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South Pole team gives colleague a special birthday

By Zhou Wenting in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-07 08:14

Wang Nan celebrated her 25th birthday on the frozen continent of Antarctica. She didn't go there on an ordinary trip. Instead, she was one of the youngest females on the national expedition team.

Wang, who does publicity work at the Shanghai-based Polar Research Institute of China, joined a 159-day Antarctic expedition on the Chinese icebreaker Xuelong (Snow Dragon) in November 2015. It was the country's 32nd Antarctic expedition.

She said an extraordinary birthday celebration at Zhongshan Station, a Chinese scientific research base in Antarctica, will be in her mind forever.

"There was no cake there, so my colleagues made me a 'cake' with ice from the polar region that may have been in existence for hundreds and hundreds of years. They cut the ice into a heart shape and surrounded it with candles that they ferreted out of the warehouse," said Wang, who worked as a secretary collecting scientists' work records and coordinating visits by foreign scientists who were also doing Antarctic research.

"Another fellow did a magic trick with playing cards and finally showed two figures: 25 and 32, which signifies my age and that it was the 32nd national Antarctic expedition," she said.

The native of Dalian, Liaoning province, who described herself as not being emotional, said tears were pouring down her face at that moment.

"It really made me feel that we were a big family," said Wang, who was among 277 members on the 55,500 kilometer expedition.

South Pole team gives colleague a special birthday

She said she had listened to various stories shared by the scientists who had been to the region but it was still difficult to understand what the cold continent was really was like.

"I was told by scientists that they had a deep affection for Antarctica after having been there, and I wondered what kind of experience would make people fall in love with a barren place," Wang said.

After having been there, Wang said, she also developed a special affection.

"Antarctica is a place of purity. I gasped in admiration at the superb creation of nature, and it really purified and refreshed our minds," she said. "It is always changing. If you look at the sea ice from afar, the shape changes every day and it also reflects different colors with the changing sunlight and clouds."

Wang said her biggest hope after returning is to write more stories about the scientists who are dedicated to the polar expeditions, which push the boundaries of people's understanding of the unknown universe and can even be life-threatening.

When they were at Zhongshan Station, a 61-year-old scientist with the Australian national expedition team fell into a 20-meter deep crevasse.

"It was -40 C down there and the rescue was not as easy as in a usual environment. The Australian team requested help from the Chinese and Russian teams, and the veteran helicopter pilot was finally saved after four hours. But he died on the next day," Wang said.

"I used to understand the job of the scientists as one that required high tolerance of solitude, as some of them are stationed in the region all year, but after that experience, I think people should show them more respect," she said.

Wang said she would raise the issue of environmental protection in the polar region in her daily publicity work.

"Scientists who have been to both poles said the sky above the Antarctic is far more beautiful than that above the Arctic, which they believed is related to human activities in the northern hemisphere with its denser population," she said.

"The size of the market for Antarctic tourism has grown dramatically, with people's rising interest in the natural wonders, but I hope people won't harm the virgin land," she said.

Last year, more than 5,000 Chinese tourists visited the continent, accounting for 12 percent of worldwide visitors there - second only to the United States with more than 14,000 tourists, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators.

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