It’s been hot and humid here for the past several weeks and I think the rains that were so frequent in June have finally stopped. The weather is now perfect for swimming. Yet, there is one thing holding me back:
This monster algae, or hutai as it’s known in Mandarin, has been showing up on the shores of the Yellow Sea for almost a decade. It’s presence was hard to miss as we scooted down the several miles of Feng Cheng’s main beach road, Haijing Lu. Dozens of workers were out, mostly older men and women, the grandparents of China who are often seen doing jobs like this — from sweeping up dirt along the roads to standing in the parking lots of grocery stores, making sure no one steals the carts. The men beat the heat by rolling their shirts up and letting their flabby bellies hang out. The women found shade under their over-the-top lacy sun hats that were more appropriate for tea with the queen than digging up water-logged, bright green algae.
Bulldozers roamed the beach and scooped up the mounds of algae built by the workers, then hauled them to the road where they were dumped. There the piles sat, water seeping onto the concrete, a dank, salty, seaweedy smell wafting from them. Eventually, the algae got re-dumped into big red trucks that hauled it away.
The beach wasn’t overly packed with sunbathers or swimmers. Was this a symptom of what I’ve described in other posts — mainly the fact that no one lives in our little corner of Shandong province — or the algae? Who knows. But it’s not as if we swimmers should be fearful, if you believe the LA Times. The algae “poses no danger to humans,” according to a Qingdao tourism worker quoted in the article. CNN confirms that it’s “not toxic to humans, thank goodness.” Actually, let’s all be thankful for the algae, which is merely a by-product of the pollution floating out there in the world’s waters. Not only does it provide a kick of color to the normal dull brown hue of the Yellow Sea, its abundance provides employment for elderly Chinese. It’s also edible.
But we weren’t at the beach to swim on this occasion anyway. We weren’t even there to gawk at the algae or the crews cleaning it up. We were there to see the annual sandcastle competition, which for some inexplicable reason, was roped off to us on the hot Saturday afternoon we chose to visit.