Friday, May 31, 2013

rainy season

Well it looks like the rainy season is really starting to get underway. We were lucky enough to have not one, but two power outages since I last posted!

On Wednesday we did the Python experiment with W (finally!). It was especially fun to watch W today because the infant was starting to become independent. He was off mom for a good amount of their stationary time. Swinging from branches, scrambling around, playing with Wotan (dad). At one point, when Sari (mom) left the tree Wotan was in and took the infant with her, he hurried back as soon as she stopped to continue playing with his dad. That sure was cute. Gibbons are pretty good fathers, males tend to play with the juveniles more than the females, as far as I can tell. Maybe the females figure if they have to lug around the baby all day, then dad should have to play with it. We were just finishing up when it started to look like a storm was rolling in. It started off sunny, then it was a bit windy, then came thunder (still sunny), then finally the clouds rolled in. It started sprinkling just as we got back to the car and we showered and did laundry as fast as we could expecting a big storm. Well that didn't happen. It never happens when you're expecting it.

Thursday was another day off since Julie had to go report that she was still in the country (something you ahve to do every 90 days) to the immigration office in Bangkok. I woke up and Skyped my parents, and sadly heard of the Wing's loss to Chicago. No more playoff hockey for my poor old dad. After that I had some coffee, instant of course. The coffee gave me an incredible burst of energy and put me in an excellent mood. I guess because I haven't had any in a few weeks? So I got busy with my laundry and cleaning my room. I started prepping for lunch; cutting up asparagus, rinsing my rice, etc., and literally as soon as the rice was in the rice cooker and I had pressed cook the power went out. THERE WASN'T EVEN A STORM!. Okay, there was some far off thunder and some clouds, but that's it. But it was enough to blow over a tree somewhere in the park onto the one pathetic electric line. The power was out for 9 hours. It was an incredibly boring day. When it got dark and I could no longer read I sat and watched far away lightning on the porch for almost an hour. Riveting stuff. Actually, it was nice. When I came in a bat came with me, so I had to open the door again and hope it would find its way out, it did. Not too long after I heard another noise. I went to the other side of my curtain wall, into the triage area of the search and rescue center and went to the source of the noise. There was a nice rat staring back at me from under some cabinets. So, at least I know my suspicions of something creeping around my desk and trash can at night were not just paranoia. It scurried away and I couldn't find it so I left it alone. Julie came home, and not too long after had her own run in with the rat. We worked together to try to chase it out the door. We may have been successful...Of course, at about 9, when it was time to go to sleep, the electricity came back on. I was so tempted to make some food, since all I'd eaten was PB&Js and yogurt for meals all day, but I just went to bed instead.

This morning we got up, despite an ominous forecast, and went to find the A group. We finally found them after much searching, and after listening to tons of OA duets. OA duets are really cool, but really loud. They're like a normal duet, except the interlude part is this really loud "oh-ah-oh-ah-oh-ah!" sound repeated over and over. It sounds sort of like a siren.

**Normal duet = introductory sequence (male + female), female great call, male reply, interlude(male + female), female great call, male reply, interlude, etc.

The cool thing about OA duets, besides their loudness, is that they are really contagious. Once one group sings an OA duet, all the other groups start. So, it was a loud morning, with lots of singing. We found A, and I finally got to meet Andromeda, (probably) the oldest gibbon in the Mo Singto study area. She's been the adult female in her territory since habituation began here in 1991. The A group was actually the first group habituated here. Julie says she is about 37-38 years old, which is ridiculous. I think a gibbon's life expectancy is about 30. She sure looks old, her wet fur from last night's rain didn't help her appearance. She's so old that she hasn't had a baby in years. Its just her and Chu; empty nesters. He is younger than she, and is certainly not helping his fitness by remaining with a barren old grandma. I wonder why he stays with her even though she can no longer improve his reproductive success. I guess they must have a very strong bond. We did our scan, which was easy (thanks for being old and slow moving!). We couldn't do the python experiment though, so we'll have to come back another day. Just as we were getting ready to leave, it started raining, and I mean RAINING. We made our way back as quick as we could, mostly staying on trails, slipping only a few times in the mud. We got laughed at by the people at the park restaurants when we emerged from the forest completely soaked. When we got back I learned that my dry bag indeed does work, and my pants are more waterproof than I thought because my notebook that was in my velcro pocket was dry! Of course when we got back we also learned the electricity had gone out again. The thunder and lightning was a bit scary. A few times the fluorescent bulbs in my room sparked and the switch wasn't even on so I'm not sure what that was about. Luckily power was back by 1:30 pm so I started our laundry and got my data entered into the computer. Tomorrow we aren't going into the field because the forecast looks bad, and because Julie wants to get her proposal done for her research here next year, and because its Saturday, which means tourists.

So here are some photos from today, none of the cute W baby from Wednesday because I forgot my SD card that day. Silly me.

 A vine in the shape of a heart!
 Chu grooming Andromeda
Andromeda looking ancient

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

rice cooker adventures

Part of each day here is dedicated to learning how to cook palatable meals using only a rice cooker and a device that boils water. This wouldn't be too difficult if I could have rice or ramen noodles for every meal without going insane. However, as a Western chick, I need some things like bread, (non-Asian) noodles, and most of all potatoes. Cooking meat also stumped me at first. Storing fresh meat is a whole different story, because the freezer is out of commission and our fridge has a rough time keeping things cold enough in this weather (a problem compounded by the power outages we have at least once a week). So fresh meat must be eaten ASAP, as I tragically learned this week. I had to throw away a whole chicken breast along with the rice I cooked it with when I realized that even after repeated rinsing and thorough cooking, the smell was not going to go away. I read some helpful hints on the internet on what people did to freshen meat before the days when throwing precious protein at the slightest sign of spoilage was an option for most Americans. So next time I'll try to revive my stinky chicken rather than throwing it out, and if all else fails cook it in some spicy curry to mask the smell... This may disgust normal people, but throwing out meat isn't really an option, and from what I've read I should be fine as long as its thoroughly cooked. So, I'm still learning, and I have confidence that if nothing else after five months in Thailand I will have learned how to be very resourceful and thrifty.

