Through the lens – I see smog.

by

There was one thing that stood out to me, as clear as night and day, when I walked off the aeroplane into Melbounre airport. Clarity. Everything suddenly looked like it was amazingly in focus. I couldn’t believe it – it was that profound. I remember looking across the airport at all the planes, everything looked so crisp, so sharp. The countryside between Tullamarine airport and Melbourne, all so vivid – so focused and so clear. What was the difference? Was China out of focus?

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Shangri-la, China

The answer? Yes, it actually was. What the hell does that mean you ask? Smog. Everywhere you went in China was basically covered by a layer of smog. It took climbing over 3000 metres above sea level to the Tibetan town of Shangri-La(Zhong Dian) to get away from it – but even there you then had mountain mists – and well, I often wondered if that truly was mist.

The thing about smog in China, is that it is always present, always. You get days that are quite remarkably clear, but practically everywhere you go, there it is. Some days were terrible. Some days visibility could be  as low as 20-30 metres tops. Obviously you could see it in the distance, but the interesting thing was you could look at a tree a few metres away and see the smoggy mist between you and it. It’s hard to explain just how that looks. The end result? The tree looks somewhat softened.

An example of smog - note the haze visible on even the closest buildings.

An example of poor clarity in China - note the haze visible on even the closest buildings.

The thing that amazes me about Chinese air pollution is that you rarely see it on TV. It’s only the rare documentary or show set in China that actually shows China even remotely close to what it looks like in reality. I think lens polarizers completely counter the smog haze. On multiple occasions I tried to photograph it to show friends and family back home exactly what we were breathing on a daily basis, but the photos just didn’t do justice to the reality of standing there amongst it. I know for a fact that due to this reason, when we both landed in Shanghai and it was white with heavy smog, we were both surprised – I don’t think either of us truly thought China was as smoggy as you read in the papers – well, it was alright.

When you get a clear day in China, everything looks so much cleaner. When you compare it to say somewhere like my home city of Melbourne, there is just simply no comparison. As I said earlier, the difference in clarity and sharpness is like night and day.  You never – if rarely- see it on TV however. You see people in popular tourist destinations, and sometimes you will see it portrayed as a sort of ‘beautiful mist’ – and yes, sometimes if you closed your eyes then re-opened them, you could look at the industrial air pollution as something quite…nice, but you’d be dreaming. Even the Panda sanctuary in Chengdu was so smoggy – amongst the jungle bamboo like environment, it was almost a case of gorilla’s in the factory created mist – panda style.

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