subtle slope invisible to the naked eye, and the entire time I thought I was just not accustomed to the weight of the bag hence affecting my balance, not to mention I was at an altitude of 3200m above sea level for the first time in my life.  It wasn’t until I reached flat ground for real that I realized I had been going uphill, and I took my first water break as I looked back and breathed a massive sigh of relief since I knew I still had a good 80k to go before reaching the first checkpoint.

The first day was a pretty neat experience.  It was especially cool how the land seemed to be divided into four completely different zones.  On my left were mountains with snowy caps and grassland then on my right were huge sand dunes that resembled a desert, and of course Qinghai Hu.  When the lake came into sight, I was impressed by its blueness.  I was a bit worried it might not look as nice in real life as it did in photos on the internet, but Qinghai really lived up to the hype.  I stopped to take a few photos, had a snack and was on my way again.  A bit further down the road I came across my first major obstacle.  To my surprise it wasn’t a steep hill, rather it was a giant flock of maybe a few hundred sheep completely obstructing the highway, treading slowly in the same direction I was going.  I caught up to them and took out my camera, getting ready to charge through the herd like a rabid wolf who hasn’t eaten in weeks. 

Ru Xiang Sui Su

The next day was a lot less scenic but no less awesome.  The beginning part was a bit of a tough ride.  Like the day before the wind was relentless as I tried to pedal my way through another one of those slight uphill runs again, only this time much stronger and it felt like I was being pushed backwards.  I needed several breaks and was a little discouraged when I figured it took me two hours to travel the same number of kilometres.  When I finally reached the top of the hill, I was exhausted but thrilled when I looked ahead and saw that I was about to hit the first downhill run of the circuit… and it was huge!  Never before have I traveled at such speeds on a mountain bike, I was like a puppy sticking his head out the window of a car on the highway for the first time.

From a distance I could see people on the side of the road, one on their knees and one with their hands up in the air.  Later I discovered they were pilgrims walking towards Tibet.  The amount of devotion that people can exhibit towards their desires never ceases to amaze me.  Travelling on foot to Lhasa from Qinghai Lake, or perhaps from even further, would likely take years in itself.  Stopping to pray every few feet would no doubt take an entire lifetime and I imagine it is the greatest honour and ultimate satisfaction for their religion.  After flying down the hill I passed by some coloured flags and so I stopped again to take a few pictures.  If you look closely, you can see tiny scripts printed onto each flag.  They are written not in Chinese but in what appears to be Arabic to me, and are hung up where winds are most prevalent in hopes that their prayers will be blown towards the gods in the sky.  At the end of the day I felt tired yet satisfied and I had also learned a few things about Tibetan culture.  I hopped off the bike and started walking out the burn in my quads.  I’ve reached the next town by dusk and devoured an oversized supper before going to look for a crash pad.

I do not recommend Chinese hostels.  Sure, they’re dirt cheap.  At best I managed to find a place to stay for 15RMB a night, that’s roughly 2 bucks Canadian… but trust me, you get what you pay for.  I was living in a farm-like home most of the time and it was freezing, it was dark, and like the train, downright dirty.  Funny story though.  Once I had to unload in the middle of the night, so I went out looking for the outhouse with toilet paper in hand.  Ignoring that it seemed abnormally small, I found the usual hole-in-the-ground type deal and as I was doing the crouching tiger, I heard a slight rustling noise that broke the silence in the darkness.  Startled, I turn on my flashlight to find a plump family of chickens no more than 2 feet away, huddled hidden in the corner.  Chuckling to myself, I realized I had just dropped in an outhouse that doubles as a chicken coop.  If I have to name one and only one thing I hate about this country, it’s those damn squatting-type “toilets”, the absolute biggest culture shock for me.  They even have them in hotels in Beijing!  What’s more, they’ve all got this little knee high slot with an ashtray that always seems to be full.  I don’t understand why men here enjoy smoking in the john, but what the heck.  In Chinese school, I learnt a saying called ru xiang sui su, meaning when in Rome China… do as the RoChinamans do.

