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Chinese villagers are successfully selling bags of fresh air to people in the city


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Next Shark:

Business-minded locals in the mountainous part of Guandong province in China are making money off the region’s natural fresh air.

Lianshan Zhuang and Yao autonomous county residents, have set up stalls atop its mountain and began selling air in plastic bags to city dwellers escaping the smog.

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According to NetEase (via Shanghaiist), the price of the fresh air ranges from 10 yuan ($1.50) for a small bag and up to 30 yuan ($4.50) for a larger bag.

Lianshan county, reportedly the greenest area in northern Guandong, is a favorite getaway spot for city folk who want to escape from urban pollution.

Marketing a bag of air is not that difficult for these crafty entrepreneurs as many customers find the idea of taking home fresh mountain air quite reasonable.

Air pollution has become a major issue in China especially in its highly industrialized cities and continuously poses a threat to the public health of its people.

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Slimy green algae is taking over China’s beaches for an alarming reason

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RocketNews 24/Business Insider:

Every summer for the past eight years, huge algae blooms have taken over the beaches near Qingdao, a city in the Shandong province of China.

The bright green stuff has blanketed at least 13,500 square miles of ocean this summer, according to the South China Morning Post.

And this isn’t the first time it’s happened. In 2013, the blooms got as big as the state of Connecticut! Check out this year’s algae infestation.

The algae blooms every year on the beaches in Qingdao, on China’s northeast coast between Beijing and Shanghai. The first blooms appeared in 2007 after seaweed farmers working south of Qingdao switched up how they clean off their rafts.


Farmers use the rafts to make nori, a type of edible seaweed that’s popular in Japan. When the rafts are cleaned off in the spring, along comes the algae, which thrives off the leftover seaweed nutrients and the warm conditions in the Yellow Sea.


Researchers think the reason for the algae growth in Qingdao is that seaweed farmers started cleaning their rafts farther offshore. This gave the algae the chance to spread out and make its way to the shore up near the city.


Ever since the large blooms started popping up, tourists have viewed it as a summer tradition to head down to the beach and play in the algae.


While it’s a ton of fun to play in, it’s actually connected to pollution from nearby agriculture and industrial plants that gets in the water.


But luckily, there are some ways to use the algae to benefit the community: It makes for a good fertilizer and green energy source.


Cleaning it up is no small feat — it has to be done quickly, because the algae begins to stink like rotten eggs when it decomposes. Here, workers scoop up the algae during the 2014 bloom.


It’s not just stinky; it’s also incredibly heavy. Workers who cleaned up the 2013 bloom collected more than 19,800 tons of the stuff — about the same weight as 9,900 cars!


If left where it is, the algae can spread to other beaches and become an even bigger environmental problem.


Families packing up and leaving Hong Kong over pollution life expectancy fears

A banner showing an idyllic harbour view belies the true picture behind. The air-pollution index on that day, August 22 last year, was at "very high", with the city blanketed in haze. Photos; Sam Tsang; May Tse; K.Y. Cheng; David Wong; AFP; Will Hayward/courtesy of the Haywood family; courtesy of the Brinner family

With children the most at risk from Hong Kong’s air pollution, some families have reluctantly packed up and left behind friends and comfortable lifestyles. Angharad Hampshire looks at the dangers and what is being done to address them.

South China Morning Post:

This year, Sasha Haldane and her husband, Will Hayward, took one of the biggest decisions of their lives. They decided that, for the sake of their two children, they would leave Hong Kong.

Haldane grew up in the city and, apart from a brief spell in Australia and New Zealand, had lived and worked here all her life. Max, 10, and Alyssa, six, were both born and raised in Hong Kong. Their parents had good jobs and the children were settled happily in schools. One factor alone compelled them to leave.

Will became very concerned about the air pollution as he is an ultra-marathoner,” says Haldane. “He was really noticing the air quality when he was running, and I was noticing that you could no longer see across the harbour most days in winter. What was meant to be the best time of year, October/November, was now the worst.”

Hayward worked as head of the psychology department at the University of Hong Kong. Concerned about the deteriorating air quality, he sought out Professor Anthony Hedley, an expert on air pollution at HKU’s School of Public Health. He discussed the problem with Hedley and set about reading a long list of scientific papers on the effects of pollution.

As a result of those papers, we realized that if we did not leave, we were going to reduce our children’s life expectancy. What we understood was that, whilst it was bad for younger children living in this air quality, the most impact was going to come when they were teenagers, when the greatest expansion of their lung growth was occurring. The pollution could affect that expansion so that when they were much older, in later life, they would be less able to recover from respiratory illnesses and more likely to die earlier.”

So, with heavy hearts, the family looked for places with cleaner air in which to live.

When a job came up in Auckland, New Zealand, Will was happy to move,” Haldane says, from her new home. “He is from New Zealand and has family here. Auckland has very good air quality for the size of the population. But there were no other factors. We both had very good jobs, great friends and a wonderful lifestyle. In January, we moved.”

