Learning to Breathe




Air quality in China

The one thing I took for granted in America was clean air. Since moving to China, clean air is hard to come by. Every morning before class, I check several APPs to cross-reference the air report. The air quality index (0-500) is separated into several categories: good (0-50), moderate (51-100), unhealthy for sensitive groups (101-150), unhealthy (151-200), very unhealthy (201-300), and hazardous (301-500).

Some of the days where the AQI is very high.

The AQI  has ranged from 51-300+ for most of my stay so far.  When the AQI reports 150 and above I opt to stay indoors. If I absolutely have to go outside (either for class or to go to the canteens) I wear a mask with a filter. Masks with N95 filters are necessary since the primary pollutant is PM 2.5. Other masks without this are practically useless as they don’t actually filter the air you breathe in. Somedays buildings that are normally visible are hiding behind this layer of gray smog or the moon is a faint glow in the night sky.

Gray skies mean it is time to whip out the N95 masks.

One day, my study abroad program organized this trip to a part of the Great Wall of China called 慕田峪(Mùtiányù). I was really looking forward to this trip because this is a well-preserved section of the Great Wall and is practically free of tourists. It also has a cable cart feature that takes you up the wall (if you’re feeling lazy) and down (for when you’ve exhausted all your energy). The best feature by far is a scenic toboggan ride down. I recently bought an action camera and wanted to test it out on the toboggan ride but when I woke up that morning my throat and nose felt absolutely nasty. That day, the AQI report and it was 300+. Since I was already feeling under the weather I didn’t want to further jeopardize my health. So I, unfortunately, skipped out on this opportunity.

Since I didn’t go on the Great Wall trip here are some days where buildings that are normally visible are hiding behind the smog.

Sometimes, the AQI is consistently high throughout the week which makes it hard to be productive. Since my rule of thumb is to stay indoors when it is atrocious outside I am limited to my room. Staying in my tiny dorm for several days in a row gets very boring! You can only study Chinese characters for so long before characters start to look the same or your brain loses focus. It is also hard to motivate yourself to do anything productive when your bed is tempting you with naps.

Although the air quality can be very bad, Beijing does have very beautiful days. About a week ago, I visited 圆明园(Yuánmíngyuán) The Old Summer Palace, and it was a gorgeous day.

Willow trees at the Old Summer Palace changing colors and a beautiful blue sky.

This was about a 20-minute walk from my dorm and has the ruins preserved from when the British and French destroyed it in 1860.

Old Summer Palace ruins.

I am very grateful for the good days and try my best to make them worthwhile.