Tag Archives: hello gray skies


30 Nov

About a week ago, I went over to Montmarte for the first time. Montmarte is a neighborhood in the north of Paris, historically known as an artist’s hangout and where all the cool clubs are located. The who’s who list of famous residents includes such luminaries as Vincent van Gogh, Edward Degas, Pablo Picasso, Langston Hughes, and Claude Monet.

abbessesThe art nouveau metro station entrance at Abbesses.

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Crazy Bad: Air Pollution in China

4 Nov

Q: Why did the laowai start smoking in China?

A: Because at least then he was breathing through a filter.

This sort of dark humor is really the only practical way of dealing with China’s truly impressive air quality problems, other than buying a gas mask or face cover. The number of cars in China has exploded in the past five years and industry has picked up again after the global economic slowdown of the past few years. This leads to pictures like this.

Photo taken from The Atlantic.


I was talking to Rachel about the weather here in China and she said, “I hear that people are almost nostalgic about the pollution in Beijing.”

I immediately agreed. “Yeah, I guess I kind of am. I mean, Beijing is up front about its pollution. They’re honest about the fact that you will hack out your lungs. But you still get blue-sky days often enough, you know?”

A pause, wherein all of us look up and glare at Chengdu’s omnipresent gray sky.

Here in Chengdu, they don’t even admit they have a problem! It’s gray all the damn time.”

Rachel’s boyfriend chimed in. “It’s true. They just say it’s ‘cloudy’ out. Uh, newsflash China, this ain’t just clouds and fog.”

When it gets cloudy in Florida, you can still see buildings in the distance. Not so much here.”

 – – – – – – – – – –

Beijing has been in the news recently for its truly ridiculously bad pollution this week. The way we know this? Twitter.

The US Embassy has a pollution counting machine that takes hourly measurements and broadcasts it to the world via @BeijingAir. They decided to make it public on the grounds that the weather in Beijing was enough of a health hazard that American citizens should be aware of it or some such. Thanks, guys! The big thing is that they publish data on PM2.5, the tiny bits of particulate that do the worst damage because it can go deeper into your lungs and really fuck you up. Case example: probably my lungs, given my unshakable consumption-like cough.

Anyways, they’ve had some pretty blatantly poisonous days of late.

I was in Beijing for about six months back in 2009 – I experienced more than my fair share of 500+ days. For reference, the scale goes from 0 to 500. Anything above that has literally broken the scale and is extremely hazardous. Or, in the words of BeijingAir, “crazy bad”. In the US, if the pollution reached anything over 100, people would be freaking out. In Beijing, if it was only 100, we thought it was a nice day.

It’s funny how your sense of scale can go so wrong.

For more information, James Fallows is indispensable, as usual.

Air Emergency: Beijing

Paradise Beijing

More on Beijing Air

The Air Quality Index


Smoggy with a High Chance of Heat Exhaustion

6 Sep

Sichuan University was not my first choice. In fact, I have been regretting not filling my list completely with Beijing area schools for the past week and a half. I know Beijing. I know where the clubs are and where the good restaurants are located, I know where to find a book in English or a replacement laptop battery or a pair of shoes in my size. I can navigate the bus system and metro like a champ. I can handle the omnipresent pollution and the bitter winter cold. Hell, I don’t even mind the seething morass of humanity.

I am finding Chengdu difficult to love. Perhaps it is the lack of sun.

This is what it looks like in Chengdu. You’ve got the same haze of Beijing, except it is white-gray. It is more fog based than just pure pollution. Visibility is better and the grittiness is lower. My lungs aren’t finding it nearly as toxic. Regrettably, I have now found out that Chengdu has fewer blue-sky days than London. London! I feel gypped.

The smog acts as a greenhouse gas, making an already hot and humid tropical climate nearly unbearable. And I grew up in FL and went to school in Gainesville, so when I say unbearable, I mean it. I want every global warming naysayer to come spend some time here in Chengdu and understand what the future is going to be like.

The heat saps your energy. Walking to the corner bakery for breakfast is an endeavor. The humidity is practically at 100%, but there hasn’t been rain since I’ve been here. Power shorted out temporarily last week in the dorms because everyone was running their air conditioners. (Thank god we have air conditioners, btw.) Dehydration is a major problem. I’ve chugged my way through a gallon-sized water jug in a bout five days.

This is all just me griping about my first few days in a foreign city. I get this way whenever I move someplace new. Then, in two weeks or a month, once I know my way around and I don’t feel so out of place, everything is better. I just have to get there.