Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Blue Sky Days In The World's Most Polluted City

A few years back, Taiyuan was apparently named, by the United Nations or some other such organization, as the world's most polluted city. In general, the Shanxi region is known outside of China for the mining and burning of coal, and for bearing the scars of decades of industrialization.

After spending a few days in the city proper, our take on Taiyuan is that it is far from the "hell on earth" it has been billed as. One morning, I had a pleasant jog through the campus of Taiyuan University of Technology, where we were all graciously hosted by Zhao Laoshi, Yingping, Li Ling, and company. The day was windy and the sky was bright blue and filled with white puffy clouds. And the evenings were cool and refreshing, great for strolling through the alleyway neighborhoods.

None of this is meant to deny the pollution problems that exist in Taiyuan, in China in general, and in the United States and the world beyond. It is just that one-dimensional portraits of places (e.g., Washington, DC as a murder capital), while they serve valuable purposes, also have the effect of caricaturing the living conditions of entire populations.

For our part, we were glad to have the opportunity to catch a brief glimpse of Taiyuan in its three-dimensional incarnation, as a city that does not appear all that different from any other mid-sized Chinese metropolis. Are we just being utterly naive? Have Taiyuan's problems been overrated? Are things just getting better as time goes by? At least spending a few days in Taiyuan allowed us to change the questions we are asking, even if we don't yet have a good feel for the answers.



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