Bird Island

P.S. – No birds.  I wish I hadn’t gone in October.  Bird Island is a breeding bird haven populated by swarms of swans, cormorants, bar-headed geese, and rarer species such as black-necked cranes, and is a major stopover for many migratory birds who gather to rest, feed, and mate before heading south towards warmer climate.  I would also have loved to see the array of golden yellow rape, which are mustard flowers famous for their omnipresence during the summer.  Third day was pretty uneventful, mostly riding along a straight highway.  On the morning of the fourth day I got up nice and early to beat the crowd, and when I arrived at Bird Island there wasn’t a soul.  I was able to bring my bike up the stairs and do laps around the boardwalk, from which the view was breathtaking.   Soon after I took the last photo, though, I packed my things and got ready for the return trip.  Finally, fatigue was beginning to take its toll on my body.  I had gotten my fair share of thrills and experiences and just wanted to take a hot shower and crawl into a warm bed.

Homeward Bound

It’s the end of the week and I’m back in the same hostel in Xining trying to pass the time doing a little light reading.  I was indulging into a collection of short stories by Jack London I found on the bookshelf, one of the fewer options in English, when I overheard the neighbours conversing about a forest park nearby.  Since I had some extra time on my hands before my train back I asked them about it and next thing I knew I was in a black taxi on my way there for some hiking.  A black taxi is basically an unlicensed cab driver willing to take you places for a negotiable price.  Yeah, I know it sounds pretty shady but it was the only way of getting there, and it wasn’t the smoothest ride.  The route the driver took was actually another portion of the professional cycling tour and it reminded me of the hairpins you’d see in Initial D.  The forest park was a nice walk with a view of the mountains and a waterfall, a good way to kill the day.  It kind of reminded me of the Rocky Mountains, which made me feel rather homesick.  Before long I was back in another black cab, which got me into thinking maybe I could do the same as a backup job.  Drive all day and hustle tourist money, that doesn’t sound so bad does it?  And thus I ended the trip with this thought, back to Xining, back on the train, back to Beijing, back to the uncertainty of the job hunt, back to wondering where I’ll be, what I’ll be doing in a month, three months, half a year from now…

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Green Milk?

One of the first things I noticed after moving to China was the milk.  When I drank it the first time, I thought it had a different, somewhat sweetened flavor and a very odd texture kinda like a Slimfast shake.  Where I come from, milk is stored and is refrigerated in the supermarkets for like 2 or 3 weeks max before someone’s gotta drink it.  In China, milk is stored at room temperature, likely for a long period of time, so at first I thought it wasn’t pasteurized.  Turns out, the milk that I’m used to drinking back home is treated by what’s called high temperature short time (HTST) pasteurization and Chinese milk is treated by a process called ultra heat treatment (UHT), or ultra pasteurization.

So, apparently UHT is another type of pasteurization that involves boiling at what they call ultra high temperatures for a fraction of a second, as opposed to exposure to lower temperatures for about 15-30 seconds at a time, increasing the shelf-life of milk from weeks to months.  Later I discovered that HTST milk, albeit less readily available, is also available in Chinese supermarkets, but it still don’t taste right to me (must be the cow).  UHT pasteurization is largely the preferred method of milk treatment obviously for economic reasons; however, UHT milk isn’t as rich in nutrients and loses some of its natural flavoring (which may explain the sweetening I noticed), further highlighting the unbalanced bias for development by leaders of this country not only over environmental concerns but over human health as well. 

