Foreign baby in China essentials: DIY AIR PURIFIERS

(It’s been a while since I cried on the blog about China’s air pollution. But this time we have a solution! Your salvation is at hand…)


Out our windows in Tianjin.

Our first child spent her first month outside the womb in neonatal intensive care. We brought her to China as a 4-month-old. As soon as we’d landed in Beijing the passengers sitting around us started muttering about “…污染…!” because the smog made it hard to see the terminal from the plane. Part of me wanted to take our little preemie right back to Canada.

Air purifiers were on our original list of Foreign Baby in China Essentials (along with imported formula, VPNs and friendly stranger finger shields). But I never wrote the air purifiers post because we quickly discovered that air purifiers are insultingly expensive.

Instead we moved to a less polluted city. But triple-digit air pollution is still not uncommon in Qingdao (you can see and smell anything over 100), and we do get the occasional 400 or 500+ days. Here’s what 172 looks like on a cloudless day in our neighbourhood (that mountain on the left should be crystal clear):

It’s always bothered me that we weren’t doing anything about the air aside from an outrageous amount of air-friendly house plants, especially for our kids. But thanks to PhD student Thomas Talhelm, now we can. Why I did not think of this myself I’ll never know. That’s the Fulbright scholar difference, I guess.


(Click for a larger view.)

DIY AIR PURIFIERS

If you can handle between $200 to $2000+ per room for commercial air purifiers, yay for you. But that’s tough to swallow for middle class peasants people like us, despite the real worry of raising young children in truly dystopic air quality. Thankfully, it’s cheap and easy to build your own air purifiers that apparently work at least as well.

CHEAP
Buy a pre-assembled kit from Mssr. Talhelm for .. wait for it … 33 bucks (200元). Or get the filters and fans yourself on taobao (if you have taobao kungfu like Jessica) for 50元 less per unit. We’ve made four.

EASY
Buying the kit is obviously the most convenient way to go. But either way, a monkey could assemble these things. All you have to do is stick a HEPA filter onto the front of a fan. See how to build one here and here. You need: a fan, pliers/scissors, HEPA filter, and a strap.

WORKS
“But but but… with DIY purifiers you don’t get the monitoring electronics or the aesthetics or the ionizer or all the other things we’re selling that you didn’t know you needed!” Ok, but do they work? The proles People like us are willing to sacrifice peripherals to save hundreds of dollars.

According to the results of Talhelm’s tests, which are easily reproducible for anyone who doesn’t trust people who sell things (if anyone does do their own tests please let me know!), our $25 air purifiers perform as good and possibly even better than commercial units where it counts.


(Click for the full test results.)

Despite what the high prices suggest, air purifiers aren’t magic. They blow the air in your room through a filter. It’s not like doing rocket science or trying to figure out how to make your 4-year-old not get up to pee 500 times a night.

Here’s one of ours, which cost $25:

‘If there is hope,’ wrote Winston, ‘it lies in the proles.’

About China’s apocalyptic air quality:

About having a Foreign Baby/Kid in China:


(Click to get the free China Air Pollution app.)

“Legastories” creatively bridges the China-West cultural divide

From Access China founder and Legastories creator-performer Tim Nash:

All human beings are shaped by stories out of their culture. I invite you to journey with the Chinese people, through the legacy of stories which make them what they are today.

This looks awesome, like one of the more creative and effective ways of bridging cultural distance between China and the English-speaking world. It’s called Legastories (as in, Legacy of Stories), a one-man stage show introducing English-speakers to the Chinese people through the legacy of stories that makes them what they are today. It’s the 5000-year-long story of China in one continuous artistic narrative over 24 chapters performed live.

We heard Tim Nash speak on China on several occasions while living in Tianjin. This is bound to be fantastic. Here’s the trailer:

When I first started studying Chinese 25 years ago I very quickly came to despise it; it was very dry, it was very foreign, it was very dead. And then I went and lived with a Chinese family and suddenly China became alive. China was about people. And suddenly it was human experience that could be shared.
[…]
Language is not the issue. The key is to be able to translate a concept from one cultural context to another – whether that’s from Britain to China, from Sales to Customer Support, or husband to wife.
[…]
That’s key if we’re going to build successful relationships at any level, whether it’s within a family, within a company, between a company and its customers, or between nations. For me, the challenge of the Western world trying to build relationships with China, when the two places are so clearly different is the best place to explore some of the principles that we need to get our heads around.

For more visit legastori.es and Access China.

More about China-West cultural differences:

Tianjin tourism slogans

Foreigners in China sometimes make lists to help them deal with living cross-culturally. Two fellow language students I knew in Tianjin had a funny CHiPs-inspired list of terms for the various bike riding maneuvers Tianjin traffic routinely required them to execute.

