Air Conditioning is a series of interviews talking to locals and expats alike on various topics related to pollution. We are not in the business of shaming Beijing because of its questionable air quality, but we are very much interested in learning how and why people choose to coexist with this unfortunate aspect of daily life in many parts of China, but Beijing specifically. Until PM 2.5 is a thing of the past, it is important that we communicate our tips and tricks for combating these smoggy poisons that life blows our way.
For the first edition of Air Conditioning, we talked to Preston Thomas, an expat Cambridge IGCSE teacher, who has one of the most unhealthy, healthy obsessions with air quality on our radar. You can often see him across town slinging idMASKs, or if you are fortunate enough to be his friend on WeChat, he is usually the first to announce the arrival of the current plume of PM 2.5 suffocating our beloved city. Here’s some great advice he was able to share about how he and his family have conditioned their Beijing air to enhance their quality of life considerably.
First off, where are you from and how’s the air over there (what’s the current AQI)?
I am from Buffalo, NY. Our air is amazing and we never get over 50 AQI. Right now, it’s reading at 21 AQI. If you go down into the suburbs, it should be 10 AQI or lower. We are not Switzerland but we really do have some beautiful blue skies and fresh air!
When and how did the effects of poor air quality first hit you when you arrived in Beijing?
When I came, back in 2011, “smog” was not a word in my vocabulary. We never had smog in Buffalo, so I was really naïve when I first came to Beijing. It wasn’t until I attended a SmartAir workshop that my eyes finally opened. That workshop literally changed my life and probably added a few years too. I pretty much slapped myself across the face and said: “Hey idiot, wake up! The air is killing you!”
What are some of the most essential products you own to protect you and your family?
First, has to be my idMASK. It’s super comfortable, it works, and it’s actually airtight. That’s why I have been using idMASK for two years now. I was so happy when they came out with a kid’s one this year because it actually fits my daughter’s face. Second, “The Beast” is a positive air induction purifier. I used to run 17 purifiers in my house; it was louder than a factory. Now I just have this machine and it takes my house down to 1 AQI even when its 400+ outside. Seventeen purifiers couldn’t even do that.
How did having access to an affordable air quality monitor change your Beijing experience?
NIGHT and DAY! I first ordered the “Origins” egg and that made me realize that my house was not protected with only 3 air purifiers. Hence, the reason we went up to 17, I went a little crazy. Then I ordered the AirVisual node and realized that low AQI did nothing for high C02. Your home is your castle, you think because you have an air purifier and a lock on your door you are safe. The air quality monitors told me: “You are not doing enough!”
What is the most extreme thing that you’ve done to pollution proof your home?
Well I think having 17 air purifiers running in unison was pretty extreme, considering I blew the main power fuse in the apartment usually once a month. Actually, I think the most extreme thing besides this was, I taped the gaps between bathroom and kitchen ceiling tiles … ALL OF THEM! The tiles were actually a false ceiling and the gaps were letting dirty air into the house. Not sure how many rolls of tape I went through but it worked!
Where’s your favorite place to go hang out, and you trust there to be clean air?
Honestly if it’s quite bad outside, I usually stay home because we have the cleanest air in Beijing. I do like that some restaurants like O’Steak, Palms LA Kitchen and Bar, Great Leap, and all of Parkview Green have purifiers in their establishments. I know many other restaurants and places are installing purifiers. Which in my opinion is awesome; it is much better being able to live a normal life and not be concerned about the air especially when you are eating.
Do you have hope that things will get better in the future for Beijingers?
It will get better and it has already gotten better compared to previous years. I love that the government has accepted that it has a problem with pollution and has started to do something about it. Of course, we are going to have pollution for quite some time but it’s getting better in the long run. That’s what I love about Beijing, we could have a 500+ AQI day and then the next day its under 50 AQI. That’s why I love this city!
What is some advice you would give to an incoming family about living in Beijing, and dealing with pollution?
First off, accept that this is Beijing! Learn to appreciate and take full advantage of days when the AQI is under 50. Second, invest in a high quality mask for you and your family. Personally I would get the idMASK. It has an airtight fit and it’s comfortable for both kids and adults. Third, invest in a quality purifier like “The Beast” or another positive air induction machine that does the entire house. You don’t want to put a mask on, just to walk to the bathroom. Fourth, get your home checked out for problems. Charlie at Environment Assured has always been extremely helpful and knowledgeable when it comes to pollution and potential problems in my home.
photos: courtesy of Preston Thomas