It occurred to me the other day that if the Guanting Reservoir were drained and a city built on its bed, you could turn Yanqing into north China's answer to Mexico City. I hope nobody responsible for planning China's future thinks I'm actually making a suggestion to be taken seriously.
This occurred to me because Yanqing's air, even though it's a hell of a lot cleaner than Beijing's, often gets quite hazy. I believe the county town does have some light industry, and anyway, in the winter central heating in the county town would add a fair bit of presumably coal smoke to the air. Then of course there are the cooking and heating fires in all the rural homes. Ma and Ba, for example, generally burn corn stalks for cooking and coal for winter heating, and despite the various differences that come from different families' preferences, that seems like a fairly typical set up. On top of that, add the major railways and highways that run through Yanqing: State Highway 110, the Jingzhang Expressway, and, of course, the northern end of the Badaling Expressway, the Beijing-Baotou Railway and the Datong-Qinhuangdao Railway. Yeah, so I guess there's a fair bit of air pollution coming from vehicle exhausts, too. I guess I've already complained enough about the trucks making the run between Beijing and parts northwest (most of them presumably running between Beijing and Zhangjiakou, Datong, Hohhot, and Baotou, judging by their licence plates- but there are plenty of trucks with plates indicating, longer, weirder or more complex runs), so I'll just try and emphasise that there's a hell of a lot of trucks running up and down State Highway 110. There's also no shortage of trains.
So, yes, there is air pollution up here. But it is noticeably lighter than in downtown Beijing.
And yes, I was wondering about the whole haze issue, in part because air pollution has been talked about an awful lot this summer, what with the Olympics (no link; I'm thoroughly sick and tired of the games, as I knew I would be by this time way back when the announcement was first made on one of my last nights in Taiyuan) only a year away. Less than a year now. Three hundred and sixty how many days? No, don't answer that. Well, I don't know shit about meteorology let alone cloud, fog or haze formation, but I do remember reading years and years ago when I was young and interested in absolutely everything that clouds are formed when water vapour in the air condenses into droplets, with tiny grains of dust or other particulate matter in the air serving as the nucleus around which the droplets are formed. WAIT! Tiny grains of dust? Doesn't that describe to utter perfection the atmosphere of northern China, even way back 5000 years ago when the Yellow Emperor was but a twinkle in his father's eye? So would it be safe to assume that every summer, when a mass of humid air settles over Beijing, it's highly likely that a thick, soupy haze will form? Wouldn't this happen with or without air pollution? And doesn't humid air lend itself to haze formation, regardless of the location and local levels of air pollution?
Not trying to minimise Beijing's obvious environmental [ahem] challenges. I mean, the air downtown has quite simply been foul this summer. Foul. Simply foul. Part of the attraction of Yanqing is waking up NOT feeling like a gasmask is as essential piece of equipment as my underwear, toothbrush, razor and tea cup.
No, not trying to minimise Beijing's obvious problems at all. Just trying to figure out why the haze stretches across the Jundushan and yet Yanqing's air feels so, so, so much cleaner and generally more air-like. Trying to figure out why I feel so much more awake and alive and alert up here. Soon I'll be trying to figure out why I would ever consider crossing back over to the southern side of those mountains, and of course, the intervention of real life will be the answer.
So back to the "Mexico City of north China". Yeah, if you drained the reservoir and built a city there (an obviously, blatantly stupid idea, so don't ever so much as consider this a suggestion; it is not), that is what Yanqing would become. Why? Basin surrounded by mountains.It's been brilliantly clear the last few days, only for the haze to reappear this morning. Well, you can understand why. On top of north China's ever-present dust, cooking fires and whatever the local light industry contributes, there's the small, simple fact that Yanqing lies right smack on top of the major transport routes between Beijing and parts northwest, parts northwest with several major industrial cities and coal mines, has a railway linking the northwest with one of north China's bigger ports, and the winds and passing rainstorms that have helped keep things clear the last few days have stopped. The air is still, and like in Mexico City's basin, that means the pollution, as light as it may be, ain't goin' nowhere.