As I left Chicago I took note of the weather forecast for Beijing: Just one word.. Not haze, clouds, or even smog....but smoke. SMOKE. Sure, the highs and lows were in expected range, but the use of the word smoke to describe the weather, well, this was a first. What would this mean? Perhaps it was a mistranslation - yes, I’ll assume the intended word was SMOG. And I’ll prepare my mind and my lungs accordingly.
As we began our descent into the capitol of the North, Beijing, I looked out the window to see very brown earth far below. A most uneventful brown, like flying over the mid-western US in winter. A flat brown land dotted with occasional settlements, farms, your standard rural landscape. But so brown. Nearing the city brought a change in view - more buildings, more trees, more roads, more activity. And, more brown. Ceaselessly brown. We descended into a thick brown haze. No, this was not smog, it was too uniformly brown. It was dust. The color of the landscape made no change from countryside to cityscape. It was all brown, as if someone had sifted fine cocoa powder over the entire region. There was probably some smog mixed in with the haze of dust, but overall, it appeared that man was not so much to blame as was mother nature.
A giant sandstorm had blown in from the Mongolian plains, and covered everything in a layer of fine dirt and dust. I just missed it by a few days. But the dust lay over everything, I mean everything. The buildings, the roads, the cars, the trees.....from above, all were brown. From the ground, the sky was brown. Still. It was surreal. My welcoming transfer driver tells me that this happens only once every two to three years, and I am just seeing the aftermath. I can’t imagine the worst of it, people can’t breath, people can’t see, and daily life continues through torturous winds of brown dust.
As we drive into the city, a light rain begins to dot the windshield. A welcome relief - only the second rain this spring, and nicely timed after the dust storm to help cleanse the air. The roads are lined with trees. Thick groves of trees, most of whose leaves are still dusty brown on one side while green underneath. I’m told the city has spent over 46 billion on greenery alone, getting itself all spruced up to host the 2008 Olympics. My guide is so excited. She tells me every Chinese person is excited to have the Olympics in Beijing. I’m excited for them too. So much construction, renewal, and, of course, greenery. But today, April 26, 2006, all I see is brownery. Olympics? An athlete is the last thing I’d want to be right now in Beijing. It will be interesting to see the end result of the massive transformation this city is undergoing. It is all happening right now. Somewhere. Behind the layer of brown. Ah, sweet. The cherry trees have just bloomed in the last day and the new pink flowers have managed to break through the brownery. Alas...even mother nature can’t stop herself!