Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ryan Pyle Blog: The Destruction of Xishuangbanna

Deforestation & Global Warming in China's South

"Xishuangbanna is known as a beautiful, abundant place; if the forests are destroyed then in the future it will become a desert, we Communists will go down in history as criminals, and later generations will rebuke us." Zhou Enlai, 1961 in Jinghong City.

Xishuangbanna is a very small autonomous region in China's southwestern Yunnan province. The district of Xishuangbanna makes up China's portion of the Golden Triangle, a large jungle and opium growing region that includes Laos, Thailand as well as Burma. Xishuangbanna has always been a remote place. It was home to one of the most pristine rain forests in the region; home to many unique species of plant and animal life living in a carefully balanced environment. But that was the past and things have changed.

In the 1950s the Communist Party began looking at Xishuangbanna for economic development. Roads needed to be made for cross border traffic with Laos & Burma. The minority people in the region needed to be lifted out of abject poverty, and so begun the policy of slash and burn agriculture. Jungles were destroyed (burned) en-mass, replaced with cash crops like sugar cane, tea and rubber trees. Over 50 years after this policy began, I made my first visit to the region, and it was devastating.

After landing in Jinghong, the regional capital, I made my way south to explore the remote areas near the border of Burma. Previous areas that had shown on my map as jungle were anything but. New highways, new tea plantations, new rubber tree plantations are everywhere. There was no pristine natural jungle to be found. Everywhere I turned I was witness to mans assault on nature.

At night after dinner I would walk around in small villages and witness the new found wealth: farmers with mobile phones, every home at a motorcycle and one family even had a 25 inch television, floor speakers, and a new DVD player. While it is true these people deserve the right to improve their quality of living, the engine for their improvement must be sustainable. It is clear now that the cost of this development is just too great, as is the same with other parts of the country.

After my early evening walks I would sit on the front porch of the home I was staying in. As the sun began to set the early evening burn would begin. With the light fading the hills around me became ablaze. By morning most of the fires had already gone out, but left hanging in the air was an all consuming smoke clogging up the valleys and suffocating everyone and anything that lives in the region.

As early as the 1961 the central government in Beijing knew that burning the jungle in Xishuangbanna who lead to massive deforestation, soil erosion and temperature rises. Zhou Enlai's comments during an official visit in 1961 are evidence of this knowledge, but recognition never means action and Xishuangbanna has suffered.

The devastating effects of government policies on land use have endangered the tropical rain forests beyond repair. Temperature rises, soil erosion and dust are now evident almost everywhere. While the government has roped off certain protected areas for national parks, they are small and their motivation is completely tourist driven offering such services as elephant rides and cable cars rides through the jungle. Besides, the nature parks won't last long if everything around them gets slashed and burned, because as the regional temperature increases the environment within the protected areas with also change dramatically. But that seems to be beyond anyone's forethought.

Xishuangbanna is an excellent example of the devastation government economic policy can cause. And while local farmers are enjoying increased revenue from cash crops, they lack the education and experience to understand that in 30 years all of Xishuangbanna will be a dust bowl. I'll be sure to go back and do the story in 2037 about the Chinese government tourism bureau offering up camel rides on the sand dunes of what was once a topical rain forest. Buy your ticket now.

You can view the photo story at Enter the archive.

Ryan Pyle
Skype: ryanpyle

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ryan Pyle Blog: Three Gorges Dam Policy

I recently returned from the Three Gorges Dam in Central China. The dam is perhaps the most talked about dam in the history of dams. Which is why I thought I would share some of these findings with you.

First of all the dam is huge.I don't want to bore you with monster statistics, but the dam is setting records in almost every category there is for dam building, dam use and dam electrical production. It's turbines are the biggest, it's reservoir is the longest, it's daily electrical output is the most of any other dam in the world. The Three Gorges Dam, however environmentally damaging, is an impressive engineering accomplishment.

Most of all that I already knew. What I didn't know is an interesting pice of policy about the dam, and that is that all the ships that go through the dam must be empty. Meaning that boats need to empty there cargo before entering the locks. To my knowledge this is the only dam in the world that has this policy.

