Lessons from the field
Aug. 15, 2017
As glamorous and thrilling as fieldwork might sound, no field season is complete without a few tales, typically funnier after the fact. Here’s my attempt to impart some humor and share lessons learned after the emotional trauma subsided.
Lesson #1: Try new things but acknowledge your limits
The second day of our trip, I was excited to eat a family-style dinner again (with a rotating “lazy susan” in the middle of the table). The pre-dinner chit chat centered around the food the drivers brought. Now, I am not fluent in Chinese, but I can understand and say most things like “I”, “want”, “no”, “yes”, “eat”, “dog”...
I snapped to attention as I heard that last word with another wordâ€¦”meat”---ç‹—è‚‰(gÇ’u rÃ²u). People noticed my comprehension and started laughing. All I could stammer out was a feeble “shén me?” (What?). As I examined the dish, I swear I saw a paw. Now, I do not care if other cultures eat animals my culture cherishes as pets. We eat cows, chickens, and pigs in the United States (making us a little hypocritical when judging the types of animals other countries eat). But I digress.
However, this still managed to upset my American, dog-loving sensibilities. “It’s ok, you don’t have to eat it, just avoid it like you avoid the chicken feet,” I told myself. However, the lazy susan turned so the heaping bowl of dog meat was in front of me. My rudimentary Chinese failed me and I sputtered nonsense as I was urged to try it. “Ok, maybe later,” said the head of the lab. The bowl swiveled away from me, only to pass by repeatedly.
I began wondering if I should try it. The amount of cred I would get with my Chinese companions would surely outweigh a moment of palate discomfort. I kept challenging myself to casually grab a piece with my chopsticks the next time it came around. But each time, I failed. I worked myself up so much that I couldn’t eat anything. Then dinner ended. I didn’t eat any dog, but I also didn’t eat much of anything.
Lesson #2: Don’t be a research martyr
This next tale occurred after one week of data collection. In foreign countries, consuming unfamiliar foods can come with a risk. Early in the trip, I experienced some stomach issues. I didn’t tell anyone, determined to endure for science. As the days went on, I started feeling less and less well. I chalked it up to exhaustion, as I was getting up at 3 a.m. every day and not resting much. Why? Because you must suffer for science! At least that’s what I told myself.
After a few days, I went to bed early in an attempt to heal myself. I woke up several times throughout the night to puke and finally relented at 2:30 a.m. I called my partner, Long, and told him no fieldwork that day, as I was a little sick. He called my bluff and came to my room. He saw my condition and said I should probably go to the hospital. I told him I was fine (not true), and got him to leave. Five hours later, I could not keep medicine or even water down, and agreed I needed medical attention. After an interesting trip to a Chinese hospital and two IVs, I was fine. However, I ended up losing two days of data collection.
Lesson #3: Accidents happen, and crying in the field is ok sometimes