The nightmare of yellow dust

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The nightmare of yellow dust

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The vast plains of Mongolia are covered with red clay that the winds constantly deliver all over the world. As I looked out at them, I covered my mouth with a handkerchief but I could still feel the dirt in my mouth. The dusty soil rose into the air, turning the sky yellow.

When I visited Mongolia a few years ago in spring, I realized that the gigantic dirt cloud there would soon invade Korea’s airspace.

After completing my research, I was getting ready to make the three-hour drive back to Ulaanbaatar. Just then, a lady approached my car with a child. My driver asked me if we could drop the kid off at a nearby village on the way to the capital.

After about half an hour, we stopped at a village of clay houses. It didn’t seem like there was anywhere to go to get out of the dusty wind. A gust had clouded the air, so I told the child to stay in the car until it died down. But the child just opened the door and jumped out, soon disappearing into the miasma. The driver was unfazed.

My hardest memory from trips to China is from Beijing in early spring. During five days in the city, I was nauseous the entire time. The dust hanging in the air was gray and black. It seemed to have grown darker as it passed through various industrial regions. The city’s atmosphere was thick with the smoky, smelly muck, and breathing made me sick.

After a tour of the outskirts of the Chinese capital, I couldn’t take it anymore and vomited. The locals thought I was being overly sensitive.

“It isn’t that serious today,” they said. “On a bad day, the entire world is covered in black dust, and you can’t see where you’re going or open your eyes at all,” they said.

Yellow dust season is around the corner in Korea, and products from salts to air purifiers that can block the heavy metals and other toxic substances are selling briskly. The government is also trying to come up with plans to effectively respond to the pollution.

After my time in Mongolia and Beijing, I feel ready for dust season. But I can never get used to it or accept it because it didn’t originate from Korea in the first place. As a neighbor, we need to suffer the unwelcome yellow dust every year.

As a means to share the pain, Koreans are helping out with the tree-planting projects in Mongolia and technology to reduce pollution in China. But the filthy haze continues to cross the border.

With the yellow dust and Kim Jong-un for neighbors, sometimes this can be a frustrating neighborhood to live in. I hope spring goes by quickly.

By Yang Sunny

The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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