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This Chinese Filmmaker Can’t Stop Talking Trash

This Chinese Filmmaker Can’t Stop Talking Trash

Documentary filmmaker and photographer Wang Jiuliang spent four years, between 2008 and 2011, documenting over 460 hazardous and mostly illegal landfill sites around Beijing.

His award-winning film Beijing Besieged by Waste (2011) provoked intense public discussion and is widely credited with having prodded the Beijing municipal government into allocating 10 billion RMB (U.S.$1.65 billion) to cleaning up the local waste industry. Wang then revisited the landfills he had documented. He estimates that at least 80% of them have been shuttered or upgraded. “With his photos and film, Wang Jiuliang has single-handedly accomplished what many NGOs in China had worked hard toward for decades—raising public awareness and bringing about policy change,” says environmental activist and filmmaker Shi Lihong.

Wang is now at work on a new film, Plastic China, which focuses on China’s recycling of imported plastics and is scheduled for release this summer. China is the world’s largest recycler and imports about 70% of the recyclable plastics and e-waste on the global market. Wang spoke to ChinaFile Culture Editor Sun Yunfan in December 2013 in Hong Kong.

Born and raised in China (Shaanxi and Shenzhen), Sun Yunfan has lived in the U.S. for the past decade. She studied painting at the School of Visual Arts and received an M.F.A. in Fine Arts from Pratt...

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Environment

07.16.13

Local Officials in North China Quit Smoking to Fight Air Pollution

If you are planning to quit smoking, here is another reason to do so—it can fight air pollution, at least according to local officials in China’s northern Hebei Province.Officials in Cangzhou city, Hebei vowed to quit smoking in front of a mass...

Environment

07.11.13

Organic Farming Takes Root in Nepal

The fierce sunlight bakes the fields and the winter crop of potatoes is still under the soil. Fifty-five year old Nepalese farmer Badri Prasad Humagain sits in his front yard looking out at his small field. His village in the Kathmandu...

Environment

07.08.13

The Water Challenge Facing China’s Coal and Power Sector Is “Inescapable”

It is an inescapable truth that China needs coal—and that coal needs water. The coal industry, from mining to power generation and coal-to-chemicals, accounts for one-sixth of China’s water withdrawals. This is not sustainable and in some areas coal...

Environment

07.03.13

Understanding China’s Domestic Agenda Can End U.N. Climate Gridlock

Li Shuo of Greenpeace China has recently argued on chinadialogue that U.N. climate talks can drive more ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions in China, the world’s largest emitter. This optimism goes against much of the conventional wisdom...

Environment

06.20.13

China’s GM Soybean Imports Stir Up Controversy

Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, has been awash with criticisms of the Ministry of Agriculture’s decision to green light imports of three more strains of genetically modified (GM) soybeans. A picture&nbsp...

Environment

06.06.13

Wuxi-Düsseldorf and the Challenge of Green City Partnerships

At first glance, it isn’t an obvious pairing. Düsseldorf is the fashion and advertising capital of Germany. Wuxi is a fast-growing industrial city on China’s east coast, with probably more coal plants than catwalks. But a German environmental think-...

Environment

05.30.13

China’s “NIMBY” Protests: Sign of Unequal Society

NIMBY—or “not in my backyard”—protests happen when residents attempt to protect their neighborhoods from the negative impacts of public or industrial facilities. Since the 2007 “walking protests” against a PX chemical factory in Xiamen, we have seen...

Environment

05.28.13

How China Can Kick-start Carbon Capture and Storage

China’s estimated total carbon dioxide emissions reached 25 percent of global emissions in 2011 and they continue to grow rapidly—so rapidly, in fact, that the increase in China’s emissions over an eight-month period is...

Environment

05.23.13

Food Safety Scandals Bring Reality-Check to “Chinese Dream”

In the wake of China’s recent food scandal, Chinese premier Li Keqiang has vowed to enforce the toughest food safety regulations.“We need to crack down on practices that violate laws and regulations with a heavy fist, and make the lawbreakers pay an...

Environment

05.20.13

Water-Trading Could Exacerbate Water Shortages in China

Large-scale engineering projects and rigorous state control are hallmarks of the Chinese developmental model, and both have been apparent in the country’s approach to water management.A US$62 billion project to divert water from the south to the...