Experiment 1: Rice cooker macaroni and cheese
Original recipe:

So, I couldn't find broth at the store, just little chicken flavor cubes; the instructions in Thai obviously. I also don't have a measuring cup and didn't think to buy one, so I had to guestimate on quantities. I just dissolved a cube in some hot water and hoped for the best. So, I'm not sure if with regular or properly prepared broth this recipe would be good, or if I'm just a purist and like to have my macaroni a certain way, but I am definitely not using broth to boil my noodles next time. It gave it TOO much flavor, and I don't think mac and cheese should taste like chicken should taste like CHEESE! So, noodles boiled in water next time. Also, there is no shredded cheese to speak of, so slices were the only option. Other than that, it was good. It doesn't look beautiful, because the cheese is white and because some of it stuck to the bottom of the cooker (the bane of my existence).


Experiment 2: Coconut and green curry "soup"
One of my favorite Thai dishes. The awesome thing is that here you can make it really easily with various soup mixes. So I bought a carton of the coconut green curry sauce and just had to add my (questionable) chicken and broccoli and cook until everything was done! So easy and so tasty! The only drawback is that since I only have one appliance to work with I had to make the rice first, then the "soup" (quotations because I boiled it down so it was less soupy and more saucy). That makes things take longer. It was really good, and the strong flavor and spiciness masked any smell the chicken may have retained after cooking.

YUM! Spicy!

Experiment 3: Sauteed asparagus and grilled ham and cheese
So, the actual experiment 3 was just going to be chicken cooked with rice with "Chicken Rice Sauce" over it, but as I mentioned earlier that stunk to high heaven, so I chucked it and had a PB&J for lunch. For dinner, I sauteed some asparagus in butter with chopped green onions and garlic, which was so delicious, but this rice cooker gets so hot I think the butter burned on the bottom. Anyway the bottom blackened which was hard to clean. I may buy some olive oil or something which may work better, but I'm not sure. The asparagus didn't burn though! I made a grilled ham and cheese sandwich to go with it and it was a great meal. Ham is a good meat option that won't go bad as fast as fresh meat. 

Experiment 4: Au Gratin potatoes with ham
So this was the experiment I was most excited for, but most worried about failure. Since I didn't actually have a rice cooker recipe, just this recipe for Gratin Dauphinois ( I had read you can cook potatoes in a rice cooker, so I figured this was just taking boiled potatoes one step further.

I sliced the potatoes as thin as possible. Then I chopped up a green onion for flavor. I rubbed the bottom and sides of the cooker thoroughly with butter. I arranged a layer of potatoes in the bottom, added some bits of ham and only a teeny bit of cheese and sprinkled some green onions on as well as some garlic powder. Then I poured some (non-boiling but room temp) milk over it. I repeated this with a second layer, then put on the lid and pressed cook. I had to add more milk a few times so make sure the potatoes were submerged enough to be cooking. In the end it worked out really well, except for the sticking problem I can never solve. Hence the poor presentation on the plate... But my goodness what this lacks in aesthetics it makes up for in flavor. It was SO delicious, brought me back to Grenoble a little bit (though the people of the Dauphine region might be ashamed of this take on their specialty).

 Bon Appetit!

And an old favorite
So, these were all my brave new attempts of the last few days. However, I should mention a staple that is pretty easy and simple that gets me though a lot of my days. Some variation on rice and vegetables. Rice and vegetables with sausage, or with scrambled eggs, or with ham, or with nothing. It's easy (except with eggs, the eggs have to be cooked first, adding a step), and filling and yummy. I usually use garlic powder, salt and butter for flavor, but the chicken and rice sauce I just bought would also be good. Chicken and rice sauce is a sweet, garlicy, gingery, sort of spicy brown sauce. It is put on the steamed chicken version of chicken and rice (the breakfast I'm always talking about). There is a different sauce for the fried chicken version.

Simple but yummy!

So, this is how I'm getting some variety into my diet, and making sure I have enough protein to survive intense mornings in the forest. My mom challenged me to make rice cooker pizza, mostly as a joke I think. But I told her she'd have to try it first before I waste a bunch of money on all the ingredients, which I'm sure will be difficult to find at the Tesco Lotus. So, not sure how interesting this post is to any of you, but perhaps if you ever find yourself forced to survive with only a rice cooker, you'll have a head start. As for myself, I've come a long way from the girl who got here and worried about how on Earth she'd even be able to cook the eggs she had bought.

Monday, May 27, 2013


The moment we've all been waiting for, or at least the moment I've been waiting for...I finally got to see a WILD Asian elephant! Julie and I were chatting on the porch when our ranger friend sped by on his motorbike shouting that there was an elephant on the road. The place he said it was was sort of far but we grabbed our cameras and jumped into the truck to go have a look. As we passed the viewpoint where the elephant was supposed to be we were beginning to lose hope and assume he'd gone back into the forest, but then a couple more curves down the winding road there he was! He was taking his sweet time in the middle of the road, munching on this and that. We took a bunch of pictures but eventually decided to pass him when he looked to be going back into the forest. We had to drive quite a ways to be able to turn around and head back. On the way back towards home we saw him again or another elephant, since the first looked to be going back in the forest, on the other side of the road. We snapped a few more shots and headed back slowly on the lookout for others. We didn't see any more elephants, but we did see a civet crossing the road and two porcupines! So it was an all around very successful night of animal watching!

