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

Sometimes I get the red, white and blues

On June 12, the US Embassy in Beijing sent out an e-mail warning Americans to be careful at nightclubs in Beijing. It said that an embassy employee was attacked by a group of Chinese on June 9 at a club near Workers Stadium, a popular bar area and expat hangout.

“The employee, who was out with some colleagues, was hit in the head with a sharp object as he was dancing away from the group,” the e-mail said. “According to witnesses, the employee fell to the floor and was repeatedly beaten and kicked in the head by individuals serving as bouncers for the nightclub. By all accounts, the attack was unprovoked.”

Workers Stadium in Beijing. The US Embassy said one of their employees was attacked at a nightclub on the west side of the stadium. (Photo by Jason Walsh via Wikipedia)

The attack wasn’t the first targeting US citizens, the embassy said, adding that “maintaining an awareness of your surroundings and keeping a low profile are critical to avoiding potential problems.”

Asking a foreigner in Beijing – especially those who look and sound very different from the Chinese – to keep a low profile is a bit like asking a cricket marching in a pack of ants to blend in. It’s just not going to happen. Foreigners make up less than 1 percent of the city’s 20 million residents. We stand out wherever we go. Sometimes that’s a good thing, and sometimes it’s not. Continue reading