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Chinese researchers grow vegetables, forge friendship with foreign counterparts in Antarctica

(People's Daily Online)    16:03, May 14, 2020

“The food in the Chinese Antarctic research stations is the best in the whole of Antarctica,” said Wang Tao, deputy head of China’s Kunlun research station in Antarctica, as he revealed the details of the everyday lives of Chinese Antarctic research teams in a recent TV show.

Photo shows Antarctic expedition teams from different countries enjoying themselves at activities held at China’s Changcheng Antarctic research station to celebrate the Mid-Winter Festival, the most important festival in Antarctica.

Wang also told viewers that researchers unload thousands of tons of goods onto snow-covered lands, build houses in temperatures of 30 to 40 degrees Celsius below zero, and lie on snowfields for hours to repair a vehicle.

Scientists at the Antarctic research stations are often unable to take a bath for two months, cannot return home for more than 500 days, and cannot get to within 5 meters of penguins, disclosed Wang, who is a logistical technician in charge of the daily lives and logistical support for researchers at the Kunlun station.

Wang has worked in Antarctica for eight years, and has been nicknamed “the butler of Antarctica” due to his meticulous care for the research teams.

Thanks to the careful and meticulous efforts of generations of people to guarantee sufficient logistical support, China is the only major country that hasn’t suffered deaths of any personnel in its expeditions to Antarctica.

Many people may think that being in Antarctica allows you to get up close with penguins, but hearing that “penguins are coming” is the one thing he is most afraid of hearing, according to Wang.

“According to the Antarctic Treaty, humans are not allowed to contact any wildlife, including penguins,” Wang said, explaining that even when a group of penguins comes to the research stations, researchers can only watch them from afar and wait for them to leave.

Life in Antarctica was hard at first, as researchers could only eat meat and there was no fruit or vegetable available, Wang revealed.

In a bid to improve the situation, Wang and his fellow team members started to build greenhouses to grow vegetables and fruit. They use nutrient solution to feed the plants, humidifiers to prevent dryness, and even play light music for them 24 hours a day to ensure that the plants “grow happily”, Wang said.

The vegetable greenhouse has basically allowed Chinese researchers to eat their fill of vegetables in Antarctica, Wang disclosed.

As it is easy for people in the Antarctic to fall into low spirits, China has built a communication network for its Antarctica research stations.

Since 2017, researchers at China’s Zhongshan research station have been able to make phone calls at any time within 2 kilometers of the station, and have access to the Internet 24 hours a day.

The fast Internet speed at the station has even attracted researchers from the Russian research station, who drive a snowmobile to Zhongshan station to play basketball with Chinese researchers and use their network from time to time, Wang said, adding that the Russian researchers also invite their Chinese counterparts to their station to enjoy their sauna.

According to Wang, research teams from different countries often pay mutual visits, exchange ideas, and offer to help each other.

“Although Antarctica is the coldest place on Earth, expedition team members from different countries all have warm hearts,” said Wang, disclosing that Chinese Antarctic expedition teams have also provided unconditional help to foreign expedition teams.

On Dec. 25, 2013, China’s polar research icebreaker Xuelong received the highest-level call for help at sea from Australia on its way to a research task, Wang disclosed, adding that the Australian side informed Chinese researchers on Xuelong that the Russian expedition vessel Akademik Shokalskiy had been trapped by ice floes and 52 crew members on the research vessel were in urgent need of rescue.

At first, Xuelong tried to help, but was unable to get close. Finally, Chinese researchers sent Xuelong’s helicopter Xueying to transfer the crew members to the Australian expedition vessel, according to Wang, who revealed that Xueying made six round trips to transfer all the trapped crew members safely to the Australian vessel.

The Chinese team’s rescue efforts not only displayed the spirit of mutual assistance, but also embodied the Antarctic Spirit, said the captain of the Russian vessel in a message of thanks later sent to the Chinese research team.

Chinese expedition teams have also helped Australia transfer the remains of team members who have died in Antarctica, offered shelter to a Russian expedition team after a fire, and saved the lives of wounded Indian researchers, Wang disclosed.

“In the Antarctic family, we don’t separate work from duty, and don’t think about nationality and race during rescue,” said Wang.

For 35 years, Chinese expedition teams have frequently heard that China is the most reliable partner in the Antarctic, Wang noted.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Bianji, Liang Jun)

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