I left school for the day, walking out into the almost hot early evening weather, a handful of spelling tests to correct in my hand, and noticed the strong smell of smoke in the air. Kids were enjoying their brief recess before dinner. I looked toward the horizon and could see that the mountains were gone, lost somewhere out there in the white distance. I didn't think anything was happening out of the ordinary and nothing was. Our school is located near some farm-like land and it's not uncommon to see people from the classroom windows burning refuse outside the campus.
As we drove home, we noticed how really unusually foggish and white it was all around Beijing today, although it wasn't fog. Fog simply has a distinct moistness and there was none of that here, and it was the air we were breathing. The usual Beijing air which, without much of a wind, was just hanging about, dirtying the windows and buildings. We didn't know what it was. Only smoke, perhaps, but would there be so much? Plenty of other industrial substances that were probably not good to think about came to mind. I had forgotten how bad the air quality could become in this city.
I stood outside and smoked a cigarette, my first of the day, and thought as I exhaled, that I was simply contributing to this whitening effect. I needed to get inside and out of this poison air. I threw my cigarette down, stamped it out with the toe of my shoe and trotted into the building.
Well, there's the good news that's not exactly good. Please, don't worry about my sanity. I'm not depressed, disillusioned or otherwise thwarted, but rather just trying to give you a feel for this place. If you don't hear from my in a while, then you have reason to worry.