Saturday, February 17, 2007

Dirty Cantonese Air

Here's an interesting image. This the state of Guangdong's air on February 16th, 2007. Blue indicates very clean, green indicates clean, yellow is a bit mucky, orange is bad, red is severe. I copied it from a website that I monitor daily: the Pearl River Delta Air Quality Monitoring Network website ( It's a joint project between Hong Kong's Environmental Protection Department and its Guangdong equivalent (though I have a hard time believing such a thing exists), and basically lets me know whether it's safe to open the window or not.

Normally, the mesage is clear. Stay at home, shut the window and seal all bodily orafices. The people of Zhaoqing have this idea that their city's air is spring fresh when compared to the likes of Guangzhou or Hong Kong. It's not. What this map has revealed to me over the course of the last four months is that filthy Foshan is the chief polluter in the area and a perennial stain hangs over the city. This stain expands and contracts and tends - contrary to popular myth - to blow in an westerly direction, thus making the Zhaoqing air utterly choking, most of the time.

But, lo, in the last few days things have suddenly picked up. The picture above (which shows Guangzhou under something of a cloud) is actually less complimentary that the one from the 15th in which - for the first time ever - the WHOLE of the province was green. What's going on?
The answer, of course, is very very simple. I'm rather brain-frazzled with work at the moment and didn't put two-and-two together. My wife, fortunately, did. 'It's the holidays, stupid,' she said, poking out her lower lip with her tongue, opening her mouth and making a 'Durh (you really are a silly bugger)' sound. 'You know, New Year? Factories - closed, workers - gone home....get it?'. I did. And I became frightened. Part of me hoped that Guangdong's air pollution was somehow innate - just the way it is in this part of the world. This map puts that myth to bed.

If one doesn't own a factory, and one doesn't work in a factory, and one has a passport allowing him to travel freely, one should really get the hell out of here. One feels.