Over two weeks ago Beijing had its first dust storm of the year and I seem to have been on another planet on March 1, not realizing we just started the gritty season.
Around this time sand from the Gobi desert blows across northern China and spreads to neighbouring Russia and South Korea.
When the sand storms are bad, it's a sign that China is losing its battle against desertification. While the country has intensified its tree planting, draining lakes and rivers as well as polluting them doesn't help the situation.
Before the dust storms came, I'd been warned by colleagues not to be surprised to see people walking backwards on the streets. "They're trying to avoid getting sand in their eyes so they walk like that," they said.
I wondered what I should do to combat the dust, if I should wear some kind of thin veil, or a mask. But another coworker dismissed my concerns. "I don't use any of those things. You'll be fine." But she did say there were days when she had to clean her desk every hour as there was a layer of fine dust accumulating constantly.
Earlier this week the sky was an ominous grayish yellow and looked hazy. It turned out Monday was the most severe sand storm to date, but by the afternoon it had dissipated.
Tonight a few colleagues and I played almost two hours of tennis at the university across the street from our office. When I hit the ball, I could see a puff of dust coming from the racquet thanks to the bright lights shining down on our court. My mother suggested I wear a mask when I play tennis, but it's hard to breathe just walking down the street with it on.
Part of my problem is feeling self-conscious about wearing it, but I'll just have to keep reminding myself that it's for my health and not a fashion statement.