Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

China Keeps on Truckin’

17 December 07

Ever been on the roads of China at night? Just go down to your local Wal-Mart, walk around and look at all the products on display. Then just imagine all of the parts they are made up of loaded on heavy trucks, thundering across the highways of China. That is what it is like.

Overloaded Truck

Fairly typical truck
from Automobile blog

On my recent trip to Mt. Tai, my friend Wendy drove her car the two and a half hours to Tai An, where we would begin the climb. The highway was like a solid mass of trucks. Big, overloaded trucks. In Wendy’s zippy little Chevy, we weaved around and between them. (My eyes were definitely wide open!)

When I used to live at the Shijiazhuang airport, anytime we wanted to travel to the city, we drove 45 minutes on the highway, also covered in trucks. I’ve never seen anything like it.

From the New York Times’ Choking on Growth series:

Trucks here burn diesel fuel contaminated with more than 130 times the pollution-causing sulfur that the United States allows in most diesel. While car sales in China are now growing even faster than truck sales, trucks are by far the largest source of street-level pollution.

Doesn’t that sound lovely? Read more about trucks in China, oil consumption, diesel fuels, and how they are contributing to pollution here (NY Times).


Shame on You!

29 November 07

Yesterday the DH and I shamed a man in our neighborhood. I don’t know if he lost face or not, but I hope he did.

We were on our way to the bus stop when we saw this man fling a large garbage bag into the ditch that runs in front of our apartment building. “Hey!” we shouted, and pointed to the row of empty garbage cans located just 50 meters further away. “Oh!” he replied, as if the cans had just materialized out of thin air.

The ditch is full of black, foul water and all kinds of trash. I’ve posted about it before, but here is a picture to refresh your memory:


We walk past this daily.

Everyday there is something new in there. Sometimes it is a mattress, sometimes it is rotting food. Other times it is construction material. This is what was new today:


At least one dog can be found there at all times, rooting around for treasure. It’s the kind of ditch you’d dump a body in if you were in the mafia. And it is just outside our gate.


Living day by day beside foul-smelling and unattractive trash is something I will never understand.

Choking on Growth

30 September 07

New York Times is featuring a special series on the devastating impact of China’s “epic pollution crisis.” It is worth reading, although I feel like I’ve read all of this before. It is painfully obvious to anyone living in the PRC just how degraded the environment is, or how at risk many areas are for degradation. If you are new to China or need a good overview of the crisis, this is for you. Let me summarize it for you:

  • China’s environment = very, very bad
  • Effects on Chinese people’s health = very, very terrible (and mine too!)
  • Measures needed to prevent environmental disaster = too many, too late?

Part 2 of the series discusses water scarcity and focuses on my former haunt of Shijiazhuang. I can definitely confirm that it was dry, dry, dry there. The DH says that from the air, the whole area looked like desert to him. I was very glad to leave Shijiazhuang for the relatively clean air of Linyi. I hope it stays that way.

The DH comes from a part of Spain that was once terribly polluted by mining and steel factories. The air quality was bad and the rivers were all toxic. The good news is now the rivers are recuperating and the air is getting cleaner. Change is possible, although I suspect China is not willing to forgo the economic growth necessary to make a real difference in the environment. (You can see pictures of the transformation of Avilés’ river estuary here.)

A side note: New York Times has done away with that silly “Select” program, and now all content, including opinions, is once again available free of charge.

Making Progress

28 September 07

First it was Out With the Old. Then it was In With the New.

Now they’re making progress:


At ground zero of Linyi’s newest construction explosion.


Whether or not it will actually look like this when complete is debatable…

Eat Real

8 September 07

Yet another reason why we should only eat “real” food.

Ribbet-Ribbet or Gua-Gua

18 August 07

I’ve just come from my upstairs balcony, where I spent the last 15 minutes listening to the sounds of thousands of frogs who are sublimely happy with all the rain we’ve been getting.

I wasn’t happy about the rain today, as I sat inside the apartment, enduring power cuts every 10 minutes or so. I wanted to go shopping. We needed food! Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I grabbed my umbrella and out I went.