Environment

05.17.13

China Tops Table for Disaster-Induced Displacement of People

More than a third of all people forced from their homes by disasters such as floods, storms, and earthquakes in the past five years were in China, says a new report from the leading international body on displacement.Around 49.8 million Chinese...

Environment

05.16.13

Singapore’s Growth Story Holds Lessons for Water-Scarce China

When the tiny city-state of Singapore gained independence in 1965, its social, economic, political, and environmental constraints appeared so formidable that many of those looking in from outside predicted a future of dismal dimensions.Forty years...

Environment

05.03.13

Time to End Secrecy Over Chinese Overseas Fishing

It is well-known that overseas fishing fleets are more cavalier in terms of respect for laws and regulations than their domestic counterparts. There are innumerable examples from all over the world of fishing with gears that are not part of...

Environment

04.30.13

Why Has Water-Rich Yunnan Become A Drought Hotspot?

Yunnan’s drought continues. During China’s annual parliamentary session in March, the deputy party secretary of the southwest Chinese province, Qiu He, blamed spring floodwaters that flow through Yunnan and on into other countries for the water...

Environment

04.28.13

Poor Rural Residents in China Seen as Easy Target for Environmental Lawsuits

China today boasts a collection of ninety-five environmental courts, all of which were set up over the past six years. It is a trend that promises to re-shape Chinese environmental law.But simply trumpeting this initiative is no guarantee the...

Environment

04.22.13

Why It’s Time to End China-Bashing on the Environment

The major impact that international summits and treaties have had on China’s environmental governance is often overlooked. Environmental protection first emerged as an issue in China in 1972, after the country dispatched a delegation to the U.N...

Environment

04.16.13

Morococha: The Peruvian Town the Chinese Relocated

The headlines have been stark: a Chinese mining company moves an entire Peruvian town of 5,000 people five miles down the road to make way for its new mine.It sounds like another story about an extractive corporation riding roughshod over local...

Environment

04.10.13

Writing Yunnan a Rubber Check

Chris Horton
Our van stopped at a scenic vista on the contour road where verdant mountains undulated southward toward China’s border with Laos. Stepping out to take some photos, I was overcome by an acrid, unpleasant odor. I asked my local travel partner, Xiao...

Environment

03.25.13

Chinese Nuclear Disaster “Highly Probable” by 2030

Some members of the nuclear power industry rely too much on theoretical calculations, when only experience can provide real accuracy.The lifetime of nuclear reactors is calculated in “reactor-years.” One reactor-year means one reactor operating for...

Environment

03.22.13

Public Fury After Chinese Environment Minister Keeps Job

In his eight years as China’s environmental protection minister, Zhou Shengxian has failed to keep almost a single promise. I say “almost”: he has kept his word at least when it comes to his own career—as promised, he has not quit.When the new...

Environment

03.18.13

Baby Milk Restrictions Cause Outrage in Mainland China

The Hong Kong government’s recent listing of baby formula as a “reserved commodity” and a 1.8kg per person per day export limit has sparked widespread criticism—as well as becoming a hot topic at China’s annual session of parliament [the Lianghui,...

Environment

03.13.13

Chinese Fracking Plans Prompt “Water-Grabbing” Fears

China has become one of Asia’s leaders in expanding unconventional shale-gas extraction in the name of energy self-sufficiency and national autonomy. Experiences of “fracking” worldwide, however, suggest the costs to China of joining this revolution...

Environment

03.06.13

Environmentalists Unconvinced by Wen Jiabao’s Green Words

China’s outgoing premier Wen Jiabao vowed that the government would solve the country’s ever-worsening pollution in his final work report yesterday as he opened the annual session of parliament.But coming amid rising public concern about China’s air...

Environment

03.02.13

China Criticized over Tiger Farms and Illegal Ivory

China is under pressure to regulate its rampant trade in illegal ivory and tiger parts ahead of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), opening this weekend in Bangkok.It has also been accused of quietly stimulating...

Environment

02.28.13

Drought and Earthquakes Pose “Enormous Risk” to China’s Nuclear Plans

When the Fukushima nuclear disaster struck, China was building new nuclear power capacity at a rate unprecedented in world history: 40 percent of all reactors planned or under construction were in China. Targets for installed nuclear generation...

