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: