This gorgeous university city, towering on either side of the Yangtze River isn't just famous for its incredibly hot summers and cold winters with no heating, loudly fighting Ayis, the craziest traffic in China, and hot dry noodles, no, its also a city that's famous for being dirty! It's been getting better over the last few years but that sadly only applies to waste management and clean streets and sidewalks...and by "clean" I mean the Chinese interpretation of the word.
Sadly Wuhan's air isn't really getting any better and the last two weeks have been an unhealthy mixture of bad, worse and just downright disgusting. We've been clouded in a milky white veil of nastiness pretty much since my return from Germany, where I had this:
I keep trying to imagine what Wuhan would be like without its signature smog but I can't come up with anything you might be able to picture. Not that I doubly your ability to imagine but it would be just too utopian to be true.
I mean pictures this: Endless blue skies, bright sunshine reflecting of the Yangtze River, turning China's longest river into the world's biggest diamond. Miles of sandy river banks that invite you for a stroll with your hyperactive Golden Retriever. A city bursting at the seams with ancient historical buildings, all waiting to tell a mesmerising story or three. Modern shopping malls that invite you to spend money and aimlessly stroll about until your feet refuse to take even another step. Countless parks and lakes that offer tranquility, shelter from the city noise and an endless opportunities to indulge in any kind of outdoor sport you can possibly imagine. Food so divine and delicious that your mouth will water at the mere idea of a meal with friends or family. More than a thousand different seafood dishes, authentic food from all over China, all over Asia even...
...Are you still with me or have you fallen into some sort of coma?
Back to the real world. This past week the air, we're supposed to breathe, has been nothing short of toxic. PM2.5 levels consistently measure in at 350 which makes breathing pure joy. When the air isn't toxic or hazardous it's unhealthy which is what usually happens in the evening when less cars are on the road and live in general slows down a little for a couplec of hours.
|Welcome to Wuhan. I snapped this on Sunday morning on the way to work. By lunchtime on Monday the smog was even worse.|
The school I work in is located on the 35th floor of a skyscraper pretty much in the heart of the city. I didn't even bother to try and take a picture because you can't even see the building across the road. All you can see is a milky white mess. Staring at a piece of paper will have the same effect on you.
Going out without a mask will make you tear up at the utter joy of the beautiful white veil, Wuhan has been hiding behind for the better part of two weeks, and rasp and the crispy clear air you get to breathe. I'm getting over a smold (which isn't what you think it is but rather a smog-induced cold). Seriously we can easily contest with Beijing and we might even stand a chance at winning seeing since the capital is determined to make the city a better place to live in.
It is utterly crazy how many people in Wuhan don't have the faintest clue about the differences between a fog and smog and it is even more astonishing how many more people believe that a surgical face mask will protect them from the smogcalypse. They don't seem to care but the coughing and spitting sounds all around me play like a broken record over and over again. I try to educate my students and my friends but most of them seem so very disinterested in learning about the dangers of smog and how to protect your own health that it's giving me a headache, though I'm not sure if it's really them or just the side effects of the milky white crap outside my window. It would appear that they have the money to fund their extensive cancer treatment in the future.
Don't get me wrong, I love Wuhan, even when it's as disgustingly dirty as it is now and trying to slowly poison me with his invisibly visible toxic particles, but I fail to understand the lack of interest the locals are showing. Even Beijingers are more concerned about their precious capital city. Why can't we be more like them? Why won't my friends care more? Why does it seem so utterly impossible to educate them?