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(China Daily)
Updated: 2009-03-24 07:46

Clearing the air and throats

City air around the world is not exactly pristine anymore. There's a dimming effect over the atmosphere of every major city in the world today due to pollution.

The air of Guangzhou, for all the merits of the city, is calibrated as the eighth most dirty in the world. Its multitude of factories is billowing smoke, its endless procession of cars belching carbon dioxide, and its coal stacks are blazing away.

As we fight with millions breathers for fresh oxygen, the upper atmosphere is constantly poisoned by a cocktail of toxic haze that hangs motionlessly over the metropolis.

But to be fair, Guangzhou has done a lot in planting "green filters" to counteract this pollution spiral.

Can the upper atmosphere of a city ever reach an un-renewable stage of morbidity?

According to some local studies, breathing problems have appeared sharply over the years. As an expatriate working in China, health is a non-negotiable commodity for us. No health no work: the dictum is as simple as that.

The truth is our idyllic stay in China, of several months, was shattered one day by what appeared to be a simple case of flu. But the puzzling thing was that, conventional medicines, whether Chinese or Western, wouldn't make it go away.

One of the most baffling sounds confronting an expat on entering the culture zone of China is the "omnipresent" noise of a Chinese loudly hawking, clearing his throat, and spitting. This startling sound will hardly break the stride of the average Chinese, we know. But to Western ears, it's shocking.

I once witnessed an incident which if not for our sensibilities would be quite impressive. Several finely coated young executives were garrulously chatting and walking toward me, when all of a sudden the outermost one of them, put out his left hand to stop the others and with his other right hand pinched his nose, sneezed and snorted out phlegm from his blocked nostrils. Simultaneously, he pirouetted and flung the offending gob of dislodged mucous at a nearby bush like a slingshot.

The choreography was seamless and reminiscent of a good Chinese opera. One could almost, with a little help from the imagination, hear the drum beats and bamboo clicks in the background or the song called Kung-Fu Fighting.

In our orientation, we expected better from the scions of a civilization, which has continued unbroken for five and a half millennium. Comparatively, few cultures could be more august or dignified. Look at the Chinese inventions, epic architecture, poetic literature and unique arts. After all every country's collective behavior is the country's national treasure, we reason, and must be the responsibility of the collective. Shouldn't they know that?

K.H. Wong

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(China Daily 03/24/2009 page9)