CERS has been involved with culture conservation for over two decades. It started as documentation of many indigenous cultures unique to China's minority nationalities, many of which were in the process of disintegration, assimilation, or simply eclipsing in modern times. We gradually moved into the design and implementation of culture projects, at times involving entire local communities. We preserve both material and intellectual culture. In the former we sometimes conserve and restore entire ensembles of architecture, up to twenty houses or more in some projects. In the latter we document and support collections of ethnic music and legends. CERS is also an important repository of many old records, select pictures and films.


By Astor Wong, Hong Kong


The waters of the Sulu Sea during winter, under constant attack by typhoons, are notorious for being perilous. Even skilled and experienced fishermen avoid setting sail during this time of the year and seek other ways of livelihood. There was but one exception. At dusk on a November day; on the vast and boundless ocean, one could only see two boats, fearlessly cleaving through rough waves and tough winds, determined to get to an off-the-grid island named Cawili regardless of the potential hazards. In the name of exploration, a diverse group of passengers, from the United States, the United Kingdom, Myanmar, Hong Kong, Kunming, and the foothills of Tibet, with a local Filipino boat crew, daringly sailed against the strong currents while being assaulted by aggressive gusts of wind.




On January 19 we set off from the HM Explorer berthed on the Chindwin River just below Khamti town. We switch from the comfortable boat to two modified pick- up trucks for the road ahead into to the north and west. While intern Charlie Brown, film-maker Xavier Li and Myanmar Coordinator Daw Sandra sit in the “air seats” bolted to the cargo bay of the truck, enjoying the dusty view, I opt for the more confined but less dusty cab, riding shotgun with the young Naga driver. The driver and I make small talk on the way in broken English and Burmese. His father is a soldier stationed near the town, and we stop briefly to meet him. The son is obviously proud of his new job as a driver, and he calls out the names of the towns as we travel through them. At Lahe town, 1,005 m above sea level, it is already 13:40 and I am hungry. Howman knows this town well, since it was the scene of the annual Naga Festival last year when he attended. This year the festival is in a more remote location, and we have decided to follow another route instead of attending the somewhat staged assembling of the tribes. We stop to have a quick lunch and register with the police, then get back in our positions in the pickup trucks and continue on, passing some nice patches of forest, but there is progressively less forest as we continue on travelling west. Instead, we pass very large swidden clearings, where the trees and brush have recently been cut and are now drying before burning. The brush will be burned to release its nutrients, and then a mix of crops will be planted in the ashes – hill rice, beans, Job’s tears, pumpkins and gourds




It feels like I have been around for much longer, but in fact this trip to Palawan was indeed my third time on a CERS expedition. I was never the athlete type; I have trouble walking on concrete without tripping over my own feet. CERS’s explorations, as far I was told, would not be trekking-oriented. Yet somehow someone frail and physically inept like me wound up on three expeditions that involved hardcore hiking. And the five-day expedition to the source of Maoyon River was by far the most strenuous one I have ever participated in. Allow me to briefly outline my outlook on anthropology as a discipline, so as to explain my role and expectations for this fieldtrip. The beauty of anthropology is the ‘bottom-up’ approach that we adopt in academic research. Unlike other social sciences that are more preoccupied with grand narratives and theories, anthropologists celebrate cultural diversities, appreciate deviations from ‘norms’, and reflect upon and challenge “the ordinary” embraced by mainstream society.




Growing up, I disdained reading stories with sad or tragic endings. So, I formed the habit of reading the last chapter of a book first. If a happy ending was not assured, I would not commit my time to reading the front part, thus saving myself time, emotion, and a few tears. But today, I cry even reading a comic. Every book I read is like a sad story, bringing tears to my eyes. With any reading that extends beyond twenty minutes or so, my eyes automatically start watering, an annoying byproduct of ageing, at least in my case. So, it is with such strained eyes that I review photographs I took in 1977 in Hangzhou, now stored as low-resolution images in my computer. But this time, tears came to my eyes both from age, as well from my sweet and beautiful memories being abruptly taken away.




