Walking Your Dog in China

A short time ago I was just putting the finishing touches on my newest book, Conducting Business in the Land of the Dragon (formerly Doing the China Tango II: Advanced studies), a title my editor seems to like better than my previous working title. In this book I wrote a chapter on China’s pollution problems and what they’re doing to try and address these serious issues. Contained in this chapter is a section on water pollution. What influenced this section of the book was a conversation I had with my assistant Maria, and which I didn’t mention in the book.

Every morning I take my dog Halle out for a walk and a swim in the lake a stone’s throw from where I live. Since I live in Florida it never really gets cold and the lake is also netted and protected from reptiles that try and eat you, such as alligators. Halle is a flat coated retriever, loves to swim, and can’t get enough of the water. On our excursions I usually oblige her by throwing a soft rubber ball a short distance into the water, which she delights in endlessly bringing back to me. This routine goes on until she gets tired and her man-servant, me, dries her off and takes her home.

One day I happened to mention my routine to Maria when she asked, to my surprise, if I gave Halle a shampoo when I returned. I told her I didn’t as it was a fresh water lake and didn’t have any salt in it. You can see the sandy bottom below the surface and, while it isn’t Minnesota quality water, it’s not the Mississippi River either.

In China taking a dog for a swim wouldn’t be possible and it’s questionable whether any dog could survive a swim in most of the fresh bodies of water in China. The reason is that the underground water supplies in 90% of Chinese cities are contaminated by industrial effluent, sewage, and agricultural run-off. In addition, 43% of state-monitored rivers are so polluted that they’re unsuitable for human contact. In an example I use in my book a frustrated Chinese businessman offered the U.S. equivalent of $32,000 to the environmental official from the local government if he would swim in his town’s river for just 20 minutes. The official refused.  This is why Maria was so surprised when I told her I was taking Halle for a swim and why taking even yourself for a swim in China is probably hazardous to your health and doesn’t work.

When you’re in China the only water you should make contact with is that inside a plastic bottle or water that’s been boiled (hot tea is generally safe to drink). I’ve followed this rule and, as a result, have never had a problem. Stray from this rule and you’ll undoubtedly need a trip to the local drug store for a little intestinal fortitude!

Alan Refkin

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