|The Barn Swallow Project||
Who knew barn swallows preferred the seedier human establishments? In the city of Zhengzhou we found our biggest enclave of barn swallows yet, with several dozen pairs nesting in narrow streets amid a busy night market, piles of garbage, and some very adult “massage parlors.” It was an interesting few days…
We’ve learned to expect this by now in China, but it is still strange to exit the train in a place you’ve never heard of and find a metropolis the size of Chicago, filled with McDonald’s, Starbucks, and dozens of Apple stores. Downtown Changsha, even more than Nanning, was filled with neon lights and modern shopping complexes, all overlain by the roar of hundreds of loudspeakers and microphones shouting bargains from the storefronts or playing scratchy pop music. Above the hubbub, the construction cranes rose from the horizon like the heads of wading birds, continuing to build. Here we are, two weeks in, and the overwhelming impression in China remains not just the bigness, but the newness of everything.
It’s a bit of a knock against me as a researcher that I failed to realize there is no bridge connecting Hainan Island to mainland China. But there isn’t. Getting to Nanning from Haikou required a 12-hour trip, involving a bus, a gigantic ferry (which the bus was loaded on to), and lots of instant ramen (the preferred Chinese travel food). We arrived in Nanning around 10pm, and found ourselves in a massive, bustling, technicolor city. Giant neon signs crowned huge highrises, and flashing digital billboards crowded the skyline. Our hotel was downtown, close to a series of streets crammed with noodle stalls. We met two of Liu Yu’s college friends- both teachers- for a late dinner outside, before collapsing into bed.