Yes, that's right...winter is taking one last stroll accross the Korean peninsula before she takes a much deserved rest.
The stirrings of spring are a growing whisper through the hills and valleys where i walk...
Magpies jostle for a prime pultpit from which to woo a nestmate...
impetuous insects emerge into warm midday sun...even if only to survey their surrounds before darting home before the sun sinks a bit lower.
Lazy low pressure cells with warm balmy air carry the promise of sultry summer nights to come.
In most ways, it's a spring as familiar as any i've known...shrugging off the shroud of grey winter and making ready quite literally to spring back into vitality.
But this spring is not the same as any i've known...There's a strange something in the air that makes me believe this spring, for me at least, is quite unique...
Today the dust arrived. It is something i heard rumored when i arrived here. I think i even remember something from discovery channel or National Geographic about it...
"Dust clouds from the Gobi Dessert? Hmm...but the Gobi is hundreds of miles away...well, we'll see what happens"
I remember thinking that. Seriously...
Well today was the day that it arrived, and people are really reacting. Each day, people can be seen walking around with shop-style dust masks, or those paper things the dentist wears when he tells you that you need to floss more often. Today though, many many people wore masks. Kids had masks with cute familiar cartoon characters...people had masks that matched their outfits (or outfits to match their masks)
Those who somehow left home without the apropriate safety gear covered themselves with shirtsleeves...hats...whatever means available...
Not everyone behaved this way. Certainly many people could be seen carrying on in their normal fashions...but there was definitely a reaction.
I decided to do a bit of cyber-sleuthing to become more aquainted with my new neighbor from across the asian continent...
Dust has, historically, made the pilgrimage from it's home in the cold sandy deserts of the west asian plateua that comprises much of mongolia, western china, and the turkmen regions, and 'dropped in' on the far east peoples of that same extensive land mass.
As the planet approaches vernal equinox, global temperature differnces generate highspeed winds that race accross that high plateau of the Gobi desert.
Sand, dust, and dirt are swept up in its swath and carried aloft literally by the tons.
The heaviest particles are the first to fall as the winds lose velocity over the currogated central Asian continent. Still finer particles follow suite as the winds slow on their path to the pacific.
As the winds reach Eastern China, the Korean peninsula, and the islands of Japan, only the finest of dust particles remain...That dust precipitates onto the lands and waters of far eastern central asia for about 20 days out of the year, after the dry of winter and before the onset of monsoon.
Now, i underdstand that the phrase: 'finest of dust particles' doesn't elicit the same viceral response as the phrase:
'Catastrophic Bio-Chemical Bombardment'
But in this case, at least in this modern day, the two phenomena are synonymous.
To begin with, the High Western Plateau of Asia is a unique and isolated biome of our planet. As such, it harbors unique and isolated species of plants and animals. Many species of the region are relegated only to that plateau, due to dietary, geographical, or mobility restrictions.
Beside the unique plants and animals, the Gobi fosters thriving populations of unique fungi, bacteria, and viruses; many of these, as with anywhere in the world, live in the soil. They are completely restricted in their movement, in that they must remain in the soils of the gobi desert...
...there's nothing in the rules, however, about the soils of the gobi desert picking up and doing a bit of traveling...
which brings us back to today...undeterred by the 'Global Economic Downturn' trillions of fungal spores, viruses, and bacteria made their first visit to Korea. And they will continue to arrive at that rate for the next 2-3 weeks...
Now, I know what you may be thinking... "foreign microbes be damned. I have an immune system and I'm not afraid to use it!"
But here is where modern developed society has imparted a twist on the ages old phenomenon.
As the dust passes chemically fertalized farm fields, and soars above the stacks of sulfer producing coal fired power plants...as it cruises through the massive industrial complexes, and it wafts amongst the petrochemical factories and refineries that are known to plague China's less popular populace, as it makes it's journey through this gauntlet of greenhouse gas and general wastes, the dust aquires new atributes.
It scours sulfer from the coal smoke (as well as significant sums of mercury) and deposits it as Sulfuric Acid (acid rain) along its route. It picks up heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, mercury) from the industrial zones. It carries along complex benzene and pthaline compounds that it meets as it passes the petrochemical zones. It becomes the 'six million dollar man' of dust. Yes, we have the technology.
Dust: Version 2009- carries its standard host of biotic tagalongs, as well as a complex toxic slurry of human industrial wastes.
Suddenly, the masks people wear go from laughably condriatic, to pitifully inadequate. Sounds like a full body biohazard suite (a la E.T ) might be more like it.
Generally, symptoms attributed to dust are sore throat and eyes, labored breathing, wheezing, and lethargy.
Those already susceptible to respiratory difficulties however, must take the situation far more seriously. During the heaviest of days, those individuals are reccomended to stay home for fear of death. (many deaths a year attributed to dust)
Additionally, years of heavy dust are known to disrupt crop production due to alien fungal infestation and altered rain patterns. Also the factor of bioaccumulation of heavy metals and volitile organic compounds may become the greatest danger of modern dust in the (near) future.
So...today was day one of 20 or so to come. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that while i type this, my eyes itch and my throat is dry... maybe dust enhances pychosomatic symptoms as well...who knows.
Here is a link to a US military site that monitors dust activity accross the peninsula. The base nearest me (35 miles away) is Yongsan. http://www.seoul.amedd.army.mil/sites/yellowsand/
Due to the rapid desertification of lands surrounding the Gobi (mostly due to poor land and water management practices of China and former Soviet nations) the Dust is getting worse. Will this year set a new record?
Like i said in the beginning...
"well, we'll see what happens"