Hong Kong has long prided itself on its high life-expectancy figures. However, those living to a ripe old age now grew up with much cleaner air.

Lai Hak-kan is a research assistant professor at HKU’s School of Public Health. He studies the impact of pollution on health and has no doubt that children growing up in Hong Kong now should expect shortened lives.

Our studies find that 10mg of particulate matter will cause two years of life expectancy lost. In Hong Kong, we are looking at 45mg to 50mg of such matter. Theoretically, this means 10 years of life lost.”

The World Health Organization recently reported that one in eight deaths globally is linked to air pollution, making it “the world’s single largest environmental health risk“. Out of the seven million deaths attributed to pollution in 2012, six million occurred in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific – the region containing Greater China.

One of the biggest predictors of life expectancy is lung function. Our lungs take in clean, oxygenated air and distribute it to our tissues to enable them to function. When we breathe in dirty air, our respiratory system – including its major organs, the lungs – becomes damaged and cannot operate properly.

There are a number of negative health impacts for air pollutants but most of the findings from medical literature indicate that the main impacts are on cardiovascular health and also on respiratory diseases,” says Lai. “Some studies also indicate that longer-term exposure can be linked to cancer development.”

The impact is worse in children than in adults.

One of the basic principles we know when we are handling health problems in children is that they have small organs which are growing day by day. So, all those cardiovascular, respiratory and lung functions need to be developed into maturity in health to prepare them for the demands of the future. If, however, they are exposed to things which are harmful, the effect is much more significant than if these systems are already fully developed. The implications are much higher and have a lifelong consequence. We have growing evidence that long-term respiratory and cardiovascular problems are strongly related to early exposure to environmental pollutants. The lungs and heart are immature in particular before primary school.”


Hong Kong’s once fragrant harbor is thick with a fug of cargo-ship emissions, traffic fumes and output from coal-powered power stations and factories in Guangdong province. The city’s topography of mountains and high-rise buildings causes a canyoning effect, which prevents toxic air from dispersing. All this contributes to the smog that Haldane had noticed folding its way round the city, billowing through the harbour and hanging between buildings.

This smog consists of many substances. First is sulphur dioxide (SO2), an odorless gas that is caused by the combustion of fossil fuels in power plants, industrial boilers and vehicles on land and at sea. SO2 damages the respiratory system and aggravates respiratory disease, for example bronchitis. It causes wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing. It can also cause cardiovascular disease in people with sensitive respiratory systems, including asthmatics, the elderly and children.

Second, nitrogen oxides (NOX) and nitrogen dioxide, which are formed through combustion at a high temperature in power plants and vehicle engines, at land and at sea. Nitrogen dioxide is a smelly brown gas that irritates the lungs and lowers the body’s resistance to respiratory infections such as the flu. People with respiratory problems (for example, asthmatics) are more susceptible to the effects of NOX. In young children, these gases impair lung development and chronic exposure leads to structural changes in the lungs.

Third, ozone, which is formed by the reaction of nitrogen dioxide in ultraviolet light and makes a photochemical smog. Ozone irritates mucous membranes in the nose, throat and airways. Because it’s “consumed” by the gaseous pollutants found by roadsides, ozone is often more prevalent at higher levels in outlying areas, such as the New Territories, where people may feel there is less pollution. It causes coughs, chest pain, throat pain and eye irritation, decreases lung function and inflames the respiratory system.

Those are the main gases. Then come some non-gaseous nasties – fine particles called respirable suspended particulates (RSPs). They are made of matter that is suspended in the air but is not a gas – so liquids, solids or a mixture of the two. Measured by their size, RSPs are divided into two categories: PM10 and PM2.5. The PM10 particles measure 10 micrometers or less across and PM2.5 particles measure 2.5 micrometers or less. These miniscule particles are produced by combustion – particularly in diesel vehicles and power plants – construction, incineration and, in nature, the sea. Often, the particulate matter is small bits of unburnt or partially burnt carbon attached to elements such as silicon, aluminum, sodium, calcium, manganese, iron, barium, mercury and lead.

Lead is particularly dangerous to young children as it damages the nervous system, red blood cells and kidneys and can cause brain damage. Many RSPs are carcinogenic.

The problem with RSPs is both their size and the chemicals they contain. PM2.5 particles are so small that our noses can’t filter them out. They get breathed straight into the lungs, where they deposit on the lining and have no way out. RSPs cause a wide range of problems, such as blocked airways, coughs, decreased lung function, aggravated asthma and the development of diseases such as bronchitis. In people with existing heart and lung disease, they can cause premature death from the likes of lung cancer.

Dr Lee So-lun is honorary clinical associate professor at HKU’s Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. She explains why children are so much more vulnerable to these pollutants.

