INSIDE THE GREENHOUSE | Re-telling climate change stories

Lanzhou, China: North of the Tibetan Plateau


Rebecca Safran

Greetings from China!
Our day started early with an extremely smart shuttle bus that picked up steps away from our hotel entrance and delivered us to the Guangzhou airport (an hour drive) for about 30 yuan (roughly $2.50). The airport experience is quite different from what we are used to in the US: very calm and orderly and pleasant. There are security lines just for women and men, if you choose, but otherwise it’s all very efficient and quick. The airport security and personnel are patient and helpful and everything works well. This is a stark contrast to my recent experiences at the Frankfurt airport in Germany. We took a 3-hour flight from Guangzhou to Lanzhou, our first stop in the Gansu Province via China South Airlines. The entire experience from take-off to landing to baggage collection was smooth and pleasant with tasty brewed tea and delicious food served along the way. Perhaps the most thrilling part was flying over the Tibetan Plateau and the views of the Himalaya, thus marking our departure from southern China to a very different part of this vast country. By the time we landed to the north of the Tibetan Plateau the landscape changed dramatically once again from high, snowy peaks to an austere desert with high rolling hills.   The city of Lanzhou itself is an oasis and one can easily see why it was an important stop along the Silk Road – the Yellow River roars past the city and affords a small valley for human settlement that is surrounded by high peaks.
We arrived in Lanzhou mid-day and met up with our collaborator, Dr. Liu Yu, who has spent time with us at the University of Colorado and traveled with Liz Scordato in 2014 and 2015. Liz is an amazing postdoc in our group who set up all of our Chinese study locations.  We are traveling with a research scientist at Sun Yat-sen University, Dr. Emilio Pagani-Núñez, a Spaniard who loves the Chinese culture and has taught us a lot during our short stay. Both Liu Yu and Emilio work on barn swallow populations in other parts of China and are part of our larger collaborative team.
In contrast to tropical and lush Guangzhou, Lanzhou is extremely dry and dusty. With a population of about 2 million, Lanzhou is a big city by some accounts, but by Chinese accounts, this is a small outpost.  The city is the home to Lanzhou University as well as lots of mining operations and commerce. There is a lot of ongoing development both within and outside the city and lots of street activity of one kind or another. We walked around for several hours enjoying time along the Yellow River where families were enjoying time by the water with their children, group dances were taking place along the way, and kite flyers were handling kites easily flying thousands of feet overhead. We ended our first evening adventure with a ‘fast food meal’ of freshly prepared steamed buns stuffed with spinach and egg, several mushroom dishes, spicy eggplant and a delicate rice porridge: a large meal for four of us that we couldn’t finish, all for $7 in total.
Everything is going smoothly in China!