A writer discusses the awful living conditions of China’s booming cities after seven years of living in the country for seven years, and visiting 21 of China’s 22 provinces:

“A Beijing-based blogger who lived in Harbin in 2003 told me about leaving Blues after several drinks and flagging a taxi driver, whom he recognized. ‘The taxi driver told me, “Hi, I just came from a wedding and I’m soused. You drive.”’ So he drove himself home through Harbin’s icy, deserted streets.

Like many Chinese cities, Harbin can be extremely challenging to the health — and not just due to the sometimes scandalously toxic food served in dim, poorly lit restaurants. Hospital bathrooms in Harbin and elsewhere often lack soap and toilet paper, ostensibly out of fear that residents will steal the items. Six months after I arrived, a benzene spill in the nearby Songhua River briefly left the city without running water. The air in Harbin was so polluted that I felt as though the coal dust had sunk into my lungs, and a fine layer of black soot seeped in through our windows overnight. But even Harbin wasn’t as filthy as Linfen, a city of 4 million people in central China’s Shanxi province that Time in 2007, on a list of the world’s 20 most polluted cities, said made ‘Dickensian London look as pristine as a nature park.’

“Unlivable Cities.” — Isaac Stone Fish, Foreign Policy

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