Xin Lida, who was a dinosaur fan as a kid, became a researcher in paleontology. In 2011, he posted a live video about eating the frozen meat of a mammoth with one of his classmates on Weibo. Now, he is thinking whimsically about making dinosaur meals. Is this an ancient monster with horns on its head? No, this person, typical ‘Sandwich-genetaion’ guy, just became a father and has a 7-month-old baby.
Text: Li Zixin
Few days before the Spring Festival, Ji Shisan, the founder of the Songshuhui-Association of Science Communicators, posted a new book called Make dinosaurs into meals in the Nutshell Network. It seems that the book was quite interesting, so I called Ji Shisan to build up further connection with the author of the book, who was studying in the field of Paleontology in the Alberta University in Canada.
I researched in Baidu before getting the response and get the information titled with his name. To my surprise, he was also born in Chaozhou, Guangdong, and he was three years younger than me. I am so proud that my hometown is the hometown of so many talented people.
One year ag0, in February 12, 2011, Xin Lida’s Japanese classmate brought him a meat of mammoth stored in the permafrost from Siberia. The meat of mammoth has a length about 8.7 centimeters and a width about 4.1 centimeters. It is really creative that he cooked the meat and ate it with his classmates, one from Japan and the other from France. They actually did it and posted a live video in the Weibo saying that “pan-firing it and putting salt on it when it was ripe.
The post was forwarded by many celebrities, and it is also reported by many medias. After swallowing the mammoth meat, the French classmate spited out, but Xin Lida was fine. The feeling of eating the meat is described in such way: “It tastes like wild boar, the taste is crude, and it even tastes a little bit like the sandy soil.”
The dream about the paleontology has changed into the passion of working hard. As the person who also watched Koseidon, for Sandwich, the possibility of turning the dream in the childhood into a job in the reality is relatively small. However, Xin Lida did it. He had built up the first website about dinosaur when he was still in the middle school. Besides, he also emailed the professor in the field of dinosaur and got replication and suggestions from them Although he didn’t choose the biology or archeology as his major in the college but chose the economics as his family wants. While the connection with dinosaurs cannot just be blotted out. After working for half year, he went to Zhonghua Dinosaur Park in Changzhou for research in dinosaur. Then he went to the school of Science and Technology in Chengdu and university in Canada for further study.
During the time he was in college, he became an active writer about popularize the knowledge about dinosaurs, publishing more than 20 kinds of books. In 2008, he joined the Songshuhui-Association of Science Communicators, and many readers noticed him about how humorous his articles are and how wonderful these stories are. It is a unique style that turning dinosaurs into human beings with their own characteristics.
For this interview, I had some short chat with Xin Lida by QQ, and the questions are mainly answered in e-mail. Although we haven’t met each other face to face, but I can feel his nature of freedom and optimistic. Now, he has just become a father in his age of 29, and his wife understands how harsh his work is. He is always thinking about staying in the Greenland with his little baby.
And the last book Turning the dinosaurs into the food is quite different from the books he published before. This is a book talking about cooking. Since Xin Lida always regards himself as a eating-lover, he usually eat the delicious food in different places wherever he goes. Now he is using every kind of meat as the material to cook them into meals with the modern cooking methods. Actually, he still talks a lot about the dinosaurs when he was not cooking.
Q: How do you feel when turning your childhood dream into a real job?
A: It actually is natural to me since I have worked in this field for just ten years. Sometimes people may say that it was great to turning a childhood dream into a real jobs. That makes me smile (he pauses). Because I’ve always been like that, I’ve never had a distinction between job and hobby, and so I’ve never had the experience of my heart in a place and my mind in another. However, it’s a bit early to speak of a career. I’m one of these people who follow their heart, and my original impetus holds in this word, ‘fun’. Although I appreciate the value of my results, I thoroughly enjoy the difficulties of the process. Whether in the future I will head to an entirely different direction, that is yet unsure.
Q: What was the first time you get your impression of dinosaurs? Is it from the cartoon ‘Koseidon’？
A: You can count ‘Koseidon’ as one, is a cartoon I watched when I was in elementary school or you can trace back to ‘A hundred thousand questions’ when I was in kindergarten, the book talks about dinosaurs and there was an illustration of a brontosaurus soaking in the water, it felt fascinated by the dinosaurs that time! I found it interesting looking at those long neck and tail. It might the dinosaur complex that every boy has.
Q: Your relation with the studies on dinosaurs, started from your email to Shi Long Tao who participated in the writing of the book ‘A hundred thousand questions’, Why did you have such courage and thoughts when you were in the town?
A: It was both interesting and “boring”. I met a lot of nature enthusiasts all over the world by joining in the earliest natural community on the Internet. Mr.Tao already had a personal website, I was just going for an attempt, writing a letter, and I never expected to step into a new field.
Q: When you were 16, you created the first dinosaurs website in China 1998, what made you come to contact with Internet so early?
