Sunday, March 21, 2010

If the world won't come to China, China will come to the world

I went out this morning at 10 to find the mean streets of Seoul dark and gloomy, the way they might be if they outlawed shiny suits and sweet potatoes. Pictures couldn't do the whole thing justice, but basically the sky looked like the sun had set an hour ago and total darkness was just moments away. Eventually things cleared up, but a sandstorm continued blowing across the country. Last year, cars everywhere just looked a little dirty, so this year's attempt to block out the sun seems really over the top.

This is what you get, I suppose, with an increasingly powerful China. First they cheated in gymnastics, and now this. These dust storms, called yellow dust, originate from the Gobi desert in China (and also, to be fair, Mongolia). Koreans who otherwise smoke a pack a day, drink heavily and never exercise will do what they can to avoid breathing outside, including wearing surgical masks, breathing through paper, cloth and even sharing a scarf between friends.

Warnings were issued here and in parts of China urging people to not go outside due to the sandstorms, which are expected to subside Monday. In China's Shandong province, visibility was reduced to 500 metres. Referring to this dust by its colour seems to evoke the days of the Yellow Peril, or when Mr. Burns' grandfather dismissed "the Japanese" as "those sandal-wearing goldfish tenders" when warned that "the Japanese will eat us alive". Then again, even the night sky has a weird yellowish-gray quality to it, so there's something to it.

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