LEE' S TRAVELS: LAST DAYS IN CHINA

Hey AWS, 

We flew from Beijing to Yinchuan then from Alxa (inner Mongolia) to Shanghai where we spent a very busy week and I am now finally back in Beijing.  I will be leaving Beijing on Monday morning and arrive in Seattle on Monday morning, then fly back to
Washington D.C.  The timing is strange, I know, but due to the time difference it makes sense.   

This post will focus on the city of Shanghai, which is of a scale that is very difficult to comprehend.  There are somewhere between 20 and 30 million people in the city (it is changing too quickly to really have an accurate census).  We visited the city planning center of Shanghai where there is a scale model of the downtown section of the city.  This scale model is of a 300 square kilometer (186.41 miles) piece of the city on a 500:1 scale and is itself 600 square meters (over 5000 square feet!)  This 300 square kilometers is only a small fraction of the actual city of Shanghai.  The actual city itself is over 6000 square kilometers (3,728.23 miles) and includes the third largest island in China (including Taiwan).

The whole city is part of the alluvial plain of the Yangtze River delta and is pretty close to sea level and in some parts below.  The Suzhou, Chuanyang and Diangpu rivers are all urban tributaries of the larger Huangpu River, which is the big river that flows through downtown then empties into the mouth of the Yangtze, then the East China Sea.  All of these waterways are tidal and all interconnected to one another at multiple points as if to make a grid of very busy waterways. 

Our hotel overlooked Renmin (people's) square.  We couldn't have had a better location because just a few blocks north was the Suzhou River.  I told the Chinese people in our group that this is a "sister" river of the Anacostia.  They explained that in China it would be a "brother" river, and so we agreed that we would call it a "sibling" river to the Anacostia.  At any rate there are many similarities between the two.  They are both urbanized, tidal, and have had restoration plans which have been estimated to cost about the same, between 1.5 and 2 billion US dollars. However, China has funded the restoration plan for the Suzhou River while the Anacostia River still has not had a dime allocated for its 1.7 billion dollar restoration plan.  Hopefully this will happen soon.  Another difference is that the Chinese government officials who presented and participated in discussions with us included a hard wall to replace the shoreline as part of the restoration plan for the Suzhou River, this is considered "protecting" the river.

The wall stretches almost the entire 120km of the river.  There were many other projects that helped to clean the water of the polluted river.  The Suzhou was so polluted at one point that Chinese families who purchased a house on the banks of the river 15 years ago for 300,000 Renmimbi (rmb), couldn't sell that same house for 200,000 rmb just before the restoration took place because the river stunk.  Now that the river is cleaner, property values have begun to rise again. Interestingly, at high tide much of the city around the Suzhou River is under sea level. 

Maybe one of the highlights of the education experience for me was meeting with Dr. Zhijun Ma, who is a scientist focusing on the Chongming Dongtan Wetland Preserve.  There are 288 species of birds that depend on this wetland for survival.  They eat crabs, fish, plants and insects from this wetland.  This wetland is located on the eastern most part of Chongming Island.  Each year 400 million tons of sediment would come down the Yangtze and the island would grow 200 meters longer each year.  Since the construction of the Three Gorges Dam and since other projects such as tree plantings, erosion has decreased to 100 million tons of sediment each year. Dr. Zhijun Ma believes this will have an impact on how much the wetland can continue to grow. Tidal flux here is drastic, Dr. Zhijun Ma says 5 meter difference between low and high tide.  I didn't believe him figuring that the information was lost in translation that is until I went there and saw the water lines. Fishing vessels which appeared to be scuttled but were really just waiting for high tide so that they could float again. 

The Yangtze flows around this island.  90% of the flow is to the south of the island and 10% is to the north.  As a result the north shore of the island has a high salinity while the south shore of the island is freshwater.  Just 15 years ago the Chinese imported smooth cordgrass "spartina," and planted it on the north shore where the water is salty and it can survive.  It does much more than survive, it thrives.  It is very invasive and has reduced biodiversity drastically all along the north shore of the island.  Restoration projects to manage the plant and bring back biodiversity are beginning to take place.  The most interesting thing to me is that the native plant that is being pushed out is phragmites!  This is the very opposite situation that we have on the Chesapeake Bay and the Anacostia River.  While the north shore of the island has been decimated by invasive plant species from the east coast of the United States, the southern shore remains intact.  This was my favorite site visit.  Since I was a boy I've paddled and walked through phragmites patches on the Chesapeake Bay and the Anacostia River; I always find them peaceful, but disturbingly quiet. 

If you sit near a patch of phragmites on the Chesapeake you hear the wind rustling through the leaves, but that's all you hear, and even if you don't know what the word biodiversity means, somewhere inside you feel very unsettled. 

If you sit near a vast expanse of phragmites in the Chongming Dongtan Wetland Preserve in Shanghai China you can hear the same rustling of leaves, but you also hear a symphony of critters excited to be alive who depend on the phragmites for survival.  If you look down you see crabs, if you look up you see insects and so many different kinds of birds.  This was truly music to my ears.  The pictures below are of China's native wetlands.  

Pictures can't capture just how vast the wetland preserve is, can you believe the reserve is 3,200 square kilometers (1988 miles)?  You look around and you cannot see the end of the phragmites; it’s so beautiful. Don't worry I made sure to not bring any seeds or rhizomes back with me. 

Another interesting fact:  200,000 people who were displaced by the Three Gorges Dam project were moved to Chongming Island.  When the Chinese government says "move," people move.  

Our symposium answered many questions and yielded many great ideas.  It was great to exchange with the Chinese participants who visited our country just a few months before.    

I am so thankful that the United States State Department funded this trip through the Association for International Practical Training (AIPT).  I think this exchange has been super valuable and I hope that great things will come of it. 

We are in Beijing until Monday morning, then we fly to Seattle and then I come back to Washington D.C.  This trip has been amazing and I've learned so much which I will be processing heavily over the next few months, but I am looking forward to returning home.  This is my last blog post while I'm still in China, but I will be back next week and if anyone has any questions or would like to hear more about my experience please don't hesitate to contact me, I'm happy to talk more.

Signing off,

Lee

June 25, 2010

Comments

Reply to comment | anacostiaws.org

It's going to be finish of mine day, however before ending I am reading this enormous paragraph to improve my experience.

Newsletter

 

Browse our newsletter archive to read articles previously published in our quarterly newsletter, Voice of the River!

Subscribe

Stay informed of the latest watershed issues by subscribing to our free email updates & event announcements.