Environment

02.22.13

Could Smartphones Help Clear China’s Congested Roads?

The extraordinary growth of China’s cities is well-known. Today, 160 Chinese metropolises have over one million inhabitants and more than half the population lives in urban areas, which are growing at two to three times the rate of Western cities...

Environment

02.20.13

Air Quality in China: A Snapshot

Nearly five weeks ago, Beijing experienced its worst day of air quality on record: Levels of PM2.5—small particulates that can cause lung, cardiovascular, and respiratory disease—soared to more than thirty times the level considered safe by the...

Environment

02.19.13

China’s Disappointing Absence from U.N. Water Summit

After recent heated debate over China’s mega-dam plans, any visitor to the launch on February 11 of the U.N.’s much-vaunted International Year of Water Cooperation would have been disappointed.As well as a notable absence of any...

Environment

02.14.13

A Progress Report on U.S.-China Energy & Climate Change Cooperation

Leah Thompson
In his second inaugural address, President Barack Obama committed to confronting climate change, stating, “The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it...

Environment

02.13.13

Nuclear Fusion: An Answer to China’s Energy Problems?

The global nuclear sector has been through something of an apocalyptic patch since the disaster at Fukushima—from power station shutdowns in Japan and Germany to waste-plan chaos in the U.K. to doubts about China’s ability to showcase new reactor...

Environment

02.07.13

Xi Jinping Must Tackle Corruption and Boost Innovation in Food Sector

In January 2013, Australia’s biggest supermarket chain Woolworths began restricting sales of baby formula to four tins per customer after a massive increase in demand stripped shelves bare of popular brands such as Karicare.The buyers were not...

Environment

01.25.13

Climate Change, Not Grazing, Destroying the Tibetan Plateau

Sanjiangyuan—which literally translates as the “three river source area”—feeds China’s mightiest rivers. The 300,000-square kilometer region, high on western China’s Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, provides a quarter of the Yangtze’s water, almost half of...

Environment

01.23.13

U.S. Cities Suffer Impact of Downwind Chinese Air Pollution

Around 9,000 feet up, on a remote mountaintop in the state of Oregon, a group of researchers are on the lookout. It is not planes or wildlife they are tracking but pollution clouds.The monitoring site is run by Dan Jaffe, professor of atmospheric...

Environment

01.15.13

We’re Winning the Air Pollution Data Battle—So What Next?

Last year, China made a breakthrough in the publication of air quality data, as more than sixty cities started to monitor and publish levels of the dangerous air pollutant PM2.5. But the figures themselves were depressing. With PM2.5—fine...

Environment

01.08.13

Officials Failing to Stop Textile Factories Dumping Waste in Qiantong River

The Qiantang River is the most important river in China’s eastern Zhejiang province, one of the country’s most developed regions. On its banks, textiles plants work to supply fashion labels around the world. But they are polluting the environment in...

Environment

01.07.13

Taxi Drivers in China Have Highest PM2.5 Air Pollutant Exposure

A study conducted by Greenpeace has revealed that taxi drivers suffer the greatest levels of exposure to PM2.5 air pollution: three times that of the average person, and five times the world standard.The study, carried out by Greenpeace in...

Environment

01.07.13

Car-Driving Officials in China Urged to Get on a Bus

China’s new leadership has asked government officials to travel simply and, in normal circumstances, not to close roads to ease their journeys. In a recent visit to the Qianhai area of Shenzhen, south China, incoming president Xi Jinping made sure...

Environment

01.02.13

China’s New “Middle Class” Environmental Protests

China’s urban residents (or the new “middle class”) protest on the streets only very rarely. Discontent is expressed almost exclusively online, via angry typing. But this has changed over the last five years—protests have come offline and on to the...

Environment

12.21.12

China’s Environment in 2012

From mass protests to trade wars, shale-gas drilling to hazardous cosmetics, it’s been a topsy turvy twelve months for China’s environment. Here’s a quick refresher of the year that was.JanuaryThe year got off to a bang – literally. The customary...

