My start date at school this year (staff start not with students) was August 8th. Which is annoyingly early but ensures the break in October and the break in February that I wouldn’t get in the States. But since I have been back at school Beijing has had pretty much nothing but blue sky days. This is enough of a rarely that it has been included in every conversation that I have had in China for the last month. “OMG! The air is so beautiful.” Ect., ect., ect..
You hear so much about Beijing and it’s constant pollution. When I am visiting the US or Germany and people find out that I am living in China it is one of the first things that they ask about. After, “Why?” in that puzzled way that defies any kind of answer. When you look up travel to China online the air almost invariable comes up. It is as if we think that the air is going to dissolve us down to our bones if we go out in it.
Honestly, it was my number one concern before moving here. I took the job in at the London fair and then spent the rest of my 30 minutes to sign forms (OMG so many) and ask about the pollution. I was semi convinced that I was going to come down with black lung or something (I had chest and sines issue already. Thanks allergies).
But the pollution never turned into the huge deal that I imagined. My husband and I (along with the rest of Beijing’s expats) downloaded an app that gives us the aqi as measured by the US embassy (which is sometimes slightly different that the Chinese reporting) and pretty much obsessively check it. I check it when I am not in China just because I want to know what the air is like. I am that obsessed.
And it really isn’t that constant. It is linked to the weather and in winter when the coal heating makes it all the worse. I lived in Ulaanbataar, Mongolia which is actually the second most polluted air in the world behind Ahvaz, Iran. But I didn’t know that at the time. I never gave a thought to the air while I was there. Or nothing more than a passing thought. Mostly, I was cold and I can remember being able to see the air pollution. When I came home for Christmas the first time and opened my suitcase everything smelled of coal smoke. I smelled of coal smoke. It was so constant and pervasive in winter that I didn’t even notice it any more. I notice it in Beijing because it rarely lasts more than a couple days before the wind shifts, the numbers drop and the sky turns a brilliant blue.
Interestingly enough it was when we visited India that I noticed the pollution having an effect on me. The pollution in New Delhi is consistently higher than in Beijing and is also significantly skewed towards larger particle pollution. I found that I felt a ton of pressure on my chest almost every time that we walked around in India. This had never happened to me in China. The worst that I have dealt with here (even in the highest pollution that I have experienced) was being able to taste the pollution and having my eyes burn a little.
We have masks. My husband (who tends to be in charge of these things) spent a couple of weeks researching the different brands and styles. We ended up with Vogmasks. They filter 90% of the pollution, are reusable up to 80 times (you can tell when they need to be replaced. Ew.). There is a disposable 3M one that filters 99% but they only last about three times and aren’t super comfortable. Plus, Vogmasks have allowed my husband to indulge his inner child and but the monkey king pattern. Because, why not?
When we moved out of the “serviced apartment” that the school had us housed in for our first two months here we had already bought two air purifiers. The Swedish brand BluAir is the most common in Beijing and we bought two of them (one for our main living room and the other for our bedroom) even though they were pricey. So pricey. Did I really just pay 1500$ for that, pricey. But I have found that it is worth it. I am reasonably sure that the air in my apartment is as clean as I can get it and I am pretty sure that means that I am not getting sick as often.
My school also the BluAir filters. One in every classroom. Last year Beijing actually shut schools down (including mine) because of the air. The interesting part about that is that the air actually wasn’t “that bad” or at least it wasn’t as compared to the year before. My school has exerted so much time and effort this last year making sure that my work environment is never above an aqi of 10. The bus that I take has an air filter on it. This means that I spend about 95 percent of the time in air that is as clean as in the States or Germany.
Just something to keep in mind the next time you ask me, “Is the pollution really that bad?”
Disclaimer: My husband wants to make sure that all of you readers know that this information was from when he was researching after we first moved here and may be outdated.