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Heading to an island for a Spring Festival getaway might be popular with Chinese holiday revelers, but not for Che Haojie, who is spending his third holiday in a row on a secluded island in the Yellow Sea, which separates China"s northeast coast from the Korean Peninsula.
Qianliyan Island - meaning thousands of miles of rocks in Chinese - is a deserted outcrop with few plants and virtually no fresh water. At about 1 square kilometer and at an altitude of no more than 100 meters above sea level, the island has been dubbed the South Pole of the Yellow Sea.
"When I first stepped onto the island, everything appeared so novel and romantic to me. But after the honeymoon period passed and the initial excitement faded, the overwhelming monotonousness is just suffocating," said Che, 49, deputy director of the island"s marine environmental monitoring station.
The station, which was established in 1960, is staffed by eight people in rotation. For every assignment to the island, typically lasting from four to six weeks, three people at a time stay at the station and take turns collecting real-time hydrological and meteorological data around the clock.
"What we are doing now will not only be of great significance for the country but will also help future scientific research and study of the earth," said Che, who joined the station rotation in the 1990s after his college graduation.
The data collected is sent to China"s State Ocean Administration and becomes part of the hydrological and meteorological information China shares with the world. The station on Qianliyan is one of the country"s two most-challenging data-collection points. The other is the South China Sea.
Hydrological information includes seawater temperature, salinity and changes in wave patterns. Meteorological data ranges from atmospheric temperature and pressure to wind speed. Changes must be closely followed and updated every hour.
Che recalled that in the beginning, when transportation and infrastructure were even less developed, he and his teammates led a primitive, Robinson Crusoe-style life. Not only did they have to eat seaweed and drink collected rainwater when food and water supplies failed to arrive on time by boat, but they also had to live in a shabby house with a pit toilet and no electricity.
In summertime, they were afflicted by mosquito attacks, scorching sun and frequent typhoons, while in winter, humidity was the biggest enemy, dampening their blankets and making them as wet as laundry pulled from a washing machine.
It was not until 2000 that conditions improved. Now solar electricity is available. A new house has been built, equipped with television, air conditioning and heating. Last year, a Wi-Fi connection came.
But Che, who has spent more than half of every year on the island away from his family, said he regrets that the separation from his wife and child will be hard to make up for.
He has missed not only many holidays and important occasions with his family but has also been absent when difficulties and illnesses have come along.
Such drawbacks have not kept younger professionals from joining the cause, however. Jiang Tao, 30, one of the most recent recruits for the team, completed his first post on the island two months ago.
"I majored in oceanic hydrology in college, and this job suits me," said Jiang, who volunteered to extend his shift during Spring Festival.
"I would like to learn more from the job and give my senior colleagues a chance to have a family reunion."