Friday, November 6, 2009



That's what the pollution index is today.

The only reason it is at 500 and not, say, 501, is that the scale stops at 500.

If this level of pollution were recorded in a city in the U.S., the city would grind to a halt. Schools would shut down. TV news stations would go into overdrive. No one is supposed to leave the house when the pollution is at this level: it's hazardous for everybody. If you were to check right now, you'd find that Bakersfield, CA, and Atlanta, GA, are both suffering from moderate levels of air pollution. That means the reading for those cities is between 50-100. At that level, the air quality is considered acceptable for almost all of the population. And those are among the top 5 worst polluted cities in the U.S. today.

I say again: we're at 500. My throat hurts. My eyes are burning as though I've been in a chlorinated pool all day. I'm dizzy. I'm coughing. I feel sick to my stomach.

What does it look like? Well, as I drove to the Embassy, I couldn't see buildings that I know are right next to the road. High rise buildings. Invisible. The sun, when it broke through the fog, was orange. Thick dirty fog to the horizon - which is only a few yards away on a day like today.

This is the one reason I can't wait to leave this country.



Ambrose said... [Reply]

I didn't get here until after Spring Festival, but my husband was already living in BJ last fall. He doesn't remember it being this bad last winter. You've been her a bit longer---is this worse than usual?

Shannon said... [Reply]

YUCK! Hope where ever you go next has cleaner skies, but then it would be harder to be worse wouldn't it?

Donna said... [Reply]

@Ambrose - Your husband has a bad memory, Jen - it was BAD here last winter, and the winter before. In the summer, it's usually worse downtown. But in the winter, when folks on the outskirts start to burn coal, it routinely hits 500. My first winter here, right around Christmas, there was a day when I was sitting in the Starbucks in Pinnacle Plaza, and I couldn't see the cars in the parking lot 10 feet away. That was probably the worst-looking day. But there have been other days when the index is bad but the skies are relatively clear. Was it as bad as this out where you are?

Donna said... [Reply]

@Shannon - I have my fingers crossed on a clean-air post next. But you're right: unless they send us to live in the tailpipe of a 1970s schoolbus, we're pretty much guaranteed to get cleaner air.

Z. Marie said... [Reply]

I think even the tailpipe of a bus would be cleaner than that. Ugh. I don't think I could take it.

Ambrose said... [Reply]

Ha! Wouldn't be the first time my husband's memory has been questioned. It is pretty bar out here, too. The other night walking to dinner we all were coughing terribly. The air tastes pretty gross, too. I keep trying to spin it in my head that, hey, at least it means we have heat!

Connie said... [Reply]

I hate air polltion. I hate it especially for my children. One thing about living at a post with bad air is that eventually, you get to leave.
I feel for those who cannot.

Linsey said... [Reply]

When you put up posts like these it makes me less than thrilled that Beijing is our next assignment. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the bits and pieces of your daily life there that you are willing to share. Further, I hope the air quality improves dramatically overnight.

Donna said... [Reply]

Hey Linsey - I didn't realize you were coming here next. Do you know where you'll live yet? Don't worry - the pluses far outweigh the minuses, and you'll never be bored. Of course, If you're a runner, you'll need to bring a mask with a HEPA filter in it. If you have specific questions, send 'em my way and I'll try to answer them for you.

globalgal said... [Reply]

Did you read James Fallows's article about this?
He's a real hero of mine! (He came to visit us for some research on aviation in China and I remember you said he spoke at the embassy - all-around great guy!)

Linsey said... [Reply]

Yes, we just found out and though we actually won't be there until summer 2012, if you don't mind I will take you up on your offer for additional information. I'm still in Caracas mode at the moment, but as I think of things I'd love to get your perspective/advice/recommendations etc.

Donna said... [Reply]

@Linsey, when you're ready with your questions, drop me a line with your email address (it doesn't show up here) and I'll be happy to type your ear off.

Please. Write your own stuff.