Fly the smoggy skies

This is your Captain speaking. It’s 4:30 p.m. local time, March 6, 2024, and we’re beginning our descent into Beijing, although you could never tell by looking out the window. Visibility is at 5 feet and shrinking. The weather forecast calls for cancer-causing smog, followed overnight by acid rain.

Masks will be dropping from the ceiling in the next couple of minutes, but don’t be alarmed. If your final destination is Beijing, you must put on a World Health Organization-approved pollution mask before leaving the airport. If you’re traveling with a small child, please make sure their mask is properly secured before putting yours on.

Smog.

Beijing, from 20,000 feet.

Our cabin crew will be going around in a few minutes to hand out anti-acid tablets. Unlike the masks, these aren’t required, but I highly advise taking a few just in case that lamb meat you order for lunch turns out to be diseased rat. That actually happened to me once, and I got so bloated that I looked like a woman pregnant with twins in her third trimester.

Pollution masks fall from the ceiling. A few people who were asleep during the announcement scream, but quickly calm down after they realize the plane hasn’t lost cabin pressure; they’re just landing in Beijing.

A few more things to tell you while we prepare for landing. Recently, there have been scandals involving baby formula, bottled water, fruit and vegetables containing high levels of pesticide, recycled cooking oil … (turns to co-pilot, voice barely audible: Bob, I know I’m forgetting something) … oh, and fresh air in a can. If, like me, you have a pulse, then you’re probably concerned about at least one of these things. However, all of these items are for sale in our duty-free catalog and can be purchased using Mastercard or Visa.

One more reminder: if you’re outside and your mask gets undone, don’t run. Just lie on the ground and dial 120. Medical personnel with oxygen tanks will respond within minutes to assist you.

It’s been a pleasure having you on board, and we hope you enjoy your stay in Beijing.

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North Korea’s Kim: Too sexy to be true?

The death of North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il last December set off a period of mourning unlike anything I had ever seen.

The footage broadcast by the country’s state-run media showed tens of thousands of people in the capital Pyongyang, weeping and buckling over in grief. Women fainted, and even grown men sobbed uncontrollably. A New Year editorial published by the North’s leading newspapers called Kim’s death “the greatest loss our nation had suffered in its 5,000-year-long history and the bitterest grief our Party and people had experienced … The tears our service personnel and people shed with greatest sorrow were tears of the unity, unaffected and crystal-clear, and tears of their firm determination to follow the Party to the end of the earth.”

A few days after Kim’s death, I met with my Chinese teacher Cathy for our twice-a-week language lesson. Cathy is in her mid-40s and has lived in Beijing her entire life. Some days we choose a topic to discuss, and on this day we decided to talk about international news.

“What do you think about Kim Jong-il’s death?” I asked. Continue reading