Our ongoing Breathless in Beijing series continues with Elisabeth Koch, owner and hat maker at her own Elisabeth Koch Millinery in Glory Gardens Club House on XingFuCun ZhongLu (near Big Smoke). Below she tells us about insulating her home from the smog, appreciating her hometown’s lushly fresh air, and relishing Beijing’s blue sky days with her children, six-year-old Bernadette van Lawick van Pabst and four-year-old Diederik van Lawick van Pabst.
At home we have three Blueair purifiers. They’re on 24/7. We change the filters every six months, buying new filters on Taobao.
To keep the air fresh at home, I bought a few plants. We have some mother-in-law’s tongue plants, because I heard that they are great for cleaning the air. Also, for the first time in eight years, I used tape this winter around edges of our windows, because even when they’re closed and locked there’s still a near centimeter gap in some spots that cannot be closed all the way, where the air still blows through. So I bought a huge roll and spent hours taping the windows up.
When we’re roaming around Beijing and the AQI is over 200, I get my kids to wear masks. We have lots of masks, but we typically use the throwaway 3M ones, or the better quality Vog masks. But it’s hard to get our kids to keep the masks on, because they find them uncomfortable and hard to breathe in.
My kids go to school at Ivy and Daystar, which are both incredibly outfitted to deal with pollution. Both campuses also have really well thought out protocols for when the pollution is high, and they have their staff carefully assigned to manage every step of it. Their filtration and ventilation systems are good, with fresh air coming in and out.
I’ve never kept my kids home on heavy pollution days, because I know how rigorous their schools are about keeping the air clean. It never crossed my mind to keep them home. I know they have indoor playrooms with purifiers, so the air quality is probably better at their schools than at home.
My children are quite small, four and six years old. Our apartment is high up, so we can see clearly when the pollution is heavy. If it’s on a weekend or holiday then I’ll just tel them "Oh, it’s a bad day," and we’ll just do indoor activities. It doesn’t really hinder us from having fun.
On blue sky days I like to take my kids to cultural sites that they haven’t been to yet. Last year, on a nice day, I took them to the Lama Temple, and another time we went to the hill behind Tiananmen, and walked up to look at the pagodas and the Buddha. We also like to go to Houhai when it’s nice out.
I’m grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. It may be a big big city, but it still has huge forests nearby. I know every tree in the woods near my home, and it has a creek that I loved to visit. It’s so lush there, almost like a tropical rain forest at certain times of the year, with vines and snakes and all sorts of animals. I’d definitely bottle the air from those woods and spray it in my Beijing home on smoggy days, if I could.
Photos: courtesy of Elisabeth Koch