The reason for this policy is that the regulators are afraid of possible explosions occurring near the dam, the bottom line is that the Chinese are paranoid about domestic terrorism. And this fear may be valid, a lot of people who live in China are not necessarily the most happy people in the world, but that doesn't mean they maintain the capability to blow up a dam. But then no body thought airplanes would be used to bring down the World Trade Centers.

So all day and all night boats unload there cargo, pass through the locks and re-load there cargo on the other side. Trucks then race through villages at all hours transporting the boat cargo back and forth; is it a waste or the future of dam security?

Boat operators don't seem to mind too much. Some say that they don't like the delays but in the end, for those traveling up stream, the trip lasts about the same amount of time, because once they pass through the dam they can usually make up a lot of time because they don't have to fight the currant any longer. For those traveling down stream, it can be a significant delay.

Well that's all I have for today. A bit of Chinese policy to chew on.

Ryan Pyle
Skype: ryanpyle

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Ryan Pyle Blog: Corporate Media or Corporate Agent?

I got an email in December '05 about a corporate job. It was for a large multinational company (MNC) but the person who contacted me was not from the MNC but from a European Corporate Media company who was in charge of putting together the project, from hiring photographers to putting together the layout and getting it all printed. They were basically a one stop shop for corporate projects.

Anyways, a few emails go back and forth and we begin to lock down a date and price. I was offered a one day rate of US$550 per day, plus an extra US$250 for make-up and studio rental. It was a one day shoot and the job required me to organize a series of portraits, requiring a studio, lights and make-up and the whole nine.

So I started thinking. Corporate Media + MNC DOES NOT = US$550 per day. Something must be up. Jobs like this, where you don't have to travel to other cities should be in that US$1500-2500 range. Add the Corporate Media and a monster MNC, and I reckon I was getting ripped off. The bargaining began.

I bargained hard enough not too insult. I got the price raised up to about US$800. Still well well well below market rate. But I decided to take the job. It was corporate, I could use the practice and my schedule was wide open. I have never really felt very comfortable in the studio so I always jump at the chance to confront my fears and get over it. Had I been busier I may have passed but cash is cash any way you cut it.

So I took the job, it went smoothly. Corporate Media was happy and massive MNC was happy. I felt a little shunned by getting low-balled on the fee but I shook it off and moved on to my next project.

A few weeks later someone working in Asia for the MNC contacted me personally. This was not someone who had dealth with the Corporate Media company, that was all Europe based. But, that's right, someone from the massive MNC who had got my contact details from the web. They wanted to thank me for all of my work and they insisted that I travel to another city in Asia to complete another shoot of similar style. This was a job offer that had not gone through Europe, it was Asia based. I stopped for a moment to think, should I be dealing directly with the client? Is this a no-no?

Is the Corporate Media company that first contacted me my agent for this large MNC? Should all contact with the large MNC go through them? I had signed no contract, there was no 70/30 or 60/40 split for assignments fees negotiated. I thought to myself what should I do.

I decided that a Corporate Agent is someone who you have a contract with, as well as pre-negoiated terms. For example, people who work with Getty and Corbis will be on a 70/30 or a 60/40 split for the photographer. Meaning that the agent will bargain high: US$2500 per day and pay the photographer 70% of that fee, while the agency retains the rest. This usually does not include expenses which are extra.

But a Corporate Media company is an institution who brings me a job, with an incredible client, but there is no contract and no talk about a revenue split or percentages. This is a Corporate Media company that initially offered me US$550 per day when they were hiring me out for about US$2500 per day. That is about a 20/80 split in favor of the Corporate Media company.

So, my dilemma. Do I deal directly with the massive MNC, negotiate my own contract and get paid properly while keeping a large MNC happy, OR do a stay loyal to a Corporate Media company that profited from me, but introduced me to the client in the first place?

My basic question is: Does a 20/80 split in favor of a Corporate Media company include client exclusivity? Without a doubt I respect the client exclusivity for my Corporate Agents who I have a 70/30 split with. But this job came through Asia not Europe, it was from someone outside of the loop with the Corporate Media company and the head office of the MNC. It is a difficult and delicate situation.

But can this European based Corporate Media company claim WORLD WIDE client exclusivity offering up prices/rates/splits like that? Even when the job is asian based and not Europe based?

What should I do? What would you do?

Your thoughts?

Ryan Pyle
Skype: ryanpyle