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紐約時報駐北京記者:生活在有毒的中國

作者:《紐約時報》記者黃安偉(Edward Wong)

編者按:這是《紐約時報》駐北京記者黃安偉(Edward Wong)于2013年8月4日在《紐約時報》發表的文章,談他們夫婦和孩子在嚴重空氣污染和食品造假的中國生活的擔憂和恐懼。

1972年出生于美國首都華盛頓的黃安偉在加州伯克利大學獲新聞碩士后,1999年加盟《紐約時報》。在派駐中國之前,為該報駐伊拉克記者。2009年黃安偉在北京與美聯社駐中國記者蒂尼•特兰(Tini Tran)結婚。特蘭為越南后裔,曾擔任美聯社駐越南分社的社长。該譯文為《看中國》網站王燕 翻譯。

下面是譯文和英文原文:

最近,我發現自己拖着一個裝着12箱奶粉的袋子和裝有兩套空氣過濾器的紙箱通過舊金山國際機場。我剛結束一個公差,正在返回在北京的家,帶回去的都是在中國為人父母最搶手的東西,也是我自己的家庭迫切需要的。

中國是世界上第二大經濟體,但其增長的巨大成本正在變得越來越明顯。居住在中國繁華的城市及越來越多的農村地區的居民,在質疑他們所呼吸的空氣、所喝的水、所吃的食物的安全。彷彿他們生活在中國的切爾諾貝利和福島核災區那樣。

在被派往中國之前,我花了三年半的時間在伊拉克做報道。在那裡,外國記者們喋喋不休地談論各種可能造成人死亡的方式-汽車炸彈襲擊、交火、被綁架然后被斬首。在這些威脅中,我活下來了。現在才發現,我不知道:生活在中國,對我和我的家人是否正在造成無可挽回的損害?

在中國,這裡的環境危害是多方面的,其后果可能幾年甚至幾十年也不一定表現出來。對青少年兒童,這些風險被放大了。外籍勞工面臨着權衡這些因素的影響,決定是否留在北京。但目前,在中國,記者的工作仍然有着價值,所以我在堅持待得更久一點。我的妻子Tini也是如此,她在做亞洲記者已經十幾年了,並且學習過中文。這意味着我們在讓我們9個月大的女兒置身于與中國北方城市居民同樣的風險。

和他們一樣,我們採取預防措施。在北京,高科技的空氣凈化器就如令人垂涎的豪華轎車。在2008年,我被派往北京后不久,就架起了兩台前任記者們用過的歐洲製造的空氣凈化器。今年4月初,我第一次拿出其中一個過濾器進行檢查:裡面灰塵就象森林裡的苔蘚那麼厚。它讓我想吐。我訂購了兩套新的過濾器在舊金山提貨,這些產品在美國買要便宜得多。我的同事艾米告訴我,在2月份的農曆新年期間,一位朋友從加州給她丈夫帶來了一個35磅重的空氣凈化器。她的丈夫是一位美籍華人,被一家大型的美國技術公司派往北京。在拿到這個空氣凈化器前,他已經在考慮搬到蘇州,因為他已無法再容忍北京的污染。

每天早晨,當我起床時,會檢查手機上的應用程序,告訴我美國大使館監測到的空氣質量指數。美國大使館的監測設備就在我家附近。我想看看是否需要開啟凈化器,以及我和妻子是否可以把女兒帶到戶外去。

大多數的日子裡,她都呆在家裡。中國環境保護部周三公布的統計顯示,2013年上半年,北京的空氣質量在60%以上的天數里被視為是不安全的。全國平均水平也令人沮喪:在同樣的6個月里,接近一半的天數不符合安全標準。環境部長周生賢告訴共產黨的喉舌《人民日報》說:“中國的空氣質量是嚴峻的,污染排放量遠遠超過環境容量。”

我希望我的女兒能在欣賞戶外中成長-日落、鳥鳴、草的味道、雲的形狀。如果我們在北京繼續多住幾年的話,這將是不可能的。即使對我這個成年人的肺,我也限制自己在戶外的時間。我曾在巴格達底格里斯河的河岸邊跑步,在搬來中國之前,曾跑過兩個馬拉松比賽,但是,我很猶豫會在北京做這樣的長跑訓練。