The rest of the day was also very good. I was happy to be in the field again after three days off due to weather and the weekend. We followed the B group to try and redo the python experiment. We were about halfway through our scan when we heard the bark of a barking deer and Julie's face fell, seconds later I could see why. The gibbons immediately started up with a disturbed song sensing danger from the sound of the deer's alarm. So, we had to call it a day, once again. It was an interesting morning though, and I got to see just how pathetic Baak's (female of B) great call is. At one point it seemed that the male and female of B were in the middle of a fierce duel with the BD group to prove who could duet better. Unfortunately for both groups, they have equally pitiful sounding songs, and I had to hold my breath to keep from laughing a few times. A couple of times Baak screwed up her great calls so badly I didn't even know if I should record them. It was definitely a battle based more on quantity and rate of great calls produced than quality. Nonetheless, it was entertaining, and reminded me a little bit of a rap battle.

I experimented with potatoes in the rice cooker today. I think I will post about my various rice cooker adventures of this past week tomorrow. So for now, I will just reveal that whatever it is that I made today was delicious and very UN-Asian. I spent the afternoon working on Excel compiling some data for Julie, which was great because it kept me from being bored out of my wits. So today was a good day, in fact most days we go into the forest are good days. I haven't been posting on days we stay in, because there isn't much to mention. So you're probably getting an inaccurate level of cheerfulness coming from me. On the days that I am stuck here I feel bored and useless and lonely, so that is no picnic.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


Today was a happy day (for the most part) which I needed after a slightly frustrating week. The last two days were fairly uneventful. Tuesday we didn't go into the field because Julie's arm pain (a pulled muscle or something) was so bad it kept her up all night and she was exhausted (and in a lot of pain). So it was a bit of a boring day. I read by the reservoir and got a bit of a tan on my arms and shoulders. I was just leaving for my evening run when the park ranger who also lives here asked if she could come. I said yes out of politeness, but regretted it. We couldn't have been going more than 10 minutes/mile and she knows no English and unfortunately I still know no Thai. I thought I might kill her going up hills, so I'm going to have to be sneaky for my runs in the future. The highlight was that we saw a scorpion crossing the road at the end. It was a huge one, I think Heterometrus laoticus. 

Yesterday was another frustrating day, but it was cool to see new parts of the forest and new gibbons groups. The forest was awesome and creepy this morning because a low fog that came all the way down to the ground lasted until about 7:30 am. It made it seem like we were in some sort of scary movie. We walked through several territories, unfortunately early on, every single one of the closer groups did a disturbed song. In some cases they seemed to be reacting to each other because several were singing sequentially or at the same time. Groups B, T, A, and BD all did disturbed songs, so we decided to go find C, the furthest group, and try the python with them. This was a new territory I'd never been to, because its so far. Julie said it would be possible to see bears here. We didn't see any bears, but we did come across a pair of hornbills eating some huge fruits. they were making a ton of noise dropping the outer part of the fruits as they ate, it was hard to figure out what kind of animal it was making all that noise at first. Hornbills are HUGE birds with HUGE bills, they're really quite amazing to see in person. After watching them a while we heard C start to call and they were not far off. Before reaching them we realized that they too were singing a disturbed call, and sure enough when we got to them they were scanning the ground and acting generally spooked as if they'd seen something. So we threw in the towel and went back. It was too late in the morning to try some of the groups on the opposite side of the study area, and it took us forever to get back from C.

 hornbill grabbing a fruit

Claude: "Grandpa" of the N group. Secondary male, father of Nithat (main male)

Today, we set off to do a python experiment with our new protocol, a two hour scan afterward instead of one. We went to the R group. After finding them we waited until they were in a good position to follow and started our before scan. I was doing the female while Julie did the male. This was my first scan, so I was nervous! Of course for the half hour before we started the scan Brit (the female) was a perfect angel, moving slowly and visibly through the trees eating as she went. Then we started the scan, and after 10 minutes she decided it was time to move, and to move quickly. I spent the next 45 minutes running after her trying to get around/through spiky palm plants and tangled vines and still record her behavior, position, gazes, etc. at five minute intervals. It was rough, and Julie had to help me relocate her a few times. Then, for the last scan of the hour, as if to mock us, she and Henry (the male) came down to about 10 meters above the ground and looked at as like "Oh hey, you wanted to see what we were doing for the past hour, well hows this?" After the scan, Julie found a place for the snake and we waited for them to see it. It didn't take long for Henry to notice it. I was video recording, though I'm not sure how good the recording was hard to get them all in view. Only about 10 minutes into the alarm song tourists and their guide came, we were right near the road so it was a wonderful opportunity for them to interrupt us. We asked them to be quiet, but usually at this point its already ruined, and they never listen anyway, especially the guides. So, with the dirtiest looks we could muster we stomped out of the forest and slammed the doors to the truck and drove away. We will have to try again. Julie wants to ask the park chief if she can put a sign at the trailhead to the R territory saying "Keep out research in progress" on the days when we do experiments with R, since they are so close to the road and the trail is so accessible to tourists. Otherwise I worry we will never be successful with this group.

So after that minor frustration I was still feeling elated having completed my first scan. I was also incredibly pumped when Julie said we'd go to Pak Chong to get groceries this afternoon! I was getting seriously low on food.We had lunch there, ran a few errands, went to the market and Tesco Lotus. I got a pineapple, mangoes, snap peas, carrots, potatoes, asparagus, broccoli, green onions and eggs at the market and tons of other food at Tesco. I am very excited to try new things with the rice cooker. Look forward to a post about how to survive using just a rice cooker and boiled water to cook, I plan on documenting my upcoming experiments. As soon as we got back it rained buckets and Julie and I worked on packing all our food into the fridge. Unfortunately I'm not very hungry after chicken and rice for lunch and some fried bananas for dessert, so I'll have to save my cooking adventures for tomorrow.

