Yellow and Red Dust

In the Mediterranean there is a climatic condition whereby at certain times the clouds look like they are boiling red. As they come over the hills the air looks almost as if the oxygen in it had rusted.  This happens because the winds are blowing the desert sand over the Mediterranean from Africa. These clouds usually bring rain with them too and when the wind dies down the rain evaporates and the sky returns to normal leaving all the cars with a coating of red sand. When I saw it most clearly, with a mountainous backdrop, is the time in my life I most regretted not having a camera on me because as the clouds roll over the mountains it is a quite spectacular sight.

That said, the red dust isn’t pleasant and covers your clothes too. However, in South (and presumably North) Korea there is something called the yellow dust which is extremely nasty. I’ll get to explaining what the yellow dust is exactly in a roundabout (or should it be rounders?) sort of way.

Baseball is quite a popular sport in the USA but it is something I had never been able to like. I like to at least give things a try though and several times had tried to watch an entire match from start to finish on TV, always with the result of falling asleep.

Therefore, shortly after I arrived in Korea in March and noticed baseball was a rather popular sport there, I thought I would go along to a match and see if it was any better in the stadium . When April began it was getting warm enough that you could go out basically with just a t-shirt and jeans in the daytime so I was only wearing exactly that . I noticed also in April that people were wearing the face masks that you see so often in pictures from Japan but I didn’t bother to get one.

It must have been about 25 degrees that day, which is not hot but certainly not cold. I was just wearing a t-shirt but all the punters in the crowd were telling me to cover up. I thought they must be telling me this because they were being nice and were worried that I could get burned.  Not so.

You see, the yellow dust (or Hwang Sa as it is called in Korea) is something which  sweeps down from Mongolia, Kazakhstan and China into Korea. The sands from the deserts in those countries are blown down by seasonal winds in March, April and May, sometimes as far as Japan or further.

This is obviously something that has happened for thousands of years. It is worse now though because…

In the last decade or so, it has become a serious problem due to the increase of industrial pollutants contained in the dust and intensified desertification in China causing longer and more frequent occurrences, as well as in the last few decades when the Aral Sea of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan started drying up due to the diversion of the Amu River and Syr River following a Soviet agricultural program to irrigate Central Asian deserts, mainly for cotton plantations.

Furthermore,

For the past few years, the dust storms often carry oxides (aluminium, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and silicon) and toxic waste thus increasing the risks of respiratory and skin reactions.

So I think now that the Koreans were trying to tell me to cover up for another reason entirely and

I experienced the double whammy of watching a crap sport and getting a little bit sick for a few days on account of that.

For a few days after I didn’t feel so good but the main thing that annoyed me was that no one at my work bothered to tell me about it until after the event. I explained about my weekend and I that I wasn’t feeling so good and they told me “Oh, that would’ve been the yellow dust”. Kamsa Hamnida for that!

So if you are going there, you have been warned.

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