With such rapid technological change and economic growth in Beijing, an increasing number of families are opting to move here. From cosmopolitan restaurants and shopping malls to ancient temples, the city’s exciting and versatile options will guarantee that your family will never be bored. However, it may come as no surprise that there are some cautionary measures to take while living in such a unique city. Take heart; following a few simple rules will ultimately enhance rather than take away from your time in Beijing.
Beijing has notoriously high pollution levels, due to the dense traffic and large population. The World Health Organization ranks China as having the highest risk of air pollution in the world. However, there are preventative actions that can be taken to protect you and your family.
When moving to Beijing, you should get into the habit of checking the Air Quality Index (AQI). If the levels are over 300, then stay indoors as much as possible. Children are particularly at risk, since their lungs are still developing. For a reliable reading, check the US Embassy website or the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center, whose readings both include PM2.5, or fine particulate matter.
Guillaume Zagury, chief medical officer and head of family medicine at the newly-opened OASIS Healthcare, says the main sufferers are asthmatics. He suggests always carrying an inhaler and avoiding travel during peak hours, when pollution levels are at their highest.
If you cannot avoid being out at times when the traffic is busy or you enjoy riding your bike, there are face masks that are effective air filters. “If somebody wants to wear a mask, then the N95 is suitable. [It] creates a barrier through which bacteria as small as one micron in diameter cannot pass,” says Zagury. These are available on websites such as Taobao, Beijing Home Delivery, and Amazon.
Don’t assume that being indoors gives you the all-clear from air pollution. To combat indoor pollution, consider investing in an air purifier. Popular brands include IQ Air, Alen and, Blueair.
One of the first health concerns that
foreigners will encounter is the issue of safe drinking water. There have been many complaints from local sources stating that pollution affects tap water in the form of chemicals such as fluoride and arsenic. In other words, tap water in China is not good for drinking. “International standards are usually not reached with the tap water and can lead to some infections,” says Zagury.
Kaz Michalak has been living in Beijing since July 2003. When it comes to his 5-year-old daughter and 7-month-old son, he takes no risks with this issue and the family sticks to bottled water. Bottled water is available everywhere at RMB 2 per bottle and the cost is around RMB 16-18 per unit when purchasing a large jug for your water dispenser. Another option is installing a water filter on your kitchen tap, which can extract any harmful chemicals and create a constant flow of healthy water. Aquasana is a trusted brand among expats; the company sells filters for the sink, as well as the shower.
Beijing is renowned for its food, being a cosmopolitan city that features famous dishes from all over China. But it is no secret that food safety should be looked out for, especially all-too-frequent scandals concerning meat, dairy products, and cooking oil. Many restaurants use MSG in their food, which has been known to cause allergic reactions in some. Fortunately, food safety is becoming a top priority for locals and expats alike. This year, Beijing’s local government promises to tighten up on food safety control, including a lifetime ban on working with food for any offenders.
To avoid any averse reactions when eating out, ask for your food to be cooked without MSG. Qing bufang weijing (请不放味精) means “Please don’t add MSG.” When it comes to cooking at home, Zagury suggests washing and cooking veggies, pasta and rice with distilled water. He adds, “Be careful when you buy fish, meat and dairy products, as the [refrigeration process]is often not respected.” Michalak recommends sidestepping products you are unsure of by ordering imported organic meats and provisions online or through internationally-recognized chains like Carrefour.
There is also a range of organic farms in and around Beijing, including Green Cow Organic Farm and Little Donkey Farm, where vegetables are grown without pesticides. While some of Green Cow Organic Farm’s produce is reserved for its CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) members, about 50 percent is sent to its restaurant, Mrs. Shanen’s Bagels. There’s also De Run Wu, a local Buddhist farm and organic shop that stocks chemical-free juices and foods, along with natural healthcare products.
