The Sandstorms in Beijing

Mimi Jiang

Sandstorm in Beijing, 15 March 2021. Photo © UPI/Alamy

As someone from South China who is accustomed to humidity, the first time I went to Beijing I was struck by its dryness, especially in winter. My proximal nail folds cracked, no matter how much hand cream I put on. For Beijing citizens, sandstorms and smog are the twin horrors. One year the sandstorm was so thick it painted the sky orange. Even if you sealed all the windows, the next day your tables and floors would be covered by sand. The spring wind blows it in from the Gobi Desert. The smog, by contrast, has many culprits: fossil fuels, coal, heavy industry, too many cars. The tiny particles hang in the air waiting to be breathed in and no one can escape from it. Even the supreme leader has to breathe the same polluted air as the rest of us. People in Beijing hate the wind for bringing the sand but love it for blowing the smog away.

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11 August 2022

In Tbilisi

Eliot Rothwell

In the last week of March, I joined the thousands of people who left Russia following the invasion of Ukraine. I travelled first to Yerevan, in Armenia, before taking the thirty-minute connecting flight to Tbilisi. The capital of Georgia is a haven for opposition-minded Russians. Many of them are young IT workers or creatives, taking advantage of a year-long visa waiver. Others are journalists, including the editors of TV Rain, Russia’s last independent channel until it was forced to shut down a few days after the invasion. Soon after arriving I called a few language schools and found that beginners’ Georgian classes were already oversubscribed.

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7 August 2022

In Orinoco

John Perry

Some time in the 17th century, a vessel carrying enslaved people from the west coast of Africa ran aground near the Caribbean island of St Vincent, close enough to shore that the survivors swam to land, disposed of their captors and settled alongside the Indigenous Carib-Arawak people, who already offered a safe haven to runaway slaves from other islands. The Afro-Indigenous culture that resulted came to be known as ‘Garifuna’ (meaning ‘Black Carib’). Their language derives from that of the Arawak, a people whose pre-Colombian origin is in the Orinoco River basin in Venezuela.

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5 August 2022

Punishing Defiance

Tom Stevenson

Talk of Iran and nuclear weapons has long since taken on the structure of an old joke: Iran has supposedly been weeks away from terrible advances for the last thirty years. The joke gets told nonetheless. When Joe Biden visited Jerusalem in June, he spoke of his commitment to stopping Iran from getting the bomb, even though the US government’s own assessment two months earlier was that Iran ‘is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities’.

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4 August 2022

Labour’s Dogmatism

Michael Chessum

At a moment when it should have been able to seize the political initiative, the Labour leadership has talked itself into a strategy of retreat. Boris Johnson has driven a train of sleaze through the Conservatives’ reputation as a stable party of government. After a decade of falling pay, wages are now plummeting in real terms. Energy bills are forecast to hit at least four thousand pounds a year by 2023, while BP and Shell have announced yet another round of record profits. The Bank of England’s interest rate hike, and predictions of a long recession, will mean more hardship for working-class people. Many, unsurprisingly, have had enough. But rather than seizing on the strikes as a way to talk about the injustices of Tory economics, the Labour front bench has squirmed.

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3 August 2022


Sadakat Kadri

Vladimir Putin recently decreed that any Ukrainian who wants a Russian passport can get one. More than 800,000 Donbas residents have already taken the plunge, the Kremlin says, and it’s an offer that may be hard to refuse. Russian citizenship is now required in many parts of occupied Ukraine to hold down a job and access services. Declining it can get you noticed, in a bad way.

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2 August 2022

Of International Concern

Edna Bonhomme

In late July, the World Health Organisation declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern. Since May, there have been more than 22,000 confirmed cases in nearly eighty countries around the world, of which more than 13,000 have been in Europe. The countries with the highest numbers of confirmed cases are Spain, the US, Germany and the UK. Last week Spain reported two deaths linked to monkeypox. Although the virus can spread to anyone, 98 per cent of confirmed cases are men who have sex with men (MSM), strongly suggesting that sexual contact is the primary mode of transmission of these new infections.

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