Phlegm removal. Blowed from the nose. Snorted, hacked, and spit out from the mouth. Swallowed. Post nasal dripped directly atop the alveoli and coughed out days later. Some combination of all four.
Four days into our three year stint in Nanjing and we’re already feeling it. It’s invisible on the street. Ride an elevator, as few as a half dozen floors, and you begin to realize the air you’re breathing is less than ideal. Even on a sunny day, a grayish hue persists.
Do not dismiss our new phlegm expelling rituals as far removed from you. We might be new canaries deep in the coal mine, but you’re the oblivious townspeople in the valley below. Perhaps you’re reading this from the United States and thinking to yourself, “those poor bastards”, and enjoying a deep breath of fresh air. Maybe don’t breath so confidently or so deeply. A 2014 assessment of air pollution concluded that up to a quarter of pollution measured in the U.S. can be traced back to emissions related to Chinese goods export preparation and transport alone. This of course ignores the pollution China is exporting to the world for energy generation, or domestic vehicle traffic.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City in 1911 killed 146 workers. It was and remains the deadliest industrial disaster in New York City history. It shocked New York State and the country. That fire helped galvanize a series of industrial reforms, and in response the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) was formed. Imagine however, those same 147 workers all randomly died over a period of 30 years. You’d of never heard of The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.
To see the cost of growth and globalization in the air at the source is nothing short of amazing. You like cheap consumer goods? Chinese people are literally dying to sell them to you. Depending on whom you ask, somewhere between 300,000 and 1.2 million people die in China from pollution related illnesses each year. Asthma in China, unheard of 50 years ago, is forcing parents to make tough choices. Spread it out, and who cares how many people it costs for Amazon Prime or TaoBoa?
Since arriving in Nanjing, my weather app has informed me each day that the sky is clear, and that sunset happens at roughly six. From my west facing hotel window, I’ve yet to see the sun, much less see it set.