Saturday, January 10, 2015


I was really lucky that it was so clear when I climbed the Great Wall. I left Beijing on the 27th of December on the train and I could not see a lot when I looked out the windows. This was because the air quality index (AQI) was high. In other words, there was a lot of pollution in the air.

This is an ongoing problem throughout all of China, not just Beijing. The problem also includes Shanghai.

(The picture to the left is from a tall hotel in the financial district in Pudong. I was unaware it was even a bad AQ day until I saw out the window of the 84th floor).

While in my hostel in Beijing I had the news channel on. It was the only channel that was in English. I heard a lot of the same news over and over again. One piece of news was about a meeting that took place that had China identifying that the AQI was a problem and that they had plans to reduce the pollution in the air. They did not reveal exactly what the plans were, just that they were planning on enforcing them from now on.

The Air Quality Index is a useful tool to show how bad the pollution is. I don't understand all the jargon about PM2.5, but what I do understand is the higher the index number, the worse the pollution is.

The scale goes like this:

 0-50 is good
51-100 is moderate
101-150 is unhealthy for sensitive groups
151-200 is unhealthy
201-300 is very unhealthy
301 + is hazardous

The last few days have had particularly poor air quality in Shanghai and throughout different cities. Right now (Sunday morning) it sits at a 267, well into the very unhealthy range. Yesterday it was pretty much the same. I went to the grocery store and had a slight headache. I can't be sure that had anything to do with the air quality or not but I'll be trying to stay indoors when the AQI is so high just to be sure.

That is what happens if it is too high at school, the students must play inside. I think anything in the unhealthy range and the students must stay inside. We stayed inside on Friday because of the AQI. Throughout the school year so far, there have been somewhere between 5 and 10 indoor play days due to smog.

From reports I have been reading, it is getting better, although only slightly. It will be interesting to see what can be done to reduce the pollution in such large cities. I know Metro lines are continually expanding. Ideally that will reduce smog levels because less people will drive, but I am not sure if that is true, or if it is big enough to make a real impact.

Some of this information is not available to the general public. Sometimes the readings the US embassy has on the AQI is much higher than what China releases. The US reports are often censored as well. On some really bad days last February, employees were banned from talking about the pollution on social media.

In class this week we were having a discussion and stars were mentioned. One of my students said there are no stars in Shanghai. I found this interesting, I never noticed before that I haven't seen any stars. I don't even remember seeing the moon. On Friday the sun looked like the moon because of the haze.

There are lots of different euphemisms for the pollution. Often it is inaccurately referred to as fog. It can also be called smog. I think most commonly it is referred to as haze. Even in the weather forecast a bad pollution day is considered hazy. Calling it high AQ also seems less harsh.

Last year February was the worst month. I'm curious to see if that trend continues, and what China will be doing to reduce these readings.

Hopefully on May 16th the air quality in Beijing is low. I have started training to run my first marathon in the area. I'm not a runner, but I do want to be a little more active. I get bored of using treadmills at the gym, so I am using the marathon and the accomplishment of running one as extra motivation. Plus the run is along the Great Wall, which will be a great experience and is the main reason I want to complete the marathon.

For more information on the run you can check out the website. If you are interested yourself, you could even join me!

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