What’s worse, you may have heard by now that the dairy industry in China was tangled in 2008, and again last year in a scandal involving melamine contamination.  Melamine is a chemical used to make various plastics and other industrial products and was added to milk because of its protein-like qualities in order to deceive health inspectors, but if consumed can cause potentially lethal health concerns involving kidney problems.  How some people can commit such devious crimes has always eluded me… babies depend on milk for sustenance and believe me there’s a LOT of frickin’ babies in China.  Seriously, I mean if you wanna be a bad guy go and rob a bank or something.  You don’t jeopardize the health of millions of peers and end lives before they even have a chance to begin.

A number of companies had their reputations tarnished by the scandal but only one has gone the extra mile to re-polish it.  Mengniu, a giant in China’s dairy industry, is collaborating with WWF to reduce carbon emissions through their Climate Savers programme, which is an international organization that promotes sustainable business partnerships with world-class producers.  Battling through economic obstacles towards GHG reductions and a low-carbon economy by facilitating companies to achieve ambitious emission reduction objectives in a profitable manner, a number of big name companies such as IBM, Sony, Nokia, National Geographic, TetraPak, Coca-cola and recently Volvo, have already established this relationship with the World Wide Fund for Nature.  As a world renowned NGO, the image created by a partnership with WWF is a necessary step for Mengniu to regain positive status, and is now leading the way as the first company to join the Climate Savers in China.


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Pangolins and TCM

If you’ve ever rambled through the  rainforests of the Asian tropics, then you may have inadvertently meandered into the habitat of what appears to be a living, breathing, gargantuan pinecone called a pangolin.  Otherwise known as the scaly anteater, this creature is another one of those absurdly bizarre animals that often peak my interest.  Like the nickname suggests, its diet primarily consists of ants and termites they capture using a sticky, glue-like saliva, hence the toothless countenance and grossly elongated tongue.  Sheltered throughout its body by a massive coat of armour-like scales, its description sounds like that of a reptile but in fact these scales are keratinized, meaning they’re actually made of the same material as human fingernails; this anomalous characteristic makes them one of the most unique mammals in the world.

Pangolins are good at protecting themselves and have a variety of very efficient defensive mechanisms.  First, similar to skunks they are able to release a pungent stench by contracting their anal glands, also like an armadillo they have the behavioural instinct to roll up as a ball when provoked.  In this position, not only are they extremely difficult to pry apart, but pangolin scales are like razor edges fully capable of severing your finger or causing immense damage to the paws of large carnivores, causing even leopards to think twice before attempting to hunt one.  Unfortunately, there is one type of predator who has a particular taste for pangolin meat.


Now, I’m not here to point fingers or anything of the sort, but I’m inclined to inform you there are certain people from a certain country you may or may not have heard me mention before that starts with a C and ends with an a and is not Canada that has been blindly overharvesting pangolins for their meat.  As a result, pangolin populations have declined sharply in the past decade and in 2008 several species became endangered.  TRAFFIC, a joint organization between IUCN and WWF to ensure wildlife trading doesn’t threaten nature conservation, reveals that pangolin traders are the most common criminals convicted during animal trafficking stings in all of Asia. Interestingly, these pangolins were not all being hunted for their meat, but rather for another purpose…TCM, or Traditional C**nese Medicine (again, nothing of the sort).

In this undisclosed country Pangolin scales are known as Chuan Shan Jia, and are used to disperse blood stasis, promote lactation, dispel pus and reduce swelling.  They’re removed in a brutal process immersing the poor animals in scalding hot water, boiling them until the skin is soft enough to simply peel off the scales, which I would imagine feels a lot like getting your fingernails and toenails ripped off, except that you have them all over your body.

Because of their scarcity and nocturnal lifestyle, the scientific data currently available will not suffice and further research combined with the expertise of local hunters may be necessary to better understand their current distribution before implementing conservation measures.  Despite increased legal protection since their classification as an endangered species, proper enforcement of these laws and regulations continues to be a problem in developing countries like Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Vietnam and China.

Oh…………. woops.


Newton, P., N. Van Thai, S. Roberton, and D. Bell.  2008.  Pangolins in peril: using local hunters’ knowledge to conserve elusive species in Vietnam.  Endangered Species Research 6: 41-53.

