Fine Dust from China

On Mar 4, 2019, a couple in their thirties, both native-born Americans of Korean descent, take their two daughters, 3 and 1, on a flight to Korea for a 2-week vacation. Upon deplaning at the destination after 12 hours of flight, however, they get immediately engulfed in a thick fog of fine dust, the worst on record, and have to put on masks, to no avail. In a day or two everyone of them comes down with one form or another of respiratory and pulmonary disorder, coughing, wheezing, scratchy throat, runny nose, the worst happening to the youngest, high fever and difficulty breathing from pneumonia. She has to be rushed to the ER by ambulance.

After two weeks of vigils night and day and a succession of pediatric and specialist clinics and labs taking hours to navigate a few blocks, congested worse than in Manhattan, they limp back home, miraculously alive, though the young one seems still to hover on the brink.

“We should make the Chinese pay for this,” mutters K, the 82-year-old grandfather, almost in tears, looking at his youngest granddaughter’s haggard face.

“But they deny responsibility, Dad,” the father points out.

“Deny responsibility when on and you can track real time the dust airborne back to China, ruthlessly deforested and desertified in its quest for rich-quick industrialization?”

“Korea is too small to force China to do the right thing.”

“Don’t go to Korea,” K orders in disgust. “I left it six decades ago because, among other reasons, it couldn’t stand up for itself.”

“But it’s still my ancestral land,” the son declares. “We’ll go back maybe next year when the girls will have more immunity. Even if they don’t, its medical services are superb and cheap, too, one-tenth of the US rates. No wonder they live longer than us.”

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