Firstly, it’s biological, meaning that the build-up of their body is different. All the organs are still growing and maturing during childhood. Any insult to growing organs causes a long-term impact, unlike in adults, who have mature systems. Plus, their body system cannot remove toxins as well as adults. Then we have to look at the lungs because that is where the air pollutants are going. Lungs are maturing in childhood and we know that toxins on growing lungs are harmful. Our immune system is also immature in childhood. So, if you have a toxin that interacts with a genetic predisposition, it can cause things like allergies and asthma.

“There are also physiological differences,” Lee continues. “The lung wall in a baby is proportionally much larger than an adult’s. This means far more pollution circulates through the system. Babies and small children also have tiny airways, so anything that aggravates them will have a far greater impact. Also, children are much more prone to mouth breathing, which stops their noses filtering dirty air. Children are usually much more active than adults, so they tend to run around breathing in much more polluted air.”

Scientific studies show that mothers living in polluted areas are at greater risk of having babies with low birth weights and congenital malformation. Animal studies have linked attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and hyperactivity to early exposure to air pollution.

Rebekah and Stirling Brinner, an IT manager, lived in Hong Kong for five years. Both of their children, Zoe, now five, and Tabby, two, were born in Hong Kong. They struggled with Zoe’s reaction to the pollution.

Zoe was born with eczema,” says Rebekah Brinner, a former nurse. “But conditions in Hong Kong exacerbated it. As your skin is your largest barrier to infection, she got minor illnesses more often than her peers, and she had trouble sleeping due to constant intractable itch. The worst came in the form of repeated skin infections. Her whole body was covered in painful, itchy, oozing sores. She was absolutely miserable and was hospitalised with a major infection at one point, not to mention the frequent trips to private and public doctors for outpatient treatment.”

The Brinners ruled out other possible causes such as soaps and allergies. Their cure came whenever they left Hong Kong on holiday. Almost immediately, Zoe’s infections and skin flares subsided. As soon as they returned to the city, her skin flared up again.

I know that it’s hard to pinpoint the specific cause of eczema, as it’s at least partially genetic and, if you have it, it never actually goes away, but it can be managed and you can reduce triggers. Every doctor we’ve discussed it with has agreed that the pollution was a likely factor, especially considering that we ruled out the other likely triggers.

“We had to leave because our daughter had a very low quality of life. She couldn’t be allowed out of my sight otherwise she would scratch until she bled, which could and often would lead to another infection, not to mention potential for scarring and need for more strong medications. Stirling and I discussed it and decided we needed to get her out of the toxic environment as soon as possible, and he was lucky enough to quickly find a job.

They left Hong Kong in May last year.

We now live in a suburb of Philadelphia, in the United States. We’ve been here nearly 11 months and she hasn’t had a single infection or flare. We’ve significantly reduced both the potency and frequency of topical steroids and she has gained independence because she can be allowed to do things on her own. She sleeps better and has gone from the third percentile on the Child Development Centre growth chart up to the 25th percentile.”

The Brinners miss Hong Kong culture and friends but are certain they made the right choice.

Zoe asks frequently when we are moving back but she is thriving here. We’ve had some rough days, but then she’ll say that her skin doesn’t hurt anymore. So far, the future looks bright, our daughters are excelling. Ultimately, Hong Kong seems unable to do much about the pollution as so much of it comes from the mainland. Sad, as we really grew to love the city.”

Forty-seven per cent of Hong Kong’s pollution comes from the Pearl River Delta. The rest is made up of the city’s own roadside, marine and power-station emissions.

Global studies show that the highest impact on children’s health is from roadside pollution. Living, walking or going to school next to a busy road is much more likely to harm children than ambient air pollution from the mainland.

Arthur Lau Pui-sang is adjunct associate professor in the Division of Environment at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. In collaboration with Chinese University, he is running a citywide study of the health effects of pollution in primary schools. The study looks at 3,000 students aged nine and 10 in 30 primary schools to find out how the air quality is affecting them now and consider their long-term pulmonary development. The study will follow up with these children in two years and then, funding permitting, a further two years later.

Lau’s initial findings show that the distance from a road is a major factor in child health. A safe distance is defined as 200 metres. The direction the windows face and general wind direction also dictate how much pollution enters a school environment. As does the proximity of school buses, which often have polluting engines left idling.

The season is important, too. In summer, when the windows are shut and the air-conditioning is on, the air inside a classroom is much cleaner. In winter, when windows are more likely to be open, classroom air quality is dependent on outdoor air quality.

The reality in Hong Kong is that there are lots of schools next to busy streets,” says Lau.

The WHO has drawn up a gold standard of air-quality objectives (AQO) to provide a guideline about safe levels of pollution. As one would expect, Hong Kong falls far short of the WHO’s objectives. As a result, the government has set up some interim objectives of its own. The city uses the WHO’s guidelines for nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide but has adopted the lowest interim target levels suggested by the organization for SO2, ozone and PM2.5 particles, with a slightly better target for PM10 particles.

Air is measured in 12 general stations and three roadside stations throughout Hong Kong. This information is compiled into the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI), which is available online and via an app so the public can view levels of pollution and decide how best to protect their families on bad days.

