This is what I hate about spring. Not only dust, er, does it bring flowers, cherry blossoms and more tourists, it also brings yellow dust!
Last weekend, even though it was still officially winter here in Korea, the whole peninsula was suddenly blanketed with yellow dust. If there's an annual migration of wildebeest in Africa, there's also an annual migration of yellow dust in Asia.
It's not as if this was my first inhalation of yellow dust. Over several years of living in Seoul, I must have inhaled a lot of these heavy metals from the Gobi Dessert, and I'm not talking about Guns N' Roses or Motley Crue; I'm talking about arsenic, lead, copper and other metals mostly found in the periodic table of elements. And in someone's lungs. Ha-ha-ha!
Years ago, I made a mistake of playing tennis outdoors on the day Seoul got doused with a high quantity of yellow dust. I paid for it with an itchy throat that didn't go away for three days and my lungs wheezing at night. It was worse than a second-hand smoke. With cigarette smoke, at least, I could tell if it's an expensive brand. And according to reports, this recent batch of yellow sand is even scarier and more dangerous to anyone with respiratory problems.
Yellow dust (yellow sand or hwang-sa in hanguel) originates from the Gobi Dessert in Mongolia and China when it's carried by strong winds towards this part of Asia. Not only does the yellow sand carry those heavy poisonous metals. This time, more industrial pollutants have joined the trip as well!
(On the day of the yellow dust)
(A few days after)
According to the yellow sand alerts, less than 400 micrograms of dust per cubic meter of air is not that bad. If it's 400 to 799 micrograms, the advisory is moderate and everyone should take precaution, such as wearing masks and eye protection if heading outdoors. If it's 800 micrograms and above, well, let's just say strolling around the park to smell the flowers won't be a good idea. The flowers would probably smell metallic, and will definitely taste metallic, too.
Last week's reading according to the news was the worst in recent years: 1044 micrograms in Seoul. Of course, I stayed indoors until the whole thing blew over, literally.
(I couldn't see Gwanak-san
on a yellow dusty day)
(Gwanak-san on a clear day!)
Here are my healthful suggestions in case it's your first time in Seoul or Korea when the yellow sand hits the Korean peninsula:
1. Wear a mask. I'm not talking about the one you use for masquerades or the decorative ones from Bacolod's (my hometown!) Masskara Festival. Buy the thick ones from a pharmacy and make sure they cover most of your face. You can also buy those masks with smiley designs. At least, in your selfie, you'd look like you're actually smiling even if you're wearing a mask.
2. Use protective eyewear, especially if you're wearing contact lenses. These minute particles can irritate the eyes.
3. If you have to head outdoors, make sure you wash your face and eyes upon returning indoors, and best if you can take a shower to wash off the dust from your hair or any other crevice in your anatomy the yellow sand may have fallen into. Your clothes would definitely need a good washing.
4. If you're bringing in food items from outdoors, you have to wash them thoroughly. I sometimes buy strawberries, bananas and apples from the fruit vendor on the street. I always make sure I wash them even if there isn't any yellow sand alert on the day I buy them. As the yellow sand covers the whole peninsula, the vegetable and fruit farms must have had their own dose of micrograms, too.
5. Totally avoid outdoor activities if you can. Walking your dog around the neighborhood, or letting the kids play at the park won't be fun.
6. Monitor the news and weather alerts. Aside from the online weather news, my other reliable source is the view from my window. From my apartment, I can always see Gwanak-san (Mt. Gwanak), that mountain behind the Seoul National University which is popular to mountain hikers, especially during autumn. If I can see the observatory on top of the mountain, then it's a clear day. If I cannot, then it's either cloudy, hazy, snowy, rainy, foggy, or....yellow sandy!
7. Close doors, windows or any ventilation opening of your home where yellow sand can get through.
8. Drink lots of liquid, and do visit a doctor if you develop breathing problems, eye irritation, or any other health issues during or after experiencing an episode of yellow dust.
9. If you're a tourist and carrying around a camera, make sure you clean your lenses.
Although this annoying occurrence is unavoidable, I hope we see'll less of this yellow sand this spring. And if it must, I wish it doesn't come on weekends! :-(
(Is it too much to ask for a yellow-dust free spring?)