Don’t Eat the Yellow Dust

“Dust in the wind; all we are is dust in the wind.”

Thus spake Kansas.

For those of you who don’t live in East Asia (I’m referring to the actual territory, and not the ostensibly imaginary foe of Oceania in George Orwell’s “1984”), the above quote refers to the return to this part of the world of seasonal hwangsa–otherwise known as “yellow sand,” “yellow dust,” or “Asian dust”–imported from the expanding Gobi Desert in China and Mongolia, a bit of mundane environmental terrorism that gives a whole new twist to the phrase “spring fever.”

On the first truly warm day we’ve had here since around October, which occurred in the middle of last week, the sky over the cityscape from my vantage point here on the hill was suddenly the color of old dishwater, a sure sign that the yellow dust was back in town, and back in action.  According to Wikipedia, the stuff contains lead, cadmium, sulfur, mercury, and other assorted goodies, and is becoming more toxic by the year due to China’s bustling economic growth, another tumor for Mother Earth to grapple with in the doctor-less hospital of the solar system.

The site claims that the Chinese are working to “clean up” their act, so to speak, not that it’s too sporting to cast too strong aspersions, considering the people in some parts of China have it much worse.  I’ve never been there, but a former co-worker told me that one city he went to had a permanently orange sky.  (Maybe we can have a different color of dust for each city–a world-wide rainbow coalition.)

The stuff is insidious in that it’s not immediately detectable when you’re out walking around–except last Saturday when the wind blew a big handful in my face, which I had to cover with both hands as I was walking home; luckily, it was a short-lived crisis and I washed my eyes out in the sink.  

More commonly what happens is that after you’ve been outside for awhile, your eyes itch and you have a sore throat.  Apparently it even kills some people.  It may be the reason why so many middle-aged Korean men spit in the street, a refreshing spectacle for those who masochistically savor disgusting scenes redolent of gritty urban charm (acronym:  GUC, pronounced “guck”).

It’s been raining for about twenty-four hours, a boon as it means the dust has been washed away, at least for now, safely contaminating the water supply.  Nature is kindly providing a free car wash to all the leopard-spotted vehicles parked on my street (the otherwise mainly invisible dust manifests itself on their white frames like an exotic strain of automotive chicken pox).

In the future maybe breathing will become such an arduous or even heroic feat, it will be heralded as an Olympic event.

I can’t wait.


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