My hands are frozen and numb. My camera has gone wild, taking photos in delayed mode a few seconds after I push the shutter. Then it momentarily dies and I have to reboot it. The wind is blowing and the temperature must be below zero as rain turns to hail. It must be the altitude, 4821 meters in elevation. Otherwise it has to be the river god, as my team and I reach the watershed and source of the Irrawaddy River. “This is it,” I gave out the order, marking a small drop- off where two tiny streams trickle downward joining each other. Beyond and above are marshes with water holes, merging to become the source stream. My iPad has been on all morning, with my special App tracking our route, time, distance and several other crucial data from our basecamp to here. “Let’s mark the spot with the prayer flag,” I give out another order to my team. Soon three poles are stuck in the ground and a string of colourful flags span the source of the Irrawaddy. My next move is almost like clockwork, something I had dreamed of, as well as performed, several times before, each time when I reached the source of a great river; the Yangtze, Mekong, Yellow River, or Salween. I kneel down striding the creek, and with my two hands I bring the water to my mouth. Drinking from the source is always a very sacred moment, especially for an explorer. I make several screen-shots on my iPad satellite image to record the necessary data, most importantly, the coordinates of this spot – 28°44’04”N 97°52’35”E. Time of arrival is of course noted. My Omega says 10:38. It’s been almost three hours of continuous riding on horseback since we left basecamp at 7:48 this morning. Next my team passes me three Aluminium water bottles which I use to collect the source water for later analysis back home. Our caravan helpers are watching with amazement. Why do these people make such a big deal about a tiny stream?




“X! Hurry up! We are not movie stars;” How Man, leader of the expedition, shouts out loud. The whole CERS team is ready to conduct the ceremony of throwing longest prayers at the source of the Irrawaddy River, altitude 4821m. It is cold and windy, and nobody wants to stay there for any longer than necessary. I am still calibrating the DJI drone camera that I plan to fly above the team as they throw out the light paper slips printed with prayers. It would be a great shot of a great moment to be captured forever. I move my freezing cold fingers fast. As expected, the remote controller reacts a bit slower than it should. GPS signal is strong. The gimbal camera, however, detects an under-exposed image quality, probably because of the dull sky with white clouds beneath it. Fog spreading around has also confused the camera sensor as to whether it is bright or dark. The monitor reveals very low visibility. I have to switch all settings to manual control and hide myself in the down jacket to protect the remote controller. Adding to this hectic rush, rain starts to fall, occasional changing to hail. Drone cameras are not supposed to fly in rain. The four electric motors of the propellers are easily short circuited if penetrated by water. A tiny drop on the camera lens will ruin the image and the list of possible damage continues. What the hell, there is no time to reason with nature.


Last season of a nomad camp


The low shrub above our basecamp is changing a coat of colours, into yellow, orange, and crimson red. We are at 3900 meters. It indicates that frost has arrived at 4000 meters, thus the foliage change. Not far from our camp is the high pasture for the Tibetan yak and zho (a hybrid between yak and cow) grazing ground. Tseren Sangmo and her aunt Yishi Lacho are the only souls at this high pasture. The log shed they built some seven years ago can be considered the first household at the Irrawaddy source. Here they would spend two months of the year, from August to early October. In another five days, their family members, perhaps three men, would arrive from home, four days march away, to help them decamp to go home. For the previous two months, June and July, Sangmo and Lacho were at a higher camp, another 200 meters higher, at another grazing ground. There, they live in a shed similar to this one. Back home in the village of Gula, pasture is scarce and thus kept only for winter grazing. They herd their livestock here to the adjacent Quwa village and paid a fee to use their pasture for summer grazing. For each animal, they would pay 30 Yuan for seasonal usage. Herding over 30 animals belonging to three families from their home, they would pay upward of a thousand Yuan.




