Thursday, May 01, 2014

Can't breathe. Is it the smog or the marriage?

Through all the years that I can recall in my early life in the old country, father sneezing was a daily event.  Loud enough not to miss it.  That was the case in the life that we had in the industrial town and later in the bustling city.

Quite some years ago, during my California life, my parents came for a visit.  My mother appreciated the cleaner air and water.  No sneezing sounds from father.

And that was in one of the dirtiest places in California!  Even now it is!

Years later, they visited Australia after my brother immigrated to the land down under.  My parents could feel the difference via what their bodies were telling them.

The sneezing and everything else returned every time they got back to their own settings.

And where they live is not even the dirtiest city in India.

News reports suggest that China's cities easily out-pollute India's cities.  I shudder to think what a visit for a couple of days will do to my system, especially when I go there from the clean and green Oregon where I live.

Commenting about China's pollution, and whether it is all worth it, is not new here.  (like here or here.)  Yet, I am always blown away by the stories of China's pollution and how people deal with it.

No surprise, therefore, to read this in the Economist:
Chinese emigrants are leaving good jobs, cashing out their high-priced homes (or investment properties) and leaving China’s rat race behind. They are unlikely to find better jobs anywhere else, but the air and water are less polluted where they are going, the social safety-net less frayed and the food safer to eat. And there is no one-child policy.
If they can, people will vote with their feet!
Others are keeping one foot, or one half of their marriage, back in China, unsure they want the slower-paced life abroad. Windson Song, a 35-year-old marketing manager in Beijing, and his wife and baby boy, are close to getting approval for permanent residence in the Canadian province of Quebec, where they meet the requirements for skilled-worker emigration (his wife’s ability to speak French helped). She and the child will go first, and will perhaps fulfil the requirement of living in Canada for three out of four years. Mr Song prefers to stay behind in Beijing, where career opportunities in marketing are much better. He often thinks, though, about his first day in Australia as a student a decade ago. It was a “fairytale world”, he says, with “green trees, colourful flowers”, few people and almost no cars. He wants the option of escaping Beijing’s grim cityscape. But his émigré friends remind him that although (or perhaps because) it is safer, cleaner and less corrupt, life is “really boring” abroad.
Indeed, to the immigrant who cannot adapt to the way of life in these "cleaner" locales, life can be excruciatingly boring. Painful. Depressing. Even in the most scenic settings.  After all, happiness comes from within.

It is not quite easy, it seems, to develop a Solomon's split the kid approach to having one half of the marriage in polluted China and another part in a cleaner paradise.  The split could become real:
A Beijing man is seeking to divorce his wife after she took their son to a tropical island province to escape the capital's notorious smog, saying the long-distance relationship had destroyed their marriage
Now, it is not as if the wife left Beijing and emigrated to Australia:
[Their]son developed serious health problems because of Beijing's air pollution and his wife took the son to the southern resort island of Hainan to escape the haze.
However, Wang's wife did not like Hainan and nor did she like living apart from him, and whenever the two of them met they fought, the report said.
Fed up with this, Wang has filed for divorce in a Beijing court, the newspaper said.
"Smog 'buried' my son's health, and it has 'buried' my marriage," he was quoted as saying.
Who woulda thunk that smog might kill marriages too!

Back in India, father sneezes, and mother coughs.  And they are not bored.


Ramesh said...

Mmm. Again two separate issues - pollution and the Chinese eagerness to emigrate.

On pollution, I think the situation is significantly exaggerated. I lived in Guangzhou, around the greatest manufacturing belt of the world - the Guangzhou-Shenzhen corridor. Yes, there was pollution, but it was hardly something that bothered me on a daily basis. Maybe the effects on health are long term, but in day to day life, really nothing bothered me. I didn't sneeze anymore than I would in Eugene :) I am not one moment deriding pollution harmfulness or the need to fight it like the rabid right does on global warming say. I am simply saying its not as much of a nuisance, at least in the short term, as is portrayed.

The second issue of Chinese emigration is also nuanced. Lots aspire to go West (or actually Australia) because of economic reasons. But a significant portion of the educated elite are seeking to get an Australian passport as an insurance against "the day when things might turn bad". They are buying an insurance against political upheaval. They live in China, have no intention of going away for good, but keep an Australian or Canadian (their favourite nationalities) passport, just in case. Where I worked we were just two or three real expats in the office, but there were some 20 "foreign nationals", with lots more aspiring to be so. Of course these are still a drop in the ocean in the gigantic numbers of China, but a fair number of the educated elite think that way. I haven't met a single person who was emigrating because of pollution !!!!

Sriram Khé said...

Well ... you have a very, very, very soft spot for things that happen in China.
James Fallows, whose writings on China (and many other topics) I have been reading for years, notes in a recent post:
"environmental sustainability in all forms is China's biggest emergency, in every sense: for its people, for its government, for its effect on the world. And yes, I understand that the same is true for modern industrialized life in general. But China is an extreme case, and an extremely important one because of its scale."
And he goes on to discuss the data.
He concludes with this:
"More sobering still: Air pollution, while the most visible (literally), is not the most serious of China's environmental problems. Water pollution, and water shortage, are worse."

There certainly might be quite a few Chinese using the green-card option as a parachute should things go politically berserk. But, this emigration that is tied to pollution is being reported by the Economist--a newspaper that you, too, respect for not exaggerating.