Sunday, July 15, 2012

Shíyàn (Experiment)

There are only 3 more nights until we're back in Taipei! We are at the last traveling stop, at Sitou Experimental Forest, also owned by NTU. I think most of the places we are visiting are NTU, if I didn't mention that before. Before coming here we stayed one night at Phoenix Tea Farm. We went to the Endemic Specimen Research Institute, endemic meaning species of plants or animals that are only found in one area. Taiwan, being an isolated island, has many endemic species, which we hear about ALL the time, and they are very proud of it! I thought the institute was very interesting, as well as the Wildlife Rescue Center that was nearby. I volunteered at a rehabilitation center last summer near Hope, IN, and the animals being housed there were mostly raptors (birds of prey), so I was very familiar with it. We also had a lecture on bats with the most adorable speaker I think we've had yet. He was very passionate and even read us the popular children's book Stellaluna, a story about a bat who thought she was a bird. He even brought in a live bat and let it fly around the room for us. Also that day we visited the Mingsin Academy, a previous school built before Japanese rule, as well as a  famous temple that was near the epicenter of the huge 1999 earthquake. No one ever touched the building, so it was so neat to see how the first floor completely caved in, but the rest of the temple just sunk down one level!

We had a tour of the tea garden the next day and then learned the extremely intricate process of serving tea. No, you dont just turn the hot water on, mix some leaves, and drink it. Everything must be done so precisely and each cup and pitcher warmed before serving and the leaves brewed at the exact temperature and brewing time according to how many cups have been served. There's even a correct way to swallow the tea! Wow, culture is really a strange thing. We also learned about the process of harvesting tea leaves. Did you know that only the top three leaves of each plant are harvested? I can't imagine how many plants there have to be in order to keep up with such a high demand! I still don't completely understand it, but that's what they said. We even got to try a tea that costs over $100 US a bag! We might as well have been drinking money, because it was disgusting.

We visited a specialty bamboo store with the most expensive knick knacks I've ever seen. They let us play with tradtional Chinese jewelry and storage boxes that have a secret puzzle in order to open them. Some were impossible to do, but I did figure out my first one after about half an hour. I have to say, this country makes me feel intelligent...

Now that we are at Sitou, we have had several completely invigorating lectures, one being a two hour presentation on soil this morning, as well as exploring and brainstorming ideas for our group project. We finally presented our proposal this afternoon- in very short terms, we are going to use a method of measuring tree growth, specifically Japanese Cryptomeria growth, to interpret carbon dioxide concentration in the local atmosphere. Not my specialty, but I will be stretching myself with this one I am sure! It shouldn't be too hard as we have alot of help from researchers and professors here at the forest, and today we learned how to take the different measurements, so hopefully everything from here on out goes smoothly! We will do our final presentation once we get back to Taipei.

One thing that has been a little surprising here is the amount of tourists. When I saw that we were coming to an experimental forest on the itinerary, I was expecting that we would be going into the rea,l deep forest in the middle of nowhere on top of some mountaintop sleeping next to monkeys and snakes and what not. Well, that is slightly exaggerated, but this place seems more like a little nature Disney World than an experimental forest. Actaully many of the places we have visited on this trip have been a little bit that way. I definitely have not been disappointed by anything by any means, but I think I just need to remember that I am in Asia, where over half the world's population exists, probably. There seems to be no real line of where the "wild" starts here; there's just too many people. It's a little bit sad, but I also don't want to make any conclusions when I have not seen all of Taiwan, or all of Asia for that matter!

We have two full days here to work on our project, four more nights in Taipei, and then I am finally homeward bound! At this exact time next week, my plane will be taking off for Los Angeles. I can't believe it sometimes, but I still feel like I have been here FOREVER! I'm 7/8th's done, woohoo!

One of the many rows of specimens at the Reseach Institute

Cute little pygmy owl!

Temple earthquake remains

At the Tea farm

Getting ready to show off my tea serving skills

Finally.... it's open!

Bamboo Iphone case... don't ask how much it was

A boulder in Sitou that also fell off the mountainside in the 1999 earthquake. It must have rolled a mile before it landed here!

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