See what I did there? Eh? Eh? Jokes aside, my heart goes out to everyone in California affected by the wildfires. Stay safe, stay alert, and invest in a good smoke mask. I found an article and was later sent it my my lovely grandfather about how apparently the AQI (air quality index) in the Bay Area is similar to Beijing. It’s funny timing, as Harbin has had smog two out of the last four days, which has slightly negatively impacted my mood.
I’ll be honest, my first and second reactions to the article were laughter, neither of them good. The first, worse reaction, was one of schaudenfreude, as the numbers reported were under 200 ppm of PM 2.5 particles (which is a relatively good day for Beijing). So it was funny to see California freaking out over what’s an everyday occurrence (the air quality, not the fires) in Beijing and Harbin during the winter. Wood smoke is definitely more invasive than regular smog at that level I feel though, and this is in no way meant to invalidate what people are going through.
The second was laughing at myself as I remembered that something being commonplace doesn’t make it good or alright (see: most of the shit minorities in the States have to deal with), and while I’ve grown used to the smog here, it’s still taking months off my life. So a bit of dark humor at my own expense there. The smog is actually one of the top reasons I’m looking forward to heading back to the States, although the Bay may feel just like Harbin.
Real talk though, this is serious and terrifying, here’s a link to resources and a go bag checklist. http://www.7×7.com/how-to-help-north-bay-fires-2494885475.html
That politics post I promised is still percolating for lack of a better term. But in other news I submitted my Fulbright final report and am moving out of my apartment tomorrow! (At time of writing). I’ll still be in Harbin for about a week before heading down to Shenzhen to do a visa run (I made plans a week later than I should have due to contradicting dates, ah well). Then a bit more travel in China before returning to the U.S. Can’t wait to see all you lovely people.
Spent most of this week at the library finishing their useful books, and I thought I’d share with you an interesting anecdote. There was a family of Polish Karaites, the Lopatos, who came to Harbin in 1902. They opened a tobacco workshop that later became a factory and were pretty much the only game in town until the 30’s. In ’35 most of the family left for Paris, but a son of one the founders, Mikhail stayed on. Somehow, through astounding business acumen and substantial bribes I’m sure, he wound up supplying cigarettes to the Japanese troops during the 40’s. This, of course, gave him a lot of contact with the Japanese military. What they didn’t know was that at the same time he was using his private train to ship food and supplies (including cigarettes presumably) to the Soviet troops on the front, which seems like an amazing logistical feat. In addition to material goods, he also told them all he could about the Japanese troop distributions. Gotta love a little espionage. He was eventually found out and captured by the Japanese, and told many times he would be executed. For some reason though, they delayed and one day just unlocked the cage and left. He found out from his wife after walking all the way home that an atomic bomb had just been dropped on Hiroshima, good timing for him I guess. When the Soviets got to Harbin, they didn’t execute him like a filthy capitalist, rather they bought his tobacco facilities at above market cost, the profit from which he used to retire like a king. I don’t expect him to show up in the novel, besides perhaps a mention of Lopato tobacco, but I thought it was a really cool anecdote to share.
One word in the above paragraph may have stood out to you, that being “Karaite. I had to look up what it was too, and apparently they’re a group of people who could be called a sect of Judaism, but sometimes prefer to be considered an entirely separate religion when advantageous (I’ll get to that below). According to the Chinese text I read, Karaite can either be interpreted to mean “readers of the scripture” in Hebrew, or “black/dark” in Arabic. They follow the Torah/Old Testament, but do not consider the Talmud and other Jewish law as divinely inspired and therefore invalid, which separates them from “Rabbinical Jews”. They have separate synagogues and services, but in Czarist Russia they were victims of the same anti-semitism. In the late 1700’s though, one of the Russian Karaites made the argument that since they allegedly settled in Crimea before the birth of Christ, they weren’t responsible for his death, and therefore shouldn’t be subject to the discriminatory laws levied on Jews. Catherine II agreed (when presented with some doctored evidence), and the Karaites got a status boost. According to wikipedia, there are about 4,000 Karaites in the U.S., and the only city with a dedicated Karaite synagogue is Daly City! The more you know!
I suspect I’ll make a few more posts before I leave China, but I’m unsure if I’ll keep this blog up when I return to the States. In any case, here’s a few more pictures.