Monday, May 20, 2013

case of the Mondays.

Well, today was a bit of a downer. I am gaining a new respect for all primatologists who conduct playback  experiments; they are tricky. Especially with arboreal primates because of the added challenge of hoisting the loudspeaker high enough into the canopy so as to be heard. Today though, it wasn't equipment malfunctions, or tourists, or rain, or other researchers who ruined our chances at a good experiment, it was the gibbons. The funny things is, they way they messed it up is by essentially doing the experiment for us.

So I'll start from the beginning. We left at 6am as usual. I loaded up on my two backpacks, one containing the huge microphone that extends up over my head so I am constantly getting it snagged on branches I've thought I've properly ducked under. We drove to the N6 trailhead and started the very long walk (OK only 15 or so minutes, but its rough terrain) to our rope site. We rigged up the loudspeaker then Julie explained to the ranger, who was a new one today, about when to play and stop the loudspeaker. He was a little confused, but after a while he seemed to get it so we set off to find the gibbons. The E territory is a nightmare, it basically sits on a steep hill, so no matter what you are always either going up or down this steep, awful hill. Luckily, we found the E group fairly quickly, again they were consorting with the N group, so we waited until they separated. Then came the macaques, loud and crashing through the treetops. They are a real pain in the butt when you are trying to keep track of the quieter, more graceful gibbons and all you can hear is the breaking of branches from the clumsy macaques leaping from tree to tree. So, eventually we lost sight of E (also because Elane, the female, is a real bitch and doesn't always like to be followed). We had a general idea of where they were so we waited, and they sang, confirming their position. So we were still in good shape.

We waited nearly two hours while they sat in the same tree, completely hidden from view, grooming or eating or God knows what. At 11:11 (make a wish!) we heard the N group start to sing. The difference between a regular duet, and a disturbed/predator song is that in a regular duet there is always a great call (the female's part) within just a few minutes of the start of the song. In predator songs there are some different notes in the beginning, and the first great call is usually 20 or so minutes in. So after listening a while, and hearing the distressed sounding whines coming from N we realize this is no duet, it is a disturbed song. Then, Julie checks her GPS and, shit, its coming from EXACTLY where our loudspeaker is. Did the ranger accidentally start the song without being told!? We have to find out, so we rush back toward the loud speaker, down the scary steep hill, me sliding down the muddy bank at the very bottom, then we rush up the other side of the valley, and who do we see, literally right above the loudspeaker? The N group. They are throwing their little hissy fit right where our loudspeaker is, at who knows what! We assume they saw something, not sure what, because a squirrel was also alarm calling. Then we hear E singing, they have moved closer and are responding to N, as predicted. So we watched as the experiment we were trying to carry out, was carried out naturally by the gibbons. Unfortunately we can't use any of this because we don't know what (if any) predator the N group saw, and we didn't record E's behavior from the start of the song. So cool, we lose another day. At least now we know that the position of the loudspeaker is very realistic.

after waiting for everyone to stop singing we headed back home. At this point I wasn't feeling very well. I was dehydrated, even though I drank plenty of water, I guess those hills made me sweat it out. So when we got back, I managed to shower, get the laundry going, and make lunch, all while feeling about ready to pass out. So once I was completely full of corn and rice I took a nice long nap. I am conflicted about naps, because they always seem essential; the only way to survive my exhaustion after a morning in the field and the heat of the afternoon. However, at night I am left regretting them because it is impossible to fall asleep.

It rained tonight, which we need because the reservoir is very low so the water pressure is getting low, and the water is a little murky. It rained really hard, but not for long enough to fill the reservoir, and amazingly we still have electricity. After it stopped the ground was steaming, which was kind of cool. I like when it rains in the evening because it cools down enough to sleep very comfortably. I also like it because it wakes up the frogs, which sadly I haven't seen as many as I had expected I would. But after a good rain they sing up a storm at night.

I'm pretty lonely today. I am also running out of good, fresh food. Both of these things are affecting my mood. Hopefully I can make it through the week and we'll go shopping again this weekend. I guess that is all there is to say, hopefully tomorrow we can do a successful python experiment  to keep us from feeling to defeated.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

family reunion

Yesterday was a boring day. We woke up early to go into the field and the sky looked dreadful. The rangers predicted rain and lots of it, and so did we. So we stayed in. Of course it got sunny by 8am and would have been just fine to go out, but it was too late. So we stayed in and worked on data entry and twiddled our thumbs. Of course by 8am it was sunny again and it never rained, so we stayed in for nothing, but it was too late by then.

So, Saturday morning I had the option of staying in because of the weekend, or going out to set ropes with Julie. Of course I chose the latter option since I spent two days out of the field and was itching to be back. We went out on the N6 trail to set ropes between E and N. After finding a suitable tree, we were just about to start throwing the rope when of course, only because we weren't trying to find them, the gibbons found us. It was the N group, and we were thankful because Julie had been worried that they rarely use this side of their territory which would make doing the playback difficult. So Julie had me follow them to document their route on my GPS. After about a hour, unfortunately I'd lost the group except for the juvenile, who also appeared lost. Eventually the juvenile began to make soft hoos which eventually escalated into louder whines which I interpreted as lost calls, but who can really say. As I was following the juvenile, I stood looking up for a few minutes, eventually I looked down and not three feet to my right was a bright green pit viper. My heart was pounding and I slowly stepped back to a safe distance. Then, of course I snapped a few pictures before marking the spot on my GPS to be sure to avoid it. When I moved away I saw a black male in the E territory. I didn't know if I'd found the rest of the N group of if this was the E group's male. Just then I heard Julie's call that she was done and back on the trail. When I met her we realized we were right beneath the N group again who were completely inside of the E territory. Since this behavior was a bit odd, she had me stay with them while she set another rope. After another moment I realized rather than just the two black adult males of group N (Nithat and Claude) was a third hanging around in the large tree they all occupied. I shouted this message to Julie, and she guessed that it was Noi, the male of the E group and Nithat and Claude's brother and son respectively. So I smiled as I watched this family reunion of sorts. They took turns grooming and swinging around the big tree together, though I don't think anyone groomed Noi and vice versa. Eventually N moved back toward their own territory, leaving Noi, and surprisingly, the juvenile behind. Julie says she has seen the juvenile spend some time with the E group rather than its own family.

