Seoul during this year’s Hwangsa
If you asked me what I thought was the worst thing about the year Jenny and I spent in Korea, my answer would be unequivocal: Hwangsa.
One doesn’t think of Korea as a high-risk location for sandstorms, but each spring, the Korean peninsula is blanketed in yellow dust blown in from the ever-expanding Gobi Desert. The Koreans call it Hwangsa (황사), which literally means “yellow wind.” As you can see from the picture, they’re not exaggerating. And the yellow wind carries more than mere dust: significant quantities of heavy metals such as mercury and lead are also raining down over Korea.
When we were in Korea, we missed the warnings about the impending weather crisis because the warnings were delivered on the Korean news, and no one bothered to tell us about it. On the first yellow morning, half of Jenny’s kindergarten students failed to show up, but she didn’t know why. She took the rest to play outdoors on the rooftop playground, exposing them and herself to a couple of solid hours of the dangerous dust.
She hasn’t been the same since. After that morning, Jenny quickly succumbed to cold symptoms that developed into a sinus infection, coupled with asthma that went undiagnosed and then improperly treated for months. There are some indications that Jenny may have had mild asthma before her exposure to Hwangsa, but it was certainly not as acute as it has been ever since.
This year, the sandstorms are worse than ever, according to the daily Chosun Ilbo, and they will keep getting worse as long as the Gobi Desert keeps growing due to deforestation.