On plant murder


About a year ago, a physician in Sichuan gave me a small plant during a rowdy lunchtime banquet. It was a very ceremonial affair, heavy on pomp, light on substance. There was some vacuous speech about how the partnership between [company redacted] and [industry advocacy group redacted] would strengthen and grow over time – resiliency, partnership, mutual benefit, that sort of thing. Or maybe it was some other weak-ass metaphor. Anyway, I’m sure the plant had been dying for a while before I made note of it.* Eight, ten weeks? Maybe longer. I started watching a few weeks ago, but I didn’t do anything about it. It just happened, slowly. This act of watching – in retrospect – seems vaguely menacing.

(Look at the sun! Sinking like a ship.)

The plant is just one of those little fuckers that’s easy to overlook. A succulent maybe three inches tall in a tiny clay pot. It was a very strange gift – and this in a region where hand-carved comb sets are the gold standard – but I was pretty used to strange gifts by then. I didn’t think much of the plant, but when I unceremoniously slipped away from my company apartment in Chengdu I took it with me on the ride to freedom, clutched in my lap for the 56 hour multi-bus trip back east.** It’s been sitting mostly unnoticed on my desk ever since.

I think it died last week, but the final death-knell really rang out while I was writing an email yesterday. I sneezed and opened my eyes to the fallout from a highly-localized and unexpected dust storm, tiny particles floating mist-like and settling on a desk suddenly covered in a thin layer of dirt. So dehydrated was the plant I quite literally exploded the earthen sustenance from its clay barracks.

Welp, I thought, that’s that. I guess I’m a murderer now.

Death-by-neglect aside, the now-wholly-deceased plant was still beautiful. Once the very definition of plump, it had become gaunt and slightly grayish as the weeks wore on – a stark difference from its cheery-green heyday when it appeared to be so full of moisture that one could imagine surviving on it alone, enjoying one succulent mouthful after another forevermore.

But its new form – that of a dead plant – was still fetching. The network of roots has been laid bare, and the way they had grown in one direction, then hit the pot or another root before turning and extending downwards and reversing course and winding back up towards the light or wherever the hell was a wonderful sight to see. Looked quite a bit like a three dimensional map of some ancient, thriving city, albeit one excavated by sneeze – a very unusual archeological technique.

So the plant is super dead now. Whoops! But I’ll file it under good riddance, and you won’t find me mourning the loss of a relic from a brief chapter written to fail. What good is the past if a sneeze can’t blow it all away?


* Maybe it wasn’t very resilient after all?^ Not unlike the highly-specialized sector of industry it was meant to represent, which less than a year later would spectacularly combust under scrutiny from a wide coalition of China’s ministries, not to mention the US and British justice departments, who no doubt took umbrage with the (allegedly-)widespread violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the Anti-Bribery Act.

**I was worried I’d be thrown under the bus by [company redacted] as a way of demonstrating its iron-fist approach to “non-compliant employees”, which, when coupled with my fear that I would become the poster boy for China’s recently-overhauled immigration policy, had me high-tailing it out of there like a soggy cat in the tub.

^More likely, though, is that I’m a terrible plant owner.


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