We headed back to the search and rescue center because Julie had set the second rope on the first try. when we got there it was only 10am so, although hungry I waited until about 11:30 to make lunch. It was a feast. First I cooked two scrambled eggs in the rice cooker. Then I set them aside and made some rice with snap peas. When everything was done I mixed it all together, it was sort of like fried rice, but not fried. Still delicious, and a huge portion. At around two I laid down for a nap. I was woken up by a Skype call from Nathan (a very late night for him) but we were cut off after about 4 minutes because, of course, the power went out. It had started storming during my nap, and we had predicted this and had showered and washed our clothes as quickly as possible this morning, because, when the power goes out here so does the water.

Julie and I say outside watching the rangers play soccer in the field. It was a particularly interesting game because the goalie was incredibly drunk and the three others took turns kicking the ball at him. He fell several times, once taking the net down with him and was trapped beneath it until they came to his rescue. I actually laughed out loud at this, which is something that doesn't happen enough here. Then, the gate keeper, who had previously been taking in a very slurred, drunk voice to Julie and I, and was absolutely reeking of vodka, decided to join in as a defense man. This doubled the hilariousness of the spectacle and Julie and I watched until they got tired of playing and staggered off leaving the sober ones to play a real game.

Around 7:30 the power game back on, so I came inside to type this up, but then of course it went back out before I could finish. So I went back outside in the dark and listened to Julie play guitar for a while before eventually retreating to bed.

 pit viper
 family time!
 giant squirrel (for you mom)
finally got a picture of a macaque
The skink from Tuesday

Thursday, May 16, 2013

sweet, beautiful rain.

I went to Bangkok today. I spent only 2.5 hours actually in Bangkok, less than 15 minutes at the NRCT. What made the 6 hours of commute there and back worth it was being able to have chicken and rice for lunch and fried bananas for dessert. The bus on the way back was stuffy with barely functioning air conditioning and they played a God awful Jackie Chan movie at the highest volume imaginable.

But all of that discomfort was forgotten when, on our way back to the park in the truck it started to sprinkle. With the rain moved in a nice front of cool breezy air. Everything smells damp and earthy. Once inside the park I learned what elephants smell like. Julie slowed the truck down and said you can smell it best when it rains. It is a very distinct smell that I can't begin to describe. We peered into the forest while driving slowly, but unfortunately still did not spot an elephant. It was a bit early for them to be out and about, they become active around dusk. I did see three captive elephants on the way from Pak Chong to the park. Right on the side of the road, we passed by very close. They had chains around their necks and I felt bad for them.

When we got back to the search and rescue center I was so excited to finally have some relief from the stifling heat we've been enduring all week I threw on my running shoes and went for a run down the road. Just 2.5-3 miles, depending on how slow I've gotten in the last month. Coming back along the road I smelled the elephant smell, and that smell is less exciting and more terrifying when you are by yourself and not in a vehicle just before dusk...I kept my eyes peeled, but saw no elephants. Now I'm on the porch, almost surely getting eaten alive, but dying to enjoy this weather. What is hilarious is my phone still says it is 89 degrees out. Not sure I believe that, but maybe 80. Hot is all about perspective. After a week of highs of 100, anything below 90 is a relief.

I'm sure I'll be regretting this in a few months, when the rainy season is in full swing, but tonight I am so, so thankful for rain.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Well, we didn't get to do the playback. We ran into several problems. When we had hung the loudspeaker, and placed the microphone, we finally found the R group as far as they could possibly be from the loudspeaker. We needed them to be within 150 meters from the speaker to make sure they could hear it, and they were over 350. We also ran into a girl doing research on parental care, who must be new and no one had told us about. She was Asian, but not Thai, so she spoke in half broken Thai, half even more broken English to Julie about how she was following R today and for the next 3 days, and then would move onto M. She is going to be here for 55 days apparently, which means we are going to have to coordinate our experiments so that we don't run into her. It is best not to have too many people and too much noise.

Then, as we were waiting for the gibbons to decide to either move further or closer to the loudspeaker, six white tourists and two guides showed up with their huge cameras looking ridiculous in their shorts and their leech socks. Tourists are allowed to go off the main tourist trails if they have a guide-unfortunately for us. Julie and I wished there were more leeches today so they wouldn't be tempted to stay long. Of course when one guide finds the gibbons, he calls the other guides to help them out. So just when we thought we were rid of the tourists, and the gibbons started moving closer to the speaker, another group of five or six showed up. By the time they were gone, the gibbons were not in a good position at all, and in fact we thought they had crossed the river. They hadn't, we found out when we tested to loud speaker to make sure we could hear it at over 100 meters, they rushed towards it so we turned it off immediately. So, the day wasn't a complete bust; at least now we know that the gibbons can hear the speaker, and that they react to the leopard alarm call. I feel a little guilty, because from the time we ran into the first tourists I was crossing my fingers we wouldn't be able to do the experiment today...I just didn't feel ready to follow the female, not lose her, hold the video camera and record her (seems impossible) and record data at the same time. I'm intimidated. Hopefully I catch on quickly.

