I was planning to take my children out to watch a play last weekend until I saw the news via The Beijinger: “Red Alert Declared for Beijing’s Air, Dec 16-20.”
Crap. Here we go again, I thought to myself. Pollution isn’t uncommon in the capital, but a “red alert” announcement was. Worried even more than usual, I decided to cancel our playdates.
The general rule of thumb is to NOT let the AQI (Air Quality Level) go beyond 50 while at home. My air purifier will go on full blast if I see the AQI level on my egg approach 100, which is the maximum for what is considered as “healthy” for my kids. (If you’d like to understand this more, click here.)
Based on the new regulations, a “Red Alert” status means one of three things. The first is that the AQI level will reach over 200 for at least 4 days. The second is when the AQI level is above 300 for two days in a row. The third is if it becomes higher than 500 over any 24-hour period. It is definitely the second, and not just for two days in a row. (Update: I just read earlier today from Shanghai Expat Official that some places reached 1000 yesterday.)
As I shared in in a past Nihao Beijing post, living in Beijing has its perks as well. But the white wall of Particulate Matter (a.k.a. PM) reels in that traveler in me. So on those high AQI days, the kids and I stay at home.
Unfortunately, hiding within the four corners of my home isn’t enough. One needs defenses against the wretched white fog. Two must-haves for all Beijing homes are air purifiers and the Laser Egg.
Blue Air is the most popular choice for those who can afford and are willing to shell out a few thousand RMB’s. The much, much cheaper alternative, Xiaomi, is currently being hounded by allegations of failing quality inspection according to The Waijiao. Simply put, there’s a hefty price tag on clean air here in Beijing.
The Laser egg is an air pollution meter device invented by Beijing expats. Some expats I’ve spoken to carry their egg (as it is fondly called) around everywhere just to see what exactly they’re breathing in. It is small enough to be held in one hand but might not fit into a lady’s purse. It’s quite reliable, and one of the things I will definitely bring home with me when I move back.
For cab-goers like myself, the state-owned Shouqi Yueche cab service has their own purifiers. As you might have already expected, they also cost a bit more than your average Beijing taxi.
Oh wait, let’s not forget the masks. It’s very hard to find masks for very young children, and experts generally discourage newborns and very young toddlers from using masks for risk of suffocation. An interesting new air purifier that is now on Kickstarter is the Wynd, which describes itself as “the smartest air purifier for your personal space”. From the looks of it, it’s as high as your typical Starbucks insulated mug cup (the taller one anyway) which means it can be easily inserted in, say, a baby pram, or even put alongside your egg.
For kids three and up, there’s a mask called the Coco Koala Respirator. It comes in two colors, blue and pink, and size #2 is for kids 3-7 years old. The one I just got (which I see many expats sharing online) is the one that cost RMB 198. By the way, there’s a RMB 10 shipping fee. Again, breathing clean air is quite the commodity here.
Adult masks vary, but the trick is to find one that suits your needs (and is really tight enough that it actually covers your nose and your mouth). There are the disposable ones like 3M, the fashionista ones like Vogmask, and there are the cloth ones that really don’t do much. My husband prefers the disposable ones for hygienic reasons, but I see quite a lot of people in my neighborhood using the pricier Vogmask nowadays.
Parents will also often exchange information on which places have air purifiers and which don’t. Not many malls have air purifiers, so in my opinion staying home is still the better option.
For this same reason, many parents whose schools do not have air purifiers will be asked to keep their children at home. For this particular red alert, schools were closed in certain districts. Fortunately, most international schools had just started the holiday break, which means the kids don’t have to go to school anyway. My daughter’s school has air purifiers as well, but I chose to just keep her at home. So though my daughter knows pollution is bad, she finds that it oftentimes works in her favor.
I’d like to end this post by saying that it’s not always this polluted. Though rarer now, we’re not perpetually in a warzone-like state. But for the days like today, you need to get your anti-pollution gear ready. For your health’s sake, put your air purifiers on full blast until the pollution finally dissipates.
This post originally appeared on Jackie Park’s blog Bringing Up the Parks.