The system looks at levels of the four major pollutants and works out in real time what the percentage risk to health is. It then categorizes the risk on a scale of one to 10.

At times and in places when/where a reading is high (7+), the government’s advice is that children reduce the amount of time they spend – and especially exert themselves – outside. Once it hits very high (8+), children are advised to reduce outdoor time to a minimum, and when it’s serious (10+), to stay inside. In effect, that is the government’s advice – go outside less or stay indoors.

Under the previous air-pollution index, which was replaced by AQHI at the end of last year, 6 per cent of days were considered dangerous to health in Hong Kong. Under the new system, 30 per cent of days are considered dangerous. If the index conformed to WHO standards, about 90 per cent of days would be deemed dangerous.

Wong Tze-wai is a research professor at Chinese University’s School of Public Health and Primary Care. He led the project to develop the AQHI system and is a specialist in community medicine who has conducted research on air pollution and health for more than 20 years.

For a warning system to work,” says Wong, “you need to avoid the phenomenon called ‘information fatigue’. If we issue a warning to the public every time the air-pollutant concentration [for example, PM2.5] is above the WHO 24-hour guideline [25 micrograms per cubic metre], we end up overwarning, because on most days, Hong Kong’s level of PM2.5 is around 30 or so. If we overwarn, the public will not respond.

“Moreover, it would not be desirable to advise the schools to cancel the PE class every time any one air pollutant exceeds the WHO guidelines, for that would mean no PE classes on 90 per cent of days in a year.”

So, if the only available solution to bad air days is to stay indoors, how much cleaner is indoor air?

In general, indoor air quality is better than outdoor air quality, provided there is no indoor source of air pollution, for example cigarette smoking, incense burning, gas cooking, furniture – especially new – that emits harmful volatile organic chemicals such as formaldehyde,” says Wong.

Lee warns parents not to become complacent just because a child doesn’t show any immediate symptoms.

“We are looking at this from a population level. Just because your own child doesn’t seem to be affected does not mean it’s not a big issue. It is a serious medical concern and something we have to deal with because of the long-term effects.

The weather, outdoor environment and indoor environment all affect us,” says Lee. “Outdoors there’s humidity and pollen, for example. Indoors, house dust mites and passive smoking. There are so many variables in the environment. While one element of the environment is high at any given time, others are low and that is why people can react differently.”

Undersecretary for the Environment Christine Loh

Undersecretary for the Environment Christine Loh Kung-wai, an environmentalist and herself a mother, is committed to reducing the city’s pollution and, since she began her tenure, Hong Kong has introduced measures to tackle the problem. Loh recognises that both a local and a regional approach are needed and has been working with the governments here and in Guangdong to facilitate change.

By 2019, Hong Kong will have phased out its most polluting older diesel vehicles and buses. A subsidy scheme is in place to assist owners of taxis and light buses to replace worn-out catalytic converters by the end of this year. Funding is also available for franchised bus companies to clean up their existing fleet. At sea, domestic and river vessels refuelling in Hong Kong had to switch to very low sulphur diesel by April 1 and regulations are being drafted to compel ocean-going vessels to switch to low sulphur fuel while berthing in the city’s waters from next year. That would make Hong Kong the first port outside the US and European Union that legislates for a fuel switch at berth.

By 2017, Guangdong is aiming to reduce PM2.5 levels by 15 per cent. Furthermore, Hong Kong and Guangdong have already successfully completed one round of pollutant reductions.

In 2012, we agreed on a second round of targets for 2015 and 2020,” says Loh.

Her goal is to meet the city’s current air-quality objectives by 2020. She acknowledges that these objectives don’t meet the WHO’s standards but explains that interim goals are necessary as there is no point setting standards that simply cannot be met. She promises the objectives will be reviewed – and tightened if possible – every five years.

Probably more than anyone else, I know how much we are doing in Hong Kong and in Guangdong. We must implement our plans well and then we must do more still,” says Loh. “Five years ago, I was the CEO of a non-profit think tank where we did surveys to assess the level of concern in Hong Kong about air quality. Today, there is no question in government that air pollution isn’t a top priority. The chief executive has already made this clear.”

The situation has actually improved a bit in the past decade,” says Dr Alfred Tam Yat-cheung, a pediatrician in private practice and a member of the Advisory Council on the Environment. “The general stations have recorded decreasing levels of pollutants except for O3 while the roadside stations have recorded increasing levels of NOX and RSP. So although the general situation has improved, the roadside situation has not.

“I think it is safe to bring up children here as long as you avoid the roads,” he says. “The general situation is better than many cities in the mainland and it [is getting] better slowly.

Too slowly for people such as Haldane, though. Unlike most parents in Hong Kong who fear for the well-being of their children, she could leave the city without too much trouble, but she’d prefer to return. That will not happen, she says, until the government adopts the WHO’s AQO.

I realize that Hong Kong is hampered in terms of the pollution from China but the government could crack down more on the pollution from incoming ships and the traffic, and should have done so years ago instead of listening to special interest sectors.