In one of the English classes I used to have to teach in Tianjin, students had to invent tourism slogans for China and Tianjin. One of theirs was “China — source of mystery.” I couldn’t disagree, though I’m guessing the China mysteries they were thinking of and the China mysteries I was routinely encountering weren’t necessarily the same.

So I thought I’d make some of my own tourism slogans. I may have been feeling a touch culture-stressed when I came up with these. :) Tianjin’s big tourism slogan at the time was, “Tianjin — Pearl of the Bohai Sea.”

Tianjin — Touch the sky.
Tianjin — Where the sky feels… lower.
Tianjin — Relax. It’s healthier not to jog.
Tianjin — Where the sun doesn’t hurt your eyes.
Tianjin — Biggest. Construction site. Ever.
Tianjin — 11 million people, one giant construction site.
Tianjin — Where you couldn’t buy a real DVD even if you wanted to.
China — More traffic; less internet.

I’m sure anyone who’s lived in the region can think of many more. What’ve you got?

Recent related stuff & Tianjin photo galleries:

Baijiu 101: “One does not simply… drink baijiu”

For better or worse (no, actually, just for worse), an abominably-tasting booze with an alcohol content from 30% to over 60% is waiting for every foreigner that plans to be more than a tourist in China. And you risk all manner of relational and social faux pas if you mishandle it. It’s a gastronomical landmine in your mouth and bloodstream. Culturally speaking, baijiu basically weaponizes Chinese meals for foreigners, turning dinners into cross-cultural minefields.

If you’re planning to go to China, consider this your much needed heads up about the dreaded 白酒 (bái jiǔ):

Seriously — this post should be part of every NGO’s China orientation process. And there is plenty below for baijiu veterans, I promise. :)

But before we get to the details, let’s consider your options. “There are few things funnier than watching someone drink baijiu for the first time,” and after their initial cultural hazing, different foreigners end up having different ways of dealing with it. These broad categories won’t include everyone, but they’ll sketch out the parameters:

  1. The Fake Teetotallers, who simply refuse to drink — period — usually with some excuse like “I have an allergy” or “It’s against my religion”, and to heck with worries about creating bad feelings and disrespect and cultural inappropriateness and cross-cultural miscommunication. (The ironic thing being that for everyone I’ve known who used the religion excuse, drinking wasn’t actually against their religion but lying was.)
  2. The Eternal Fratboys, who basically get wasted every chance they get and don’t care what the method tastes like, so long as it lets them momentarily escape the fact that their bodies are pushing 30 or 40 but on the inside they’re stuck at 19. (Yes, this is sad and tragic. But you are loved, and there is hope.) Some of the people infected with expatitis could go here as well.
  3. The Cross-Cultural Diehards, who still have not given up hope that we can be culturally appropriate and send warm feelings to our boss/coworkers/neighbours/etc. without getting sloshed like squirrels that couldn’t lay off the rotten Jack-o-Lanterns. Maybe we’re just too idealistic. Maybe our love for cross-cultural challenges outweighs our sense of self-preservation. Maybe we didn’t get enough booze as children so we have a felt-need to rationalize our desire to drink and ‘Chinese culture’ is the greatest excuse ever. Either way, this third option is where you try to drink enough to fulfill your social duties (giving face, etc.) without betraying your personal standards (getting drunk like the aforementioned squirrels, etc.) and/or puking up everything you’d ever eaten in your entire life (more on this later). Many people feel this bio-cultural balancing act is actually impossible, given the current place of baijiu in Chinese culture. But that doesn’t stop us from employing all manner of creative, elaborate techniques in the attempt to do so (which are shared down below).

Now we’re in for a treat. Nankai Rob is the Most Under-Appreciated Genius of the China blogosphere. And he’s just written a 6-part magnum opus on dealing with baijiu. His anecdotes, observations, and road-tested baijiu avoidance strategies provide cultural insight that will introduce you to the baijiu basics and give you a fighting chance at staying (more or less) sober:

A Salute to Baijiu

Part One: One Reason for Baijiu Being the Draught of Satan

I’d like to begin by saying, for those who have no idea what I’m talking about, what baijiu is. Baijiu is alcohol. That I can say for sure. It is also, and I will brook no discussion on this point, the foulest thing ever brewed and willingly consumed by humanity.

Part Two: A Second Reason for Baijiu Being the Draught of Satan

An expensive Scotch, or tequila (yes, tequila; if you don’t believe me, drink a glass of Don Julio), or vodka, is like a perfectly balanced dinner party: one or two personalities are dominant, and the others are represented tastefully but completely. Baijiu is more like a knife fight. Between five inebriated circus clowns. In your living room.

