Saturday, March 21, 2009

Beijing Pollution Myths & Truths

Its hard to keep a city of 12.5 million sparkling fresh, but Beijing does a pretty good job all things considered.

Coming from Philadelphia, I was pleasantly surprised to find city streets that were well-maintained, and almost completely devoid of pot-holes and garbage. It was rare in Philadelphia to walk around the art museum area or manayunk and not come into contact with dozens of dog-made land-mines. In Beijing however, they really seem to have their doggie-litter problem under control.

During certain hours, you can see people with sticks and brooms cleaning the sidewalks or electric street sweepers. I've asked around and it seems that the cleaning crews are part voluntary and part paid. There is a lot of pride here.

Of course, when I mention pollution, most people don't think about the streets. They think about the skies. And they'd be right if they said that Beijing has a bit of an air pollution problem.

Those of you who know me at all are aware that my sinuses were crafted by the devil himself to annoy me and those close to me and my allergies were once on temporary display at the "worst things ever" museum in eastern Manitoba. As such, Beijing's airborne pollutants can lead to some problems.

Since I've been here, I've only had once sinus infection (best I can tell). Interestingly enough, that infection disappeared the moment my plane landed in Bangkok. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Word on the street is that the government, pre and post Olympics is engaging in a handful of regulations to crack down on the pollution and it is actually not as bad as its been in the past. This is probably true and the percent of smog days has been relatively low compared to what I was prepared for.

But to give you all a better idea about what I talk, I am providing you with the simple pollution barometer that Veronica and I use every morning. Each day, we wake up and look out our window at Beijing. Depending on how far we can see, we determine how long we can be outside before needing our lungs replaced. See below.

Beijing is actually fairly close to a mountain range. If we can see the mountains, the day is beautiful and clear.
chinese pollution

However, if we can only see a few hundred meters of high rises, we are probably in for a bit of respiratory troubles.
beijing pollution

I will have to add a picture later, but on some days, we find it difficult to make out the other buildings in our own complex.

Oh, and you can't let a blue sky fool you. The blue sky can soar high above the pollution below. There is an ancient poem about it:

Far below
the blue
of sky
plus coal factories.