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The Smog In China Is So Thick That Ferries Can’t Cross The Yangtze River

I wasn’t expecting much to stand in my way as I was riding my bike from Taizhou to Zhenjiang in order to check out the Dantu “ghost city.” Least of all was I expecting smog to stop me short. The trip was going fine as I rode down past China Medical City and Gaogang. It [...]

I wasn’t expecting much to stand in my way as I was riding my bike from Taizhou to Zhenjiang in order to check out the Dantu “ghost city.” Least of all was I expecting smog to stop me short.

gaogang-ferry-crossing-smogThe trip was going fine as I rode down past China Medical City and Gaogang. It was a foggy morning but I expected it all to burn off by midday. It didn’t. It wasn’t fog but smog.

As I pulled up to the ferry terminal there seemed to be an abnormal build up of trucks waiting to be transported to the Jiangnan side of the river. I rode up to the ticket window. For some reason, the girl in the box didn’t seem inclined to sell me a ticket. She told me to buy a ticket on the ferry. Fair enough. When I got down to the water I could see the boat just sitting and everybody waiting for it to move.

I watched the ferry boat bellow out a cloud of black smoke as it revved its engine. “Is the ferry broken?” I asked a guy who took an active interest in my bicycle. He looked at me for a moment as though thinking of what to say, and then responded in the affirmative. But his response was more of a “Yeah, you could say that it is broken,” than a confident statement of fact.

It wasn’t the ferry that was broken, it was the air. Visibility through the smog was so low the the ferry couldn’t risk venturing across the river. Seriously, I doubt that I could see 150 meters in front of me. I looked out at the Yangtze and only saw a wall of white, a blanket of atmosphere, a fog of particulate matter. The ferry couldn’t cross the Yangtze because of smog.

I repeat: smog brought the Yangtze to a standstill.

The ferry crossing was closed until wind or a miracle whisked away the smog. Neither occurred. I waited. I waited. I kept waiting. It was already noon and the smog showed no sign of going anywhere. I looked at the weather report on my mobile, and it said that it was a clear and sunny day. I looked out around me and it was actually more foggy as an autumn morning in London. In China, the weather reports and the smog reports are clearly not coordinated.

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Eventually, many people waiting for the ferry began giving up. After watching some trucks get out of line, turn around, and leave, I followed. Nobody who has been waiting in line for hours just gets up and leaves without having a good reason: the smog was too much, the ferry was going nowhere.

I began riding back to Taizhou, and I was overtaken by extreme fatigue. My muscles stung, my body drooped, my head felt clogged, and I became severely drowsy. This was strange, I’ve biked this route dozens of times before like it was a breeze. But today, the air was bad — crazy bad.

Later on, I discovered that the PM2.5 air quality index for this area was at 336: severely polluted, the highest air pollution threshold that China officially recognizes.

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Filed under: China, Pollution

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3544 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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