我拒絕放棄的是騎自行車,即使這意味着要比乘汽車或地鐵上下班接觸到更多的有害空氣。由于這裡可怕的交通-本身就是一個主要污染源。我住在北京小巷的一個庭院裡,去辦公室、飯館,都是騎自行車。剛過去的冬季-當1月份北京的細顆粒物水平創下了歷史新高,達到世界衛生組織推薦的接觸限值的40倍后,我買了一台英國製造的面罩。越來越多的外國人也在因此正在離開中國。

一位在北京的美國醫生給他襁褓中的兒子訂購了個面罩。我的面罩是光滑的黑色織物帶塑料旋鈕,使我看起來像電影《星際大戰》里的達斯維達。但這總比少活幾年要好。

今年春季,首先發表在《柳葉刀》雜志上的“2010年全球疾病負擔研究”披露,在2010年,由于戶外的污染造成中國120萬人過早死亡,佔全球的40%。7月份,發表在美國一個著名科學雜志的另一項研究發現,由于在中國北方廣泛使用煤,中國北方居民比南方居民平均少活5年。

癌症的發病率在中國也在飆升,即使是中國的官方媒體也在審視着與空氣污染之間的關聯。同時,中國境內及境外的研究均表明,產前暴露于高濃度的空氣污染物,兒童表現出較慢的智力發育和行為障礙跡象。從洛杉磯的研究表明,在污染環境中的兒童,存在永久性肺部損傷的風險。

在中國北方,天總是灰濛濛的。我和妻子有時會根據能看到多少藍天來選擇我們的度假之地——我們最近的一次旅行是去意大利的托斯卡納和阿瑪爾菲海岸。我再也不會把那樣的藍天當作理所當然的事。

食品安全是我們考慮的另一個問題。我們已經聽說了在火鍋館子裡用鼠肉冒充羊肉、地溝油及生長的農作物受到工廠的重金屬或廢水污染的故事。對于中國和外國的父母而言,最可怕的食品災難是2008年的三聚氰胺牛奶醜聞,造成6名嬰兒死亡,至少有30萬兒童生病。從那時起,许多新生兒的父母已竭盡全力,把外國製造的嬰幼兒奶粉帶進中國。

在我從舊金山出差回來幾個月后,我的妻子和我意識到我們的奶粉不多了,就給我們認為可能會很快來中國的朋友發電子郵件,看看誰能自願幫我們帶。我們的朋友Alexa本周從紐約飛來,帶了兩箱的奶粉。我們還有另外兩位朋友答應今年夏天會給我們帶。

我最近跟一名在北京的女子趙君(音)聊了聊,她付錢請在歐洲的中國學生和家庭主婦幫她郵寄英國品牌Cow&Gate的罐裝奶粉。她說,“我們一直在擔心,所以,我們希望能從海外找到具有悠久歷史的好的品牌。”

中國人購買國外奶粉是一個非常廣泛的現象,已經導致了至少6個國家奶粉短缺。

這種憂慮並不只是牛奶。我們的女兒已經開始吃固體食物了,這樣就意味着我們要如何找食物來源的問題。我們要繼續在我們家周圍的小巷的小商店裡購買水果和蔬菜嗎?還是從針對外國人和富裕的中國人所開的更昂貴的商店裡購買?還是購買本地有機農場的?上個周末,我與朋友到了在北京東北部參觀一個農村的房子,那裡距離北京一個小時車程。他和他的妻子想在那裡租作周末用,但我更感興趣的是看看是否能用花園種植自己的蔬菜。我知道在這裡有些人已經在這麼做了。

“在食品問題上你很難保護到自己”,環保團體“自然之友”的董事會成員李博(音)說。“我從來沒有想過會成為一名素食者。在2011年,在畜牧業被曝光了如此多的不法行為后,我對肉受夠了。”