Knowing I was going to visit China Exploration & Research Society (CERS) in June, my proctor Valerie Ma spent one of the last night’s of study hall before school’s end sharing stories about her time as an intern there the past few summers. She pulled up pictures and described a summer spent on a boat in Myanmar with a community of enthusiastic explorers, spotting snub-nosed monkeys for the first time on Baima Snow Mountain in Yunnan Province, and lazier, enjoyable days spent with other interns playing cards in between diving into research articles for her culminating research report on opium. As a global studies educator and curious traveler, I had so many questions: “How were you inspired to research opium? What are some of your most powerful experiences you’ve had in the internship? Tell me more about the places you visit.” Valerie’s eyes would light up as she described her engagement with people, place, and community across China and the value of CERS, led by charismatic explorer How Man. While I had an impression of my future visit, I remained curious and excited as I anticipated my arrival.


About a month later, I was at the Zhongdian Center of CERS with four other Deerfield Academy faculty members: Michael Cary, Emma Coffin, Cindy Feng, and Will Speer. A professional development experience, our travels had already taken us to Beijing and Lhasa to deepen our understanding of China’s rich histories, cultures, and landscapes. With our visit to CERS, we aimed to better understand their important work, learn more about rural China, and imagine what it would be like to bring a group of Deerfield students, there.


Tibetan Architecture & Its Significance


On a whim last quarter, I took a class called Introduction to World Architecture. As an intended Mathematical and Computational Science major, I am not usually inclined to take that kind of class, but I decided to go for it because it sounded interesting. Although I enjoyed the class and the variety of buildings included in the course, I was disappointed in the lack of diversity in the architecture. The discussions we had about Western architecture were fascinating, but we did not spend as much time discussing non-Western architecture as I would have hoped. Seeing the architecture of the local Shangri-la region firsthand only confirmed my suspicion that there was a large portion of non- Western architecture that my class did not cover.
Tibetan architecture is fascinating to study because architects in this region have to be resourceful when it comes to finding building materials and figuring out how to stay warm. This resourcefulness results in a great variety of building styles from region to region. The architecture of this large region of cultural influence is very diverse. Therefore, I think it is best to talk about the architecture in terms of common themes and ideas as opposed to specific elements.


The Great Tibetan Dog


The Tibetan Mastiff has been a world wide staple of Tibetan culture that has recently spread through the western world and the Americas. During my first trip to China, specifically to the northwest corner of Yunnan Province in Shangri-la County, I had my first close up encounter with a traditional Tibetan Mastiff. I was on a volunteer trip through my University to work with local children on environmental sustainability, English skills, and sports, working with the China Exploration and Research Society or CERS. CERS’s founder Wong How Man created a purebred mastiff kennel in Deqen County in China, to preserve the declining gene pool that had been threatened by crossbreeding with other dogs. The program was recently halted after breeding mastiffs became a lucrative national craze, and a last remaining mastiff was re-located to the CERS Zhongdian Center in Shangri-La. This 10-year-old male mastiff wears the traditional black coat with brown marking under its neck and above his eyes.
Talking with staff and locals about the Tibetan mastiff, the importance of the breed to Tibetan nomadic and local culture really started to materialize for me. After looking through the library at the CERS Center, I found several books on the Tibetan mastiff and their importance to the Tibetan plateau.
The Tibetan mastiff breed is thought to be 5,000 years old, first originating from the eastern Himalayan mountains of Bhutan, Sikkim, and Tibet. One source described the Tibetan mastiff as the “Adam” of many of the large dog breeds, such as the Great Pyrenees, Burmese Mountain Dog, Rottweiler, and Saint Bernard. The oldest reports of the Tibetan mastiff go back as far as 1100 B.C.E. Tibetan mastiffs were described by both Greek and Roman historians as hunting dogs, and some were so furious they were put in Gladiator rings as fighters. The first pictures of Tibetan mastiffs were found in artifacts in Assyria and Babylonia around 700 B.C.E. While tutoring Alexander the Great, the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, documented his encounter with the “Great Dog of India” as the dogs were being brought back to Greece. These are believed to have been the Tibetan mastiff. He described the dog as a superior hunter that could even take out a full grown lion. There was a famous story told during those times of a great hunt for a large lion with four Dogs of India. Once the dogs got a hold of their targeted lion they would not unclench their jaws even when the hunter pulled at them to the point where their limbs were being ripped off.


