Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Korean food adventures, part 2

Dinners continue to be an interesting experience each night involving much gesturing and confusion and references to my slightly inadequate phrasebook. The dinner above was a beef and mushroom soup served with purple rice, kimchee, pickles, sesame battered beans, and some sort of turnip-like root vegetable. Very tasty! And also inexpensive – the total cost for this meal was $14 for the two of us.

Besides the anglerfish adventure, my favourite style of meal is galbi (this is pork, or tawe-jee galbi). The raw meat is brought to your table and grilled in front of you. When it’s a little bit cooked, the server holds it up with tongs and cuts it with scissors into bite size pieces. You then take a lettuce leaf (or any other various leaves, including sesame leaves which are my favourite so far) and load it up with sauce, shredded greens, pork, kimchee, or whatever else from the side dishes you feel like eating. Then you fold up the lettuce and attempt to fit the whole heaping pile in your mouth at once.

My favourite of the side dishes so far are the tiny fishes and squids! They are very salty and fishy tasting in the best of ways.

KIMCHEE! I think this is a very fun and sociable way to eat, and I’m actually surprised I haven’t come across any Korean-style restaurants that serve food this way in Canada.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Korean food adventures

So far I have enjoyed Korean food immensely, and there is a lot of fun to be had in not having any idea of what you’re ordering except for its price. Luckily I’m not a terribly picky eater so I’m usually satisfied with whatever I’m brought, and I haven’t found Korean food unbearably spicey.

Songsan has a raw fish street where there’s a bunch of seafood restaurants with buckets and buckets of live seafood out front. The octopi in the lower right corner were attempting to escape. There’s a huge variety of shellfish, including some huge mussel-like things that I’ve never seen before (in this picture, they’re the far left bucket in the middle row). Lots of crabs, clams, snails, oysters, squid, cuttlefish, and even some tanks with fish.

We tried one of these on Sunday and had a very inexpensive shellfish soup. Food is usually cooked at the table either at an inset grill or in a saucepan on a little table burner, like in this picture. Robin is slurping noodles. Eating noodles without slurping is difficult with chopsticks. Note also the presence of the ubiquitous kimchee in the lower right corner.

Here is another typical spread of food (before the main course even arrived) that we had on Monday. The middle dish was a curry pancake of some sort, the white rectangle in the back is a bean curd with soy sauce, and there was salad, mushrooms, cucumber soup, and kimchee.

Our main course was a spicy steamed anglerfish on bean sprouts, garnished with an octopus.

...and by steamed anglerfish, I mean the WHOLE steamed anglerfish...

Robin seemed somewhat discouraged when I pointed out that the fishy-tasting curly wiggly bits were probably its intestines. They did taste ok, although both of us kind of pushed them to the side after that realization.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A very interesting Songsan park.

Robin has arrived in Songsan and on Saturday we went exploring around the town for a while. We discovered a really nice park with a monument to something called 3.1. There were fountains and a playground, and...

...exercise equipment! I actually think this is a really cool idea. Seems like it would be much nicer to go to the gym outside!

Robin tries out one of the arm pushup dippy things.

RUN! (This one was the most fun, although I’m not sure swinging your legs back and forth provides much exercise.)

We also tried out the foot massage pathway...

Robin steps on one of the less painful portions of the pathway. The worst part were the small grey pokey stones...

My feet felt better afterwards, but I think it was just because I wasn’t walking on the path anymore.

Robin sits in the birdcage further along the path. The park was quite nice and I am sure we will return there and have fun at the grownup playground.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pelvis Progress

Perhaps black fuzzy sneakers were not the wisest choice for this sort of work...

The pelvis is beginning to take shape today. The surrounding rock comes away cleanly from the bone (what we call ‘good separation’), which makes for pretty fast work. Things slow down a bit when I hit weathered, flaky bone – because the bones have not been heavily mineralized, if the hard outer layer of bone (the cortex) comes off, the inner spongy bone can easily turn into powder. When I hit eroded areas, I must slow down and douse the spongy parts in a special glue called Vinac, which is mostly just plastic that dissolves in acetone.

Ankylosaur hips look pretty weird even for dinosaurs, so here’s a picture of a perfect complete specimen at the American Museum of Natural History. This pelvis belongs to a Euoplocephalus from Alberta, and this specimen was very important for my work on ankylosaur tail swinging as it preserves really nice muscle scars that let me map out the tail-swinging muscles. Tail swinging math can be found
here! (The blue line on the scale bar is 10 cm long – ankylosaurs were REALLY fat animals!)

In other news, a new shipment of fossils arrived today – the results of the 2009 field season in the Gobi.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Do you like puzzles?

Sometimes, even when you’ve made a good field jacket, bones get a bit beat up on the way from the field to the lab. I find this to be especially true of bones that have not been very mineralized, like many bones from the Gobi. If you’re careful, you can usually get a good amount of the bits back together, but it requires a lot of patience, especially as the pieces get smaller and smaller...

The pieces I’m gluing back together form parts of the ilia – the long bladelike parts of the pelvis. The brush and glue bottle above give you an idea of the size of the jacket. And the size of the bone bits. I took this photo shortly before my eyes crossed and I gave up for the day - this will be an ongoing project for slow times over the next few weeks. The main parts of the bones have been stabilized so now I can continue removing loose rubble.

