After China

The last days in China were a blur. With only a week off in-between the installation of the nursery and the arrival of TNC’s Global and China Board Members, we all took breaks and time to explore. Except Jun. Jun doesn’t really “take breaks.” 

The board arrived and was hosted by the developer sponsoring, in part, the coral nursery. This was a field trip from the main board meeting to promote the marine program in China. At this luxe hotel, the board members lived in style while listening to presentations about global and local restoration efforts by TNC. Two yachts, loaded with pastries and fresh snorkeling gear and aging trustees with a surprising lust for life, set out to Sunny Bay. Met some low-key heroes, and helped guide a snorkel tour of the coral trees. The board met with the vice mayor and other political constituents, cramming in vacation moments wherever they could. 
 
The board meeting was fascinating, first and foremost because of the surprising efficacy of political power in conservation work. This visit served to jump start coral conservation in china and awareness within the goverment, the nursery acting as the gateway for these conversations. Since important people only listen to important people, it took this visit for the nursery to obtain a certain degree of local political and financial capital. Coral nurseries make coral conservation interesting and visible, but it was the presence of the board that expedited public engagement with the site. Soon after the board left, I made my way to Beijing to give a presentation on artificial reefs to the TNC China Main Office staff.
 
There’s a walk I took to my apartment in the Bahama Complex where we lived and worked in Sanya, usually late at night, ten or eleven p.m. I preferred the office, but kept a room in  another part of the complex, high on the 12th floor, somewhere to press my face to the pillow. There’s something wonderful about the Complex at night. Surrounded by carefully curated topical plants, monolithic apartments, the kind you imagine in China, spring up into sherbert orange sky. When the clouds become rivers you catch glimpses of stars in the black. A communist flag a makeshift curtain, defense against mosquitos and the loud croaks of frogs and the humid heat. Retirees give me the looks I got everywhere: “What are you doing here?” They couldn’t, can’t, know how empowering it was for me to even try to be in China at all. 
 
Last night I got some news from Jun, which I think I can share here, that was simultaneously shocking and predictable. Barely two weeks after I’d left Sanya, while Jun took a trip to Beijing herself, there was a strange amount of attention coming to the coral nursery. Calls to the hotel, coast guard boats stopping by the site, mixed messages being sent to the hotel manager. Soon after, local government authorities asked the nursery be removed, for reasons we can only deduce. Perhaps this is one of the perils of attempting coral restoration in the South China Sea at this moment in history – I want to write more about this but don’t want to jeopardize TNC China’s other projects. If you want to hear my thoughts, leave a comment and Ill write a password protected post. Jun sounded a little heartbroken over the phone. 

Thanks to everyone who made space for me in The People’s Republic. Thank you to TNC for letting me bum around. Thank you to chao bing frozen yogurt, I miss you every day. We’ve got lots to mull over, together, and I’m looking forward to it.

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