“I was not happy to leave. I am a Hong Kong girl. I have my entire life there. I love Hong Kong. It is my home. Right now, I am really homesick. But I had to make the decision for my children. I had to give them the best chance for a long life.”


China uses plastic prints to make city appear greener 


Weird Asia News:

Many big cities are now known for being polluted and lacking much greenery.  All one typically sees are tall buildings, lots of people, and hundreds of cars in the streets.

In China’s Jilin Province, however, the local government has found a solution to make the city look alive again.

Instead of planting trees, workers have installed plastic sheets along sidewalks showing fake greenery to depict a fresh-looking city.

It’s quite ironic because greening is supposed to make the city less polluted. Using plastic might just contribute to more damage, especially if it is not properly maintained.

Chinese tourists flock to Japan for the sushi, the shopping and the fresh air…despite tensions


Millions go to sample their neighbour’s blue skies and clean air\
The Independent:

Chinese tourists come to Japan for the sushi and for the shopping. But, increasingly, they’re also coming for one thing that money can’t buy: fresh air.

The blue sky and the clean air are great. They’re something we don’t have at home,” said Xu Jun, an agent for a steel trading company from Guangzhou, a huge manufacturing city in southern China that is blighted by pollution. Mr Xu was visiting the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido this month.

Over the previous two weeks, the Xu family had been to outdoor hot springs, taken an ice-breaker ship along the frozen coast and spotted some of the island’s famous wild red-crowned cranes.

They, like several million other Chinese, are beating a path to the Land of the Rising Sun.

The number of tourists coming to Japan from China went up 83 per cent in 2014, compared with the year before that. That put China in third place, behind only Taiwan and South Korea, as a source of visitors.

This is despite the political tensions between the two countries over disputed territories, and an official Japanese attempt to play down its wartime aggression against neighbouring countries, including China.

Tokyo is perennially popular, with its glitzy shopping districts and Disneyland resort, but in winter, about half the Chinese tourists visiting Japan go to Hokkaido, a sparsely populated island renowned for its wide-open spaces and top-notch seafood. Visitor numbers have skyrocketed since the 2008 release of the Chinese movie If You Are the One, which showcased Hokkaido’s natural beauty.

The first thing Chinese people do after they land is to breathe deeply,” said He Wenfan, of the Japan Tourism Board’s Chinese-language website. “People say, ‘I can finally breathe!’ ”


Screen Shot from Smog Journeys
Beyond Chinatown:

Jia Zhangke’s (贾樟柯 /  賈樟柯) latest lamentation on contemporary China is Smog Journeys, a short film made for environmental activist group Greenpeace East Asia about the country’s notorious air pollution problem.   Delving past the alarming Air Quality Index numbers and infamous and often unbelievable photos, the director of I Wish I Knew (海上传奇 / 海上傳奇) and A Touch of Sin (天注定 / 天註定) says in an interview with Greenpeace, “I wanted to make a film that enlightens people, not frightens them.”

Following the fictional lives of a mining family in Hebei Province, home of 9 of China’s 10 most-polluted cities, and an upper-middle class family in neighboring Beijing, the understated film pushes two messages.

First, air pollution is everybody’s problem.  “No one gets to be different when it comes to smog no matter what jobs we do,” Jia declares, reinforcing the message that the environment should be everybody’s concern.  However, not discussed in the interview but evident from the film is that there is a difference — one based on class — how they are affected.  In Hebei, the babies suffer from respiratory problems.  Meanwhile, in Beijing, the kid takes soccer lessons.

The second message speaks to the stoicism of the Chinese people (Zhao Tao’s silent, fragile gaze plays particularly well here).  Jia was quite moved that people living the airpocalypse continue to live their lives as Chinese have done through many difficult times throughout history:

One thing that fascinated and shocked me the most was the fact that even on smoggy days, people still lived their lives as usual.  For example, when the Air Quality Index hit 200 or 300 and the air turned opaque or gray, I still saw people dancing their square dances, young people still hanging out.  Everyone was doing what they would normally be doing.

On the other hand, it was also a pretty sentimental situation.  In such bad air pollution where [everybody] should be wearing masks outdoors, there was still a woman eating youtiao (Chinese deep-fried dough strips) out there another old lady dancing around, and a little kid playing football [and doing somersaults] and there you felt [a vitality], no matter what the circumstances and situations could be.  I was quite touched by that.”

Colorful and cute animal-themed face masks stand-out in the gray dinge.  Children sing about an idyllic day while a classmate writes the PM 2.5 count.  A man removes an air-filtering scarf before a kiss.  These scenes are surreal, but they’re part of everyday life.

Greenpeace hopes that the video will generate buzz on Chinese social media and lead to public awareness and action: “Greenpeace has been working on air pollution for three years, and we’ve produced a lot of data, scientific reports, investigations and all of this.” said Li Yan, head of the Climate and Energy Campaign Greenpeace East Asia.

