Clockwise from bottom left:
Isabella Stern, 17 years old, Taiwan/UK, has lived in Beijing for eight months
Evan Smith, 18 years old, UK, has lived in Beijing for four years
Exir Kamalabadi, 19 years old, China/Iran/US, has lived in Beijing for three months
Emma Jade Wang, 18 years old, UK/China, has lived in Beijing for 18 years
It’s the Beijing conversation topic that never dies: air pollution. For many worried parents, the use of air purifiers and masks, and checking the AQI on an hourly basis are a grim but necessary routine. But what does the younger generation think about living behind a hazy veil? We turned to four Harrow International School Beijing students for clarity on Beijing’s particulate matters.
What do you think of Beijing’s air quality?
Exir: I used to have asthma. When I first got here, it got really
aggravated. I felt really bad for a whole month. I lived in Shanghai before, where the air quality is comparatively better, so it was quite shocking how bad I felt when I first came here.
Evan: I heard on CNN that it’s the equivalent of smoking 20 cigarettes a day. I’m not sure how accurate that is, but that’s pretty gross.
Emma: I’ve lived in Beijing my entire life, and I don’t think it’s ever been as bad as it’s been this year. I went to Denmark a few weeks ago and everyone there knew about the pollution in Beijing. If everyone around the world knows about it, that’s really bad.
Does your family have air purifiers? Do you think they’re useful?
Evan: No. I’ve lived in Beijing for four years now and everyone makes such a big deal about the air pollution, but if you live here, then you’ve just got to get on with it. You can’t change it, so why worry about it?
Isabella: Yes, we have three. There’s no difference when it’s on or off, to be honest.
Exir: We have three, too. I don’t know if air purifiers actually improve the air quality or not.
Do you worry about any of the long-term consequences of air pollution?
Evan: Not really. I’m too young to be thinking long-term.
Emma: Not really. When it’s really bad, sometimes you don’t want to walk around outside without covering your face, but you don’t think “Oh, I’m going to get cancer because of this.”
Isabella: I’m more concerned about how many people smoke inside, because the pollution doesn’t really bother me that much compared to that.
Do your parents worry about air pollution?
Evan: My mom does. But it’s just [a conversation topic], like, “Oh, the AQI is 300 today. Crazy!”
Emma: My mom worries too; if it’s really bad before I go to school, she’s like, “I think you need to put on one of these face masks.” I wear the mask if it’s really bad, but most of the time, I don’t.
Exir: My parents just accept it, because they think it’s just part of life.
Does the pollution ever have an effect on how you feel emotionally, especially since there’s less sunlight?
Evan: I start crying a lot when it’s polluted out. Uncontrollable
Emma: I feel less motivated. I don’t want to do anything.
Isabella: I actually like miserable weather, so I feel really cozy when it’s really polluted.
Do you think that schools should be canceling outdoor activities when the AQI is really high?
Evan: I’m on the football team and we’ve had to cancel practice like five times recently because the pollution’s been too high, but it’s pretty much always bad, so what’s the point in canceling? Then we don’t get to do anything outside.
Isabella: It does have an effect on [my]lungs when I run. If I had to run a race and the AQI was above 300, I really wouldn’t want to do that.
Emma: The bottom line is pollution is just unhealthy, so why would a school allow people to run around outside if it’s unhealthy?
Exir: People with health problems usually find it more difficult when they’re exerting themselves, so I think it’s wise to keep things indoors.
Do you ever check the hourly readings? Does it affect whether or not you go outside?
Evan: I check it like once a day. If it’s 700 outside, I’m not going out, but if it’s 300, I’ll go out.
Emma: Not hourly; that’s a bit obsessive. I check it out of curiosity, just to see what it’s doing.
Exir: I just look at the sky. Usually, you can tell just by how it smells and how it feels.
Isabella: I used to check it, but when it was over 800 a few weeks ago, I checked and it said 400, so I think it’s really dodgy.
Should Beijing do anything to reduce the air pollution? What should they do?
Evan: It’s difficult to do anything when you have such a heavily populated city, with such a reliance on cars and public transport, which emits a lot of pollution. There’s not much you can do, is there?
Exir: I think Beijing should keep developing its subway system and make it run 24 hours, and find a way to make it more expensive for private cars to drive.
Isabella: I think there should be more buses. I take the bus wherever I go and they’re so full that no one can get on, so I find myself wishing that I could drive.
Emma: I think China is wondering what to do, because even if they take cars off the road it’s still going to be polluted. If they’re going to change one thing, they’re going to have to change something else. I don’t think anyone knows how to fix it.
Does the air pollution make you want to leave Beijing?
Evan: I think there’s a mass exodus of foreigners because of the air pollution. I’ve been here four years now and I’m getting to that point where I’m getting sick and tired of pollution.
Emma: Once I get my degree at Harrow, I’m out of Beijing. I’ve lived here my whole life and [pollution has]never really bothered me. But this year it’s been too much, and now I’m planning on moving to Singapore for university.
Isabella: Beijing has so many other good qualities that I don’t think the pollution could drive me away.
Exir: I’m going to be studying abroad regardless of the pollution, but my family is definitely staying in Beijing. [They’re] attached to China; they like living here.
photo by Mitchell Pe Masilun