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Modern Parenthood

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?

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The mothers responded generously, welcoming her to what some call “Gray-jing” and telling her about the Chinese love of Western babies, the wonderful ayis who take care of children, not to mention perks like inexpensive manicures.

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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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Beijing parents did fret, of course. Bill Bishop, who runs a popular news-aggregating e-mail called Sinocism, wrote, “I have to say, the last couple of days have me seriously questioning why I have chosen to force my kids to breathe this air.” He added by e-mail that although he and his family put on masks, he was surprised that when he picked up his children from school few were wearing masks.

Trevor Marshallsea, an Australian-born expat dad who writes a blog called “The Tiger Father,” posted this: “Here we also talk about which brand of face mask is safest. We regularly check our iPad pollution apps and our Twitter air quality feeds (provided you can get around Chinese Internet controls). Children are kept indoors in schools on bad pollution days, and most of us invest in expensive – but quite necessary – air filters for the home.”

New filters can set you back about $3,000, while a three-year-old, used filter advertised on a listserv for 6800 RMB (or $1,094) was gone in seconds. Face masks range from the utterly useless fashion statements decorated with flowers and panda faces (popular with the Chinese) to contraptions that make a wearer look like Darth Vader (popular with expats who ride bikes around the city).

Earlier this year I bought a desk chair and some plants from a British woman who was leaving Beijing with her husband and two children. Why was she moving back to London? “I couldn’t stand the pollution any longer,” she admitted.

Expats here value the benefits the city confers on their children. Many of them are cared for by ayis who speak only Mandarin, so they grow up knowing at least two languages. These children are very much citizens of the world who have friends from every continent and can work their way through a falafel sandwich just as easily as a mouth-burning Sichuan dish. They tend to travel often, seeing parts of the world many can only imagine.

But they also might be playing a game of Russian roulette. One jokester wrote recently that a new tourism slogan should be: “The city that never breathes.” It’s almost funny.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Debra Bruno blogs at Not by Occident.


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