There's nothing natural about 'toxic' fog
It’s hard not to feel sick after seeing the images of smog coming out of China. Children walking to school through a grey haze of chemicals. Cyclists peddling cautiously because their path is so unclear.
I never witnessed anything that drastic living in Seoul, but it certainly brings back memories.
When I first arrived in Jamsil (a neighbourhood in eastern Seoul), I was relieved to find comforts from home. There was a KFC just down the street from my new apartment. Who could ask for anything more?
Seeing 16 lanes of traffic streaming with thousands of silver Hyundais took some getting used to. Halifax has rush hour, but this was more like rush life.
The thought of poor air quality had crossed my mind before I left. I've had asthma my whole life so I made sure to pack a Costco-sized supply of puffers. I wasn't about to let carbon dioxide consume my plans. And I’m glad I didn't.
I expected that air in the massive metropolis would smell, and maybe even taste, different. It didn't.
I only realized the impact of pollution on the first day it rained. I could hear it coming down before heading out for a day of teaching. I threw on a light coat and set out on my 10 minute walk to school.
I've never seen so many blank stares in my whole life.
The trip down the sidewalk was short, but full of passers by. Their mouths were wide open when they saw me coming. I didn't get it. I realized I was now a foreigner, but Seoul is an international city. This didn't happen before.
I figured it out when I got to school. My Korean co-teacher looked at me in horror when I came through the door, dripping wet.
"Where’s you’re umbrella!?" she yelled.
"Umbrella?" I thought. Then, I noticed the huge, full umbrella rack in the lobby.
April explained that the rain is "very bad for skin" and "you must use umbrella."
It all made sense now. An umbrella. Everyone on the street had one. They were just concerned for my health.
I know the problem of polluted rain certainly isn't limited to Asia. I’m sure people in cities across Canada use umbrellas for the same reason. Coming from Atlantic Canada, though, the thought never crossed my mind.
Being outside in the rain just seemed natural to me. I remember how growing up, playing soccer in the backyard was more fun when it was raining.
I realized then it was a luxury my students in Seoul would likely never experience.
Seeing video of people trying to navigate through the smog in China really triggered that memory. It’s airing in our Force of Nature segment. To me, there’s nothing natural about it.