a journal of a researcher

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Amazon Jungle

I booked a 5 days/4 nights package from Amazonat Jungle Lodge. This lodge is at 130 KM east to Manaus. Manaus now has three million residents which is the biggest city in Amazon area. I do not see the purpose to have a giant city in the middle of the tropical jungle. To be able to assemble cars or cellular phones at Manaus is not a big advance for human beings. To be able to agriculture at tropical area is not so important for human beings either. The undisturbed tropical forest and the original status of the giant rivers are nowhere to see, after human beings set their footprints.

The jungle
As said in the tourism book, the jungle exists only around lodges where the forest is kept. Amazonat Lodge has a piece of jungle about 14*2.5 KM. So we can trek in the jungle without leaving the lodge. This piece of forest hosts several kinds of monkeys, osolets (a kind of big cat), spiders and birds. Unluckily, I did not see any monkeys. The diversity of the vegetations is obvious and may be more than the other tropical forests I have ever visited. I saw more brooks than the other tropical forests. We were companied by a guide and BBQed in a rest station in the middle of the forest.

The giant rivers
The most interesting thing is the giant rivers. River Negro and River Solimoes is merge near Manaus to form Amazon. At the wet season, Amazon can be 40 KM wide. Even at dry season, many branches of the white waters and the black waters are still very large. I spent one day on a black river called Urubu. Urubu river has less residents on its bank. I saw Igapo, a water logged forest and a caiman about 1 meter. I swam on two beaches. Another swim near an Igapo almost drawned me. I was flown away!

Another day was spent on Amazon and fishing the piranhas on another smaller river. In the evening, the guide located the caiman and caught a small caiman with bare hands. After several photos, it was released. The piranhas are a lot in the river. It needs just seconds to catch one. I brought back three big piranhas and released most of my catches. The piranhas became the famous soup in the dinner. It is really tasteful. I am learning how to cook the soup, with other fishes I can get from the market.

Where are the piranhas?
The piranhas eat meat. They can be many in a river. A group of piranhas can finish a big animal in a few minutes. When the guide told me to swim in a place, I always asked if there were piranhas. On the Urubu river, I was told the piranhas are in big rivers and white waters. On Amazon, I was told the piranhas are in small rivers. I was not allowed to swim on the river where I fish the piranhas. I think piranhas are actually everywhere. Just different places have different concentrations. When there is enough food, piranhas are not so aggressive. But it is just by chance that a place is safe. I would recommend people not to swim in the river. The locals do not swim at all. Maximum they just stand in the water. Swimming is invented for tourists.

The locals
The local community near the lodge is the Caboclo people who is a mixture of Europeans, black salves and Indians. They do agriculture and fishing for living. As many tropical areas, the locals appear not so speedy and hard working. Of course, you do not need a lot to survive in the tropical area – a few t-shirts, some plantations, and a wood cabin. Their first marriage can be as young as 14 years old. Many have more than 5 children. The Brazil government does a good job to connect the villages with good roads and good bus services. Hospitals and schools are available when needed. The health care is free. The education probably is not so high level if people are supposed to marry so young.

I am in Brazil

I was invited to give a talk about Web services for online experiments in Brazilian Workshop on Information Technology in the Development of Advanced Internet (TIDIA). Sao Paulo Research Foundation supports the research program of the same name since 2001 to support the scientific and technological research in cooperative projects, through an experimental high speed net. The program involves more than 600 researchers in Sao Paulo state. In short, the workshop demonstrates the research results in building the network, e-learning applications over the network.

I found the workshop is well organized and attended. People are able to communicate in English. I was among the four invited speakers. The others are profs from USC, UCDavis and Canarie. So I felt honored. I also enjoyed good hotel and restaurant in Sao Paulo.

During the workshop, I even did two comments during the open discussion in the penal session about research projects and funding in Brazil. From what I observed in the workshop, I found the state and the government are willing to put a significant amount of money into research. They expect both results in fundamental research as well as in practical applications.

But I found there is lack of national or state level plan on research. The deliberation is among some high officers. They could be attracted by some research projects in US or other countries. But there is no systematic analysis of what research topics and problems are important for Brazil. My opinion is that it is important to launch a strategic study what are the society problems in Brazil and how to use CS and IT techniques to solve these problems and develop economics. If these problems are identified and if there are enough well trained researchers, good publications and leading places will come. On the contrary, following the research topics in US does not necessarily mean good publications (the curse to the follower) and the results may not be crucial for Brazil to adopt. Highly qualified personnel has to be trained.
Comparing Brazil and China, I think the development level is similar. Brazil has better medical care system, while China has better education system. The country side and the cities have uneven development levels. But for research, China appears to be stronger. China has clear national strategy on research and technology development. For example, China has put high priority to develop high speed computing, electronic circuit design and manufacturing technology. These domains are considered to be the domains where China will gain best competence in the world. Furthermore, the economics will be built on these domains. In Brazil, I did not see this kind of strategy. As China and Brazil are not in the leading places in many domains in the world, both countries are lack of the top researchers in these domains. With the largest population, China seems to have better potential in students than Brazil.