Oh, what an ominous morning

I really wanted to go running outside this morning.

I’ve got a Chinese lesson in two hours, and my brain seems to function better after a long, hard run. I’m also making progress in losing weight, down more than 15 pounds from a year ago.

But when I peeled back the curtain to check the weather, my hopes for a quick workout were dashed. After a couple of blue-sky days last week, the pollution is back. Buildings a couple of blocks away from my apartment are barely visible from my ninth-floor window. The air is a grayish white.

The view from my bedroom window this morning.

The view from my bedroom window this morning.

The latest message from the US embassy, which monitors air pollution and releases readings hourly through its Twitter feed, said the air today is hazardous. The embassy rates air quality based on the amount of PM2.5 in the air – fine particles that are 2.5 micrometers in diameter and smaller. Common sources are power plants, industries and automobiles, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

I’m used to this by now: this process of getting up, looking out the window and checking the US embassy’s Twitter feed – all so I can make an informed decision about whether I can run outside without damaging my health. Continue reading

Vanishing into thick air

My biggest complaint about Beijing is the pollution. Nothing saps the energy out of me first thing in the morning quite like looking out the window and not being able to see a building that I could probably hit with a baseball. It’s depressing and bad for my health.

But I put up with it because I live near the heart of a booming metropolis. Public transportation is great. The food is cheap. And, when I need a respite from the congested streets and noisy shopping markets, there are plenty of art museums and well-maintained parks to get lost in.

I recently traveled to Tai’an, in the eastern province of Shandong, to climb one of China’s holiest Buddhist mountains with a friend from college. We left in the morning, on a high-speed train from Beijing’s South Railway Station. A light haze hung over the city. Continue reading

Beijing’s indefinite particles

The skies were brilliant blue the day I arrived in Beijing. From the street, you could see the tops of skyscrapers. And from the tops of skyscrapers, you could see the outline of jagged mountains on the horizon.

This kind of visibility wasn’t normal, and sure enough within a few days, a haze began to set over the city. The tops of tall buildings disappeared in the smog. The air became heavier, and I found it harder to breathe, especially when I exercised outside, which I like to do. Cars in my neighborhood that hadn’t been moved for days became coated in residue of some kind. If you left a window open at your home, the dust seeped in and settled on the floor.

The view from the 9th floor of my apartment building on a clear day.

The view from the 9th floor of my apartment building on a polluted day.

You get used to the pollution after a while, at least the sight of it. I treat it as a trade-off for living in a rapidly developing land of opportunity, where jobs for college-educated expats are in high demand.

Continue reading