The Cers Video Archive: You May Say I am A Dreamer


"Help yourself! Feel free to watch any tapes." How Man, President of CERS, showed me the heavy duty storage rack full of old video tapes in CERS’s Hong Kong headquarter office. Most of the tapes had a label with only date and place written on it. I felt discontented immediately because, as an editor and film- director, I know that it is essential when editing that any particular video clip should be easily located with accuracy in order to save time and maintain concentration. I have had so much painstaking experience in going through hours and hours of footages just to find a particular one second scene. This happened when detailed descriptions were not logged for each tape. Simply a date or a place is not good enough.
At least all tapes were kept in boxes stacked inside an air-conditioned room with dehumidifier. They were perfectly well protected from moisture and hence from deterioration. I felt anxious however, because of the imminent loss that would arise, not from within, but from the ever-changing world outside the box. Soon the footage recorded would be lost, not because of the failure of magnetic tracks on tape but because of the playback machine that was calibrated to interpret an analog video signal developed by the British in the 1930s. Manufacturers such as JVC, SONY and Panasonic ceased production of analog video machines after the inception of digital video in the mid-1990s. Digitalization had revolutionized the television and video production industry, thus making it difficult to find and expensive to retrieve analog video. The longer the time, the higher the risk of losses. Looking at those tapes on the shelf with labels dated 1983, 1984, 1985... up to 2014, my heart sank.


August 2017 Cruise on Hm Explorer on the Chindwin River in Myanmar


When I learnt in 2013 that the China Exploration and Research Society had built a boat in Myanmar in order to explore the huge rivers there, I immediately felt I must find an opportunity to embark on HM Explorer to discover the parts of the country that the boat makes possible to access.
We had some familiarity with Myanmar. My wife Anthea had been invited in 1979 to join a group of five other women to visit what was then known as Burma. The tour was organised by Caroline Courthauld, wife of senior Jardines executive Willian Courthauld. Caroline is a writer, photographer, documentary film producer and researcher. She is a former chairman of the Keswick Foundation.
The group flew to Rangoon (now Yangon) via Bangkok and stayed at the historic Strand Hotel. Visits to the famed Shwedagon Pagoda were made both at dusk and the following morning. They then flew to Mandalay on a Fokker Friendship turboprop plane and stayed at the Mandalay Hotel
The next day they visited wood carving, cheroot, alabaster carving, antique bronze and begging bowl factories by boat and pony trap via Ava, Sagaing and Amarapoura.
A visit to Maymo, the British Hill Resort 67km north east towards the border with Yunnan in China, followed. This included the Botanic Gardens, the Old Town, the win, teakwood logging, Schwenandaw Monastery, Kuthodaw Pagoda and the embalmed body of the monk Zawtika.




You may someday find it useful,” I said as I handed over a box of snake bite medicine to Sharon. “Last time I was here, I saw two bamboo vipers within five minutes. One of them was right at the edge of our house. Those are extremely poisonous.” I added as I turned the box to look at the ingredients and the dosage printed on the back.
“Hmmm, look at that - lizard skin, centipede, poisonous plants and more. I guess it takes something toxic to remedy snake bite venom,” I pointed to the ingredients. “And dosage; twenty pills for a start, down to ten later on,” I read out from the small print on the box.
“But just a minute - do not use if pregnant. Huh! Why not? In that case, maybe it is also good for abortion,” I quipped. “I don’t think I would ever need it for your suggested application,” Sharon finally snapped back, sort of barking.




But, but....I’ve been eating chicken feet, my favorite dim sum dish,” I stuttered a bit as I revealed this to Danchen, my close friend. Danchen, a very knowledgeable Rinpoche and retired Vice Party Secretary of Tibet, wrinkled his forehead a little in disgust. Then he continued to explain to me something I was totally ignorant about, despite having visited the Jizushan, or Chicken Foot Mountain, twice in the past.


