Can We Live Our Lives Without Blue Skies?

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One of the hardest things to get used to in Beijing was pollution. Of course I knew what I was getting into when deciding to move to this city. However, I was much more concerned that I won’t get to see the a blue sky everyday more than I was concerned with my health.

Come to think if it, nowadays I learnt to appreciate the blue sky. Every time I go back home for a visit, I stare at the sky like a crazy person and smile to myself. When you have something that is so trivial as breathing fresh air on a daily basis, you don’t really perceive it as something special. You take it for granted: Blue sky+ fresh air= Natural & trivial. This scenario is not a frequent site in Beijing, but when it does happen, you stare at the sky and thank god for this beautiful day.

Trying to protect yourself with a mask that filter the polluted air

Trying to protect yourself with a mask that filters the polluted air

After living in China for a while you begin to understand that you live in a communist country, where the government controls almost every aspect of the people’s daily life, including even the blue skies!

I’ll explain.  On badly polluted days or when there is a justified reason such as a VIP visit in the city, during the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the Chinese government shoots special rockets into the sky that create clouds and make it rain. This action clears up the polluted air and the city’s sky turns blue again. I know it’s sounds like fiction, but it’s true! I read about it and it’s a known method called “cloud seeding”.

A rainy day in Beijing

A rainy day in Beijing

They say that pollution can change your mood. You feel automatically unhappy and depressed. Well, in a country that needs to control over 1 billion people and to assure their happiness (god forbid any disobedience from the people), no wonder the government must take actions in order to please its residents. So once in a while, mostly during the holidays, the government controls the weather and “creates” a blue sky so that everybody is happy 🙂

So assuming I’m happy now, what about my health?

During my first year in China I smoked a lot! A pack of cigarettes costs 8 RMB, which is 1.3 USD. The great thing is that you can smoke everywhere you want, everyone is already smoking around you, they will always offer you a cigarette while they smoke and its even considered rude to not join someone while they are smoking. As a smoker you feel so free and “happy” with your cigarettes, which kind of makes China the “perfect land for smokers”. I was a light smoker for about 10 years, but when moving to China I had gone to a point where I smoked over 30 cigarettes a day!

One day with a high pollution and another has beautiful blue sky. The left photo- the CCTV building, the right photo is the view from my house | Click to enlarge

One day with a high pollution and another has beautiful blue sky. The left photo – the CCTV building, the right photo is the view from my house | Click to enlarge

One day after living in Beijing for a year, I was sitting at home and all of a sudden everything became blurry and I had weird flashes for about 10 (really long) minutes. I thought I was going to turn blind! A few minutes later, I had the worst headache of my life and I felt paralyzed. Immediately my boyfriend took me to the hospital, the Doctors took some test including a head CT and then said that everything seemed to be fine. Also my Doctor said that since I’m a heavy smoker I have higher chances of having a bleeding in my head, which is not visible through the head CT and suggested I get a lumbar puncture procedure.

The procedure wasn’t so bad and eventually everything was okay. I was just having my first severe migraine, which was probably an outcome of the pollution.

After this incident I told my boyfriend, a smoker as well, that “if we are planning on living here for 3 years while continuing to smoke the way we do and in combination with the high pollution, we return home 10 years physically older than we really are” At that moment my boyfriend put out his last cigarette and we didn’t touch one cigarette ever since. (It’s been one year, 2 month and 3 days, but who is counting?)

So, what can you do to fight the pollution?

  • Wear a mask (don’t know how much it really helps, but it makes your face warmer 🙂 )
  • Buy an air purifier for your house (the most expensive one!)
  • Stay more at home/office (great excuse!)
  • Don’t exercise outside (another great excuse!)
  • Don’t open your window (anyways most windows have a very small opening)
  • Pray for rain (or ask the government)
  • Don’t drive your car (anyway I can’t drive in China, easy for me to say)
  • Stop smoking (Done!)
  • Complain on social media networks; write articles about it and pray that someone will do something! (Done!)

My Chinese friend told me something that made me very happy. She said: “ I’m really glad that there are many expats living in our country now. Thanks to them, my government is forced to do something about the pollution in our country. Otherwise they would have swept it under the rug and we would have continued to live in the foggy pollution that would eventually kill us!”

What should the Government do?

There is a really good app (CN Air Quality) that provides the pollution rate in each city in China based on the US embassy database. The app even sends notifications when the pollution rates are high and advises not to leave your house. Nowadays, the Chinese government has started to publish stats on the pollution as well.  Their pollution rates are usually a bit lower than those of the American app, however we are all happy that the Chinese government is addressing this issue. Lately there have been some provisions by the government to find temporary solutions to lower the pollution rates.  The solution include that registered cars are banned from driving one day a week within the city and this day changes every quarter.

They have also cut the annual number of new cars available to registered drivers by 40%, increasing the usage of public transportation. Another effort to reduce pollution was by regulating a lower number of  street-side barbecues during this year’s prime grilling season, closing highways during high pollution rates, as well as shutting down some factories for a day a week.

The App shows a very high AQI levels that exceed 500 in Beijing

The App shows a very high AQI levels that exceed 500 in Beijing

All of that unfortunately will not solve the main reason of pollution, which is actually the production of coal. During winter time, in the North of China gets really cold between 0 and -40 degrees. Due to the severe low temperature the Chinese government provides free heating to every household that is located within the Northern border of the country.

Suzhou- a city in south of China that doesn’t have free heating and also suffers from heavy pollution

Suzhou- a city in south of China that doesn’t have free heating and also suffers from heavy pollution

The paradox is that the way to produce heating is by burning coal , which in result creates the heavy pollution. So, on one hand the government makes sure that the Northern population doesn’t freeze to death and on the other this results in high rates of pollution.   While Southern cities of China not only they are not provided with complimentary heating from the government but are also affected by the high pollution rates.

I don’t have more solutions but I do hope that in the near future someone will find better ones, so that everybody could breath fresh air, look at the blue sky and just be happy!

I love you China!

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Meirav 梅花 Shacked - The Israeli girl beyond the Great FireWall (of China). Currently living and working in Beijing, China for the last 3 years, Meirav is involve in the local Chinese online & social media scenes as well as the conventional global platforms. Meirav loves a good 'night out' at a chic KTV (karaoke) club as well as getting lost in Beijing old town alleys (Hutongs) while posting her adventures on Instagram (@meimarko). She might just be the only blonde who commutes daily in the Beijing subway, along with 12 million other Chinese passengers.

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