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 明天是七夕,我出去逛逛找花店和顺便吃顿饭。我在我的公寓楼下左转向西走。在路上有一家人,父母和儿子,问我一个问题。本来我以为他们迷路,很愿意帮忙跟他们聊天儿一下。我听清楚一点发现他们不是迷路,而在乞求我借钱。爸爸说: “我们来北京找朋友找不到,你借我10块钱行吗?我们就快饿死了,谢谢你,先生。我和我老婆不吃饭无所谓,但我儿子,你看,他肚子痛了。你真的借我10块钱都不行吗?”平时我一点都 不听乞丐说的话,所以我过一会儿说:“不行啊,对不起。真的”,然后继续走路。

我来北京重新开始新的生活,我实在也需要很细心来省钱。上个月我去了我的家附近一个餐厅,在尝尝他们的炒饭。不错,10块 钱能买到一顿又大碟又好吃的炒饭。今天晚上我本来打算去了找花店以后就去那个餐厅吃饭。我不知道为什么,但我一到餐厅门口动不了,突然有一个很内疚的感觉。我已经在门口站了五分钟了,我到底在想什么呢?后来,我终于决定不吃了。我想点的炒饭这么大碟,三个人吃够了。我钱包里的10块钱能养活一个家庭的三个人,再说我吃午饭吃了很多不是特别饿,我真的是这么自私的人吗?我对我自己感觉的很反感,一点胃口都没有了。所以,我决定今天晚上为了那家庭也不吃饭。爸爸,妈妈,小孩儿……我祝你好运。

真 倒霉,原来这个世界上有连十块钱都没有的穷人。你们做父母,怎么会这样的?就算我今天借给你点钱,那明天,后天,下个星期呢?对不起,但是中国有那么多人,假如每个人乞求我借钱我都借,那我自己会变穷了。如果是你的话,你会怎么办?我回家的时候发现我公寓楼下右边有花店。今天我好幸运有这个经验,有时候……



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South China Blues

Thus my journey begins.

It’s May 2010 in Hong Kong and I take my first step onto Chinese soil to find it feels oddly… different, from a year ago.  This is no five week vacation… this time I am here for good or at least until I’m satisfied with my accomplishments.  I’m not here to shop, nor am I here to party… too much.  This time, I am here in hopes of finding an opportunity to finally kickstart my long awaited environmental career.

My first impression: gotta love this city.  I fell in love with the architecture, the urban lifestyle, the professionalism, the efficiency… the ocean.  I don’t get a lot of chances to see the ocean where I’m from so curiously I spend my off days at the pier, staring out at the horizon.  The world is such a beautiful place.  I love the bustling nitelife and how a beer costs me a great Canadian buck a 40. I love the late night dai pai dongs and how I can wake up at 3am, walk downstairs for a bite and be back in bed in a half.  For all my fairer colored friends  (oh, and also my darkness brothers), a dai pai dong is an old school Hong Kong style food joint.

There’s no such thing as perfection in this world, however; I seem to dislike the attitude of some of the locals here in this city.  My flight arrived at 6am on a scorching Friday morning and I am in a rush to catch the 7am bus.  I approach a ticket stand and Buddy at the counter tells me I’m at the wrong place.  So I ask, “Then, where do I go to purchase a ticket for bus A41P?” He points at a counter down the hall.

“Alright, cool. No problem.”

So I go there and ask for the ticket.  Dude tells me I’m at the wrong place.  So I ask, “Then, where do I go to purchase a ticket for bus A41P?” He points at a counter down the hall.  I’m like wait a minute, isn’t that the one I just came from?  Confused, I walk around the airport for a bit to find a sign that explained everything: the ticket stands weren’t open for another 15 minutes; Buddy and Dude were being total douchebags.

