I think we have all seen vision on television or on film of Chinese people wearing surgical masks, or something that resembles surgical masks. I have always wondered why, and perhaps this post will give some explanation.
I remember asking a student once about it and he said in a rather vague way that he thought they were suffering from some disease. In typical Chinese style if it is not in "their radar" or they have no need to know, they just don't know.
Of course in supermarkets or in health centres masks are worn. In the supermarkets if the staff work with food (butchers, hot box, rice wine etc) the staff will wear masks, and of course doctors and nurses wear them in medical centres. The latter is to be expected.
Now the cold weather is here many more people wear them. I now know it is because of the cold. I can tell from first hand experience that the cold air in one's mouth can cause a sensitive tooth to ache. If one is riding a bicycle, or a motorised vehicle the cold air rushing into the mouth and nose can be uncomfortable.
In the last few weeks I've seen wonderful designer masks - complete with little flowers on them. Coloured masks with decorations. Quite cute really.
So now when I see Chinese folk wearing masks, I will not automatically think that they have some health problem, although I do know that some folk will add a mask to their daily wear if they do have a "cold" or want to prevent one.