The rest of the day was pretty boring. Incredibly boring actually. Maybe because it was too hot to even take a nap, and I wasn't tired anyway because I actually got 8 hours of sleep last night. So the hours just dragged on. It makes me feel lonelier. I wish Julie and I knew each other better, or that she had less work to do so we could get to know each other better. I can't help her really because she is just transcribing her field notes of all the days calls we heard onto check sheets, so its pretty much a one person job. So I just sit, and read, and wish I had one of my friends or my mom here with to pass the hours talking with. I'm plowing through books, even faster than before. Its because my mom let me use her Audible account to get books on tape so I didn't have to buy anymore heavy paper books. But the problem is this way I can listen when I'm doing anything mindless, like while I cook lunch or lie in bed too hot to function. So I'm already two thirds of the way through The Help and I've only been listening to it four days.

I like to go out and sit on the porch when I read or relax, because there's a nice breeze and its cooler than being inside. But there are just hard wooden benches. I really wish there were hammocks! My favorite time of the day (besides when something interesting happens in the forest) is sitting on the porch at dusk, just as its starting to get dark and cooler. Its so peaceful. Its the best time to read out there, or talk with Julie after its too dark to read.

Tomorrow, unfortunately I will be returning to Bangkok to go to the National Research Council of Thailand. Apparently now, a month after I've arrive, I have to go there and show them I'm here? It seems weird to me. Oh well, its just for the day, but that is going to be a lot of busing for one day; three hours each way. Hopefully I'll at least be able to grab something yummy for lunch.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Today has not been a good day. I woke up sort of late, got ready in a hurry, then realized that Julie had had the same problem; she was still in bed. So I waited patiently and she woke up at about 6:20 (we usually try to leave by 6:00). She apologized and told me next time to just wake her-good to know. She said since we were getting a late start we would "just set ropes for the playbacks today, it should be an easy day." Well, she jinxed us.

We set off for the R territory just after 7:00, found ourselves a perfect tree to set a rope in for hoisting up the loudspeaker so that it will be at the gibbons level. The tree was big, with a few big branches coming off of it, we were going to attempt to set the rope over the second branch from the bottom, probably about 15 or so meters up. Another big tree had recently fallen, creating a but of a clearing, which should have been perfect; giving us plenty of space to throw. So, we started by attaching the rope to a tennis ball and using centripetal force to hurl it up over the branch, but our aim wasn't great and when our aim was spot on we were just shy of the right height. While I showed off every single reason I have never played a sport that involves throwing anything, Julie worked on the crossbow she had bought to try to help us. Crossbows are banned in the park, for obvious reasons, but we were hoping to attach the rope to the arrow somehow and sent the arrow shooting through a foam ball (so the tip would be blunt and not dangerous). The crossbow turned out to be an absolute piece of s***. It was pretty much broken from the get go and the arrows didn't exactly work. so after abandoning that plan, we tried, Julie getting SO close on several attempts, to set the rope using just the ball-throwing method. I think the reason we spent four hours trying without giving up sooner was because every time we'd get frustrated, Julie would make a really great throw and it would almost go over the right branch and then it would just fall short.

So, 5 hours later, both with very blistered index fingers, we decided to pack it in and try again after lunch and a midday rest (because by noon it starts to get hot as Hades and because of the open area we were in we were now exposed to the hot sun). When we got back I cooked myself an enormous lunch of rice, snap peas and little chicken sausages in the rice cooker, then cut up my pineapple which has ripened nicely. Unfortunately it isn't one of the baby ones, so it still burned my tongue a bit. I was absolutely dreading going back to try again, and I think Julie could see the exhaustion on my face, I had gotten all dressed up to go and she said I could stay here and rest. Though I'm relieved, I feel a bit bad that she has to go back out and try again. I'm thinking maybe she prefers to go alone and to get frustrated and curse at the tree in private, because I know I'd appreciate that if I was her.

Well, just as I was typing up that last sentence I heard Julie's voice. Apparently one of the park officials wanted to come with her to help. She said she tried a few times and got very close, and then he tried several times, getting close, but still not reaching the branch. So he replaced the tennis ball with a stone and was able to hurl it up there finally. Apparently more weight was all we needed.

Now that the rope is set I am sitting her in nervous anticipation for tomorrow's playback experiment. It will be our "trial run." It will also be my first time taking data that we are actually going to use (assuming all goes well) all by myself. I've also been charged with video recording the experiment, because someone told Julie she should record it...not sure who, but I'm not their biggest fan right now. So, instead of taking notes in a notebook, since my hands will be full I will just be dictating my scans. I am responsible for following the female (easier to recognize because of the baby hanging off of her at almost all times). I will record her behavior every five minutes (eating, resting, socializing, vocalizing etc.) as well as recording inter-individual distance, canopy height, and position. I also have to record Ad Libitum (as I see it happening) gazes (looking toward speaker, ground, other group members etc) and location (by taking GPS points each time they move. So...this is going to be a challenge to say the least. Wish me luck!

I only took one photo today; of a skink who visited us just as we were throwing in the towel this morning. I'm too lazy to plug in my camera to transfer only one photo, so I'll post it another day.

Monday, May 13, 2013

ants ants ants

It took about 30 hours for the teeny tiny ants to discover my opened box of frosted flakes. I thought sealing up the bag with a hair tie would be an effective measure against their invasion, but I was wrong. I got back from the field and found they had fit their tiny bodies into the big Styrofoam box I keep my food in, and were busy invading the cereal. So I put off my hunger and went to work on getting rid of them because there is no way I'm throwing the cereal out, food is too precious here. I poured a bowlful of cereal out and noticed that this disturbance caused the ants to climb up the sides of the bowl and out of the cereal, where I could easily kill them without contaminating the flakes (although the protein might be good for me). So I repeated this until the whole bag was rid of ants and I poured it all into a secure Ziploc bag. These ants are the worst because they can get into anything, they are the smallest I've ever seen; about a millimeter long I'd guess. Anyway, after the ant problem was solved I could go ahead with making my lunch: my signature scrambled egg sandwich, some carrot sticks and a tiny apple.

