During our year in Bangkok, we quickly realized that emissions standards were not exactly what they are stateside. Unmuffled motorcycle noises had no difficulty rising to our apartment on the 21st floor, and the air down on Sukhumvit, the main thoroughfare closest to our home, was positively grey with exhaust from cars, buses, bikes, and street vendors' charcoal fires; long periods of engines idling in heavy traffic didn't help matters. This Texas girl quickly missed seeing vast expanses of blue sky. We typically wore earplugs outside to protect against the noise, but for some reason, maybe unavailability or simple vanity, we never tried filter masks for the pollution.
The poor air quality really hit home when we were walking through a mall and saw what appeared to be a medical kiosk, with several people sitting in chairs breathing through plastic masks. It turned out that some clever entrepreneurs had turned the pollution to a profit by selling oxygen to shoppers, a literal breather before heading back outside.
At that time the discovery was a cultural experience and a shared laugh. Almost six years later, it ripened into the following poem:
Like ten minutes of breathing
Bought from a booth
On the mall esplanade
Against the diesel fumes and incense
Oppressing the lungs of the passersby
On Sukhumvit outside.