在北京度過的每一天,都更難辨別偏執和預防之間的那條細線。六年前,當我回到我的家鄉-維吉尼亞州的亞歷山德里亞,收拾東西搬往中國,我的母親遞給我幾管牙膏。那年夏天,她讀到中國製造的有毒牙膏的故事。我覺得那時自己就像重新要去上大學那樣。我把那些牙膏放回了父母的浴室。這些天當我回家時,我的母親仍然不時地給我牙膏帶回北京,我不再猶豫就放進了我的包里。

下面是英文原文:

Life in a Toxic Country

By EDWARD WONG

New York Times August 4, 2013,page SR1

BEIJING — I RECENTLY found myself hauling a bag filled with 12 boxes of milk powder and a cardboard container with two sets of air filters through San Francisco International Airport. I was heading to my home in Beijing at the end of a work trip, bringing back what have become two of the most sought-after items among parents here, and which were desperately needed in my own household.

China is the world’s second largest economy, but the enormous costs of its growth are becoming apparent. Residents of its boom cities and a growing number of rural regions question the safety of the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat. It is as if they were living in the Chinese equivalent of the Chernobyl or Fukushima nuclear disaster areas.

Before this assignment, I spent three and a half years reporting in Iraq, where foreign correspondents talked endlessly of the variety of ways in which one could die — car bombs, firefights, being abducted and then beheaded. I survived those threats, only now to find myself wondering: Is China doing irreparable harm to me and my family?

The environmental hazards here are legion, and the consequences might not manifest themselves for years or even decades. The risks are magnified for young children. Expatriate workers confronted with the decision of whether to live in Beijing weigh these factors, perhaps more than at any time in recent decades. But for now, a correspondent’s job in China is still rewarding, and so I am toughing it out a while longer. So is my wife, Tini, who has worked for more than a dozen years as a journalist in Asia and has studied Chinese. That means we are subjecting our 9-month-old daughter to the same risks that are striking fear into residents of cities across northern China, and grappling with the guilt of doing so.

Like them, we take precautions. Here in Beijing, high-tech air purifiers are as coveted as luxury sedans. Soon after I was posted to Beijing, in 2008, I set up a couple of European-made air purifiers used by previous correspondents. In early April, I took out one of the filters for the first time to check it: the layer of dust was as thick as moss on a forest floor. It nauseated me. I ordered two new sets of filters to be picked up in San Francisco; those products are much cheaper in the United States. My colleague Amy told me that during the Lunar New Year in February, a family friend brought over a 35-pound purifier from California for her husband, a Chinese-American who had been posted to the Beijing office of a large American technology company. Before getting the purifier, the husband had considered moving to Suzhou, a smaller city lined with canals, because he could no longer tolerate the pollution in Beijing.

Every morning, when I roll out of bed, I check an app on my cellphone that tells me the air quality index as measured by the United States Embassy, whose monitoring device is near my home. I want to see whether I need to turn on the purifiers and whether my wife and I can take our daughter outside.

Most days, she ends up housebound. Statistics released Wednesday by the Ministry of Environmental Protection revealed that air quality in Beijing was deemed unsafe for more than 60 percent of the days in the first half of 2013. The national average was also dismal: it failed to meet the safety standard in nearly half the days of the same six-month period. The environment minister, Zhou Shengxian, told People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, that “China’s air quality is grim, and the amount of pollution emissions far exceeds the environment’s capacity.”

I want my daughter to grow up appreciating the outdoors — sunsets and birdcalls and the smell of grass or the shape of clouds. That will be impossible if we live for many more years in Beijing. Even with my adult-size lungs, I limit my time outdoors. Though I ran on the banks of the Tigris River while in Baghdad and competed in two marathons before moving to China, I am hesitant about doing long-distance training for that kind of race here.

One thing I refuse to forgo is biking, even if it means greater exposure to hazardous air than commuting by car or subway. Given the horrendous traffic here — itself a major contributor to the pollution — I go to the office and restaurants and my courtyard home in Beijing’s alleys on two wheels. This winter, I bought a British-made face mask after levels of fine particulate matter hit a record high in January in some areas — 40 times the exposure limit recommended by the World Health Organization. Foreigners called it the “airpocalypse,” and a growing number are leaving China because of the smog or demanding hardship pay from their employers.

