Toxic Fumes


Five years ago I have been living and working in Beijing. The street you see above is quite an ordinary one. It was a mild evening in early summer and I still remember the day very well, because half an hour later we decided to bring down chairs and F. made chicken kebab on a tiny grill on the balcony  and half of the neighborhood joined in the feast. We sat  outside till late, smoking, chatting along, Q. and I danced and M. and F. drank an enormous amount of white wine. It was a perfect summer afternoon. It was quite an ordinary picture. Now, a little bit more than five years later, it isn’t. Today it is history. It is history such as if I had taken it during the Qing-period that ruled China 300 years ago. Yesterday M. came over for Dinner. How’s Beijing I asked him, while F. searched for white wine. Un-bretahble said M. and I looked at him in awe. „What do you mean?“, I asked him and he shook his head. The smog in Beijing he says is not just a description for bad air or its pollution. It is unbearable. You are just unable to breath. You are even unable to breath while wearing a mask. I still remember how I slept with windows opened, in the apartment you can see in the picture above. I always liked to hear how the city woke up. I even slept with a slightly opened window in New-Delhi, just for the same reason. But M. says, no one would under any circumstance open the window anymore. Those who are affluent enough to afford one have built in air cleaning systems, allowing no dust and dirt inside. Those who can’t afford such a system do not count anyway. No one would sit on the streets anymore as we did, just chatting along or just go out for a walk in the breeze. But the most curious thing says F. is that for the authorities of the city the Smog doesn’t even exist. Even when schools are closed or kindergartens not even opened, to state the mere existence of an everywhere visible problem can bring you into massive trouble. Everybody has to breath in and out, but to state the very fact that something is terribly wrong, still seems to be the more dangerous thing to do.  It seems as if Beijing itself has become a more severe city, covered in grey and darkness, a world without much sunshine and laughter, a prison with no escape and the optimism and lightness we felt, just got lost in the poisonous air. Winter has come.

Nevertheless I hope the times will change one day and till this happens I hope your year will be a light and a happy one, such as a long, lazy summer afternoon and whenever you feel out of breath I hope you might be able to open the window wide and to breath in and out and to get up again. 新年​快乐! Xīnnián kuàilè A happy, new year!