Speaking of creepy crawly creatures, I discovered a leech latched onto my stomach today while we were in the field. It must have made its way between the buttons of my shirt. That was pretty gross, but I don't think it was there long. I am constantly giving myself a once over for bugs while I'm in the forest. We followed the W group today and boy were they a pain in the behind. There had two separate intergroup encounters with the NOS group, which was really annoying because they were moving around sort of quickly and forced us to chase after them through some difficult vegetation. At one point Julie and I had to squeeze ourselves through a tangle of fallen branches with about two feet of vertical space and even less horizontally. They also decided it would be fun to spend most of their morning in a HUGE fruit tree dropping tiny, hard fruits on our heads while they ate. This tree was very close to the paved tourist trail, which meant fortunately there were little benches we could like down on and look up, so as not to crane our necks as much. However, this also meant (because it is Monday, still close to the weekend) that there were lots of tourists nearby, so we couldn't do the experiment unless they moved to a different part of their territory. Those fruits must have been delicious, because they stayed in that giant tree.

I am confused about why people bother walking through the tourist trail if they aren't actually interested in wildlife. Two out of four groups that passed up walked right on by whole we were standing there clearly looking at the gibbons who were in plain sight. That's an incredible opportunity and they just walked past! Another group; a mom a young daughter and grandparents walked by very quickly, just barely looked up to see the gibbons right above them, and the mom made noises as if she was scared and they hurried along. Only one man, by himself actually stopped to watch the gibbons, he was quiet and respectful.

Although I complain about the W group, they are very nicely habituated and I am grateful to them for giving me such good photo ops. Especially Sari, the female, she is the only female who has sat still long enough, and low enough to the ground, for me to get good pictures of her and her infant. So here you are, probably the only reason you are reading this blog, some pictures:

 A giant roley poley! (about an inch in diameter)
 Sari and infant with Wotan (dad) to the right
 Sari and infant
 William, Sari and infant
 William (Wotan's subadult son)
William and Wotan (darker on left)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

the day of rest

Sunday is known as the day of rest and today the gibbons took that to heart. We were looking for the N group, and of course they didn't sing. Amazingly barely any of the other groups sang either; lazy gibbons! We heard a few sporadic half-hearted duets during the morning, but not much. When we finally did find N they were lazily eating. After seeing the python and making some hoo hoos and trying to scare it, they moved off about 50 meters and proceeded to groom each other while the infant and juvenile played for the next 50 minutes. It got pretty boring after a while. After that though they returned to where the python had been and gave a few more little calls and scanned trying to figure out where it had gone. While we were recording this last bit two tourists and their guide came upon us. It was annoying because Julie pointed to her microphone and motioned for them to be quiet, and the tourists complied, but the guide crunched along in the leaves pointing (just trying to do his job, but very noisily).

We saw a jackfruit tree today, which was cool because the fruits are huge! I also found a peculiar fungi, which I initially thought might be some kind of carnivorous plant because of the poop smell and the hole in the middle. After some research it turns out to be Aseroe rubra or starfish fungi. It was interesting, but smelly.

I was starting to get a headache and get very sleepy by the end of the morning. I think it was because I didn't get hungry for dinner last night, and didn't really have lunch, so my body was probably pissed. I also went to bed sort of late. So tonight it will be an early night. At about 6:45 some rangers drove by and said there were some elephants up the road, so we got in the truck and drove up there to see, but sadly they had already disappeared, so I'll have to keep waiting for my first elephant sighting. Getting closer though! Lastly, I finally got a picture of my noisy gecko friend, he is in my room tonight! Hopefully that means he'll eat all the bugs. I think I should give him a name, but I'm not sure what...

huge jackfruit
 stinky (pretty) fungus!
 my gecko friend...what shall I name him?

Saturday, May 11, 2013


After a long, poorly air conditioned bus ride I arrived in Pak Chong. Julie and I went to the market where I bought fresh eggs, 2 pineapples (one of which turned out to me rotten), some apples, some carrots and some snap peas. Then we headed to Tesco Lotus to finish up the rest of our shopping. Then we set off for Khao Yai. On the drive from Pak Chong to the park entrance I saw two elephants, but they were captive, so I say this doesn't count. 

 When we got into the park I found myself completely content. I smiled as we chugged up the mountains making our way to the center of the park. The views are spectacular. I don't think I appreciated it as much the first time I saw it as now coming back into it. Of course we had to honk some macaques out of the road. When we finally got to the search and rescue center I was glad to be home. Its interesting that I feel home here. I was feeling lonely on my last night here, missing my friends and family. After two weeks of feeling a bit like a drifter and a freeloader staying at Chollada's house and in hotels, I am happy to be back somewhere where I have a "room" and a routine. Of course the wall that was promised to me before leaving wasn't built, but Julie bought me a nice black piece of fabric to act as my wall, which is better than the sheer blue mosquito netting we were using before. So this is home, for the next three months. 

I am also in a great mood because I was able to Skype with my parents for almost two hours! They are the absolute best. Happy early Mother's Day to the best mommy in the world! :) 

 So that's it for today, back to the routine of waking up before dawn, and chasing gibbons all morning. Sounds pretty good to me. Tomorrow we'll try the python with the N group again. I am excited to see the gibbons, even if it is the group who peed on me last time we met...