But we started to realize that normal people’s lives were already profoundly changed by air pollution, and we wanted to see if an artist could play a role in contributing to the air pollution fight.”

Chinese city blames bacon for severe air pollution




Sure, blame the baconChinese municipality Dazhou has been experiencing some pretty severe air pollution, according to the provincial environmental monitoring center. Officials from Dazhou’s environmental protection bureau, however, believe the central cause of this air pollution to be bacon.

Yep, bacon.

They believe that the smoking of bacon by local residents has contributed to the less than spectacular condition of Dazhou’s air. We talk about how much we’d love to live in a world where bacon is constantly cooking, but after a while, we’re guessing it can be overwhelming for folks.

This whole situation kind of reminds us of the Sriracha outrage of 2013.

Zheng Jian, head of Chongquing-based social service agency Bayo NPO Development Center, stated in a report that even if smoking bacon could have a negative impact on air quality, it’s unlikely that impact would be substantial.

Smoked bacon is a much-enjoyed delicacy in Sichuan cuisine.


7 things that surprise a visitor to Laos


RocketNews 24:

If you are visiting Laos, this is probably not your first rodeo in Asia, so I’ll skip the squat toilets and fleets of bicycles and get to seven things that this little Southeast Asian gem has to surprise even seasoned travelers.

1. How dirty the air is


This is the one item on the list that really doesn’t have any redeeming charm, so let’s get it out of the way first. Laos is still a largely agrarian society, with little manufacturing and a whole lot of untouched jungle, so I was anticipating filling my lungs with crystal clear, if muggy, air, but instead spent most of the trip cleaning black gunk out of my mucus membranes. Even in the nature reserves of the far north, where the nearest town of any size is several hours’ drive away, the sun was almost completely obscured well into the afternoon most days.

This might be partly due to the time of year I visited, as March turns out to be when farmers burn brush off their land in preparation for planting. Throughout my travels, I often saw plots of land smoking from a controlled burn. It creates so much haze in the air that sometimes flights are grounded! Even if it is only temporary, for someone to whom air pollution is associated with heavy vehicle traffic and manufacturing, the degree of congestion in Laos was shocking.

2. The dearth of domestic products


To be clear, I mean manufactured domestic products here. There is plenty of domestic produce, handicrafts and the like available, but the vast majority of value-added manufactured goods are imported from neighbors Thailand, China and Vietnam.

This isn’t something I normally pay attention to, but after a local trekking guide mentioned how many daily necessities have to be imported, I began looking for domestically produced goods in the shops. The only one I found during my travels was the ubiquitous (and tasty) Beerlao pictured above, itself started as a joint venture with foreign investors. The rest of shelves were a sea of Thai, Chinese characters and the odd romanized logo.

3. The stubby-legged guard mutts


I detected something a bit different about the dogs here compared to their rangier, wilder cousins I tried to pet in neighboring SE Asian countries. For one thing, the dogs I saw in Laos were not strays. They weren’t the pampered handbag pets of Tokyo either, but each seemed to belong to a particular home or shop, and although I can’t remember ever seeing a veterinary office, I rarely saw dogs with any obvious health problems. Most seemed well-fed and properly socialized.

Surprisingly, during the day, they would sit out front and be friendly and approachable, but if you passed by the same dog after business hours, you would get an earful and possibly a solid bite if you didn’t move along fast enough. They seemed to know when they were “on duty”.

The other thing that cracked me up about dogs here is that an unlikely number of them had little stubby legs like corgis!

Look at those little things!


4. Monks with mixed messages


Clearly monks are deeply revered in Lao culture. Buddhism has a long and rich history in Laos and you can’t go far without running into a wat (temple), all of them completely supported by the generosity of the neighborhood. And what’s not to admire? The monks take on a ascetic lifestyle, focusing all their energies on study, prayer and community service.

For a foreigner, this image of the self-sacrificing ascetic seems quite noble, but the reality sometimes jars with the romantic image. Once, while prowling the wats of Luang Prabang, my friend and I rounded a corner to see a young monk, smoking a cigarette and shimmying to music on his very own iPod. Hardly the image of purity and self-negation!

It’s important to remember that, despite the revered place of monks in society, not everyone joins due to some higher calling. For some, it is a temporary arrangement to garner good karma for themselves or their family or to do penance for misdeeds. Most Lao men will enter the monkhood at some point in their lives, prior to a marriage or after the death of a parent, for example. For young men from poorer villages without access to schools, it can be a way to get a free education, which is why Laos has relatively high literacy rate for its level of development.

5. Children, children, everywhere!


Everywhere I went in Laos, from remote jungle villages to the bustling streets of Luang Prabang and everywhere in between, it seemed like there were always hordes of children running hither and thither. Every lady in the market seemed to have a baby strapped to her back, every river seemed to have groups of shrieking, giggling toddlers playing in the shallows, and every road seemed to have packs of school-aged kids on their way to or from class.

