04 March 2008

the yellow dust has arrived

the big picture.

ever seen yellow snow?

it's not the stuff on the ground you shouldn't eat. i'm referring to what fell from the sky in parts of korea earlier this week, when the peninsula was struck by light snowfall and the first yellow dust storms of the new year.

in korea it's called hwangsa (황사), and every spring dust storms across the huge gobi desert of mongolia, china and kazakhstan are picked up by prevailing winds and carried eastward to korea and japan. it's a shame since spring is an otherwise beautiful time of year in korea.

it's by no means a recent phenomenon, however. korea's oldest extant history book, the samguk sagi (삼국사기), records the first yellow dust event in 174 during the silla dynasty. at the time, instead of blaming china, the dust was attributed to an angry god replacing the rain or snow. in april 606, ancient baekje reported a dust storm so severe that the day sky was darkened like night.

blame china.

in contemporary times the dust has become deadly as it picks up industrial pollutants like sulphur, mercury, arsenic, lead and other carcinogens from our rapidly-industrializing big brother to the north, as well as viruses, bacteria, asbestos and antibiotics. when this toxic crap falls to earth, it causes respiratory, eye and skin problems among the healthy, and the korea environmental institute says up to 165 south koreans who are already weak or infirmed die annually from the dust. the yellow shiz also destroys crops, interferes with animal reproductive systems and destroys coral reefs. the economic damage is estimated to be in the billions of dollars annually.

off the charts.

over the past weekend, the korea meteorological association issued a dust warning advising folks to stay indoors with windows and doors shut. although the seoul area was spared, the southern provinces of jeolla and gyungsang were hard hit, and some schools were closed. the u.s. military has several yellow dust tracking sites, and the one located at camp walker (just a few blocks from my family's home in daegu) reported 1423 micrograms per cubic meter on sunday night. anything under 100 is ok, but dust concentrations exceeding 800 are considered "hazardous".

available in several springy pastel hues!

since the storms are expected to run through april, if you really must head outside, please sport a trendy surgical mask popular among the walking sick in asia. other tips include frequent hand washing, eschewing contact lenses in favor of glasses, and drinking lots of water.

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