Part Three: Representative Baijiu Experiences 1-2

In the interest of demonstrating the varieties of horrible-ness you can experience with baijiu, I offer up five of my own representative experiences.

Part Four: Representative Baijiu Experiences 3-5

[From #3] That night I threw up everything I’d ever eaten in my entire life. Everything. The egg-salad sandwiches I loved eating in third-grade, the lamb stew I make periodically in Tianjin, the Mexican food I eat whenever I’m in El Paso visiting my parents, EVERYTHING… I learned something fascinating about baijiu while bent over the toilet retching, however, and that is: there isn’t much difference between the taste of baijiu when you’re drinking it or puking it up.

Part 5: How to Look Like a Hero When There’s a Banquet

Few things in official Chinese life are more important than the banquet… everything from simple teacher meetings to festival gatherings are cemented with booze. It’s tradition, and it extends back quite literally thousands of years… Here’s the funny thing about all this: I have yet to meet a Chinese person who enjoys getting hammered at banquets… because it’s cultural, we foreigners are presented with an interesting situation. It’s quite possible to play the “dumb foreigner” card to get out of drinking much (though that won’t work in high-stakes business or politics), but you can also, if you play your cards right, make such an impression on the Chinese people with you that they’ll think you’re a hero.

Part 6: How to Not Get Hammered at a Banquet
Ten ways to get away with drinking less than expected.

You can see our own blogged baijiu adventures under the Baijiu (白酒) topic. Some highlights:

Merry Christmas 2011! (“Is there anything worth believing in?”)

From John Lennox, author and Professor in Mathematics and Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at Oxford:

Is there anything worth believing in? Oh, ladies and gentlemen– I’m an old man. Let me speak to you directly.

In all my life studying different philosophies and ideas and mathematics for the sheer fun of it, I’ve never come across an idea that remotely touches this one:

“The Word became human, and dwelt among us.”

It’s not every world-class academic who could also make a good Santa. Merry Christmas!

The Posts of Christmas Past:

Christmas in general:

Christmas in China:

You can see all our Christmas stuff here.

(P.S. – That’s Merry Christmas 2011, not 2012. Ooohh… someone’s asleep at the switch!)

I pity the fú​!

The Chinese love fú​ (no, not that foo’). Of all the characters you see in China, fú​ (福) has got to be the most common. It’s everywhere, especially at Spring Festival. It can be understood as good fortune/luck/auspiciousness/blessing and is used in everything from the Chinese word for “happiness” (幸福) to “the Gospel” (福音) to “Blessed are the poor…” in Luke 6 (“…有福了。”).

Here’s a cheesy, hauntingly Dr. Suess-esque e-mail we got at work today (in Chinese) that expresses nicely how it feels to be literally surrounded by ​s everywhere you go:

Tiger comes, fú​ comes,* every household fú​,
Tiger brings blessings filled up with fú​.
Tiger year enjoy fú​ different kinds of fú​:
Big fú​, small fú​, everywhere fú​,
Gold fú​, silver fú​, fully-stored-up fú​!
Welcome fú​, greet fú​ every year fú​,
Guard fú​, implore fú​, every age fú​!
Wish you tiger year even more… happiness.

I thought that last line is kind of a downer. You really though it was going to end with “fú​”, didn’t you? It does in Chinese, but as part of the word for “happiness” (幸福).

We just got some of our our Spring Festival fú​ today when my parents arrived from Canada to see ustheir granddaughter (it’s their first time in China!), so the blog may be a little slow the next two weeks.

*(This older style grammar actually means ‘has arrived’ but doesn’t literally have past tense, sort of like “The Lord is come”… so I’m told.)

P.S. – For some reason it’s not letting me include the Chinese text… I’m using WordPress. If anyone has any ideas, please let me know! If I include the text, it removes all text (English and Chinese) from the post preview. Help!

Other stuff about celebrating Chinese New Year’s:

Camilla delivery

After all the whining about the pollution and fear-mongering about the bathrooms, I should mention that in some ways Tianjin is far superior to, say, Vancouver (host city 2010 Olympic Winter Games).

For example, in Tianjin, a massive city of 8 million people, you can get a live chicken delivered straight to your door for 8/! Ordered online! That’s like $1.25 per pound! Behold (click the image to go to the site):

The part I circled is the end of a list of special instructions you can choose from, in this case: “…slaughtered, alive, etc.” (宰过,活的等)。

(P.S. — Camilla)