Turns out this was not just my imagination. About 35% of the population of Laos is 14 years old or younger, and it has the youngest median age in all of Asia at 19.5 years (2010), far below the worldwide median of 28.4.

6. Multilingual Laos


Laos is incredibly diverse. Ethnic Lao make up slightly more than half of the population, there are Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese minorities, and numerous “hill people” tribes, such as the Hmong, Dao, Shan, Yao and Tibetan-Burmese people. It’s almost shocking how many languages this brings into the mix. Although most of the adult population can speak Lao, it’s not the mother language for many, who grow up speaking minority languages. Add to that regional dialects and some people end up speaking one language at work, one language with a spouse, and yet another when they visit their home village! Somehow they manage without getting things too mixed up, though.

And that’s just the homegrown languages. Laos was once a French colony, so French is still widely used and also taught in schools, but since the country joined ASEAN and the WTO, English has become more common too. Talk about your linguistic melting pots!

7. You can keep your kip


The official currency in Laos is the kip, with an exchange rate of about 8,000 kip to the US dollar at the moment. The combination of those big numbers, some similarly colored denominations and the use of Lao numbers make kip a bit unwieldy for new arrivals. But you might not even see many kip during your travels because most places accept and even prefer other currencies, in particular Thai baht, US dollars and euros! This is technically illegal, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping anyone. Even roadside fruit merchants were happy to take my baht.

This can make paying for things a confusing mishmash of currencies and exchange rates. With so many different rates to factor, it’s enough to make your head spin, but the Lao are unwaveringly honest, so there is no need to fear that you are being cheated when they make complex currency transactions faster than you can even find the right bills. In fact, many people give up on trying to follow at all and just open their wallets to let merchants take out the correct amounts. Try that anywhere else in SE Asia!

Have I missed anything you found surprising on your Laotian adventure? If so, tell us in the comments. And if you haven’t been to Laos yet, get moving! It’s a charming place I can’t recommend highly enough. Here are a few more photos to whet your appetite:

A Buddhist wat in Luang Prabang


Gardening Luang Prabang-styleIMG_1688

A friendly local “lends a hand” in mounting an elephant


The lovely karst mountains in Nong KhiawIMG_5598

Ziplining in the jungleIMG_5491

Sunrise in the Bokeo Nature ReserveIMG_5461


Artist Profile: Cai Guo-Qiang’s “The Ninth Wave” exhibition at Power Station of Art (Shanghai)

Image of Cai Guo-Qiang "The Ninth Wave" Exhibition @ Power Station of Art


Last year, 16,000 dead pigs floated down a river in Shanghai which triggered questions on China’s environmental conditions. The news disgusted most and also served as inspiration to Cai Guo-Qiang, who recently launched a solo show called “The Ninth Wave” at Shanghai’s contemporary art museum, the Power Station of Art.

The show consists of grand installations that are both compelling and disturbing. Signature works include a full-size fishing boat with faux animals — think tigers, pandas, leopards and elephants — looking sick and distressed. The installation was inspired by a 19th century Russian painting also named The Ninth Wave, where survivors of a shipwreck hung on to the boat waiting to be rescued. Guo-Qiang replaced the survivors with disheartened animals, making satirical remark on the pollution crisis.

Shot by Benoit Florencon, enjoy recap photos of the exhibition above and be sure to check out the exhibition if you’re in Shanghai.


Power Station of Art
200 Huayuangang Rd,
Huangpu, Shanghai,


Image of Cai Guo-Qiang "The Ninth Wave" Exhibition @ Power Station of Art

 Image of Cai Guo-Qiang "The Ninth Wave" Exhibition @ Power Station of Art

Image of Cai Guo-Qiang "The Ninth Wave" Exhibition @ Power Station of Art

Image of Cai Guo-Qiang "The Ninth Wave" Exhibition @ Power Station of Art

Image of Cai Guo-Qiang "The Ninth Wave" Exhibition @ Power Station of Art

Image of Cai Guo-Qiang "The Ninth Wave" Exhibition @ Power Station of Art

Image of Cai Guo-Qiang "The Ninth Wave" Exhibition @ Power Station of Art

Image of Cai Guo-Qiang "The Ninth Wave" Exhibition @ Power Station of Art

Image of Cai Guo-Qiang "The Ninth Wave" Exhibition @ Power Station of Art

Image of Cai Guo-Qiang "The Ninth Wave" Exhibition @ Power Station of Art

Image of Cai Guo-Qiang "The Ninth Wave" Exhibition @ Power Station of Art

Image of Cai Guo-Qiang "The Ninth Wave" Exhibition @ Power Station of Art

Image of Cai Guo-Qiang "The Ninth Wave" Exhibition @ Power Station of Art

Image of Cai Guo-Qiang "The Ninth Wave" Exhibition @ Power Station of Art

Image of Cai Guo-Qiang "The Ninth Wave" Exhibition @ Power Station of Art

Image of Cai Guo-Qiang "The Ninth Wave" Exhibition @ Power Station of Art

Image of Cai Guo-Qiang "The Ninth Wave" Exhibition @ Power Station of Art

Image of Cai Guo-Qiang "The Ninth Wave" Exhibition @ Power Station of Art

Image of Cai Guo-Qiang "The Ninth Wave" Exhibition @ Power Station of Art

Image of Cai Guo-Qiang "The Ninth Wave" Exhibition @ Power Station of Art

Image of Cai Guo-Qiang "The Ninth Wave" Exhibition @ Power Station of Art


16 facts about India that will blow your mind



RocketNews 24:


