Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tianjin, China - Smog

My job involves a lot of travel (whodda guessed, right?), and although I do get to go to some great places, there are some places that I go to that are simply wretched. Often filled with good people, but.... wretched. One case in point is Tianjin, China. Tianjin is a large city close to the Chinese capital, Beijing. It is also a major manufacturing center, and you can tell this the minute you get off the plane. As soon as the plane door opens, one breath tells you that you are in a place where you don't want to stay too long. My chemist's nose tells me that the smell has that "bacon and eggs"-ish odor of sulfur dioxide, but overlaying this is something that you can just label "dirty".

The first time I visited Tianjin, I landed at Beijing (Peking) airport and took a cab into Tianjin. As we drove along the road, the driver went from hell-for-leather fast, to snail's pace, as conditions went from poor visibility to zero visibility: the road intermittently draped with listless wraiths of white sulfur dioxide smoke that stings the lining of the nose. In winter, there is no wind, and it is usually very dry, so weeks can go by with only rumors of a white glowing ball in the sky that seems to be associated with daylight.

My colleague, Michael Qiu, says he has been to Tianjin many times, and never seen the sun. I think I must have gotten lucky, because I HAVE seen the sun there once. After a brief overnight snowfall that must have nucleated and precipitated the atmospheric particulates, we were rewarded the next day with hazy sunshine. The people seemed happier on that day.

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