Bad Air

Some folks here in south-east China have asked, “what is the air like in the town where you live?” So, we show them a map of the Great State of Virginia where you can look at the land mass below unhindered by clouds of polluted air.

Americans love to talk about environmental issues. Even when there are no serious issues, there are those who create them so that some landowners can’t build a house on their land out of fear of disturbing some frog or other. Well, folks back home, you have not seen environmental issues until you travel to China. It is knowledge of the magnitude of the pollution problem in China that makes us grateful for the beneficial measures that have been enacted to ensure clean air and water in the USA. We devoutly object to the measures that are vastly expensive and yet yield little benefit to the environment even as they deprive landowners of their constitutional property rights.

As for China’s environment, this: Bad air much? Bad water much? The first year we sojourned here, we were warned not to drink the water. Now, someone should warn travelers not to breathe the air.

You know that song, on a clear day you can see forever. That is true of the countryside in China. The cities? Hardly. On a given day, you can see the air, gray and quietly noxious, hovering over the city. Worse yet, you know that that air is what you’re breathing in … if you didn’t have the wit to obtain some N95 face masks … because it is not in the near distance as it looks. Indeed, it is all around you.

Well, after struggling to breathe through the ubiquitous and not really healthful or helpful cloth face masks that are sold here, we went to and purchased some N95’s and some surgical ones that can stop bacteria from penetrating. Then we had it mailed to us from the USA. Since we are asthmatic, that anti-bacterial last is essential because everyone is coughing, sneezing, spitting, blowing, farting, or doing something, rarely covered up and mostly unchecked. There ought to be a law that states spitting on the floor of moving vehicles; turning the head to sneeze, without covering the mouth and nose; or farting in a moving vehicle are all hanging offenses. Really.

We’ve discovered that both the 3M N95 and the green surgical masks acquired from Amazon are marvelous at filtering out the microscopic substances, and they work wonders for odors, too. There’s nothing like being subjected to a variety of farts on the bus. Where to turn the head? Ay! There’s the nearest window/ Pop back in and someone else is breaking wind again. On the new air-conditioned buses, those wanting to avoid toxic farts are screwed, unless they’re sitting way in the back, where there is a small window on each side that can be opened because, other than those, the new buses don’t have windows, just panes of glass. We shudder to think what will happen in an accident. Anyway, the masks prevent the inhalation of those unhappy odors.

People here are intrigued by the 3M N95 with the air vent so exhaled air can escape. They’ve never seen it before, and they want to know. Though some folks look on questioningly, the only people who ask are the vendors with whom we interact; friends already know. If folks were to ask, we would say, quite politely, and in our best Oxford voice, a la D. H. Lawrence, we keep the mask on on the bus to avoid the germs and the farts.