India is one of the world’s largest economies, and it has the second largest population. This means things in India tend to be fairly large-scaled — consider its network of roads, consumer spending, or its youth population. But it also experiences some problems on a large scale like suicides and road accidents. We pulled together some staggering statistics from the sub-continent.


India’s road network is long enough to loop around Earth over 117 times.


India’s road network totals 4.7 million kilometers and is the second largest in the world. Earth has a circumference of 40,075 kms.

Source: CIA World FactBook


New Delhi’s air is the most polluted in the world.


The World Health Organization found that New Delhi’s PM 2.5 — particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers or less and that is dangerous for lungs — mean was 152 micrograms per cubic meter. This was nearly three times that of Beijing which has an annual mean of 59.

Source: The New York Times

The wettest place in the world is in India, and it averages about 40 feet of rain a year.


While Cherrapunji, India, likes to advertise itself as the wettest place in the world, it is argued that a neighboring town, Mawsynram, could in fact top it. On average, Mawsynram gets about 467.35 inches of rain per year, while Cherrapunji gets up 463.66 inches. Hawaii’s Mount Waialeale receives about 450 inches of rain each year.


One person died on the road in India every three minutes in 2012.


India saw 138,258 people die in road accidents in 2012. But in terms of the number of deaths per 100,000, India’s accident death rate equaled 18.9 for every 100,00 people, only slightly higher than the global average of 18.

Source: Quartz

India will become the world’s youngest country by 2020.

By 2020, the median age in India will be 29. The population in the 15-34 age group is expected to rise from 430 million in 2011 to 464 million in 2021.


India consumes about half of the world’s whiskey.


India consumed about 1.2 billion liters of whiskey in 2012. While India is the world’s largest whiskey market by volume, on a per capita basis, France takes the top spot.

Source: Quartz


India exports over $415 million worth of hair a year.


Hindus donate their hair in temples as a spiritual offering, especially those who can’t afford to donate money or jewelry. About 40,000 pilgrims are believed to donate their hair every day.

Source: The Economic Times


India’s 25 richest people have a combined net worth of $174.8 billion, which is about as much as Ukraine’s GDP.


Mukesh Ambani is India’s richest man and is worth $24.2 billion. Ukraine has a nominal GDP of $176.2 billion, according to the IMF.

Source: Forbes

About 25% of India’s land is turning into desert — that’s the equivalent of three United Kingdoms.


Overuse and changing rainfall patterns have led to massive land degradation in India. Of the land in India, 81 million hectares (810,000 km2) face “desertification.” This has raised concerns about food security.

Source: Reuters

Consumer spending in India is expected to triple by 2020.


Indian consumer spending is projected to rise to $3.6 trillion in 2020, from $991 billion in 2010.


India has the world’s largest dairy cow population.


There were 44.9 million dairy cows in India in 2011 and about 260 dairy million cows in the world. Of the world’s dairy cows, 17.2% reside in India.

Source: DairyCo

India saw 371 suicides a day in 2012.


In 2012, 135,445 people committed suicide in India, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). Suicide rates were the highest in Puducherry at 36.8 for every 100,000 people. Student suicides are a huge problem as well.

Source: The Hindu

India’s medical tourism industry is set to equal $2 billion by next year — that’s about the GDP of Greenland.


Medical tourism in India is centered on orthopedics and cardiology. “India is the world’s medical travel thrift destination with savings of 60-90% on an array of procedures. Harvard-affiliated Wockhardt Hospital has performed more than 20,000 heart procedures, with 98%+ success rates (surpassing US and EU standards).”

Source: Medical Tourism Resource Guide/The Economic Times

India has over 275 billion tons of coal reserves: That’s the equivalent of 1.37 billion blue whales.


India is expected to pass the U.S. to become the world’s second largest coal consumer over the next 20 years. This will primarily be driven by its electric power sector. A blue whale weighs 200 tons.

Source: EIA/Business Standard

India was the fourth most dangerous country for journalists last year.


India saw 13 reporters killed in 2013, according to the International News Safety Institute (INSI). Syria and Iraq, both countries dealing with armed conflict, had the highest number of deaths, followed by the Philippines.

Source: Reuters


The most expensive home in India cost $1 billion to make, about the same as Somalia’s GDP.


Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s home, Antilla, cost $1 billion to construct, making it the most expensive home in the world. Somalia has a GDP of $1.3 billion.


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16 facts about India that will blow your mind