Easter weekend hike on Qingdao’s Fushan 青岛浮山

We’d rather have clear skies, of course, but the smog/fog can make for almost fantastical looking views from the slopes of Qingdao’s Fushan 青岛浮山
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Air pollution has been in the mid-100s for much of March and April, but that’s not enough to keep us indoors. (At 200, we turn on extra D.I.Y. air purifiers.)
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There are plenty of decent picnic spots to be had.
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It’s that funny time of year where we go out in shorts and t-shirts while our Chinese friends wear sweaters and jackets, because we dress for the weather/temperature, and they dress for the Chinese lunar calendar/traditional Chinese medicine theory.

Let’s make the annual airpocalypse *fun*

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!

aqi_app_screenshotThe 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?

Why do China and the US report conflicting air pollution numbers?

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:USAvChinaAQIreporting
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:

American_Beijing_AQI China_AQI_Beijing

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.

When China’s air pollution confuses my preschool students

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! ;)

Family photos, Chinese air pollution style

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:
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Brace yourselves: China’s coal season is coming

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:
Strap-on HEPA filters
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