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People of (Metrohm) China: Part 2

As I continued my travels through China, I got to know different cities and different cultures across this enormous country. In Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Chengdu, I visited workplaces and homes and I saw both ancient and new parts of the cities. I tried local foods and heard traditional music. And I even got a Chinese name.

When we met in Beijing, my host Grace made the city of Guangzhou sound like a place with a small-town charm to me. So when I arrived in the city that turns out to be the 7th most populous in the world, I was in utter shock. Guangzhou is like the light version of Beijing: not quite as many people, not quite as much traffic, and not quite as much pollution. But the city still far exceeds European dimensions—in all categories.

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Small town Guangzhou?

The air pollution in Guangzhou may not quite reach Beijing levels but, just like the Chinese capital, Guangzhou does have a major air pollution problem (and, as I saw first-hand later on my trip, so do Shanghai and Chengdu). When you see the hazy sky, it’s hard to believe is that, in the past decade, air quality has actually improved in China. Researchers are working hard to identify the culprits causing air pollution and find ways to improve air quality in Chinese cities. Among them are one of Metrohm China’s Young Chemist Award winners and Dr. Shengrong Lou of the Shanghai Academy of Environmental Sciences.

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Guangzhou behind a veil of haze, seen from the Guangzhou tower

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The MARGA system from Metrohm, has been operating since 2009 to analyze the composition of air pollution in Shanghai.

Improving Air Quality With Metrohm

The State Environmental Protection Key Laboratory of the Cause and Prevention of Urban Air Pollution in Shanghai obtained its first MARGA, Metrohm’s analyzer for the continuous monitoring of aerosols and gases in ambient air, in 2009 and a second one in 2015. When I was visiting the lab last week, a third unit was just being delivered. China is by far the biggest market for the MARGA system, as the Chinese government has made improving the air quality a top priority.

Dr. Shengrong Lou told us that, when they started measuring in 2009, the composition of air pollution in Shanghai was largely unknown. In the early stages, the researchers found out that sulfates were the most abundant compounds in air pollution. Regulations applying to industry as well as private vehicle owners have improved the air quality drastically in the past 10 years according to Dr. Lou. But not only the level of pollution has changed. Its composition, which depends on the industries, vehicles, etc. causing it, has changed, too.

To find the sources of the pollution they’re measuring, the researchers look at various factors, including the composition of pollutants as well as wind direction and speed. By applying algorithms they can model pollution dispersion and derive the sources of pollution. They also work together with almost 30 other institutes in northern China to analyze the carryover from different regions of China.

Shanghai: A City That Never Sleeps?

Shanghai is the economic center of China and is often compared to New York. But it’s not only Shanghai’s role as financial hub and impressive skyline that evoke memories of the Big Apple. Like New York, Shanghai is very international. And also, the Shanghainese are famous across China for their sense of fashion. I did enjoy the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city, which is very different from other big cities in China. But, after having heard the comparison, I was a little disappointed when the lights of the skyline went out at 10PM. It seems there is after all just one City That Never Sleeps.

Shanghai is a great combination of modern metropolis and traditional Chinese village: when you enter the city’s old residential areas, shopping streets, and temple complexes, you can easily forget you’re in a big city. In the areas surrounding temples, shops, restaurants, and food stalls selling traditional snacks concentrate, making them popular places to meet with friends.

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If you want to get to know the full variety of Shanghai street food, go to a temple.

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A sweet snack made from glutinous rice. This is so popular in Shanghai, we had to wait for 20 minutes to get ours.

My Chinese Baptism

Devin is responsible for ion chromatography sales at the Shanghai office. Together with Grace, my host at Metrohm China, and Kathleen, Learning & Development Manager based in Shanghai, I visited him at his home. I was really in for a treat, as it turned out that Devin is a master of many Chinese traditional arts.

Devin, his wife Cassie, and their daughter Annie live in an apartment close to Metrohm’s Shanghai office. We joined them for dinner, but came in time to witness our colleague’s skill in the kitchen. Judging by Devin, it seems it’s true what Andre Yanco, Managing Director at Metrohm Turkey told me during my visit: «A good chemist is also always a good cook.» Cassie and Devin prepared a feast for our dinner, including spicy dishes from Devin’s home in the Hunan province as well as Shanghai specialties like Shanghai river crab, which is in season now. But the night didn’t end with that.

Devin plays different kinds of traditional Chinese flutes and we enjoyed a little concert after dinner. But my part in the evening wasn’t completely passive: In addition to practicing walking on stilts with daughter Annie, I also got a lesson in Chinese calligraphy.


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Devin had created my Chinese name for me together with his daughter Annie. They put together Chinese names that, combined, sound similar to Stephanie. My Chinese name is pronounced Sheh-Fu-Li and means «rich and beautiful»—it turns out that Chinese names aren’t exactly subtle or modest. Devin also taught me how to write the name using a Chinese calligraphy brush. The art of Chinese calligraphy is practiced less and less as computers and smartphones are used in daily writing tasks, but Devin is a man of many talents. Even just writing my Chinese name is so complicated that I can see the appeal of using technical aids …

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Chinese calligraphy lesson: Feeling like a first grader again.

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With Cassie, Devin, and Annie

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2 Comments

  • Muna

    Such interesting experiences!
    Enjoy 🙂

    November 13, 2018 - 5:30 pm Reply
  • Grace Chen

    Stephanie, wonderful pictures! Glad to join your trip in China~!

    November 15, 2018 - 3:52 am Reply

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