I’ve just returned from Xiamen, in Fujian Province, China – a coastal city overlooking the Taiwan Strait, a little more than 200 miles from Taipei. I tried Tweeting about my experience as a guest at the China launch of BMW’s Mini Countryman, but unfortunately Twitter was blocked, so I thought I’d make Xiamen the subject of this blog. I’d been looking forward to returning to this bustling seaside city for awhile — Xiamen has mild, spring-like weather in winter, as well as beaches, palm trees, and the feature I appreciated most — a major aquaculture industry. China has the longest history of aquaculture in the world, and much of the country’s farmed fish production happens around Xiamen. As I drove into town from the airport, across gleaming bridges, I craned my neck, looking for the photogenic “fields” of nets and posts that look like a plate of Chex cereal laid out on the water that I remembered from my last trip.
On that trip I arrived in Xiamen after days of driving along the Fujian coast, starving for something that would make a good picture. I finally found a worthy subject there — acres of oyster, crab and fish farms. I spent two days shooting the light reflecting off the water and the graphic lines made by floats, fishing nets and the lattice-like oyster beds.
However, I knew that when my picture editor saw my massive take on oyster beds, her first question would be – so what does this have to do with our story? In my style of working, if it makes a good picture, I generally shoot first and ask that question later. I can usually build a case for using it in a story. The piece I was working on happened to be about a 15th-century Chinese admiral, so I was trying to evoke a feeling of the past. Since aquaculture has been practiced in China for over two thousand years, I figured that was justification enough.
On this latest trip, though, I was surprised not to see those graphic patterns of nets and oyster beds. I later found out that most of the aquaculture production has been moved, to a location where the fish farms will have less environmental impact. But what I did see was a vivid reminder that time moves at warp speed in China, and how, in the course of a year, the face of an entire city can change.