Hwangsa Breaths

20 Mar

This is the view from my apartment building’s balcony about 6:30 this evening:

Mind you, that’s not a normal twilight.  The sun is still up but its last remaining rays are blotted out by the the yellow dust, or hwangsa as it is called in Korean.  When I emerged from work today, the city had an distinct yellow pallor to it.  The air seemed thick and heavy; I could barely make out a huge church at the top of the hill at the end of the street.  No wonder my throat had been feeling bad the past few days.

The camera, when set on its Intelligent Auto function, actually cuts through the haze surprisingly well, and the exposure comes out much lighter.  I took the first photo on manual to give you a better sense of how it appeared to the eye.  The second photo should show you how many more buildings there are behind that initial row, buildings which I can normally see perfectly but are obscured today by the dust.

What is hwangsa?  It is dust or sand that has blown off of China’s deserts and carries on the wind, reaching Korea and often Japan as well.  China’s northern regions are experiencing desertification on a rapid scale.  Though both the Chinese and South Korean governments have tried to work together to stop the process by planting trees, little seems to stop the process.  So the dust will continue to blow over the Yellow Sea and deposit itself on Korea’s shores, bringing with it all the heavy metals and other pollutants picked up from China’s contaminated atmosphere.

I thought about a comment I had heard from the great French anthropologist Rene Girard.  He said that the necessity of questioning whether it is nature or man who is responsible for impending disaster or doom is what it means to live in truly apocalyptic times.  With every labored, coughing breath, we may find that he was right.


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