Thursday, August 11, 2011

Nasal ganglia

I did mention that China is visually spectacular, both in natural beauty and edifying edifices. I got some great pictures from hikes in Dali and Tiger Leaping Gorge that I will post soon. Dear readers should be grateful that any pictures I manage to post do not include smell. The dark side of urban Chinese flaneur is a black pudding of pollution. 14 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in China, and I gagged through two of them. Many Chinese travel around wearing filter masks, and I would too. Even through lovely mountain passes, the driver’s enthusiasm for tailing people means you get choked with exhaust so thick you couldn’t read Eliot if it were in your lap. Any smog check rules that may exist either suck or aren’t enforced, because truck exhaust should carry warning labels like (much less harmful) unfiltered cigarettes. It didn’t just affect me. On our bus ride from Lijiang, two of the Chinese people asked for the trash bucket to puke. The driver stopped and everyone went outside, gagging. I had wet my T-shirt and held it over my nose as a filter, and still had a nasty headache.
I went to the nearest bathroom to puke, but the air was far worse there. This is typical of Chinese public toilets. Urinal deodorant cakes are rare outside of fancy hotels, and there is way more piss on the floor than anywhere else. They really need urinal flies, and I gave up on studying them. I got confused after deducing that Munich and Frankfurt airport had them in only some terminals, and noticing that Malaga airport instead had a lit candle at the aiming point, which I failed to extinguish. Schiphol had much more abstract and fanciful flies. If you could see all the urinal art together, you’d have no trouble identifying which one came from a country with legal drugs. Add “no art” for the Chinese and you’d have no trouble guessing which culture has the most piss on the floor. If not urinal flies, maybe little Japanese faces, or even Americans if that inspires more assiduous aim.

“Our aim is to keep this bathroom clean. Your aim will help.” -- Sign in the bathroom of the Sunset CafĂ©, Ridgway, CO, late 1980s.

The Austrians have a word for the mud created by dirt and snow-sludge. Gatch. I wonder if the Chinese have a word for the piss-mud footprints you see throughout some Chinese bathrooms, often trailing outside the bathroom. One could also coin a word for the soot-and-sweat sheen that forms in very humid and polluted environments. Perhaps "swoot." Horses sweat, men perspire, women glow, but any of them in Shanghai or Atlanta will swoot.

Streets add some randomness to the smells. Walking around the streets, I often encounter some nasty smell, sometimes sewage, sometimes stinkfruit, sometimes unidentifiable. Other times, you get a whiff from a restaurant and street vendor that smells really good. Overall, though, I think the locals with the masks are the smartest. I wish they made something akin to the Sichaun peppercorn, which numbs your tongue. Is there a pepper that numbs your nose? Are there drugs that deactivate the nasal ganglia? I’ll pay well. I have a credit card.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fun catching up on your blog. Eau Claire has a Chipotle clone called Burracho's, btw. -DL