I first came here twelve years ago, during the last Year of the Rooster pilgrimage in 2005. Then I came again in 2007, escorting several Hump pilot friends when they were into their 90s. On that trip they saw on the ground, for the first time, the pagoda they had seen from the air uncounted times while flying during World War II. The pagoda was their check point, navigating them to Kunming after passing the high mountains of the Himalayas.





I watched the reef go by as it rose vertically 20 meters above me and dropped 90 meters below me into the blackness. Suddenly, I realized I was completely alone in the blue. The strong current had pulled me around a corner in the wall. I could no longer see my dive buddy or the rest of the team, and for a second, a wave of panic swept over me. It was big, big ocean for a tiny person to be alone in, 30 meters below the surface of the sea.


The currents at Tubbataha were strong and it was easy to get swept ahead of the group if they stopped to check out something along the wall. And there was plenty to stop for – a White-tipped Reef Shark or an enormous Marble Stingray resting on a ledge, a parade of young Grey Reef Sharks, a Green Turtle swimming along the top of the wall, a school of cobalt blue Yellow-tailed Trevally or Pyramidal Butterflyfish descending the wall head first.




X, Happy is here!” CERS Philippines Project Manager Joceline shouts out loudly. I finally get the chance to meet Happy, the man Joceline often praises and feels happy about. In his sixties, Happy is a strongly built old man with a healthy tanned skin tone and beard growing on his chin and cheek. He effortlessly paddles his fishing kayak approaching us with speed. “Are you able to speak Hong Kong Cantonese?” I greet him with an excited loud voice and a big smile. A typical Cantonese gesture to greet someone you never expected, especially for me, in the middle of exotic Sulu Sea. “Of course! I am a Hong Kong boy from Shau Kei Wan.” He shouts back.
It is 12 days to Christmas Eve. The CERS research boat HM2 has just completed a 26 hour, 268 km eastbound voyage from Palawan Honda Bay to Cagayancillo Island, home town of Joceline. We have planned this trip over a year to achieve multiple tasks that include filming the Island’s Annual Children’s Day Parade when over 300 children dress up beautifully, sing loudly and dance and march across the town. It is a kind of tradition unique to fisher folk culture that I feel resembles the “Tai Ping Ching Chiu - 太平清 醮 ” of Hong Kong but is far less known by the outside world. We are also documenting the changing life of local fishing families in which most adults inevitably leave their own seas to work overseas. Last but not least, we have to test the newly acquired drone camera for capturing aerial views of the CERS research boat HM2 sailing into unknown territory.


The Magic of Not-for-Profit


National Treasures, a dying tradition, a country neighboring China, a not-for-profit project, and certainly great fun to be involved; it all fits perfectly with CERS. And this is not even to mention the significance of the project in terms of education and conservation. CERS, with the blessing of Her Majesty The Royal Grandmother Of The Fifth King Of Bhutan, is now on board for sponsoring the production of a documentary film.
Tashigomang (Many Doors of Auspiciousness), according to the French diplomat and a scholar in Asian Studies specializing in Himalayan studies, Dr. Mathou, can be considered as an indigenous Bhutanese tradition or perhaps a genuine Bhutanese national treasure, even though the invention of this vanishing tradition has been closely related to Buddhism as a whole since the 16th century. However, it is in Bhutan that the Tashigomang has been, in Dr. Mathou’s word, “part of the local culture in the most comprehensive way,” which contrasts with other Buddhist territories where it has totally vanished.


The Blue Eyed Monk


We leave the Old Town in Zhongdian bright and early on a Thursday morning on a kind of cultural and spiritual exploration.
Because of road construction, we must travel south down to the Yangtze, then follow the river upstream. We finally leave the river’s banks at the bridge to Qi Zhong, where we cross into Weixi Lisu Minority Autonomous County. A new bridge across the Yangtze, slightly higher than the old one, is nearing completion just upstream. We have lunch near the New Bridge Hotel, and the cook and proprietor, Hou Cui Yin, tells us that she is a member of the Malimoso Minority. It is a minority that is not recognized by the government, but just lumped together with the Naxi. Although Weixi is called a Lisu Autonomous County, the population here includes almost as many Naxi, Tibetan, Bai and Han people.


