Pollution: Part 1

“It’s watching us.” “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“It’s like HAL9000’s younger cousin.”

“Wallace is not a homicidal computer.”

“Wallace? Really? Anyway, how can you tell?”

“Because he’s too busy purifying our air.”

And it’s true. Ulaanbaatar is one of the most polluted cities on Earth, breaking the top 50 to land at 44 on Wikipedia’s Air Quality List. For reference, infamously polluted Beijing lands at 76. The highest rated US city is Fresno California, at 160.

So our brand new robot (whose blue eye features prominently up above) is way too preoccupied to overthrow the household (I hope). And his job will only get busier as winter settles in around us. There are a bunch reasons. The city is prone to seasonal dust storms that clog the streets with yellow goo. Gas guzzling cars have become ubiquitous, but pollution standards on mufflers have not. And a sizable chunk of the population lives in gers.

That last one might require some explanation. A ger is a massive tent, big as a one-room house. And since they can’t be connected to city utilities, residents rely on coal burning stoves for warmth in the long winter. Lots and lots and lots of coal burning stoves. Which means the air over the ger districts tends toward black, a smog that clings to your clothes, your hair, your everything.

To survive, most foreigners, and more than a few locals, don air pollution masks from about November straight through to spring (or locally, sometime in May). They’re not just a fashion statement; they’re a necessity for anyone who doesn’t want chronic breathing problems.

So before we left for Mongolia, we got ourselves some masks. Here’s Erin looking adorable in her fashionable ensemble.

Erin pollution mask
Erin pollution mask

And here I am, looking like a burly ninja surgeon.

Sam pollution mask
Sam pollution mask

The US Embassy recently launched it’s own air quality monitoring service right here in UB. You can find their site here: https://www.stateair.mn/. Erin and I generally check it in the morning before heading out the door, just to see how concerned we should be about exposure. And it does make a difference. Bad air quality days can leave us tired, low energy, and brimming with flu-like symptoms from coughing and headaches to phlegmy throats. (And winter hasn't even really started.) This doesn't get into the longer term health effects all that particulate matter may have. Wearing a mask is one way to minimize the risks.

It’s is also the reason we installed the glowing eye of our soon-to-be robot overlord in the corner. We did our best to make him festive...


...but I still feel like it's a matter of time before he locks us out and demands we take a chill pill.

It was the mustache, wasn't it? The mustache probably went too far.