Whatever. That’s nothing, really.  What bothers me a lot more is the immediate response I get from a lot of people when I tell them I am on my way to Beijing to look for a career in the environmental industry.  Apparently to them, there is no such business.  People here don’t care about such a thing.  I should pursue a career where I can make some real money… otherwise I should go home.  But I’ve done my research.  You didn’t.  I did.  I have a real idea of what’s out there and I know what I’m getting myself into, as long and arduous a road as it may be.

It’s unfortunate it appears that people here think that the world revolves around a giant wad of cash.  Their mindset is so financially fixated that they seem to forget the single-most important rule in life:

Rule #1: Enjoy the simple things.

I find myself increasingly disgusted by the lack of public concern for environmental management.  To say that I am angrily annoyed with people would be an outrageous understatement, but I like to retain a sense of professionalism in a scientific blog.  I see glimpses of hope here n’ there and I send my props to the government for making an effort, but have they really done enough to initiate change?

Sure, the city has tried to reduce plastic waste by charging people for grocery bags.  They cost 50 cents each, so let’s see… 0.50 HKD divided by 7.417 equals 0.0674 CAD.  Doesn’t really sound like it’ll dissuade a lot of people to me.  I’m not about to conduct a feasibility study in Hong Kong, but perhaps the encouragement of reusing more durable bags or bins like we do in Canada is a smarter alternative than a miniscule financial deterrent.

I notice a few recycling bins scattered throughout the city, too.  They come in trios: one for paper, one for aluminum, and one for plastic.  But what about glass?  I have to point out, I’ve never actually peeked inside one of these bins either and it’s difficult to say whether or not people are actually using them for its intended purpose or if it’s just another waste bin for them to stick their trash.  Trash cans and their associated ashtrays can be found on every other street, but these recycling bins are far and few in between.

There is a hefty fixed penalty of $1500HKD for littering which is a lot more than a slap on the wrist, but if environmental legislation and the people of Hong Kong are anything like a parent and child, well… if you punish a kid by taking away their favourite toy, they’re not going to be very happy and I think it could create a lot of unnecessary tension between the government and the public.

With that said, I think things are slowly but surely on the right track.  Instead of employing destructive preventative measures like fines, Hong Kong has initiated other, more constructive ways to prevent pollution.  There are educational institutes in the city such as the Lung Fu Shan Environmental Education Centre at the peak of Hong Kong University.  I do have to admit, though, this centre was borderline lame.  Maybe I didn’t visit the centre thoroughly because of time constraints but my first impression was, well, I guess I wasn’t very impressed at all.  And I chuckled a bit as I left at the thought of the actual number of people willing to make the 15 minute hike to the top of a steep grade in the heat to visit this tiny place.

Furthermore, I’m glad to see some investment in the eco-tourism industry with the establishment of the Hong Kong Wetland Park.  I haven’t yet been there but it’s nice to see the city attempting to increase the number of nature lovers out there.

If only my Chinese were as good as my English then maybe I could reach out my ideas to the public more effectively, but I guess that’s another really good reason why I am here right now.  C’mon people, I know that I am not alone here.  What can one man, an over-ambitious Chinese Canadian 25 year old going through that dreaded quarterlife crisis searching for the right career opportunity, possibly do to change the mindset of over a billion people in a developing country struggling to coincide economic growth with sustainability?

Yes,  I understand that I am ultimately Canadian inside but I come from a country where multicultural diversity is the norm and lost as I am in this giant of a world I do indeed feel a sense of belonging to the city of Hong Kong, my birthplace, and I do have a right to care.  I absolutely refuse to believe that there’s nobody out there who shares the same views as me.  There has GOT to be an organization out there somewhere.  And I’m not talking people who work for an environmental company as just another job.  I’m talking about a small group of like-minded individuals who genuinely have the desire to try and make a difference in the world, and it’s about time I put my networking skills to the test.

I would like to take a moment to be blunt, just to make sure I get my point across:


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