Environment

12.07.12

Environmentalist Liu Futang Found Guilty of “Illegal Business Activities”

Well-known Chinese environmentalist Liu Futang has been convicted of carrying out “illegal business activities,” given a three-year suspended prison sentence, and fined 17,000 yuan.Liu Futang, named best citizen journalist in chinadialogue’s 2012...

Environment

11.28.12

Russia’s Siberian Dams Power “Electric Boilers” in Beijing

The underdeveloped, sparsely populated Eastern Siberia region that shares a 4,000-kilometer border with China has vast resources to offer its heavily populated and fast-developing neighbor. Hydroelectricity is key among them.A major new...

Environment

11.27.12

Millions Await News of Test-tube Panda Taotao’s “Return” to the Wild

On October 11, at the age of two years and two months, giant panda Taotao went home.This was China’s second attempt to introduce a giant panda born through artificial insemination into the wild. Unlike last time, however, Taotao was born and raised...

Environment

11.15.12

An Insight into the Green Vocabulary of the Chinese Communist Party

After years of neglect, the environment is gradually gaining more attention from China’s leaders. The most noticeable manifestation of this is in their vocabulary.Six months ago, Hu Jintao, speaking at the opening of a study session for provincial...

Environment

11.15.12

China’s Low-Carbon Zones Lack Motivation, Guidance, and Ideas

None of China’s so-called low-carbon industrial zones currently live up to the name. That’s the conclusion to draw from the work of the U.S. Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC), which this year released a guide for the development of green...

Environment

11.02.12

Clampdown on Gold Dredging in China Sees Switch to Mongolia and Russia

The Heilongjiang basin, in northeast China, was attracting gold prospectors as early as the late Qing dynasty, which collapsed in 1912. Panning for gold is damaging for rivers and wetlands, but at the time the region was sparsely populated and only...

Environment

10.19.12

Overfishing Pushes 80% of Chinese Fishermen Towards Bankruptcy

In mid-September, the fishing season got under way as usual in Ningbo, on China’s east coast, after the three-month season when fishing is forbidden. Over 2,000 steel-hulled boats headed out to sea. But, on board, there was little cause for optimism...

Environment

10.16.12

Chinese Boycott Airline China Southern After Mysterious Death of Dog

On the morning of October 10, a high-profile lawsuit against China Southern, one of China’s “big three” airlines, opened at Chaoyang People’s Court in Beijing. The plaintiffs? Zhao Nan and Chen Lei, a couple from Tianjin, north China, who blame the...

Environment

10.11.12

China’s New Leaders Must Respect Environmental Rights

China has achieved remarkable economic successes over the last three decades. For years, it has led the world in GDP growth. But widespread industrialization and urbanization, along with growth based on increased use of resources, mean the nation...

Environment

10.09.12

Top Clothing Brands Linked to Water Pollution Scandal in China

China is the major hub of the international textile industry, exporting US$200 billion worth of textile and apparel products in 2010—accounting for 34 percent of global exports.It’s provided cheap T-shirts and other clothes to people around the...

Environment

10.02.12

Decline of Bees Forces China’s Apple Farmers to Pollinate by Hand

In the last fifty years, the global human population has nearly doubled, while the average calories consumed per person has increased by about 30 percent.To cope with the ever growing demand for food, more land has been brought into agricultural...

Environment

09.20.12

Desertification in Tibet’s Wetlands Threatens the Yellow River

The “kidneys” of the Tibetan plateau are failing.The Zoige Wetland National Nature Reserve, which sits on the northeastern fringe of western China’s Qinghai-Tibet plateau, contains the largest alpine peat wetlands in the world. It is also the...

Environment

09.06.12

Sinking Shanghai “Not Prepared to Admit” Climate Change Threat

It’s been a brutal summer for much of urban China. From the once-in-sixty-years storm that lashed Beijing in July, killing seventy-nine people and costing US$1.6 million, to the typhoon floods that triggered mass evacuations in Jingdezhen city, the...

Environment

09.06.12

Chinese Fear Price Hikes After Electricity Reforms

This summer, Chinese people have been thinking twice before turning on their air conditioners.In July, tiered electricity pricing came into effect across China, except in the far western regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. This means the people who...

