Space Needle shrouded in fog

Space Needle shrouded in fog

Seattle has been under an inversion for the past few days and many residents have been complaining about an odor associated with the ground-clinging fog. It seems to have affected the low-lying downtown area the most, but this morning, upon stepping out to walk the dogs, I noticed that here in Lower Queen Anne it smelled like Lewiston, Idaho. And it isn’t money.

Day Ninety-Nine: Mahjong

A mahjong game attracts some oberservers.

A mahjong game attracts some observers.

I borrowed a bicycle from the hotel and took a meandering 20 km ride around central Beijing, yesterday, despite an AQI of 250, in the “Very Unhealthy” range. The bad air isn’t really noticeable at street level, however there was quite a bit of pollen and petals from the Spring flowering trees swirling around and I did catch an occasional bug in my teeth. There was also a lot of construction & destruction taking places, small scale projects in many of the hutong neighborhoods I roamed, that added blowing dust and sand to the mix. The air quality aside, it was a glorious day to be about and about, sunny and unseasonably warm with temperatures reaching the mid 80’s (30 C). My original plan upon departing the hotel was to walk the 4 km to the Bell and Drum Towers, north of the Forbidden City, but when I exited the backside of the hotel I noticed a row of matching bicycles; the doorman informed me that they are available for guests, so I checked one out–complete with helmet and lock– and rode north. Much of the day was spent avoiding the main streets and commercial lanes of Beijing in general, focusing on exploring the side alleys of the hutongs. I did make it to the two ancient, MIng structures and they are impressive, but I didn’t bother entering, choosing instead to lock my bike and wander to surrounding hutongs by foot, where I discovered this cheerful group of resident playing a spirited game of mahjong.

Day Ninety-Five: Looking Back

Hipster in the rear view.

Hipster in the rear view.

Shanghai’s air pollution is having an impact on Melinda’s lungs; a cold contracted back in March turned into bronchitis that has lingered despite antibiotic treatment. Today, we visited the Parkway Medical Specialty & Inpatient Center in Xintiandi where a chest x-ray revealed some lasting congestion in the lungs and some irritation to he breathing pathways. We left the hospital with a stronger antibiotic, an inhaler and an anti-inflammatory. Soldiering on despite an AQI in the unhealthy range, we headed out to locate Sumerian cafe to get a Nitro coffee– a cold coffee with a nitrous oxide injection.

As is typical for us, we had a general idea of where the coffee shop was, but no detailed route, we just headed west, northwest. Along the way we stumbled upon two largely uninhabited parks  and avoided the main streets, choosing instead to walk the more intimate local streets lined with small boutiques. In one, Melinda found a red stone bead necklace. I waited outside–the shop was barely 7 feet x 10 feet — and watched hipsters and surf dudes pass by.

Day Ninety: Coal Floats

The coal parade.

The coal parade.

Every Sunday there is a steady stream of empty barges making their way up the Huangpu River; every Monday they come racing back downstream burdened with coal bound for the power plants and factories  in the provinces encircling Shanghai.

The government has said that air pollution is a serious situation and that action will be taken, but the number of coal barges are not decreasing, the air remains ash gray and the AQI rarely strays out of the unhealthy zone.





Sunday afternoon, empty coal barges head upstream. They will be loaded with coal and, on Monday, float downstream by the hundreds.

Coal barges_empty-7669 Coal barges_empty-7667

Day Seventy-seven: Fishing

Fisherman, using a spear, stalks his prey.

Fisherman using a spear hunts his prey.

Shanghai’s warm spell is in its fourth day and temperatures climbed into the mid-70’s bringing out flowers and fishermen. An afternoon walk down some previously untraveled streets brought me to Tangqiao Park, a 40,000 square meter green space with a 13,000 square meter lake. The lake is connected to Zhangjiabang Creek, a tributary of the Huangpu River and is popular with local fisherman. The most common form of fishing is with a 18′ long pole and a bobber, but I saw half a dozen people stringing nets across the creek. The man in the picture was the only person I saw using a spear to fish; in 20 minutes of observation he tossed his spear a few times without piercing anything. After shooting a few pictures I hurried home, got my fly rod and gear and rode my bike back to the park. I worked my way around the lake with a dry fly before switching to a bead head nymph and fishing the creek. I didn’t land any fish, but casting a fly in Shanghai on a warm, sunny (polluted–AQI 194) day was reward enough.

Day Sixty-two: I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes…

A "Hazardous" AQI of 358 doesn't stop tourists from strolling the  Dong'An Men Dajie

A “Hazardous” AQI of 358 doesn’t stop tourists from strolling the Dong’An Men Dajie

Dong’anmen Dajie is the street that houses the Donghuamen Night Market, a unique collection of exotic food stalls where you can get grilled scorpion-on-a-stick, crickets-on-a-stick, sheep-penis-on-a-stick, starfish-on-a-stick  and a whole host of bugs, slugs and squiggly things-on-a-stick. Some still wriggling before they hit the grill.  I squeezed through these narrow lanes, one night back in October, but the crowds were so thick I get a little claustrophobic and bailed. Today, I went during the middle of the afternoon to avoid the crowds, but the nuclear winter sky of a hazardous AQI blotted out the sun and gave the impression of end of day, or, if you’re the pessimistic sort, end of world. If I can convince Melinda to accompany me one evening I plan on returning and trying something-on-a-stick, as long as it is crunchy and grilled. Stay tuned.