Return to Naga Head Hunter's Territory


I have flown a lot on Airbus. As for AirTruck, only twice - the first time was four years ago and now again. It is something I wasn't quite looking forward to, except the destination where this truck is taking me, to the once-a- year Naga Festival along the Myanmar border with India. These AirTrucks are more cool and definitely more bouncy than Air Jordans, the Nike shoes bearing Michael Jordan's name. It is called AirTruck because the passengers sit on top, enjoying the cool air from above. And in this case in the winter of the Naga hills, it's cold air. As for bouncy, it is an understatement for lack of a better word.
1619-naga2 1619-naga3
Covering myself with a hat, neck cloth and face-veil to shield the sun and the dust, I resembled some kind of an insurgent or terrorist. Insurgents there are indeed in these hills, extending into the at- times turbulent territories of Nagaland on the Indian side of the border. On the Myanmar side however, things have settled down quite a bit. The many military sentries four years ago are no longer in sight, or at least not as blatantly visible as before.


China 30 Years Ago
Though I have worked in China since 1974 for over 40 years, this year marks CERS’ 30th and it seems appropriate to revisit that special year 1986 with a gallery of photos from that era.
The year started off with my coverage of the lower Yangtze for the National Geographic, followed by the first CERS expedition to China’s southern border provinces of Guizhou and Yunnan.
Returning to visit the Dong and Miao minorities during a festive month yielded some superb pictures, as well as ethnographic objects and costumes to enrich our growing photo archive and artifact collection. The visit to the Dai people of Xishuangbanna and the Dehong Jingpo people followed with additional results.


Head Hunter No More
The heads are being counted, fewer and fewer. But these are not the heads the Tsou people historically hunted when they raided their neighboring enemies. That custom has been abolished and died almost a century ago. It is the head count of their own people, dwindling now to fewer than 4,000 individuals.
“If the current trend continues, our people will be extinct in a few generations.” Dai Su-yun sounded her alarm, chatting with me over a fine cup of tea that she carefully brewed for us. We are here to inspect our project among her people.
Dai is the wife of An Da-ming, one of the most successful tea farmers in the Alishan region at Dabang, which is the heart of where the best Taiwan teas are grown, as well as the heart of the indigenous Tsou people of Taiwan. Though Dai is very concerned about the future of the Tsou people, she herself is not of Tsou ancestry, but married into the family. The fate of the tribe, of the ethnic group, and even of her husband, is no doubt in jeopardy.


Teak Pretending To Be Plam
The forest is dark. The old moon has ebbed and the new moon has yet to show his face. There is a whisper as the wind dies down. “Mom, I am scared, it is so dark out,” the tiny sapling raised his head and looked at the taller tree. Mother looked down and brushed her child with her arm of large leafs. “Child, don’t worry. In time you will grow up and see the sky, the moon and even the stars,” said the mother with a loving voice.
As she looked away, however, tears started dropping from her eyes. In her heart, she had no way of knowing whether her child would ever grow up as tall as she. Looking down at her own girth, marked with a white ring, she knew her own days were numbered. “Is it raining, mom?” The small voice asked. The mother quickly wiped her tears and looked down again. “No my child, it is just a few stars falling,” she said with a gentle smile. She must keep her child’s imagination alive.


Two Foreign Pilgrims On The Inner Kora of Kawakarpo
As an anthropologist studying Tibetan pilgrimages since 1990, I was lucky enough to be able to do two outer circumambulations around the sacred mountain Kawakarpo in 2003. That year was a Water-Sheep year and the sixtieth year in the Tibetan sexagenary (60-year) calendrical system, considered to be the most auspicious one for the pilgrimage, since it is said to be the mountain god’s birth year.


Outermost Islands Off Taiwan
Outermost Islands Off Taiwan
My flight is subsidized. It has to be. For a new ATR prop-jet with 72 seats, there were only eight of us passengers. Four in the crew, including two pilots, provided a ratio of 2:1 in service. This is off-season. I was told that during June and July, many tourists arrive, from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mainland China.


