Let’s make air pollution fun. I need your ideas.
The Air Quality Index (AQI) runs 0-500. I want to make hitting 300, 400 and 500 fun — like make a drinking game or something. (But, you know, not an actual drinking game, of course… I do want to remember my Januarys in China…)
Here’s what the numbers really mean:
- Below 50 = Sane
- 100 = Pretty Bad
- 150 = Daddy, the air tastes funny
- 200 = I’d rather eat a donkey again
- 300 = Dude, where’s my car?
- 400 = The sun doesn’t hurt my eyes anymore
- 500 = AIRPOCALYPSE!
The AQI determines when we turn on our D.I.Y. air purifiers, wear masks, and don’t let the kids play outside. In the screenshot, the first location is our area of Qingdao. The bottom two are where I grew up in Canada.
Why? Because an important part of living healthily here (is that a word?) — emotionally, I mean — is responding positively and constructively (or at least creatively) to negative things. Routinely complaining about stuff just makes you feel worse and conditions your character in ugly ways. Gallows humour might not be the best response, but it’s at least one step up from whining, right? ;)
It’s hardest to maintain healthy thought habits in January — the cold, dry, grey, dog days of winter between Christmas and the end of Chinese New Year — because homesickness is peaking (all those Skype calls and Christmas photos from far away), everyone has cabin fever, and the air pollution is at its perennial worst.
But I sense potential for fun here. At 300, everybody has to… what? At 400? At 500 what do we get to do?
The air pollution app we use just did a major update. We can now track cities outside of China, and also choose Chinese or American Air Quality Index standards:
It’s not just that each country characterizes pollution levels differently (China’s “Moderately Polluted” = America’s “Unhealthy”), they’re calculating their AQI differently. The Air Quality Index number is what the average person uses to gauge the pollution level. These screenshots show China and the U.S. arriving at different AQIs, even though they’re dealing with the same pollution data:
The Global Times, China’s English language international mouthpiece, explains it this way:
Qiu Qihong, an engineer of the Beijing Environmental Monitoring Center, said US and China use the same function to determine AQI figures from six different pollutants. However, he explained that the UStates uses a stricter system to determine what numbers to plug into the AQI formula. The formula requires a range of values of PM2.5 to calculate the number, and the US and China are using different ways to determine this range.
Qiu explained, “The US uses a stricter system because their society is further along in the industrialization process.”
This is why when PM2.5 density is transferred to AQI figures, the two countries have different readings, Qiu said.
For example, according to the standards published by both countries, if the PM2.5 density reaches 15.4 micrograms per cubic meter, according to US standards, the matching AQI figure is 50. But under Chinese standards, the density needs to reach 35 micrograms per cubic meter.
We usually turn on our DIY air purifiers when the AQI hits 200 (though the one in the kids’ bedroom is always on whenever the windows are closed). We can usually smell and/or see an AQI of 75 by China’s calculations.
Sure, we cry too much about the air pollution. But this one’s darkly humourous, I promise.
I routinely ask the oldest classes, “How’s the weather?” while pointing out the windows. And they automatically take a glance and usually reply, “IT’S SUNNY!!!” (“Sunny” is their favourite. But they can do cloudy, raining, windy, snowing, hot, and cold, too.)
So today I ask them. They glance out the windows. “IT’S…” A couple weak “sunny”s peter out among the 30 students. They can’t tell if it’s sunny or cloudy.
Because even though it’s bright outside, THEY CAN’T SEE THE BLOOMIN’ SKY. There are no clouds, but it’s all grey, and where’s the sun?
Later I check, and every air quality monitoring station in the city is maxed out at 500:
Below 50 is “good”. At 100 we close all our windows and turn on all the DIY home air purifiers. At 300 the preschool cancels all its outdoor activities.
At 500… AIRPOCALYPSE! ;)
In honour of Qingdao’s recent abysmal air quality (though still much much thankfully much better than Beijing and Tianjin!), here’s some photos we took in the fall:
Every fall, we stock up on a new shipment of these things, and start the cold season with freshly-equipped, cheap D.I.Y. home air purifiers:
Find out how you can pass the winter in China while cheaply shaving less years off your life than you would otherwise:
China Essentials: DIY Air Purifiers
It’s that special time of year again:
The Colbert Report clip embedded below about a lot of severely inconvenienced Beijing pigeons and Some Event Which Must Not Be Named has reminded me that it’s time to order new filters for our DIY air purifiers. Because winter is coming to China. And that means the annual airpocalypse.
And we’ve got everything you need to know right here:
China Essentials: DIY home air purifiers
Because “…tear gas, or as it’s known in China, ‘the sky’.”
(You’ll need to set your VPN on a U.S. server to see the video.)
(We’ve gotta to do something about the pronunciation of Chinese names in mainstream English media.)
The last few days air pollution levels have hovered around 300, and since yesterday afternoon they’ve been solidly over 300. That’s nothing special, but the response I’ve noticed this time around is different. We heard about pollution safety from three different sources (friends, work, neighbours) all in the same day. Before people would either ignore it or pretend it was “fog.”
Apparently 300 is the magic number. Today was the first time our Chinese preschool has ever cancelled outdoor activities and shut all the classroom windows because of pollution (“haze/smog” 雾霾). They usually keep the windows open even when it’s cold for health reasons, so this time they’ve judged (or someone with authority judged) that the air outside is a bigger health threat than having closed windows. I had nothing to do with it. And that’s not the only thing.
Our Chinese friends have reminded us to wear masks when we go out — for the pollution, not for the “cold” (many Chinese wear “mouth covers” 口罩, usually cloth, to keep “cold wind” 寒风 from getting into their stomachs and causing Chinese medicine-related ailments). I was biking back home Tuesday night next to a neighbor, and he was actually wearing a pollution mask. That’s probably the first time I’ve ever talked to a Chinese person who was wearing a mask for pollution.
This is all a big change from what we’re accustomed to here, where people (and weather reports!) were happy to note the “fog” (雾) with nary a mask in sight despite the fact that outside smelled and looked like the inside of a tailpipe. It’s helped that the Americans installed their own monitoring equipment on the roof of their embassy in Beijing, broadcast the hourly readings over the internet via smartphone apps, and caused a P.R. ruckus when an exceptionally Dickensian day triggered a “Crazy Bad” reading. If the anecdotes I encountered today are any indication, it seems like the days of air pollution denial are over.
I still can’t believe they closed the windows…!
About Chinese air pollution:
About Chinese medicine: