I’ve been pretty active in January, but I’ve finally let this blog gather a little dust. Not much, but a little.

The reason for my recent computer problems was dust. Well, sort of. I opened up my computer because the fan was getting super noisy. That could have been because the ball bearings in the fan were going bad, but it also could have been just due to a huge dust buildup. You see, life in China comes with more than the recommended daily dosage of dust.

So I was cleaning the dust out of my computer’s innards. I used compressed air. (I didn’t know how to say that in Chinese, so I went around the computer market asking for “air in a can” (Ìý×°µÄ¿ÕÆø). I’m pretty sure I sounded like a moron, but it eventually yielded the desired result.) Even compressed air proved insufficient, though. I ended up cleaning a lot of the dust out with q-tips. Big chunks of it.

While cleaning out the dust I carelessly knocked my wireless network card loose (which I’m not even using, ironically), causing my computer woes.

I ended up getting a new power source anyway. The bearings really were going bad on the fan, and the inside was just dusty beyond help. Dust takes its toll.

* * * * *

Shortly after I arrived in China, I went on a trip to a park with some Chinese friends. It had been a while since I had seen grass, so I was happy to sprawl out on it, which promptly resulted in my Chinese friends’ disapproval. “It’s dirty!” they told me. I just shook my head. In a corner of the world where there’s so little nature left to enjoy, they regard what little is left as “dirty”? That’s so sad! Then, as an afterthought, I ran my hand across the grass. My palm was turned gray. Dust. From the grass.

That little incident drove home that I really didn’t know how everything worked here, even when I was so sure I had it all figured out.

* * * * *

I’ve learned to watch out for dust in China. It can choke your computer’s internal fans. It makes daily sweeping almost essential. Dust is even on the grass, and gets into everything if you let it. You don’t realize how much dust there really is in the air here until you experience it.

As with the rest of the dust around me, the dust on these pages will soon be dislodged and released to afflict the less diligent.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Ahh, the artful John, has revealed itself, again. BTW, the excessive dust buildup was surely due to the fact that your high-rise two bedroom apartment was next door to the Plaza 66 Tower 2 construction site, a lot the size of a metro city block. By the way, did they ever finish that? I know construction moves at lightspeed in those parts.

  2. Is the dust natural, as in it’s really dry and dirt turns to dust, or is it pollution related?

  3. Pretty sure it’s mostly pollution-related. I remember when I was living in Beijing, my window-sills would get absolutely covered with this fine grit every single day. It wasn’t really dust the way you find in North America.

  4. so where does this dust come from? construction? sandstorms from mongolia?

  5. Da Xiangchang Says: January 19, 2005 at 11:02 am

    Yeah, China’s pollution problems are pretty bad, but what the hell, it needs to develop. I rather have a dusty country with a 8% GDP growth than a clean country with a 2% GDP growth! Once China becomes a moderately rich country, it can worry about the environment it screwed up along the way!

  6. Mike, it’s all of the above. There is a LOT of construction dust in the air in the parts of China that are developing. My home is away from the polluted areas, but still gathering a lot of dust.

    I’m scared to open MY computer, but I’d hate to wait until it just fritzes. It’s over 3 years old, so it must be filthy inside.

    Side note; I generally sit down on the outer stairs to put on my shoes, and sit down in places most Chinese don’t (I do watch for hawked oysters first). One of my wife’s friends recently was mildly horrified: “no! durty!” They talked in Chinese a bit and sorted it out as a cultural difference issue thusly: The friend concluded “You must come from a very clean country!” Wife; “Yes, and American men don’t care much if they get dirty.”

  7. Luo Dawei Says: January 20, 2005 at 2:51 am

    So John, How does one say “compressed air in a can” in Chinese?

  8. When I was in Jiuzhaigou living in a village (within a national park ) with no obvious sources of air pollution or nearby construction, but when the wind blew it still blew up clouds of dust (although less so than the city — we did sit on the grass sometimes!). I’m wondering if its just that soil of China has been so constantly farmed for thousands of years. The dirt just seems different! It’s soft and powdery, quite strange.

  9. Zeerp Ud Nnelg Says: April 8, 2005 at 7:23 am

    Well, THAT was now a sensible comment by Da Xiangchang on January 19, 2005, even in the face of articles like the one published by NASA’s Earth Observatory service (http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Newsroom/MediaAlerts/1999/19991206786.html), wherein it is commented that China is losing up to 30% of its crop production due to haze! So, now, Da Xiangchang, the 6% GDP growth that you have scored over countries with a GDP growth of 2%, is being spent trying to obtain crops produced at higher prices, due to the haze pollution, to try to survive! How’s the thinking?

  10. […] This issue reminds me of an experience I had years ago in Hangzhou. Quoting a blog post from 2005: […]

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