This is what confronted me.


That’s the entrance to the little dirt road that leads to our apartment complex. You can see that it is completely underwater. I HAD to get to the main road, in order to grab a taxi. So, yes, I waded through that mucky water. I don’t even want to think about what is swimming in that water. Let’s just say sanitation in our neighborhood could use some improvement.

Many of the small roads and lanes in our neighborhood were underwater. The “urban” sector of Linyi, across the river, didn’t seem to experience the flooding like we did. I guess that is why the urbanites call us rural.




This morning I complained about the rain, but once I finally got out of the house, it didn’t bother me a bit. In fact, it let me feel like I was back in a tropical city, like Kuala Lumpur or San Jose. The air was humid and hot, but a light breeze kept it cool. The kids were all out in the streets, splashing around as much as their mothers would let them. Girls were walking along in their high heel shoes and umbrellas, oblivious to the conditions. The rumbling thunder and dark skies gave way to drizzle and soft light. Despite the dampness, there were still plenty of people in the street. And that is the thing I love about a tropical city – a raincloud can’t stop life from happening.

I don’t think we have seen the last of the rain – I’m sure we’ll be seeing the remnants of Sepat soon.

**Gua-Gua is the sound a frog makes in China. Not sure if that is spelled correctly, though.

Where is the Pied Piper When We Need Him?

18 July 07

Get ready to squirm!

In the South China province of Hunan, field mice are taking over. They are escaping the flooding of Dongting Lake, looking for food and shelter. All I can say is, ewwww. Over at Global Voices, Chinese bloggers are discussing the situation, and wondering what will become of the mice. Will they end up on Cantonese dinner plates? Again, ewww.

Heavy rains have brought flooding to much of South China. China Daily has a slide show of the local residents fleeing the rising waters.

Go Ride a Bike!

17 July 07

I have cycled through the busy streets of downtown Toronto, the sleepy airport of Shijiazhuang, China, and the mayhem of Linyi, China. I am all for bike culture. Want to reduce your carbon emissions and fuel bills? Get a bike!

Paris has introduced a pilot bike rental program to decrease traffic congestion in the city center. This is the perfect situation for bike use. Ever been to the Netherlands? There are bicycles and accessible, safe bike paths everywhere. (But if you have to cross one as a pedestrian, you’d better look both ways!) My sister-in-law lived outside of Amsterdam for years. Everyday, she rode her bicycle from her house to the light rail train station. There, she parked it in a bicycle storage room, hopped on the non-polluting train, and rode for 15 minutes into the city of Utrecht. At every train station in the Netherlands, you will see huge warehouses full of stored bicycles. Commuters take them from home to the station and back home again at the end of the day.

Most cities in the US were not designed for bicycle use, but that does not mean it is not possible for them to change! Urge your community to install bike paths and biking trails. And if you can’t use a bike for your commute, consider the fun and health benefits of recreational biking! After two years in China, I long for the day that I can leisurely ride a bicycle, enjoying the fresh, clean air. I do ride a bicycle here, but with all the potholes, traffic and pedestrians, it is far from leisurely! Sadly, the home of the largest bicycle population in the world is fast becoming a car culture. The flying pigeons are disappearing only to be replaced by Audis, Suzukis, Great Walls and Volkswagens.

China, China, China…

14 July 07

I just don’t know what to think of you! I like you a lot, most of the time. You make me laugh. You make me ponder. You make me curious. You make me question many things about myself and others. You also make me question you and your people. Sometimes I can’t stand you. You infuriate me. You frustrate me. You sicken me a little, too. (I hope not literally!) I read a lot about you, because I want to understand you, despite my gut feeling that I never will.

Two things have been on my mind lately:

When I asked my students, “What is the one thing you would do to make the world a better place?” They all responded that they would do something to improve the environment. Everyone in China recognizes the extreme degradation of the rivers, lakes, air and land here. Will there be any changes made before it is too late? The government has been fudging numbers on the affects of the mass pollution. The younger generations are starting to notice and they are ready for some action. China Dialogue looks like a good place to start, so no more rivers have to look like this.

