Postcards from (smoggy) Beijing

Pollution levels reached "hazardous" levels in Beijing on Saturday. Some scientists have labled Beijing as "unlivable" because of the poor air quality in the city.

Air pollution reached “hazardous” levels in Beijing on Saturday. Some scientists have labeled the city as “unlivable” because of the poor air quality.

Pollution masks have become a necessity in the capital. I started wearing them a couple of years, after I noticed that I was getting sore throat and coughs more frequently.

Pollution masks have become a part of everyday life in the capital. I started wearing them a couple of years ago, after I bought a bike and began using it to commute around the city.

View of suburban Beijing from a subway car. Some scientists have labeled the city as "unlivable" because of the poor air quality.

View of suburban Beijing from a subway car. An Australian soccer player who spent a year in China told the magazine FourFourTwo that playing in the smog “was like closing your garage door, turning your car exhaust on and running around in the enclosed space.”

 

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Fly the smoggy skies

This is your Captain speaking. It’s 4:30 p.m. local time, March 6, 2024, and we’re beginning our descent into Beijing, although you could never tell by looking out the window. Visibility is at 5 feet and shrinking. The weather forecast calls for cancer-causing smog, followed overnight by acid rain.

Masks will be dropping from the ceiling in the next couple of minutes, but don’t be alarmed. If your final destination is Beijing, you must put on a World Health Organization-approved pollution mask before leaving the airport. If you’re traveling with a small child, please make sure their mask is properly secured before putting yours on.

Smog.

Beijing, from 20,000 feet.

Our cabin crew will be going around in a few minutes to hand out anti-acid tablets. Unlike the masks, these aren’t required, but I highly advise taking a few just in case that lamb meat you order for lunch turns out to be diseased rat. That actually happened to me once, and I got so bloated that I looked like a woman pregnant with twins in her third trimester.

Pollution masks fall from the ceiling. A few people who were asleep during the announcement scream, but quickly calm down after they realize the plane hasn’t lost cabin pressure; they’re just landing in Beijing.

A few more things to tell you while we prepare for landing. Recently, there have been scandals involving baby formula, bottled water, fruit and vegetables containing high levels of pesticide, recycled cooking oil … (turns to co-pilot, voice barely audible: Bob, I know I’m forgetting something) … oh, and fresh air in a can. If, like me, you have a pulse, then you’re probably concerned about at least one of these things. However, all of these items are for sale in our duty-free catalog and can be purchased using Mastercard or Visa.

One more reminder: if you’re outside and your mask gets undone, don’t run. Just lie on the ground and dial 120. Medical personnel with oxygen tanks will respond within minutes to assist you.

It’s been a pleasure having you on board, and we hope you enjoy your stay in Beijing.

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