Editor’s Note: This post was written by Claire Kane, but she was unable to post it. Why? She believes our site is blocked in China. I’ll inquire in a few days if this indeed is the case or if perhaps we’re just blocked by one service provider or in one internet cafe. On a more positive note, this is the 100th post on Seven Continents! Congratulations to all the writers, and thanks to all our reader for stopping by.

I’m sitting in Flavor Tango, a fast-food Chinese restaurant in the Beijing airport. I’m feeling drained and dreamy. Air Canada flight 029 departed from Vancouver at noon and chased the sun across the Pacific Ocean until we landed in Beijing. Which means that it’s about 3am my time and I still haven’t seen the sunset.

After studying Chinese history and swallowing any article I could find on China for the past few years, I feel like I’ve just landed in my favorite storybook. I’m drinking hawthorn juice and crunching snow peas and all I hear through the airport announcements is a jumble of monosyllabic tones. After a few hours in this airport I find myself already escaping into the fiction pages of the latest New Yorker. Ah, the sweet relief of the Roman alphabet.

I try to ask a lady at a coffee stand how to say ‘gate’ in Chinese. Unfortunately, my year of Chinese language classes hide in a dusty corner of my brain and Spanish comes running out triumphantly. No, no, mi querida lengua, not this time.

I’m debating buying a beer and sinking into the sleepiness, slowing my mind for a few hours before my flight to Xiamen.

Over the summer I explained my trip to China to so many friends and family that it quickly became an abstract and distant idea. I reiterated the rhetoric of the relevance, timeliness of studying Chinese, and started to sound like another voice in the chorus of The Economist’s “China is Rising” choir, with all its epic mysticism.  Today in the Beijing terminal it is happening. I’m here. Instead of these logical, credentialist motivations for going to China, it is my heart that is pulling me forward: I can’t wait to land in Xiamen.


Looking out the window of the plane yesterday, I was ecstatic when I realized that no, that’s not a very lost sailboat on the water down there.  No, indeed, ladies and gentlemen…


And it is not alone.

Yes, folks, welcome to the Arctic.  Resolute Bay, specifically.  We arrived here yesterday after roughly seven hours of flights up from Ottawa.  This will be our last stop before hopping a twin-otter plane to Axel Heiberg Island, two hours even further north of here. 

The word barren, while accurate, does not do justice to the Arctic.  It is starkly beautiful.

Sleeping in the tent last night was less than cozy (note to self: wear a hat to bed), but I am still excited out of my mind to be here.  We are hopefully flying to Axel in half an hour, but the fog may postpone our departure.  Visibility is maybe 200 meters at most.  Not prime flying weather.

It’s quite a hike from our camp at Axel to the nearest internet access, so this may be the last you hear from me for a while.  Stay tuned…

I’m leaving Thursday for the Arctic. Let me know if you have a special request for Mr. Claus and I will try to pass it along, since I’ll be in the neighborhood.

Exactly two weeks from today, I’ll be in British Columbia, getting ready to head up to the Pavilion Lake Research Project–the first of my adventures.

Yesterday, during one of my now-frequent phone calls with friendly NASA folks, I learned that the Discovery Channel is going to be there filming us.


Just thought I’d throw that out there.

Zena Cardman

Like Yousef, I have had a love affair with the Utah desert. I’m jumping on the blog post wagon (even though I haven’t actually left yet for this year’s adventures) because Yousef’s last post totally struck a chord with me.

It has been just about five months since I was last in Utah. Canyon country is, for me, even more than a humbling, stunning wilderness. It’s Mars on Earth. I spent my winter break out there, living in a 24-foot-wide cylinder–half landing pod, half glorified tin can–as a crew member at the Mars Desert Research Station. read about it here | see photos here

Buzz Aldrin famously said about the moon: “Beautiful, beautiful! Magnificent desolation.”

Desolation. That’s what excites me. I’m interested in things that might be living in places we once thought inhabitable … including Mars. Astrobiologists study the prospects for and origins of life throughout the universe. Here on Earth, we study the life in extreme environments because those terrains are the most like extraterrestrial environments. By studying what thrives in very cold or very dry areas on Earth, we gain insight into what might be necessary for life elsewhere in the solar system, where it’s even more difficult (by our standards, anyway) to survive.

My interest in astrobiology (along with a desire to wear a spacesuit and cavort around the canyons on ATVs with other space geeks) is what brought me to the Mars Desert Research Station last December. In the next eight months, my passion for studying life at all ends of the Earth will take me on a series of adventures from the Arctic to the Antarctic. In store for me: drunken parties with NASA scientists, nearly two months without a sunset, penguins, glaciers, pirate ships, icebreaker ships, lots of Dramamine.

T-minus two and a half weeks.

Ready as hell and counting down,

Zena Cardman

* * *


I leave for Australia in 49 days, 22 hours and 21 minutes. Unil then, I’ll be completing work for my biomedical engineering class here at Duke. And I’ll also be doing paperwork, which right now is all that I have to document (no pun intended) my study abroad experience.

Since deciding to travel to Australia, I feel that I have signed my life away and filled out more informational forms than ever before in my life, except possibly when applying to college. Key word: possibly. Luckily, I’m positive this will all be worth it. Right now, the current obstacle is my Student Visa.

Let me introduce myself a bit: I am a rising Duke junior, majoring in biomedical engineering (hence my current summer endevor on Duke’s campus) and I love horseback-riding, running and writing for the Chronicle. My favorite hobby is photography, which I hope in include a lot on this blog. In Australia, I’ll be taking classes at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, touring the country and hopefully working a few days a week at the University.

Even now, as I spend time in Durham with friends and classmates, learning about bioelectricity and performing ECG’s on frogs, I look forward to 5 exciting and never-paralleled-in-my-life-thus-far months.

I’m counting down.

49 days, 21 hours and 15 minutes