Then They Brought in The “Foreign Experts”
The show shifted gears and brought in two so-called “foreign experts.” The elder of the two was China Scholar, David Moser, who first came to China from Oregon in 1987. He started by mentioning that he got off the plane from Oregon when the pollution hit and felt a sharp piercing pain in his eyes. His wife and children who stayed behind in China hadn’t been watching the news and didn’t notice the pollution, much less notice any symptoms like his. He said his doctor had told him to leave Bejing for his health and that many friends left China for good in the past month. When later questioned by Dou concerning exactly how many friends had left, he confirmed that it was only three. He pointed out that China shouldn’t try to blindly follow America’s growth model at all costs and that the two countries should work together on solving the problem, since much of America’s pollution has been outsourced to China.
Next was Mr. Stuart Martin Brown, representative from the British embassy. He said that he had been in China for three years and still had not adjusted to Beijing’s pollution. He suffers from a cough and sore throat. He mentioned the Great Smog in London in 1952 in which up to 12,000 people may have perished in a matter of days. He expressed hope that Beijing wouldn’t have to experience such a tragedy before taking serious measures to alleviate pollution, suggesting a three-step plan based on improving standards, cleaner fuel, and better enforcement of regulations. I noticed that he was the only guest speaker that had cue cards on his podium. Being a student of the language and having given many speeches in Mandarin myself, I surmised that he had jotted down little reminders for himself regarding the more complex pollution-related terminology. I felt that he did quite well for only having studied the language for three years.
The Audience Gets Their Two Cents Tiger then started to identify people from the crowd to talk, based on how fervently they waived their paddles. When calling on a man from Guangdong wearing a backwards flat-cap, he quipped, “Hey did your hair do something to you, is that why you’re wearing a hat?” An audience member was stammering and coughing as he spoke, “Do you always cough every few words like that when you talk?” The man responded, “I’m a smoker.” Fittingly, he was in support of the pollution camp. To Li Su, after he had defended his points he said, “Are you sure you’re telling the truth? You’re hand is shaking like a leaf!”
Hank bravely spoke up and said that Los Angeles is America’s most polluted city and they set very strict standards for fuel and auto emissions. Such standards should be applied in China as well. Dou quickly countered that he had got his facts wrong and that Beijing follows, “the strictest of European emission and fuel standards.” The crowd responded with a sea of black 反对 (fǎnduì, oppose) paddles.
They started talking about whether or not to use 2.5 as the standard for China, and, the next thing I know, someone is handing me the microphone. I sensed that this was a sign that Tiger would be calling on me soon. The night before, in anticipation of my moment in the spotlight, I had prepared some key Chinese vocabulary related to pollution and environmental protection. Unfortunately, by this point in the show, many of the points I had wanted to make had already been well covered. He asked what my opinion was on this situation and whether or not to use the 2.5 standard. I was on the spot without much coming to mind, as I stood up I clutched my paddle in left hand as I held the microphone in my right hand. Somehow, in the seconds that followed, I gathered enough remaining fragments of what I had prepared the night before to say something coherent in Mandarin. I responded that I had heard many different opinions and that I thought that a lesson could be drawn from America’s experience with environmental regulation. I pointed out that the US used to have a lot of pollution in the 1970s, and Tiger grunted in agreement. I then went on to say that the US Environmental Protection Agency started to enforce new and stringent laws. Soon, many polluting industries came to fear the agency. I explained that this process of reducing various kinds of pollutants took place over the course of 30 years. He then asked me if I supported applying the 2.5 standard to China, and I said that I agreed.
A woman that sells organic food for a living asked Dou if he thought that poor people should eat poisoned food because that was the price they pay for living in a city. An environmental reporter stood up and said that he had come to the conclusion that pollution can’t be reduced and new laws won’t make a difference. With each negative statement, they would place a low piano note. A university student said that new stringent environmental laws will lead to new opportunities in green businesses. The economy will continue to grow, but in new innovative fields and in a more sustainable way.
Tiger, who had been flawless throughout, actually had to take three takes to get the final closing statement right. The first time he flubbed his lines a little and dropped the mask to the ground. He later worried that this would bother the sponsors. The second take, he was talking halfway through when they informed him he was looking at the wrong camera. The third take, he got everything perfect and on the money. His conclusion was that the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics was a high point in the history of the city, but unfortunately this recent bout of pollution was one of the low points. He said that he hoped that lessons could be learned which will hopefully help us find ways to improve the environment for the better in the long run.
After the dust settled, we ran into Hank and Lucile and instantly struck up a friendship. We reflected on our adventures at the show while eating at a Korean restaurant near Beijing’s Utown.