Many people moving to Beijing will be aware of the media attention highlighting the issue of lead-based paints in China. Research conducted in 2006 by health experts at the University of Cincinnati exposed China’s toy exports, as millions of toys were found to contain harmful levels of lead. Even though this issue has faded from public view over the years, there are still precautions that all families ought to take when purchasing toys for their young ones. Many of the cheaply produced toys have small parts that are easily breakable and can be swallowed by small children. Check the condition of the toy and look out for things like peeling paint and splintering wood.
That said, Michalak says he has never had any problems when shopping for his two children. He advises: “To stay safe, buy brands that you are familiar with, like Chicco. In Beijing, these are all available [at]stores such as Mothercare, where you can trust what you are buying. You may be paying slightly more, but with young children, you can’t afford to take any chances.”
The UC study also exposed ceramic dishes in China that contained lead-based paints. Though these findings are six years old, stick to places
like Ikea for kitchenware to be on the safe side (see Directory under Shopping for details).
When Michalak first arrived in Beijing, he would buy clothes from local markets, but he stopped when he realized the material was “like sandpaper.” Although Zagury has seen no instances of patients going to the hospital due to the quality of certain clothes, it doesn’t hurt to be wary. Prevent unexpected skin reactions by buying from trustworthy brands.
Beijing has big retailers like Zara, Uniqlo, H&M, and Gap, the latter two of which have children’s sections (see Directory under Shopping for details).
Taking these precautions might seem like a hassle, but they are important to ensure that your family has a fulfilling (and safe) experience in Beijing.
Beijing Home Delivery
Daily 9am-6pm. (189 0126 9083, email@example.com)
US Embassy in Beijing
Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center
US-based Alen Corp. offers two air purifier models (the Paralda HEPA Air Purifier for RMB 4,980 and the A375UV Multi-Gas HEPA Air Purifier for RMB 5,980), as well as whole-house packages and filter replacements. (5979 8115) www.alencorpchina.com
IQ Air sells a wide range of residential and commercial air filters starting from RMB 12,800. Their best-selling model is the HealthPro 250, which retails for RMB 14,980. 1) 5/F, Household Appliance Area, Youyi Shopping City, 52 Liangma Qiao Lu, Chaoyang District (158 0136 1601, firstname.lastname@example.org) www.iqair-china.com
朝阳区亮马桥路52号燕莎友谊商城5层; 2) 4/F, Europlaza, 99
Yuxiang Lu, Tianzhu, Shunyi District (6457 1922, email@example.com) www.iqair-china.com 顺义区天竺镇裕翔路99号欧陆广场4层 See Directory for more locations.
Torana Clean Air Center
Torana Clean Air Center is the official distributor of Blueair air filters in China, with prices ranging from RMB 1,888 to RMB 10,782. Torana also carries Alen air purifiers, Totobobo pollution masks, and humidifiers. Daily 10am-8.30pm. Unit L110, 1/F, Europlaza Mall, 99 Yuxiang Lu, Tianzhu, Shunyi District (8459 0785, firstname.lastname@example.org) www.toranacleanair.com 顺义区天天竺镇裕翔路99号欧陆广场L110
De Run Wu 德润屋
Strawberry Fields, Xinzhuang, Xingshou Town, Changping District (8459 0809, email@example.com) 昌平区兴寿镇辛庄草莓园
Little Donkey Farm 小毛驴市民农园
Houshajian Village West, Sujiatuo Town, Haidian District (138 1095 6036, firstname.lastname@example.org) 海淀区苏家坨镇后沙涧村西
Green Cow Organic Farm 绿牛有机农庄
Donggezhuang (10 min north of the International Exhibition Center), Houshayu Zhen, Shunyi District (8046 4301, 135 0113 6920) 顺义区北京绿牛有机农场（北京京承高速与机场北线交汇处的东北方向董各庄附近）
Mrs. Shanen’s Bagels 单太太贝谷面包房
Sun-Thu 7.30am-8pm, Fri-Sat 7.30am-8.30pm. 5 Kaifa Jie, Xibaixinzhuang (next to Capital Paradise), Shunyi District (8046 4301) 顺义区西白辛庄开发街5号 (紧邻名都园)
For other listings, consult the Directory.