Monday, April 23, 2007

A Lungful of Dust

This past couple of weeks, everywhere I've looked in Beijing I've seen SAND. Piles and piles and piles of the bloody stuff.

It's the annual drive to carry out building improvements and sidewalk repairs before the really hot summer months come along. It is cunningly timed to coincide with the windiest of months here in the city. And, of course, nobody thinks to wet this sand, or cover it up. No, it is all left permanently exposed to the elements. Well, there was a strip of plastic matting laid down on the 400 yard strip of bare earth between my apartment building and the end of the street that was left exposed for some days last week while the sidewalk was being completely re-layed. That, however, was an innovation, not, to my knowledge, repeated anywhere else yet. And it was a fairly coarse-weave mesh, so the sand could quite easily seep through it.

Both local and national government here are fond of blaming the city's occasional full-on 'dust storms' on the far end of Inner Mongolia, the Gobi Desert. But the low-level sand infestations we suffer on a day-to-day basis certainly all arise locally, from the hundreds or thousands of building sites around the city, from the tens of thousands of sidewalk re-laying projects, from the millions of squares of parched earth around the base of all the trees here. Even the rare apocalyptic, sky-darkening storms (there were some humdingers 5 or 6 years ago, but nothing to speak of while I've been here) come from much closer to home, I think. We had a mild one (overnight, so unwitnessed) this time last year that left everything coated with a quarter-inch of fine red sand, but I heard that analysis of these deposits showed that the stuff came from the neighbouring province, perhaps only a few tens of miles distant, not from the far end of Mongolia. (In fact, pretty much the whole of north central China is now a dust-bowl, and the Gobi is threatening to colonize half the country.)

I suspect the whole "Mongolian sand storms" story is just a myth, another piece of disinformation eagerly propagated by the government to shift blame, to divert attention from the real sources of the problem.

PS Along with the dust at this time of the year comes the cotton-balls - airborne clumps of white fluff shed by one particular variety of tree (I'm not good on names of trees). For a few days at the end of last week it was everywhere, falling thick as snow, clogging nostrils and stinging eyes. Not nearly as bad as last year, though. The puffballs seemed much smaller than I remember in the past, and the inundation has passed in only three days, rather than the week or more it has lasted before. I am told it is only the 'female' trees of the species that produce this stuff. The first few years when I was here, trees were being ruthlessly pollarded, to the point - it would seem - of death, to try to ameliorate this problem, but it didn't seem to be working. In this last year, I think, a lot of the offending trees have simply been ripped up and replaced. Progress, of a sort. Ah, the Olympics....

PPS Along with the season of dust comes the notorious Beijing Spring Cold. I thought I had miraculously escaped it this year..... but NO. I started going down with it over the weekend, and am now feeling like SHIT. And I'm usually pretty resilient about illness - this is a bad one. I'm supposed to be running a marathon in a month's time, and my training plan is already way behind. Bugger, bugger, bugger.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The cotton ball pollen blanketing the city last week was overwhelming.

I have NEVER seen that much pollen - and I grew up in the woods, in what is the allergy capital of America.

And to think, Beijing did this to itself...

Sorry to hear about the cold.