I hoped that the air would clear up, but it got worse. Mid-afternoon, when I stepped out to get the mail, I yelled out to the neighbor across the street who was out on the porch: "stop smoking. It is killing me."
"Oh crap, I thought it was you" came the quick retort.
Another neighbor who was walking by chipped in with "it is Tim back there with his cigar. His dog is even worse."
We could laugh about it because though the smoke--from the forest fires a few miles away--made our lives unpleasant, we knew it was temporary. As the fires die down, and as the wind shifts, we will be back in paradise.
I attempted the walk, but gave up on that barely two minutes into it--inhaling the smoky air was putting a strain on my system. If I cannot handle the little bit of smoke and particulate matter in the air for a day and have to even forego my favorite walk by the river, I cannot even begin to imagine the horror stories from China that I read about!
The environmental costs also are on display. The roads leading to Jizhong's mines, power plants and coal-preparation plants are covered in dust and soot, and large coal trucks drive in and out, kicking up debris.I imagine myself traveling in Xingtai. As I typically do when I travel, I will walk around the place observing people and things and taking photos and making mental notes. Throughout all that, I will be breathing in the highly toxic air. And might not ever come back alive! (In that case, I bet quite a few of my colleagues will gladly pay for my trip to Xingtai ... hehehe!)
Outside many of the company's compounds are plots of land where farmers grow apples, peanuts and corn to sell to local markets, and some landholders complain that the soot makes their crops unsalable.
"The ash from the power plant's chimneys is too much," said 67-year-old Yang Hexiao, who lives just outside a Jizhong power plant in Xingtai. "My clothes are covered in ash. The grain I dry on the roof is covered in ash."
Are jobs worth all the destruction? Do we love the latest iPhone and curved screen TVs and all other products from China so much that we don't care about the destruction, which is no exaggeration, to life and the natural environment there?
It is not Mandarin that we all need to learn, but one German word: Energiewende (pronounced in-ur-GEE-vend-uh)
Maybe one day I will be able to walk the streets of Xingtai without worrying about my lungs.