China pollution: Airpocalypse and the expat parenting dilemma
China pollution – aka airpocalypse – creates an expat parenting a dilemma: Do the pluses (a language and cultural education) outweigh the minuses (not being able to breathe) for kids?
Much of the world has heard about China’s recent run of horrendous air pollution levels. Some reports listed the PM 2.5 – the measure of the finest particulates in the air – at a whopping 993 milligrams per cubic meter. After ABC anchor Diane Sawyer called it “air-pocalypse” on the evening news, the worried emails from home started popping up in my inbox.Skip to next paragraph
Debra Bruno is a Beijing-based freelance journalist and the mother of two children: 28-year-old Daniel and 25-year-old Joanna, both of whom also happen to live in China. She loves cooking, her 15-year-old cat (whom she brought to China), and travel. She blogs about it all at Not by Occident.
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For some perspective, any number over 300 is considered “hazardous” by the US Embassy’s monitoring system, which has been measuring air quality for about four years.
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Parents in Beijing – not even the most polluted city in China – have been agonizing over the fact that they’re exposing their children to unhealthy particulates.
I have older children – although they both happen, somewhat miraculously, to live in China. My son Daniel called us Saturday from Guangzhou (which is in the south: Guangzhou is to Beijing as Miami is to New York) to ask how we were faring. What could we say? Most expats spent the day indoors. New York Times correspondent Edward Wong tweeted: “Holing up with books and movies and an air filter.”
But I couldn’t do that – I had invited eight for dinner that night, and decided to venture a 30-minute walk to Sanyuanli, the local wet market, where I could buy high-quality salmon, vegetables and even a baozi (steamed bun) snack to fuel my shopping. I also walked back, dragging behind me my little-old-lady shopping cart packed with salmon for the main course, celery and onions and zucchini for minestrone, and Brussels sprouts, potatoes, and cauliflower for side dishes.
On Sunday morning, after a lively and delicious party (if I do say so myself) I woke up with a throat so sore I could barely swallow and pollution levels still soaring into the 600s, 700s, and 800s. The sky still looked like a storm was approaching, the sun hidden behind a gray screen. The air smelled as if six dozen cars had caught fire.
The parents of young children stayed inside for the most part, although one mom on the Beijing Mamas listserv wrote that she was venturing out for one activity that her daughter loved. But to get to that they were wearing face masks.
The air, in fact, generated a round of hand-wringing on the various listservs, e-mail chains, and blogs that Beijing expats follow. One London mother wrote to Beijing Mamas that she was pregnant and about to move to Beijing: “I am freaking out about the pollution in Beijing and how it will affect our lives and our health,” she wrote. “I am scared I will feel trapped indoors too afraid to take baby out or find the pollution depressing.”