A: My family’s expectation of me has no end. (Work Hard!) They made me recite poems, learn to play instruments, calligraphy, English, they made me very laborious, sometimes I defy their orders, because it wasn’t fun. But when I was learning computer, I discover some fun games, the ones that I can remember includes, ‘Virtual City’, ‘The Great Voyage2’, the latter one was terrific! I cherish the memory of playing games at night; the days of discover new lands, fighting with pirates! In terms of dinosaur websites, I was doing for fun, having a personal website can have a good reputation. So I did it, I made it bigger because of my stubbornness.
Q: What was the influence of Internet when you were young? Do you see yourself as the one of the most popular boys?
A: I’m afraid I can’t say I am on of the popular boys, Internet itself was nothing special, the most important thing is that you can have more friends, that is the real prosperity.
Q: You studied economy when you were in university, not biology, what was the reason? It is the influence of family or society?
A: Being a paleontologist or an explorer was my dream when I was young. However, I respect advices of my family, so I didn’t sign up for that field of study. At that time, I felt that to accomplish romantic thoughts, I have to have good economy basis, Economy might be the best profession that makes money. (lol) At least business was easy that time.
Q: Why didn’t you engage in business related to economy instead become a journalist?
A: Maybe it’s because I am not sensitive to numbers, but to words and texts. I didn’t stay long in the journalist company, but I’ve learn a lot, like I follow some professional reporter and I interviewed a lot of people, I learned a lot of skills of communication and interviewing, I also get engaged to Guangzhou at that time. Other than the simple of life of people at that time, a big city like this has some places that people are not aware of.
Q: Why didn’t you continue to be a journalist, but decided to do research works in the Chinese national Dinosaur park. How did you get this opportunity?
A: They sent people to find me, they were true-hearted, because there wasn’t a man who is specialized in Dinosaurs( there isn’t any now), I didn’t just have a personal website, I also published a dinosaur book, the selling was well, they might be thinking that I was in contact with dinosaurs, so they really liked me to join them.
Q: What reason made you go on and study of dinosaurs.
A: It was very interesting, my research started from 2007, because I was in the realm for a long time, I am very familiar with the procedures, so I researched a bunch of dinosaurs’ footprints, my essay published quickly after the it went through examination. From that on, I often explore in the wild, do some traditional research procedure, from that I found that it was a wild study, fossils and ground beds need to be seen by eyes, not only by essays written by others.
Q: When you were doing research on dinosaurs in Canada, what did you feel was the difference with life back home?
A: The biggest difference is NorthAmerican paleontology boys, (there are not many girls), most of them really like dinosaurs. Some are from relief, and some are attracted by issued scientists. They might think that “a man should be like this”, and study about it. So after Northern American graduate, most of them remain to be professional so that can stay in every museum; so many domestic people switch jobs. Another reason might be decided by economic problem.
Q: Please tell us about one or two interesting episode or details during your studies of dinosaurs.
A: In fact, it was quite deadening. Firstly, you need to find a sample, then arrange it, measure and write the first draft, then fix it and submit the writing. It might be accepted for publication if you are lucky. Then, rewrite for several times, then it would be published and you need to interview about it. You must persist in every piece! I might not perform today’s plan. So just stop here and continue next time……
Q: How many times do you participate in excavating and prospecting dinosaurs? Where do these activities generally take place? Do you have any unforgettable memories or stories?
A: I don’t count about that, so much! I stay outdoor at least seven months in a year so that there has a feeling of first love when I return home and see my wife. (smile) Activities often take place near the mountains and sea…… There are so many unforgettable events, (especially many interesting food), I often tells my friends about the events about resisting wild boar in the midnight, lose the way but still find more than ten dinosaurs, and so on. Then I suddenly recall about I accidently met Leonid meteor shower appeared at that camping at Gobi Desert in Subei. That’s so awesome!
Q: Where can you generally find dinosaur remains?
A: The dinosaurs exist in nearly everywhere include China’s provinces, but except for Taiwan and Hainan. Era of dinosaurs still is in the water. It is said dinosaur’s eggs were found on nine steps down the street in the downtown area of Guangzhou.
A: If dinosaur remains are found during urbanization, do dinosaur experts have ability to protect them?
A: This kind of situation is not experienced currently. There is an indirect situation recently appeared near Shangdong Qingdao, in a downtown property. When they dug the foundations, they discovered hundreds of dinosaur footprints, but because the construction team feared it might slow down the works, they bulldozed everything flat. The local newspapers reported the news the next day, but it went unnoticed. The local museum went to have a look, but no photographs had been taken. Later, a friend and I went to the commercial office and made great efforts to find a ‘souvenir’, completed the study, and called the paper ‘East China’s first Pterosaurus footprints is a ‘buried’ footprint’.
Q: So the Chinese city councils or developers you’ve contacted are not currently aware enough of the need to preserve dinosaur remains?
