In an effort to court tourist dollars, officials in Linfen City in the Shanxi Province of China have announced that all visitors will receive a complimentary “I Can Breathe” face mask by stopping in the visitor’s center at the main train station.
“We recognize our problem,” said Mr. Li Yin, head of the Ministry of Tourism. “We are not ignoring the truth of our pollution fiasco and are facing it head on,” he was quoted as saying during a recent press conference junket. During the conference, he peered through the haze of the warm spring day and demonstrated how to put on the mask by slipping the elastic band fastener over each ear.
His assistant minister, Mr. Wan Yang, added that, although Linfen is proud of its heritage as being part of the history of the birth of Chinese civilization, being known as one of the most polluted cities in the world has put a damper on the tourist dollar intake. Recently, officials have been talking to former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore about how to stem the tide of factory emissions. Until the city can come up with a way to fill American manufacturing needs and a way clean-up up the air quality, they are handing out a mask to anyone who would like one. “It takes time to find balance,” remarked Mr. Yin.
“Definitely. Besides these are fun to decorate,” added Mr. Yang pulling out a box of markers and quickly drawing a pig on two masks before handing them to two female reporters who were fitfully coughing in the front row.
The masks are from a Chicago based company. The company’s involvement makes the Chinese officials feel hopeful. Knowing that Chicago once burned down because of a cow makes folks in Linfen not feel so bad because of their own environmental issues.
“We hope people will give us a chance. There is so much to see and do in Shanxi Province, I hope poor air quality doesn’t keep them away,” Mr. Yang said, still wearing his mask to prove that it did not get in the way of effectively communicating. “They are also 100% recylable.”