Saturday, March 20, 2010

I can't breathe!

It has begun!

Koreans don't have an expression for "spring is in the air" You see in between the white and brown dreary, beauty of the winter season and the green regeneration of life that is the spring season, Korea has another "special" season. They call it yellow dust season.

To the west of Korea, is a little country you may of heard of called China. In the north west of China is a great desert called the Gobi. A giant dust storm builds over the Gobi and travels over Beijing, across the Yellow Sea and showers the land with a blanket thick yellow air.

Many moonies ago, the Koreans believed that the gods were displeased with them. Now, they know it comes from the deforestation in northern China. The bigger problem is not the dust from the desert per say, but rather the dust it picks up over one of the world's most polluted countries. So instead of sand those 2.5 parts per thousand (please note that air pollution is normally measured in parts per million...) now carries all sorts of goods that you would normally expect to find in a Chinese made toy. According to my good friend wikipedia...the air I breath is now laced with "sulfur , soot, ash, carbon monoxide, mercury, cadmium, chromium, arsenic , lead, zinc, copper fungi, pesticides, antibiotics, asbestos, and herbicides. "

So I probably shouldn't be surprised by the fact that I feel like I have a cold. My throat is sore, my nose runs and my lungs feel tight. In other words, I feel like I have a cold. But from the sound of it, so do all my students. They are constantly hacking up a lung in class.

When I first came to Korea, I could never quite understand why 10% of the population wore surgical masks outside. Now I know!

I also better understand the Korean concept of dirty outside, clean inside. Koreans don't really shower in the morning. When they get home from work (and a long day at that...Koreans work more hours than anyone else in the world) , they immediately take their shoes off. Then and only then do they take their big shower for the day.

They may not be able to control what the air is like. (even though the Koreans are currently planting trees in China the attempt to mitigate the effect) But they can control what their apartment is like. Most Korean apartments have air purifiers. They may not be able to control want comes out of the tap (a suspiciously high concentration of heavy metals) but they can control what they drink. Most Korean apartments have water purifies, too.

Sadly, as a transient foreigner...I never quite got around to investing in an air filter or water filter. Instead I make due with bottled water and a struggling little plant...that doesn't seem to feel any better than I do.

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