With snow and ice still covering the driveway to the school and pushed into jagged walls from a wheelbarrow, it’s hard to believe that the students will be back in less than a week. One teacher, coming in to check on our room but unaware that we had returned from our travels, was possibly more startled than we were to be awoken by a key unlocking our apartment door. Other than that teacher, the gate guard, and the computer teacher we summoned this morning to replace the head on our Ethernet cable (the easiest and least complicated problem solving experience we’ve had in China yet), we’re the only ones on campus.
The restaurants have opened again and all business seems to be back to normal after the Spring Festival celebrations … all except for our beloved street vendors. The two alley vendors we frequent are both separately across the street from two local universities and with the students still not back at school, that means no business for them (if they were open) and no street-food for us. We hadn’t realized how much we rely on the street vendors in their food alleys as a comforting part of our daily routine here in Baoding until they weren’t there. We have actually been very sad to see their stalls dark and empty and the alley void of food carts and people – it looks positively barren (add to that the blackened snow and ice and it’s even sadder to lay eyes on).
While anxiously awaiting the complete return to our routine (complete with students and street food) we’ve spent the past couple of days in QLH hanging out and catching up. While here, I’ve contemplated aspects of life in China, particularly that of the environment and air pollution. After a little bit of research (that was mysteriously impossible to find before we committed to living in this city), I discovered that Baoding has consistently been ranked the third most polluted city in China (and by extension the world). Specifically, this ranking is based on the air quality index but when you take into consideration the pollution (trash) on the ground, this ranking is even more firmly established. A report I read blames the poor air quality in China (the report was saying specifically in the top ten cities – 7 of which are in Hebei Province, including Baoding) on lax enforcement of car emissions and though I do not doubt that is a huge factor in the country’s air pollution problems, from what I have observed in Baoding (and considering there are relatively few cars in Baoding compared to the population – most people ride some kind of bike) I would blame most of the pollution on burning trash. I’ve made an issue out of this before (specifically in regards to the smell), but after watching the clouds of opaque grey smoke creep along the fields and roads from one burning trash heap to the other, I blame Baoding’s pollution primarily on a lack of enforcement (or knowledge) about the dangers of burning plastic. The landfill a block from the school (with its habit of turning the mountain of trash into a smoldering smoke cloud) seems like it could be solely responsible for the smog in Baoding. If you think I’m exaggerating, take a look at this: http://aqicn.org/city/baoding/. (As I write this, the Baoding air quality score is “402: Hazardous”.) Additionally, for the first three months of 2013, Baoding was in the top 7 worst polluted cities in China. Shijiazhuang, a thirty-minute ride from Baoding and the capital of the province, routinely is ranked number one or number two.
Thinking of all of this, I find it comically absurd that the supermarkets here (and in other places in China) charge you 0.2 Yuan for a plastic bag. I commend this effort at reducing plastic bag usage and encouraging the use of reusable bags (and would love to see it implemented in other parts of the world), but it seems like a strange and almost insignificant environmental hazard to focus on. Perhaps, without this tiny gesture, the plastic burning would be so immediately detrimental that people would drop like flies on the street. Without knowing this, however, it seems like a better way to reduce the smog (at least in Baoding) would be to educate the public about the dangers of burning unfiltered trash and to make use of the in-place but underused recycling infrastructure.
This leads me to questions that Duncan and I have pondered a lot about Baodingren (Baoding people) – why are Baoding-ites so willing and unperturbed by the disgusting state of the environment around them? Why is it that they seem to relish in chucking their trash as hard as they can at the ground while walking down the street? Why is it acceptable to anyone (parents, students, administrators, government officials) to place a private, expensive, boarding school on a piece of land surrounded by landfills, disposal ground, and farm land that undoubtedly is producing poisonous crops from daily rubbish incineration?
I’m aware that I sound quite grumpy and critical while speculating on all of this but I don’t intend to be because, despite the smog, I am actually quite content. Though itching for the routine and warm weather (and missing all the snow in Asheville), I’m excited about what will happen over the next four months. We’re bound to do a lot more traveling, especially mountain climbing, and with our time here drawing ever closer to an end, we’ll be making sure we try to do everything we set out to do for our year in China (maybe we’ll even solve the smog problem in Baoding).
Thank you for reading and until next time,