at the conference in malaysia (was that just over a week ago?!?!), meghan gray distributed business cards promoting her fabulous survey - STAGES. the front of the cards have gorgeous color images of individual galaxies from the abell 901/902 galaxy supercluster, and the backs have information on the project with a link to the university website. i took more than my fair share of cards (thanks meghan ;) and have since given one to each of the people that i have come to know during my travels.
the reaction of one person in particular really made me appreciate that i grabbed the cards. while we were visiting the temples of angkor in cambodia, we hired one young tuk-tuk driver for all three days. he was adorable and enthusiastic, although his poor english and our nonexistent khmer made communication very difficult. nonetheless, we ate lunch together each day and went out in siem reap during our last day in town (i'll share the story of that unappetizing local meal in another post). we told him that we are three girls from three different countries on three different continents, but we are all astronomers and traveling together after our conference. he said "strong ladies!" we smiled and blushed. he wrote down the khmer alphabet in my notebook and taught us several words, as he practiced his english and tried to understand our chit chat.
during our first lunch together, i gave him one of the STAGES cards to help explain what an "astronomer" is. the card had the image of a gorgeous spiral galaxy dancing on the front and i wrote my name on the back. he seemed fascinated as he smiled and laughed and happily stashed the card into his long-sleeved shirt pocket. it was impossible to explain the details of the image and reality that we live in a similar galaxy called the milky way, but we didnt really need to say anything... he was thrilled. every time we returned to the tuk-tuk that afternoon, after exploring another ancient temple around angkor, we found him lounging in the tuk-tuk, with his feet up, admiring the image of the distant galaxy. wonderful!
no matter what part of this earth we happened to be born in, or what language we were taught to speak by our parents, we all see the moon rise and fall each day and we all share the wonder of bright stars in the night sky.
unfortunately, i'm out of those beautiful business cards, so now i'm left to using hand gestures and drawings to explain the universe to people i meet that dont speak english (or spanish).