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January 14, 2005

Shimbweyeng Guest House, 4:00 PM

Two firsts today.  We did our first transect plots, and I took a freezing cold splash bath out of the tank behind my room. Also shaved. Feel like a new person, and very much at home in my corner room which has now taken on a bit of my personality with all of my stuff strewn around.

The day started with a delicious bowl of noodles from the restaurant down the street. As we were leaving the restaurant, the young woman who so kindly and efficiently waited on us came running out and told Saw Lwin that the American had forgotten something on the table. On inquiring what it was, she held up my used Twining's English Breakfast tea bag.

We then walked down to where the gold mining was taking place (see Hukaung Gold Mines).  What a disaster. The whole area, around 10 or 15 hectares, was completely denuded with huge craters that they were washing and then sifting to separate out the flakes of gold. The holes were maybe 20 meters deep. When they finished working one area, they moved to another where they cut down all of the trees and washed away all of the soil. Myint Maung says that they are supposed to reforest the area before they leave, but in practice that never happens. It should be noted that the whole mining operation is inside the Hukaung Valley Tiger Reserve. The only redeeming feature was the new species of Calamus (Calamus hukaungensis Henderson) that Andrew spotted along the edge of the forest.  Near the gold mining operation was an old airstrip built by the Allies during World War II.  It was still in operation.

After pressing the mornings collections, we walked about half a mile down the road and entered the forest to start our transect. After explaining the concept of what we were trying to do and showing everyone how to use a compass, we started our first plot in a forest loaded with palms. Not only was the forest loaded with palms, it was also loaded with the rusting carcasses of jeeps, oil cans, metal sheets, and other assorted miscellanea of Ledo Road vintage.

I am sitting by the front door of the guesthouse writing this by the last daylight. Rather than eating out tonight, our cooks are preparing dinner here. It will certainly be more convenient, but I will miss the evening stroll to the restaurant and the opportunity to observe village nightlife. The cooks prepared us a wonderful lunch today, each member of the crew with his own Tupperware container (see Picnic at Transect 3) with four compartments: 2/4 with white rice, 1/4 with an omelet type thing, and 1/4 with tofu smothered in painfully hot chili sauce. It was delicious.

Fieldwork in Myanmar is one of the best kept secrets in tropical ecology.  Andrew and I are collecting rattans in sweaters. There are no bugs. No blazing sun, and, to date, no rain (I shouldn't say this...). And, most importantly, forests filled with rattan and wonderful local collaborators.


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