The flight from Hefei to Beijing took about 90 minutes. At about 75m after start, our plane plunged from the blue, sunny sky into a yellow marshmellow of a cloud plume. This was not a sandstorm. I have experienced a real sandstorm once, back in the eighties, in Turpan (Xinjiang Province), on the bus from the train station to the city. We saw the thick sand cloud approaching, and the bus stopped like all other vehicles. Pedestrians had already left the street, found some shelter. All local passengers on our bus hurried to stuff some old cloth between all those little openings between the window glass and the frame. The storm hit, a lot of sand still blew in through those openings, ended up in our eyes, between our teeth, inside my camera. Twenty minutes later it was all over, the driver could see the street again and started the bus. Pedestrians appeared on the street again, I don’t know where they came from. That was it, everything was back to normal. Only my camera never produced those crisp photographs again.

The yellow marshmellow over Beijing was not a sandstorm. It consisted partly of the leftovers of a sandstorm in Mongolia, whose more dusty (because lighter, the dust travels faster and further) and less sandy extension (the sand had settled before it reached the city) had hit a few days earlier. During those few days, the dust-sand had mingled with the normal smog that always used to stick around until the next stronger breeze would sweep it away. This combination of smog and sand – let’s call it smond – created a quite unique sight from the sky. The smond actually allowed most of the sunlight and its reflections from lakes and rivers to pass, while nothing much else was to be seen. No earlier than about 88m after start, I could see the buildings of the airport area, just before we landed. These few minutes were quite amazing, I have never seen anything like it before. Once on the ground again, the effect was no longer impressive, even the air smelled relatively fresh.

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