August 7, 2008

I Can See Clearly Now (Not)

We get up pretty early, around 6:30, and when I go outside I always think, "Oh, this will burn off by lunch time."

But it never does.

I don't know if anyone is talking about the smog, especially since the US Olympic Committee put the kibosh on athletes speaking out. But it's kind of mind-boggling. Yes, I know, everyone was warned about it and yes, I know, I grew up in San Bernardino. But this is incredible.

I've been trying to think how to describe it for several days now. You wake up and it isn't cloudy, because you can see the sun. It's this burned-out disc in the sky. No danger of looking right at it, that's for sure. But it does give you the impression it's just a really foggy day. When we get to the Olympic Green, buildings that are only two blocks away are nearly hidden. It isn't that a pall hangs over the city, exactly.

The best way to describe it is to imagine Southern California in the midst of fire season and everything is burning. You can't see anything. That is what it makes me think of. There isn't a smell to it, and it doesn't hurt to breathe (although I'm only outside, so far, for about 5 minutes a day). I don't know if it's less noticeable in downtown Beijing ... that maybe it's more obvious out here where there aren't so many tall buildings. But it's something I've sort of fixated on.

New York Times reporter Ben Shpigel describes trying to watch a baseball game: "That we could even see the ball was somewhat of a miracle, right on par with finding this facility in the first place. It was downright disgusting outside. Hot, humid, hazy — I thought that was the basketball arena beyond the center-field fence, but I was not totally certain. More than a few outfielders seemed to lose, then find, balls in the air. Not because of the sun or the lights, but because of whatever particulate matter or other good stuff seemed to have shrouded the place."

We have seen TV photos of the venues with blue sky behind them. Of clouds in the sky. Of an actual contrast of color. But it's really impossible to imagine. I hope before we leave we will see the sky; then we can make our own assessment.

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