Friday, May 10, 2013

"vacation" continued

May 1-May 10

Hua Hin
I took the Mini Bus to Hua Hin on Wednesday and arrived at about 3pm. After some initial misunderstanding, which Chollada cleared up over the phone, I got settled into my room and headed to find the ocean. I got there, but it wasn't the prettiest area because I was just aimlessly walking in the direction I knew the ocean was, and not towards a particular beach. I checked it out for a while and headed back to the hotel. I got an iced coffee-without milk by accident because I thought he said "With meal?" not "With milk? Oops, I bought some milk at 7-11 because it was weird without it. When it got dark I headed to the night market for dinner. I had Chicken with cashew nuts and a large Chang beer. Then I had a rotee with Nutella for dessert. This is sort of like a crepe, but it is made out of a dough stretched thin rather than a batter. I went to a bar at the market and had a few drinks. I struck up conversation with an older couple: a retired Australian surgeon and his 44 year old Thai lady friend (although she called him her husband). They seemed friendly enough and we went with a young English couple to a "discotheque" which was actually a weird Western themed bar with a live band that was not the great. The drinks were overpriced and the music too loud, and the old couple got ever creepier as they got more drunk, so the English couple and I departed because we were beginning to think this weird couple were swingers. So that was an experience, hopefully not to be repeated.
 first view of the ocean
 Nutella rotee and Mojito!
making rotee

The next day I slept in, had a chocolate croissant and some bread from the bakery across the street for breakfast, and headed to the beach. I read a lot and applied liberal sunscreen because I know how pale I am. I swam in the ocean; bathwater. I ended up getting absolutely fried despite my precautions. My upper back was the worst due to issues reaching that area with sunscreen by myself. I had pizza for dinner-yum! I went to bed early exhausted from all the sun.

Friday morning I woke up, had breakfast at the hotel and hung out poolside for awhile. At about noon I went and got lunch and then headed to the beach. I stayed mostly in the shade, besides about 15-20 minutes of swimming. Still I got more burned, even though today I was even more careful about the sunscreen application. I can't win. I went to the night market for dinner again and I met a friend! A girl named Luka from Belgium. She is also on "vacation" from her internship at a hotel in Pattaya. So after dinner we went to a bar and people watched and talked.

Saturday Luka came over to hang out at the pool because she, like I, was sick of the warmness of the ocean and the pools are slightly cooler. Chollada and her friend finally arrived at about 6pm after a battle with Traffic. Everyone was headed out of the city for the long weekend. It was obvious because during the week Hua Hin had been empty, but around Saturday afternoon it slowly started to fill up and by the time they arrived parking was impossible! Here people leave their cars in neutral when they park sometimes so that their car can be pushed out the the way when it is blocking someone else's. We went to a seafood restaurant outside the city for dinner, it was very good. I am becoming a big fan of squid, but am getting turned off to crab, it usually has bits of exoskeleton mixed in which makes it annoying to eat.

Sunday we had breakfast at the hotel and then headed to King Rama VI's palace by the ocean. It was a pretty place. Afterward we went to one of the main tourist spots for Thai people-not foreigners, so I was the only white person there. It is like a permanent carnival. It was kind of cute. We had salmon fried rice filled egg balls for lunch and I had a Hong Kong waffle for dessert. For dinner we went to the Cicada market, which is a night market only open on the weekend. It was much nicer than the downtown night market. We had dinner there and then walked around and looked at all the market vendors. My favorite part was looking at the paintings-made me want to paint something. At one stand, I picked up what I thought was a keychain, it turned out to be a giant beetle climbing on a keychain, it was pretty funny when I realized it was alive. We went to a bar afterward. The bar was cool, nice decor, a good live band, yummy European beer, but it was pretty boring. Chollada's friend was on her phone the whole time and it was a bit too loud to talk much with Chollada.
 seaside palace
egg fried rice balls

Hong Kong waffle

Monday after breakfast we left Hua Hin, Chollada and Ben never having stepped foot on the beach. Western and Thai images of an ideal beach getaway vacation are very different, mostly because Thai people hate getting a tan. We stopped at the Damnoen Sauak floating market on the way home. It was winding down because it was after noon, but it was still pretty cool. When we got back to Bangkok we met Chollada's family for Pizza Hut. Thai pizza hut sizes are very different-I could easily consume an entire medium pizza.

Tuesday and Wednesday were lazy days, which I needed. I spent Thursday in the city again. This time I went to the Dusit Zoo! It was so great! I got there early and it was feeding time for the monkeys. I seriously fell in love with Douc Langurs. They are extremely endangered and absolutely beautiful. The zoo has a seemingly very successful breeding program; there were babies everywhere! The rest of the zoo was great also. I got to hear three different species of gibbon call; all very different. I also saw the seal show, which was cute. After the zoo I went to the huge teak Vimanmek mansion. It was pretty much what you expect from an old mansion turned museum. I met Chollada for dinner and afterwards we went to the Purr Cat Cafe; a cafe with cats roaming around everywhere. Sort of weird. The cats aren't incredibly friendly, as most cats would be if forced to live in a place where strangers showed up every day and took pictures of them. It made me miss Tori and Oreo.

Red-shanked Douc Langur
 babiest monkey!!
 white tigers
 Sun Bear!
 pond at the zoo and fancy building
 seal show!
 Bin Laden the giraffe-seriously, not sure its a sick joke or what, he was born October 2001
 Vimanmek mansion
pretty building

Whew, that was a lot. Now I am back at the IMM fusion hotel where this "vacation" began. Heading back to Khao Yai tomorrow and I could not be happier. Time for dinner, hopefully pizza at Limoncello's Pizzeria on Sukhumvit Soi 11. Let's see if I can find it.