Anyone who has known me for awhile probably knows that I really really despise carrots. Yes, I know. I am a freak. No one hates carrots. In my whole life I think I’ve met one other person with the palate I have…
Sarah and I decided to skip lunch at the field station and go for jiao zi (boiled dumplings, my favorite food in China) at a shop we walked past a few days before. While we were there, an older pair with their young grandson came in. I say “pair” rather than couple because it was the maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather of the little boy – very cute. He took a quick liking to me after I tickled and taunted his neck a bit. As part of our play, his grandfather started pointing to items on an illustrated poster on the wall of food laid out on a table. I think he was trying to teach the kid and me at the same time since I’d made a joke earlier about how my Chinese language skills are about equivalent to this 18 month old child. There are two carrots on the poster, so I pointed as if to ask “what is this?” They told me the word for carrot, so I pointed to myself and said “Mei yo hong luo bo ” thinking I was essentially just negating the carrot and getting my point across. I saw Sarah’s face go rigid since she knew what I was trying to say. The incredibly sweet and enthusiastic woman who owns the shop waited for a moment and then disappeared into the kitchen with Sarah in close pursuit. Apparently what I actually said was “don’t have carrot” so the woman was excited to introduce me to this new exotic food. Sarah tried to explain, but the woman insisted “No, she said she doesn’t *have* carrots”. So she cut a (thankfully) thin slice of an enormous carrot and brought it over to me to try. As I said, I’ll eat anything that’s not an insect, so I smiled graciously and hid my distaste. But I did learn that lesson. Maybe she really knew what I meant but figured this would be the best way to fix the phrase in my head.
Yesterday on return to the field station from our day of adventures in this small town, we ran into a group of five middle school girls who we have spoken with a couple of times now – including the one very enthusiastic hugger. They were really excited to see us and practice English again, and they asked if they could come to the field station to see where we work. Since there were only 5 of them this time rather than 50 as before, I said “sure, why not”. I love seeing the faces of young kids, girls especially, when they discover how cool science really is. So we took them to the lab and showed them some of the live animals we still had from earlier in the day. They were completely fascinated by the one white jerboa we had in a small cage. They’re usually sandy brown with white bellies, but the folks catching for us brought us one male that was all white with black eyes. The interesting thing is that he said he knew something was different as soon as they shined the light in his eyes, because the regular jerboa’s eyes shine yellow, but this one shined red even though his eyes are black. In the thousand or so jerboas that I’ve seen around here, this is only the second white one I’ve come across, and the last was of the 5-toed species while this was a 3-toed one. I took a little snip of an ear for DNA, and we wanted to set him free along with all of the females that were obviously pregnant with embryos too old for my needs. So we got the girls to each take a trap and help us carry them to the end of the road. The four older girls were brave and excited, but there was one little one probably about 7-8 years old who seemed a little bit terrified of the scurrying going on inside her trap. But she put on a brave face and followed along. We got to the end of the road, and I set each one loose. At first there was a lot of squealing – especially when one would hop up onto a girl’s shoe. But within about 5 minutes they were each doing the gentle one-finger head pet, and one girl even stole my glove away from me so she could try to catch them on her own. I love seeing that transition from fear to fascination.
And all is good with the couple who are collecting for us. It is interesting to see that the challenges we are going through together are solidifying this relationship. What started in the beginning as a big dramatic negotiation every day has morphed into an easy conversation as the trust builds. I think it helps that when we changed the pay structure we incorporated a “bonus” for each animal with embryos of a perfectly young stage for my work. This was to encourage them to keep collecting at locations with good embryos rather than moving on to places that might not be as useful. They bring the animals, we pay an initial fee, then the following day when they return we pay a little for each that was perfect the day before. They were skeptical at first, but after I have made good on my word for a couple of days they seem really happy and a lot warmer. They even brought their 26 year old daughter to meet us today so she could practice her English a little bit. And I have reached great success with the collections! 397 embryos of the 3-toed jerboas. Also, in past years the 5-toed ones haven’t had embryos until well into June, but this year since the 3-toed ones seemed to breed so early, I took a chance and had them bring a few of the 5-toed ones this morning. 3/5 had embryos, so I am going to continue to hire them for a few more days to build up a stock of those ones for comparison. It’s a bonus I wasn’t expecting and rounds off everything really nicely.