Environment

08.30.12

Milk Price War Puts Squeeze on China’s Dairy Farmers

China’s dairy industry has been in a precarious state since 2008, the year of the Sanlu milk-powder scandal, when babies across the country were poisoned by melamine-tainted infant formula. This incident revealed to the world the flaws in China’s...

Environment

08.28.12

China’s South-North Water Transfer is “Irrational”

Ruth Matthews, executive director of the Water Footprint Network, tells Tom Levitt how food has come to dominate our water use and why China may need to re-think its South-North water transfer project.Tom Levitt: What do you mean by our water...

Environment

08.20.12

Tibetans Fight Tourism on Holy Lakes

Mining, dam construction, sand excavation, poaching, and grassland degradation are seriously damaging the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, the world’s most fragile ecosystem. But without a second thought, the tourism industry has joined their ranks. The only...

Environment

08.15.12

Can New Trials Boost Chinese Wind?

For the last half year, the National Energy Administration (NEA) has been making its interest in Inner Mongolia’s western regions crystal clear. This part of north China, rich in wind-power potential, has hosted group after group of energy officials...

Environment

08.15.12

Official Shrugs Off Public Food “Panic”

Wang Guowei heads up the policy and legislation department at the State Council Food Safety Commission. He spoke to Xu Nan and Zhou Wei about the nature of China’s food safety problems and the ongoing policy response.chinadialogue: Compared with...

Environment

08.09.12

Data Gaps Hobble Carbon Trading

Late last October, China’s top economic planning body—the National Development and Reform Commission—instructed the cities of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Chongqing, and Shenzhen, plus Hubei and Guangdong provinces, to get ready to run carbon-trading...

Environment

08.08.12

Doomed Toilet Scheme Was “Valuable Experience”

For a large share of the 750 million urban people worldwide who lack adequate sanitation, flush toilets connected to municipal sewers are not a viable option due to poverty, water shortages, groundwater contamination risks, and other issues. The...

Environment

08.02.12

Eco-toilet Scheme Ends in Failure

The large banner at the front gate of what used to be called Daxing Ecological Community has been changed to read “Civilized City.” A showroom by the nearby supermarket is locked up and empty while a little further away, near a scenic lake, lies a...

Environment

08.01.12

Protests Show Chinese Kids’ Fears

The decision to cancel the metal refinery project in Shifang last month after protesters clashed with the police has been widely reported in the Chinese and global media. This is not the first time a project has been shelved due to public...

Environment

07.24.12

Guangzhou’s Rubbish Charge Struggle

Like many of China’s rapidly growing cities, Guangzhou is under siege from landfill. The southern city produces about 18,000 tons of household waste every day, 14,000 tons of which needs to be disposed of after sorting and recycling. That is as much...

Environment

07.18.12

China’s Overseas Food Footprint

For the last three decades, China’s factories have turned out goods for export markets, while Chinese citizens have paid the environmental price of industrialization in the pollution of their air and water and in the contamination of their land. But...

Environment

07.18.12

Shifang: A Crisis of Local Rule

China has been engrossed in the mass protests in Shifang, Sichuan province, where on the morning of July 2, locals and police clashed during demonstrations against a planned molybdenum and copper refinery. The next day, the government announced a...

Environment

07.11.12

Why Big Dams Don’t Work

The record of Africa’s large dams is one of widespread environmental destruction to the continent’s major river systems, upon which millions of people depend for their livelihoods; forcible resettlement and human rights abuses; corruption and cost...

Environment

07.10.12

Restoring Eco-balance

In the late 1970s, China was swept by a wave of economic growth, and with it a wholesale attack on nature. Grain was planted on grasslands and profits extracted from rivers. Land was reclaimed from lakes and seas and forests were felled for arable...

Environment

07.04.12

Dirty Truth about China’s Incinerators

Xie Yong could be called a pioneer. He is one of very few to date to sue a Chinese government agency over its unlawful refusal of requested data. His crusade for change has little to do with civic altruism, however. Xie’s struggle is personal in...

Environment

06.29.12

The Double Life of Dali Lake

Every spring, migratory birds start arriving at Dali Lake in Inner Mongolia just as the fish-breeding season gets under way. This has been the time—at least until recently—when herders living around the lake have heard the sounds of firecrackers...

