This story begins in Qingdao. I was sitting around a round table, having lunch at the Ocean University of China. The university dining services were apparently busy that day, because our group was combined with another group for lunch. A short woman in a blue shirt introduced herself to Ji and me.
"Aren't you the one who wrote that modeling paper about fish genetics?" Ji asked. "I feel like I've seen you give a seminar before."
The woman nodded and confirmed she had written the paper. She explained more about her research to Ji while we all found our places at the table, and I listened intently. Once she had finished, she turned to me. I introduced myself as a benthic ecologist postdoc from WHOI. She said she was from the National University of Taiwan.
"Taiwan?" I leaned in. "Perhaps you know my friend, Stefanie. I'm going to Taipei to see her tomorrow."
The woman did know Stefanie, and over the next hour, we discovered we had a lot more than that in common. Hui-Yu Wang, an associate professor at NTU, studied at the University of Michigan and did her postdoc in Massachusetts. I told her I had grown up in Michigan, in a town about two hours north of Ann Arbor, where U of M is located. She nodded. "So you grew up in Midland?" she asked.
I stared at her, stunned. Midland, Michigan is not famous. It is tiny. And here was a Taiwanese professor who had correctly guessed where I had grown up. Friends, the world is small.
Hui-Yu and I exchanged e-mail addresses. She promised to contact her department and schedule a time for me to give a seminar, but there ended up not being enough time. Instead, I took a meeting with two benthic ecologists at NTU.
The meeting went extremely well, and it turns out I had already co-authored a paper with one of the professors - a large review paper on the effects of climate change in the deep sea. We chatted about our research and discussed important future questions. We talked about the diverse benthic habitats around Taiwan, about species range shifts, about how to best sample fouling fauna. We all had a common thread of working in isolated, island-like habitats and enjoyed discussing the universal patterns. After an hour, we agreed to keep in touch and keep an eye out for future funding opportunities.
I was grateful for the opportunity to make more connections in Asia and look forward to what the future brings! It's been a great trip!