A few people have asked me what the outside of the lab and visitor centre looks like, so here you go. The public part of the building is located in the round section at the front – the ground level has displays and posters, and the upper level has the small theatre and patio. As an aside, I caught a bit of the movie that they show in the theatre – a pretty nice computer animation that tells the story of Protoceratops and how the eggs and nests were preserved. The prep lab is found in the section behind the public area, the big flat glass windows under the looming dinosaur. Behind that is unprepared storage on the ground floor, and offices and collections on the second floor.

And, although I do not have a photo of this, today I saw my first dog available as food. There is an open air market every few days near the motel I’m staying at, and today there was a great big pot o’ dog halves. I thought it was pork at first. I was incorrect. I am intrigued but slightly hesitant to try it myself...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Starting in on the skeleton.

The Korea-Mongolia International Dinosaur Project has been collecting fossils from the Gobi Desert for the past several summers, and some of the specimens are housed in the lab in Hwaseong. My visit to Korea is funded through an NSERC Foreign Study Supplement, which is kind of like a study abroad for scientists. The purpose of my visit here is to help prepare a large ankylosaur skeleton, and to get experience working in a different culture and research environment.

This is just one of at least three large field jackets for this specimen – I definitely won’t complete the entire skeleton during this visit, but I hope to make a significant dent in it. (Well, not literally.) Here’s what it looked like when we opened it up – mostly a lot of rock rubble which I have spent the last two days picking through and throwing away, once I’m sure there’s no bone in it. There have been lots of loose fragments of ribs and vertebral processes, and part of what I think is the ilium is showing on one side. The rock is a buff sandstone that is very loosely consolidated in most places, so I think I should be able to make good progress with the airscribe when I get past the rubble.

A nice surprise was a loose block in the rubble that had this dorsal vertebra partly showing. This took about 4 hours to clean up. Separation between the rock and bone is pretty good, and most of the rock just kind of pops off. The vertebra had obviously undergone some erosion prior to burial based on the broken surfaces that were completely enclosed by matrix (indicating that this was not damage caused since being recently exposed). Gobi bones have very different colours compared to the Alberta bones I’m accustomed to – where Dinosaur Park bones are a nice rich brown, and Edmonton and Grande Prairie bones are grey and black, Gobi bones are white, yellow, red and purple.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hwaseong prep work, day 3

Here’s an example of one of the dinosaur nests found nearby. I like how they show the matrix surrounding the nest.

This charming pooch lives at the dinosaur centre – everyone seems to have a different name for her, like “Dino-Girl” or “Yellow Fur”.

At the end of day 2, a lot of progress had been made on the tail club, and lots of matrix had been removed.

Here’s how it was looking at the end of day 3. It actually looks like a tail club now (well, half of a tail club, at least). The surface texture makes for fiddly prep work. This probably needs another morning and then it should be all done.

Monday, June 14, 2010

First day at the Hwaseong Dinosaur Lab

After a long journey to Seoul, I have arrived in Hwaseong-si. Here’s a few pictures from my first day at the lab.

I have begun to prepare a tail club.

The lab is spacious and bright, and visitors to the centre can look in on what we’re up to.

In the visitor’s centre, there are displays highlighting the fossil finds from Hwaseong. Many eggs and nests have been recovered from a Protoceratops-like dinosaur.

On the second floor you can step onto a balcony and take in the view. The lab is located in a marshy area. On the drive in there are lots of farms and rice paddies.

The second floor also has a very cute little theatre with an amazing mural. The opposite wall has information about the Korea Mongolia International Dinosaur Project’s fieldwork.

More to come soon!

Monday, June 7, 2010

5 days to go...

The countdown is really on, now!

Here's a few shots of my previous visit to Mongolia, in August 2007. I feel very lucky to be able to have a second visit to such a wonderful place!

The ankylosaur bonebed Aleg Tag has produced many elements of Pinacosaurus, a small and unusual dinosaur. Unfortunately, the bonebed had been poached before we got there - you can see the small crater-like depressions where bones had been ripped up.

There were a few bones in the quarry. The Aleg Tag bones have a very rich red colour. This image shows a bunch of caudal centra that were lying around.

A slightly more impressive ankylosaur specimen is this nearly complete skeleton of the very spiky Saichania. This is definitely one of my all-time favourite ankylosaurs (oh, who am I kidding, I like them all....).

But Mongolia is much more than just ankylosaurs. The highly unusual and very small Mononykus was another treat to see while in Ulaanbaatar. Note that there is only a single huge claw on the hand!

I previously showed a photo of a cast of the Deinocheirus arms from my visit to Poland, but here are the real deal (with zombie paleontologist for scale).

But perhaps the most impressive dinosaur specimen EVER found is the amazing Fighting Dinosaurs, a Protoceratops and Velociraptor locked in combat. The Protoceratops bites down on the Velociraptor's wrist, while the Velociraptor's sickle claw is embedded in the throat of the Protoceratops. Nobody is exactly sure how this amazing scene came to be fossilized, but hypotheses include burial as a dune collapsed, or during a sandstorm.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Some more congratulations!

Congratulations to Derek Larson who just defended his MSc thesis this morning!

Derek works on the vertebrate assemblage from the Milk River Formation in southern Alberta and has amused us greatly with his sock tans, amusing out of context quotes, cooking adventures, and various other antics.

Good work Derek!