One American doctor here has procured a mask for his infant son. My mask of sleek black fabric and plastic knobs makes me look like an Asian Darth Vader. Better that, though, than losing years of my life.

THIS spring, new data released from the 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study, first published in The Lancet, revealed that China’s outdoor pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010, or 40 percent of the worldwide total. Another study, published by a prominent American science journal in July, found that northern Chinese lived five fewer years on average than their southern counterparts because of the widespread use of coal in the north.

Cancer rates are surging in China, and even the state news media are examining the relation between that and air pollution. Meanwhile, studies both in and outside of China have shown that children with prenatal exposure to high levels of air pollutants exhibit signs of slower mental development and of behavior disorders. Research from Los Angeles shows that children in polluted environments are also at risk for permanent lung damage.

In northern China, shades of gray distinguish one day from another. My wife and I sometimes choose our vacation destinations based on how much blue we can expect to see — thus a recent trip to Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast. I will never take such skies for granted again. “We still can’t get over how blue the skies are here,” the wife of an American diplomat told me over dinner in Georgetown more than half a year after the couple had moved back to Washington from Beijing.

Food safety is the other issue weighing on us. We have heard the stories of rat meat being passed off as lamb at hotpot restaurants, cooking oil being recycled and crops being grown in soil polluted by heavy metals or wastewater from factories. The food catastrophe that most frightened both Chinese and foreign parents was the milk scandal of 2008, in which six babies died and at least 300,000 children fell ill after drinking milk products tainted with melamine, a toxic chemical. Since then, many parents of newborns have gone to great lengths to bring into China foreign-made infant milk powder when it is needed to supplement breast-feeding.

Months after my trip back from San Francisco, my wife and I realized that our supply of formula was dwindling. We sent e-mails to friends we thought might be traveling soon to China, asking for volunteers to be “mules.” Our friend Alexa flew in from New York this week with two boxes of powder. We have two other friends who promise to bring more this summer.

I recently spoke to a woman in Beijing, Zhao Jun, who pays Chinese students and housewives living in Europe to mail her cans of Cow & Gate, a British brand. “We’re constantly worried, so we want to find a good brand from overseas with a long history,” she said.

So widespread is the phenomenon of Chinese buying milk powder abroad that it has led to shortages in at least a half-dozen countries. Hong Kong has even cracked down on what customs officials call “syndicates” smuggling foreign-made powder to mainland China.

The anxieties do not end with milk. Our daughter has begun eating solids, so that means many more questions for us about how we source our food. Do we continue buying fruits and vegetables from the small shops in the alleys around our home? Do we buy from more expensive stores aimed at foreigners and wealthier Chinese? Do we buy from local organic farms? Last weekend, I went with a friend to visit a village home an hour’s drive northeast of Beijing. He and his wife wanted to lease it as a weekend house, but I was more interested in gauging whether I could use the garden to grow our own vegetables. Some people I know here have done that.

“It’s so difficult to protect yourself on the food issue,” said Li Bo, a proponent of communal gardening and a board member of Friends of Nature, an environmental advocacy group. “I never thought I would become a vegetarian. Then in 2011, I said enough of meat, after so many examples of wrongdoing in animal husbandry.”

Each day that passes in Beijing makes it harder to discern the fine line between paranoia and precaution. Six years ago, when I was back in my hometown Alexandria, Va., to pack for my move to China, my mother handed me several tubes of toothpaste. She had read stories that summer of toxic toothpaste made in China. I felt as if I was going off to college for my freshman year all over again. I put the tubes back in my parents’ bathroom. When I go home these days, my mother still on occasion gives me toothpaste to bring back to Beijing, and I no longer hesitate to pack it in my bag.

Edward Wong is a correspondent in China for The New York Times.

A version of this news analysis appeared in print on August 4, 2013, on page SR1 of the New York edition with the headline: Life In A Toxic Country.

2013-08-04

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