Thursday, July 18, 2013

A 35-hour birthday

Well, I spent my third birthday in a row abroad. July 17th, 2011 was spent in Nice, Cannes and Saint-Paul in France (though it was more adequately celebrated with an apricot tarte and champagne the next day back "home" in Grenoble). July 17th, 2012 was spent on a bus from San Jose to La Suerte biological field station in Costa Rica and later in the forest at the station. That day I saw my first wild capuchin monkey; the alpha male, and swam in the river la suerte. Again, my professor arranged to have a celebration for me the next day, because that day had been a little busy. So on the 18th we enjoyed some yummy cake made by Rosie, and my professor Chris bought me an Imperial (beer of Costa Rica), my first drink as a 21-year-old.

Although I am incredibly lucky to have spent my birthdays in so many amazing places, it is always a little bit bittersweet to realize all the people I really want to spend time with are thousands of miles away. While being away from friends and family is a definite drawback of a birthday abroad, this year I experienced an excellent advantage. That is, a 35-hour birthday. So, if you plan to be away for your birthday, I say do it as far as possible from your home country. Korea or Japan would have been even better (37 hours). I was able to celebrate my birthday from the start of the 17th in Thailand to the end of the 17th in Michigan. In fact, some people not quite sure about the time difference sent me birthday wishes even earlier, and inevitably there were a few late ones (including my own awful sister LAURA! hehe), so my birthday was even extended beyond the 35-hour window.

My birthday started a little sad. Going to bed Tuesday night I was bummed about being away and only having Julie to celebrate with. I was also dumb and had not told Julie in advance that my birthday was coming up, because I felt weirdly self-involved bringing it up. I woke up at 5:30 (late oops) feeling a little bit better. I found Julie on the porch and saw it was raining. We complained about the rain and then I told her today was my birthday, and she of course wished me a happy birthday. We sat a while to see if the rain would let up, it didn't really, and no gibbons were singing. I also think Julie thought it would be nice to take the day off for my birthday so that I could Skype people and we could go to town, so that it what we did. I went back to my room and was lucky enough to catch my sister and my mom on Skype before they left for their swimming class. I went back to bed briefly and then at about 9:30 we left for Pak Chong. We went on our last grocery trip to Tesco Lotus and I bought some much needed food. We headed back to the park, and a short while after unpacking our groceries Julie surprised me with a cake and 22 candles that she had picked up at the store. I blew out the candles and removed them quickly because wax was dripping everywhere and we decided to eat the cake later on. 

In the evening we heard there was an elephant at the visitor center so we went to check it out. Sure enough a lone bull was wandering around eating whatever he pleased right next to the visitor center and park restaurants. There have been a TON of tourists in the park this week for some reason, so there we a lot of people taking pictures. Eventually we wandered down the road and into the forest to eat in peace. When we returned home I made green curry and coconut soup for dinner and then Julie and I cut my cake. We shared it with the head of the search and rescue center and the lady ranger who lives here with us. The head of the search and rescue center gave me a little hornbill magnet as a gift. 

In the morning Julie and I went to W and FINALLY successfully recorded a leopard stimulus from them. Just in time too, because when they finished their song a ton of tourists showed up with their guides to see them. This is the problem with making the gibbons sing, you attract tourists. It is funny though when we are playing gibbon songs from the loudspeaker for a playback and tourists go toward it expecting to find actual gibbons. 

Anyway, this experiment was really exciting because the gibbons sang for about a half hour when they saw the leopard. Then they started to move away, but the female returned and started to sing again, causing the male to join her. Then, when they were finished and she had finally moved high enough into the tree not to see us remove the leopard, we took it away. This was, to me, the most interesting part of the whole thing. When she noticed it was gone, she began to sing once more, and the male came closer and they both nervously scanned the ground and the canopy. I think this, more than anything, shows their level of intelligence. They have the capacity to understand that the threat could still be there even if they can no longer see it. This at the very least puts them ahead of human babies who think that once something is out of sight it is actually gone. I also think that their reaction is something most people can relate to. I don't know how many times I've seen a creepy bug or spider in my room and become even more afraid once it was out of sight. The element of surprise, the danger of not knowing where or when the threat might appear again, is a frightening thing. So, even if the gibbons can be convinced that a backpack covered in a fake leopard fur is a real leopard, they aren't entirely unintelligent.

So, that pretty much sums up my birthday. It was a great day. Although I have promised myself that I will be in the USA for my 23rd, who knows, I will probably end up breaking that promise to spend my birthday on yet another continent.

 my cake! A bit smooshed from the drive back

 They have such tiny eyes!


 Rung: female of M group
Malai hanging (juvenile of M) and the black infant on the left


  1. Happy birthday! I spent my last one in the jungle in November. It was one of my favorites ever because I got to hike 16 km and saw the Red-throated Caracaras (the birds I study). My girlfriend didn't even realize it was my birthday until dinner, but I had a great day just out doing fieldwork!
    I have enjoyed reading about your adventures and seeing your pictures. Good luck with the next phase of your career, and thanks for posting!

  2. Belated Happy Birthday! Glad you were able to enjoy your day despite being away from family & friends, and despite the weather.

  3. Happy Birthday! I've really enjoyed following your blog. Good luck going forward with your research! :)