China has also been on the world news radars recently due to the tainted and poisonous goods they have been exporting everywhere. I’m just as concerned about it as you, especially since a high percentage of the goods still in China are probably highly contaminated, too. Yumm. But I have one thought – do you shop at Walmart? Are you always looking for the lowest price? If everyone keeps demanding lower and lower prices, quality is going to get lower and lower, too. Yes, many businesses in China are corrupt. Yes, many people here will do whatever it takes to get more money. I suggest you be wise in your purchases and keep that in mind. However, don’t forget that it is not just China exporting questionable stuff – according to the New York Times, India, Mexico and Dominican Republic have a pretty nasty record, too. China needs a “progressive era.” In the meantime, buy local! Think about your purchases!

China has come pretty damn far in a short amount of time. They have a long way to go. I am not ready to give up on this place, even though I love it one day and hate it the next.


8 June 07

Blogging is difficult in China. My blogging platform, WordPress, is banned in China. For me to be able to update, I have to launch a program called Tor which allows me to bypass the Great Firewall of China. It is slow, and sometimes it just doesn’t want to work. I’ve maintained a mirror of my blog on Mindsay so that I’d have a backup in case of Tor failure, and also so local friends can read my blog without using proxy websites. Today I’ve discovered a new problem.

In the Southern China city of Xiamen, protests have been taking place over the planned construction of a chemical plant. The local residents don’t want another polluting factory disrupting their health and lives. I am far from Xiamen, so I am relying on the Internet to get information, but from what I have read, this protest sounds so awesome. It is a very remarkable thing that the locals are standing up for something they truly believe. Their numbers are so great that their message cannot be hidden from the people.

Protests are not unheard of in China, in fact, they are happening more and more. Peasants unhappy over land grabs, women upset over forced abortions and sterilizations, hospitals attacked for refusing to treat patients without cash-in-hand are a few of the recent protests I’ve heard about. The things is, you don’t usually hear about them. They are squashed as soon as possible. Protesters are dragged away, shot at and detained. The media just doesn’t cover them. Until now. Until blogging and SMS messages, Flickr photo sites and YouTube video upload. More than ever, Chinese are waging Web 2.0 protests. Click on the Web 2.0 link and be astounded. It is an amazing thing to see these people letting their opinions be known.

Of course, this doesn’t sit well with the local officials and the central government. Action must be taken. The Internet must be filtered, censored, blocked. As of today, all of my photos on the photo site Flickr are showing up as empty boxes. (Without the Tor program – with the Tor program I can see them.) This means, that even on my Mindsay blog, which is not blocked, my photos will not be seen.

I am not so concerned about being blocked. My voice is heard by friends and family, mostly in the US and other countries. I am a foreigner who chooses to live here. But for the Chinese voices that need to be heard in China, the filtering and blocking is monumental. Once again, the people are being silenced. Controlled. But for how long?

Steven Banick made this comment on Global Voices, and it sums up nicely my thoughts:

…for sure, the authorities are “cracking down” and heads are rolling, but holding back the inexorable tide of the information age is like that li’l ol Dutch boy…

Yes, this may sound naive at the moment, but for those of us who remember Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the economic and “human interest” changes with China are stunning. Several hundred million middle class people increasingly more engaged in/on the world market, traveling, et al, will not be able to be “held back” in the long run.

As General Patton said, “fixed fortifications are a monument to man’s stupidity.” Thus it will be with Chinese firewalls, bit by bit (yes with some setbacks) as China modernizes, seeks, questions, stirs the pot…

So here is my own protest: One of my favorite photos, taken in Tibet, of a little monk who stood strong against his minders who wanted him to go back into the monastery and stop playing with the ram who had wandered close to the monastery entrance. He was mischievous and wanted to play. He was defiant. (I’m not sure that is what monks are supposed to do.) He wanted it his way.

Little Monk

These protesters have my highest praise. Good for you. Stay strong and do it your way.