Environment

06.14.12

Rio and China’s Global Future

We have a common predicament, and solving it requires humanity to work together. But state actors are, to a large degree, controlled by the confrontational logic of international politics. The dualities and contradictions common in sustainable...

Environment

06.11.12

The Diplomacy of Air Pollution

On June 5, World Environment Day, China’s environment ministry published its annual “state of the environment” report as normal. But this year, the launch attracted unusual levels of attention thanks to a statement from vice minister Wu...

Environment

06.08.12

In Ecuador, Home Truths for China

“We need to make contact with the Chinese media as urgently as possible.” I was on my university campus in New York when I received this call for help from an Ecuadorean NGO on March 5.Some 4,000 kilometers south, in Quito, the Chinese embassy was...

Environment

06.07.12

What’s Coming Out of China’s Taps

China’s urbanites use a lot of water. Every day, more than 4,000 water-treatment plants supply 60 million tons of water to 400 million people living in Chinese cities. Despite the impressive figures, the water industry is grappling with widespread...

Environment

06.05.12

Hot Air?

Michael Zhao
It has been a busy season for U.S. diplomatic activity in China. Given the tensions aroused by U.S. involvement in the Bo Xilai scandal and the flight of the blind activist Chen Guangcheng, perhaps it should come as no surprise that even relatively...

Environment

06.02.12

A Fallacy of Steel and Glass

Among its many environmental challenges, China faces an enormous increase in energy consumption by buildings over the coming decades. Bricks and mortar already account for 25% of China’s total primary energy consumption, but are currently consuming...

Environment

05.30.12

We’re All Farmers Now

At a monthly “friends of farming” dinner held by Green Heartland, an NGO based in Chengdu, west China, Chen Xia quietly reads an ode to the land against light background music. It’s a simple thanksgiving ceremony the hosts conduct before leaving the...

Environment

05.24.12

Unplugging from China

Apparent preparations by US energy giant AES Corporation to withdraw from China have raised eyebrows lately. Earlier this year, it emerged that the firm—one of the world’s biggest independent power generators—had engaged an investment bank to sell...

Environment

05.18.12

Europe Can Do Better

Since 2005, the European Union and China have sought to develop dialogue and cooperation in the area of climate-change policy. This has taken place primarily within the framework of the EU-China Partnership on Climate Change, agreed at the 2005 EU-...

Environment

05.14.12

Keeping an Eye on China’s Bankers

Last August, a major pollution story broke in China: 5,000 tonnes of toxic chromium tailings had been dumped near a Yunnan reservoir, contaminating water supplies and killing livestock. Worse revelations were to come. The company behind the incident...

Environment

01.02.12

As China Grows Rich, Rainforests Fall

Craig Simons
An incredible forest lies on its side in this gritty industrial town in southeastern China. On the southern bank of the Yangtze River nine-foot-diameter kevazingo trees from Gabon rub against Cambodian rosewoods and Indonesian teaks. Nearby, rust-...

Environment

01.02.12

Chinese Demand Stokes U.S. Coal Battle

Craig Simons
TRINIDAD, Colorado—When the New Elk mine reopened amid windblown prairies last winter, it attracted little attention. But the mine—a long shaft boring through some of the world’s most valuable coal—strikes at the heart of a growing debate about the...

Environment

01.01.12

China’s Rising Consumer Class Sparks Climate Change Fears

Craig Simons
TUOJIA VILLAGE, China—When you think about China’s growing greenhouse gas emissions, you probably don’t think of people like Zhang Chao or his father Zhang Dejun. Zhang Chao, a thirty-five-year-old middle school teacher living in small city in...

Environment

11.14.11

China’s Rise Creates Clouds of U.S. Pollution

Craig Simons
At more than 9,000 feet along the crest of Oregon’s Cascade mountain range, the top of this snow-covered peak normally enjoys some of America’s cleanest air. So when sensitive scientific instruments picked up ozone—the chief component of smog—at...

Environment

08.12.71

North Vietnam and China: Reflections on a Visit

Martin Bernal
Early this year I went to Hanoi by way of China. After spending a week in Peking I went to North Vietnam for just over a month and then returned to China, where I stayed in Changsha and Canton for two weeks. Later I spent three and a half weeks in...