A: If dinosaur remains are managed well, there can be high levels of return on local economy. Currently, that’s the case in Zhufeng, Shandong, and Lufeng in Yunnan.
Q: Isn’t there a possibility for commercialisation too, as in the case of the dinosaur park in Changzhou?
A: First, we need to look at how dinosaur culture is interpreted. If it is a novelty, a gimmick to attract children, then yes.
If you understand it with a scientific spirit, with constant updates, where facts and truths are verified, then I don’t think theme parks can bring that. As I understand, the study of dinosaurs and paleontology doesn’t only cast light on their mystery, more important are implications for the scientific spirit: persistence, progress, curiosity. This is the most important. The scientific spirit is something we share. But there is no discipline that offers the same thing as dinosaurs, with such good nature, allowing to cultivate interest from childhood.
Q: Another aspect of your professional identity is that of a science writer, and a prolific one at that. What do you think makes for good science writing?
A: I think the people writing on ‘Song Shu’ science network may be more qualified than me to answer. I haven’t particulalry thought about it. From my personal understanding, the mark of good science writing, in addition to the science being right, is that people are able to read the whole thing. This is my core principle when I write. However, I’ve started to work on my own projects, one or two books at the moment, so I’ll keep on making efforts.
Q: You’ve just published a book called ‘dinosaur for dinner’. We could see that as some ‘cross-pollination’, bringing together paleontology and gastronomy – how did you come with this idea?
A: That’s very interesting! But I won’t tell you. (In fact, it’s written at the front and back of the book!) See: ‘Good eating – the ultimate feast’
Q: Can you tell us a bit more about the book?
A: I can tell you that the book is bursting with good things to eat. You tell me, imagine the big paw of the tyrannosaurus Rex magically turning into a chicken leg! Would that not be life-changing?
Q: Are you a foodie yourself? What’s your favourite dish?
A: Sure I am! (I haven’t had such a firm answer for a long time). I’m willing to try anything! My favourite thing is seafood – all sorts of seafood!
Q: You’ve been living overseas for a while, do you miss Chinese specialties?
A: I really miss Chinese food, I miss all the eight major cuisines, Shandong, Sichuan, Cantonese, Fujian, Jiangsu, Zhejian, Hunan, and I miss the dishes from Chaozhou. But I’m usually too busy, I can only eat Teriyaki beek, braised beef, curry beef, seafood, pork bone soup, miso soup, chicken – hey – it’s all “boss, what type of instant noodle would you like”?
Q: What’s your feeling towards your hometown of Chaozhou?
A: I really like ‘small’ things, Chaozhou is very small, it’s very cute. We all know how great this feeling is! When I look back on it now, this quiet and peace, serious book reading, snacks at night markets, these are the best adventures I’ve had in this life.
Q: Compared to your classmates, do you think your path is very different?
A: I’m not in touch with my classmates a lot, but I guess they find my path a bit atypical. I can’t say if they find it very magical, or worthy. Maybe it’s like looking at a monkey (laughs loud).
Q: So you don’t feel too good about it?
A: (laughs) If I really cared about the feelings of others so much, I wouldn’t be where I am now. But I don’t know exactly what my classmates are thinking. We’ve got very little contact, we’ve gone in different directions, we don’t have much language in common, and all that’s left is a few childhood memories.
Q: Do your parents understand and support you?
A: Most of the time, they don’t understand, but they still support me (that’s love for you!). I’m not satisfied with just one subject. Apart from dinosaurs, I also want to study the history of science, and Western classics. I’m studying for fun, the more the better. I’ve also worked in a steakhouse in Canada. That was also a way of experiencing life.
Q: Last year, you became a father yourself, and now you’re indeed a sandwich generation – has that changed things for you?
A: Actually, I haven’t really prepared much to become a father, I’m like a child myself (my classmates all call me ‘little dinosaur boy’…), but my impressions are changing. My main feeling now is that my son is growing really fast! And his daddy’s gonna take him on a world of adventures! (Also, I won’t force him to study what he doesn’t want to, and even kindergarten, if he doesn’t want to go, he won’t).
Q: What’s your plan for the coming years?
A: I can tell you everything about my plans, I’m a planning king! But whether I’m going to make them happen or not, that’s unsure (he extends his hands). An important plan is to finish my novel, this has been a big dream since my childhood. Then, I will continue to explore the Arctic, maybe for shorter periods, but then more often to make up for it. Imagine, your eyelashes and your nose and freezing, and then poom, poom, you spot on a hunting scene, isn’t that the coolest thing!?
Q: After so many years studying dinosaurs, what are the differences and similarities with dinosaurs as you imagined them as a child?
A: In fact, I’m rather ‘disappointed’: dinosaurs are becoming more and more bird-like, they’re all covered in feathers, and look just like a big ostrich or a giant chicken, that’s not quite mighty enough (starts laughing). The thing I most enjoy is that I’m able to witness how fast the discipline is changing, and this really satisfies my own curious heart (laughs).