First Time Joining The CERS Family
First Time Joining The CERS Family
Friends and colleagues asked why, with a newly minted MBA, I wanted to quit a prestigious corporate job with great prospects for the future. Finally I have my answer after spending two weeks on a field trip with CERS. There is no more “TGIF” for me, but instead it is “Thank God Everyday Is Friday.”
Waking up with fresh air and a colorful sunrise, exploring the Chindwin River on the HM Explorer, our research vessel;I never felt it was tiresome. I was so lucky to listen to so much of the views and obser vations of Wong How Man along the trip; things that I never learned in business school. We worked morelike a family than just a team. All the boat staff are so eager to learn and help each other. My traveling experience with CERS opened my eyes and heart to doing many things in the future. I’ve gotten a great chance to enjoy the beauty of Myanmar, my own country, and to know more about its life and culture.



Wong How Man
Zhongdian, Yunnan

Statue of Damuzong. It seems strange that I should be making my first pilgrimage to Damuzong’s meditation cave only after it was burnt down by fire last year. Damu was considered to be the First Patriarch Master who brought Buddhism from India to China. I’ve been looking up at this cave from far below, from some 1000 meters in elevation lower down at the foot of the mountain, for well over ten years. Every time, several times a year, we drove past the foot of this pinnacle peak rising west of the Yangtze River, on our way from our Zhongdian Center to the Golden Monkey/Lisu Hill Tribe site.



Zhang Fan (translated by Roger Yung)

Exploring deep inside unknown cave. Palawan is considered to be the best preserved islands in the Philippines. In 2011, the National Geographic magazine named it the world’s best place for scenic photography and diving. When our team first arrived at Palawan’s Puerto Princesa Airport, the first thing that caught my attention was an advertisement about the region’s caves and underground rivers. As a cave explorer, I was so excited. I said to the team, “Bingo, we hit the right target, because our whole team is now coming to explore these caves.”



William Bleisch, PhD
Aboard the HM Explorer on the Ayeyarwaddy, Myanmar

Bamboo raft at foot of Second Defile. The sound of chainsaws echoes through the canyon almost throughout the day. The Second Defile is being logged.

The dreadful background noise makes me cringe reflexively, but the visual scene is still spectacular. The mighty river narrows to a deep ribbon of dark water that snakes between towering hills. The bare rocks of the cliffs stand out from the deep green of the forest, several large trees towering over their neighbours. Birds are abundant and diverse. We even see a small flock of hornbills flying high overhead.



Wong How Man
Liannan, Gunagdong

A Yao baby today. “Please, please join us for lunch. We are cooking anyway,” said Tang Mai De San, the 32 years old son-in-law of the family. I declined his truly warm hospitality as it was not just me, but seven of us in my team, and it would add undue work to their family’s very last day at this ancient house.

Tang had just arrived by motorcycle at this now remote hamlet. And the road, it was only completed less than ten years ago. Soon it would be abandoned and lay to waste. Likewise electricity arrived last year, and after today there would be no need for it anymore.


Musings on fish and commitment while floating in the Sulu Sea

William Bleisch, PhD
Palawan, The Philippines

Five-banded Seargent Major, Abudefduf vaigiensis. Back on the boat, I found myself spontaneously bursting into song, singing all the sea shanties I could remember at the top of my voice.

My father was a fisherman all of his life;
And he courted a mermaid one fine night;
And out of this union, there came three;
A porgy and a sea horse, and then there’s me!

We were on the island of Palawan, the southwestern frontier of the Philippines. For our first explorations, we had come to El Nido on the northern tip of the island, traveling by car instead of boat, a change plans at the last minute when it became clear that our new CERS research vessel, the HM Explorer 2, would take months to register. Without our own boat, we were constrained to join one of the tourist circuits. “Today you are doing tours A and C,” declared the tour guide, before he quickly rattled off the names of our destinations. He was obviously all too-familiar after many repeated trips. The beaches and near shore were crowded with visitors, mostly young Filipinos from the city, together with a few trendy young European and Asian tourists.