When I hear about people considering coming to China to visit or work, but are too worried to do so, the reasons usually involve the air and general pollution here. (Though some also cite the drivers) Like all countries who have passed through the process of industrialization, China has had to learn the hard way, and perhaps harder than the rest, that there is a price to be paid for it. In the name of lifting people out of poverty and modernizing, as well as becoming a world power, the environment and the health of the people are paying that price. The government is making strides, but lax regulation and a fear of the expense involved in cleaning things up slow things down.
I was reminded of this, yet again, this past weekend when after days of rain we got out to do some much-needed errands. We have a new Irish faculty member and we needed to acquaint him with necessary bicycling destinations such as Dream Coffee, (with it’s pool table) the brewery, street markets, the new department store, and the bike shop. The day the rain stopped, the AQI (air quality index) was at an unheard of low in the 20s. Nebraska quality air. Thinking this would last at least a little while, I set out without a mask. On the way home I noticed the high-rises down the river looking hazy and when I checked, was astounded to find the AQI at 500!
(It gets higher elsewhere) I’ve seen 500 before and this didn’t look like that. I think the number was partially due to the poplar cotton flying. When the poplars in and around Zhoukou really start releasing their seeds you need a mask to keep it out of your mouth and nose.
Yesterday was hazier, though the numbers were down a bit, so I was happy to ride with my mask. From what I saw, part of the haze might be due to more village demolitions around the city and the blowing dust that means. Some students assume the air quality is the same in the U.S. and are shocked to hear we do not need to wear masks.
Otherwise it was a beautiful day for a ride. I headed southeast out of he city and traffic wasn’t bad. Roadside trees were blooming and I found a new county road loop. With all the rain it was best to stay off the levees.
I wasn’t exactly sure where this new road would lead and when it emptied onto the S238, I was shocked at what I saw. This unpleasant highway was one of the first I’d discovered upon venturing out of the city as a new arrival here. It was under a perpetual state of construction. The family of a student once took us to a nearby tourist destination on a foggy day when the expressway was closed and all that traffic was dumped onto it. A half hour ride took two and a half hours due to traffic filling up all lanes in one direction plus the shoulders, meeting in a standoff with opposing traffic at a crossroad. If a driver here sees an opening they will take it, even if it means grid lock. I had avoided this highway ever since, but now the construction is largely finished, with six lanes and wide shoulders. There are periodic landscaped six-lane turn offs to nowhere, waiting for an unknown use. Factories? High-rises?
Along with the widening came destruction of the buildings along the way, whole villages have come down. The green netting over the rubble does little to keep the dust from blowing. Water trucks spray the pavement constantly, but I don’t think it does more than create a film of sludge.
Modernization takes time and causes growing pains. Sub-standard housing does need to be replaced, but a sense of community is lost in the process.
In the mean time I’ve found a new route. I do believe that one day they’ll get the pollution under control and things will get cleaned up. It can’t come soon enough.