Eye of the Chicken
A journal of Harbin, China

dust, and good news
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Well, I guess spring has sprung here. The tipoff isn't birds or basketball, apparently: It's dust. We had our first (very mild) dust storm of the season yesterday, and it's the first weather I've encountered in Harbin that has made me think, "Oh my god, how do people stand this?" In the spring, the dust rolls down off the Mongolian plain, and according to my next-door neighbor, when it gets really bad, you can't even see across the campus from our dorm windows.

The sky looks pretty clear today, but here's the best indication I can give you of how oppressive the air was yesterday:


Yup, that's right. The courts were nearly empty. That gauzy, out-of-focus look was caused by the dust.

Here's another shot.


Nonie (my neighbor) and I went to the fabric market in the morning (where I scored some incredible clothes, as usual), and by the time I got home my eyes were burning and my throat was sore. I decided I was not leaving the dorm again, so I made a hamburger in my room. I compounded my troubles by burning the burger - my hot plate isn't designed for such cuisine; I toggled it between "too low" and "too high" for a while, and while I had my back turned for about 45 seconds (slicing onions), the thing overheated and blue smoke billowed everywhere in my apartment. The hot plate went off - I wondered if it had some kind of carbon monoxide sensor or something, because the smoke truly did make me light-headed. Worst thing was, I couldn't go anywhere to escape foul air; if I stuck my head out the window I inhaled particulate matter, and if I kept it inside, I got smoke. I opened all the windows and the door, turned on my exhaust fan, and sat in the hallway until the smoke/dust cleared. Yuck.

Last night my sinuses went bananas, keeping me awake most of the night, and my throat was raw and ragged.

So I hope that the smoke was the worst part of it, and that the next dust storm won't affect me so badly. Nonetheless, I'm getting a scarf. Yesterday I saw a lot of women with scarves completely covering their heads and faces, like a bee suit. What can I say? I don't care how I look; I'm fond of breathing.

So it was a good day to stay inside and read, which is exactly what I did. I had the perfect book: Kat, Incorrigible written by none other than Emil's niece, Stephanie Burgis:

(If you click on the picture, you'll go to the Amazon page.) I got the Kindle edition, released yesterday, and it finally arrived at about 4:00 am, Michigan time (4 pm here). It's the first of a middle-grades trilogy, and I enjoyed it immensely. Kat, the heroine, is spunky and the action is swift-moving and the magic is entirely believable. I've heard it described as "Jane Austen meets Harry Potter," which sums it up nicely. Go have a look, and if you have a middle-grader in your household, go have a buy!

Now it's off to prepare for my class with the Algerians. They're going to do a lot of writing today, because I'm sure not up to talking . . .

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