This week weather is a balmy 30 degrees in general: warm enough during the day to melt some of the black ice. The past month, however, has been quite frigid, snowing now and then.
All the locals say this has been an unusually harsh winter, and that typically there is not half as much snowfall, and sometimes it even rains. Everyone here attributes the wild weather fluctuations of the past few years to global warming.
Environmental consciousness is pretty high, but personal commitment to it seems fairly low. With their giant neighbors to the West, who have a terrible record on environmental protection, it’s easy to boast. So health is of more concern to Koreans who are downwind of Chinese factory pollution. And that so-called yellow dust coming from there that is announced on the news? I’ve been told that it actually IS yellow and visible to the naked eye on some days (though I’ve never witnessed this). Supposedly desertification in parts of China is increasing, and the winds pick up pollution-laden yellow dust. As a result, Koreans don the surgical masks to protect their lungs. These come in all kinds of fabrics and colors, I’ve seen winter ones with knitted covers for extra warmth, and they have all kinds of cute versions with cartoon characters on them for the children. The air quality doesn’t seem that bad to me – nothing like Thailand where 2-stroke moped engines and small diesel trucks left so much carbon in the air you could practically eat it. Fortunately, a lot of things that contribute to reducing pollution here are institutionalized and followed, such as the great mass transit system and recycling.
Korea’s working hard on beating out the competition in green technology, so I’ve no doubt they’ll be well positioned. I read recently that one of the main components of Macintosh technology depends upon Korean products, and that’s why Apple is one of the few U.S. computer hardware companies sold here. It’s a status symbol to own an Iphone 3g, even though they can’t take advantage of some of the advances in technology that are proprietary to Korea (and its marriage to microsoft) here. German cars are also allowed, so I wonder if there’s some similar relationship going on there?