Looks like I spoke too soon about the beautiful weather. (Perhaps I jinxed it?) Not even one day after I wrote that blog post the weather changed from crisp, clear and beautiful to foggy. But not just any fog….the dreaded fog of Chinese pollution.
Living in southern China pollution is not something I have had to deal with. I mean, I’m sure I have on some level, but for the most part it is not noticeable, and people don’t talk about it. I’ve always thought my friends up north in Beijing and Harbin were total suckers for living there. But now I’m getting a taste of their life…quite literally. The pollution is so bad you can almost taste it. (“The pollution is the taste of China’s GDP” is a joke going around Chinese social media.)
So how bad is it? Well, there are a few measurements. One is AQI, the Air Quality Index. Acceptable levels are below 150. Anything above 150 is considered to be unhealthy, and everyone will feel the effects, especially those with health problems. Anything over 300 is considered extremely dangerous. The levels in my city these days? 500.
In fact, it could be higher than 500 but most measurements stop at 500, considering that so extremely high it is unlikely to reach that level. Well, not in China.
There is another pollution level gauge called PM2.5, or fine particle matter. That is, a measure of how thick the air is with particles of pollution. This causes stuff like fog and unclear conditions in the sky. PM2.5 are the most dangerous because they are small enough to easily be inhaled into your body and big enough to do damage. Anything over 50 is dangerous for people with respiratory problems or heart problems. They should be careful, stay inside, and not excercise. Anything over 100 is considered extremely dangerous for the general population (and people shouldn’t exercise or do anything that involves heavy breathing since you will inhale more of these particles).
Right now the reading is 261.
So what does living in this insane levels of pollution feel like? Well, everything is foggy. It’s a low, heavy fog that in some cases, you can see from the top floor of a skyscraper. The air feels sharp, like, burns your throat a bit. You know how when you’ve just run, or done exercise in the middle of winter and you breath the dry, cold air that kinda feels sharp on your throat? That’s how it feels here.
Most people are wearing masks, and not just the kind with cute patterns, or made from cloth like people usually do in the winter. People are wearing the heavy duty masks with air purifiers built into it. Like, a less scary version of the Bane costume from Batman.
There is also a strange smell on the air. Like, something is burning nearby, like a factory, but of course nothing is. I haven’t changed my habits or patterns due to the weather, but if I ran or did outdoor exercise I would definitely stop it this week until things get better. Also, people are walking around looking at the air quality apps. I took a bus to Hangzhou last night and I saw 3 people in my vicinity checking out the levels of pollution. Clearly a pretty serious problem people are thinking about. According to the weather report we will have a few more days of this, maybe a week, so I will try to stay indoors a bit more than normal, and try to leave for class early so I don’t have to run and be out of breath like normal, haha.
Of course there are plenty of jokes going around the internet based on this pollution. One is a guy from Shanghai goes to Mongolia, gets off the plane and immediately falls down, gasping for breath. The ambulance comes and tries to help him breath. “Where is he from?” the medic asks. “Shanghai,” a woman tells him. So the medic goes and hooks up a hose to the ambulances exhaust and pumps it directly into the mans face. The man takes deep breaths, is revived and says,” The air of my motherland! It is so good to breath!”
There are also some awesome monster pictures going around of Shanghai and Hangzhou being attacked. Here’s one as an example:
Hopefully this will be over soon and things will go back to normal. But I guess it is interesting to experience some of the chinese pollution. Kinda. Though I will be happy to not have to think about it anymore.
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