Posts Tagged ‘smog’

The air quality in China – oh dear.

March 29, 2014

In my regular web rounds I came across an article over at Kotaku which allows you to compare the air quality in China with the rest of the world. The article links to Air Pollution in Asia, a website which offers real-time data of global air quality. Having lived in China, I was more than aware that the air quality was terrible, but this website clearly shows just how bad it is – it’s horrendous.

We had a smoky day in Melbourne the other day, where smoke from planned burnings out East (a bushfire preventative) had the city so smoky it was like a thick fog. That kind of condition is abnormal for a place like Melbourne, where we’re blessed with very good air quality, but is normal for China.

I remember a few weeks into my stay in China, driving along with Pan Zilli (a good friend), and commenting on the haze. It was very smoggy – with visibility down to a few hundred metres at best, and I said to him, “The air is pretty bad today, huh?”

And his reply, “Oh no! Today is clear, the air is good.”


Sure enough, he wasn’t kidding. That kind of air became normality. Upon my return to Australia, I couldn’t believe how crisp things looked. From the airport to the trees beside the road as we drove home, everything was crisp and vividly clear. Why? Because almost everything in China is hidden behind the almost permanent blue haze. Buildings 10-20 metres away, would still have this haze before them, never crisp and clear.

There was a tower several blocks away from the school we lived which I referred to as Dongting’s Eiffel tower (we lived in Dongting – or was that Xishan district – that never became clear), and it was always in a state of semi-visibility, despite being so close.

For much of the time we spent in China (during 2008), we had coughs and sore throats, particularly my poor wife who spent much of the year sick because of it. Looking at the map – Wuxi (just southwest of Shanghai) has poor air quality – but nothing compared to what you can see around Beijing.

Seriously – that’s a capital O.M.G. Look at that map – it is a *disgrace*. At what cost are the Chinese paying for their rapid progress? The total destruction and pollution of their formerly beautiful countryside? Or at the cost of their citizens.

Years from now, when the people who are living and breathing this air begin to die from various forms of lung cancers, there’s going to be a reckoning. China is trying to do something about it, but the real question is – have they already gone too far

Tian Yi, Wuxi

A bridge at Tian Yi school where I lived – note the haze between the location of the shot and the building in the distance – and that’s a somewhat clear day.

Remembering China # 3: Dong Ting

May 26, 2013
Dong Ting

Dong Ting, Wuxi

Before arriving in China, I dreamed that the country consisted of beautiful, whispering bamboo groves, full of quaint little tea pavilion’s and lakes. The above photo was the reality.

This photo was taken in Dong Ting – our home while we lived in China. We could never actually tell what it’s name was, as it was either Xisan (or XiShan) district, or Dong Ting. Dong Ting we were told at one point, was where the local government of the district was – and there was in fact a government building of some description several blocks away – but in China, unless you speak Chinese (and possibly even then) – nothing is every completely certain or assured.

The above street was very typical for most cities we travelled through. Rows of low-rise apartment buildings, and beneath them, small, garage-like shops, which had anything from scooter/bike repair shops, to restaurants, to general stores. Many of these shops were permanently dark, making you think they were closed, when in fact they were only saving power. At night, they were generally only illuminated by the most minimal lighting possible.

These stores tended to change on a very regular basis. The buildings above them were often dirty – just like the roads and the sidewalks. The smog in the air often collected in the grout between tiles, or in the sills above windows, so that the grime would streak down the windows themselves.

The sidewalks were always small, intricate bricks – the type of thing that could only be put down in such quantities in a country like China, where there were no shortage of hands to do the work. Because people like to ride their scooters on the sidewalks as often as the road, many of the bricks were broken.

If you look closely, on the left hand sidewalk there’s a brick sticking out  – somehow when it’s been laid, it’s just been put in around the wrong way. All the bricks around it moved closer to fill the void. I feel quite close to this particular brick, as I stubbed my toe on it no less than 3 times – and each time bloody hurt thanks!

You’d often see manhole covers in the middle of the road open, with a few sticks of bamboo jammed into them to warn people. The same with potholes – when they got too deep – the old bamboo stick method worked a treat.

Behind these rows of buildings were often more rows of buildings. They are generally placed so that they form a compound of sorts. In the middle of them, you’d find a few courtyards, often with outdoor gym equipment in them. At night, many of the Chinese would gather to socialise, dance and do exercises. In the morning, these places were for tai chi.

Remembering China # 1: Where it all began

May 18, 2013

I recently entered the World Nomad’s 2013 travel writing scholarship contest, and while I didn’t win – or hell, I didn’t even get shortlisted, god how I wanted to. The prize this year was 2 weeks in Beijing under the mentorship of various travel writers in what would have been something of a dream come true experience. Of course, actually winning a heavily subjective competition like this one is comparable to your chances of winning the lotto – I mean, who the hell really knows what they’re looking for year to year. Anyhow, I didn’t win, and I have moved on – I promise!

While I was spending time on the competition, it had me reminiscing again of my own time spent in China. I went through my old photos, many of which I hadn’t looked at for many years now, and have decided to pull a few out and write about them. While living in China – stupidly – I didn’t recognize the need to have a really good camera, and so while many of our shots reflect our experience, I am still kicking myself today that I didn’t take over a proper digital SLR – the night shots we missed out on – gah!

This first shot is particularly average, but it’s also very meaningful for me. It was one of a handful of shots we took just after arriving, while heading back to the school in a minivan. This shot shows the real China – a China that we did not expect. Deep down we knew that it would be a heavily industrialized, very smoggy environment, but we also were still trying to fool ourselves that we would in fact be driven through bamboo forests, past teahouses and pagodas until at our final destination we were served delicious steaming dumplings by none other than a panda.

The reality? This photo:



It was winter and just beyond some unseasonably heavy snowfalls. It does not always snow in Wuxi, but this year it had. In fact in 2008, China experienced such heavy snowfalls that it caused chaos across the country – made all the worse by the fact that half the population was on the move for Chinese New Year. It bordered on disaster.

Anyhow, for us newbies to the country, it meant that the country was freezing cold, both foggy and smoggy, and universally brown. All the foliage was flattened and brown. The grass – brown. The trees – not that there were any real trees – more shrubs, were partially bare and all brown.

It was grey and desolate and a depressing landscape. It was also eye-opening in its sheer size. Everywhere we looked were bamboo scaffold clad buildings such as in the image. On the horizon, random high-rise apartments and factories.

As we travelled across this landscape, through lines of identical blue trucks and flat-bed vehicles laden with yellow helmeted workers, we began to question if we had made a mistake coming here.

Like being in China

January 7, 2013

Tonight it’s smoky, very smoky. We have gone through a recent hot spell and there’s been many bush fires in the north of my state. That smoke is now hanging around, like a distant haze.

In fact, as I sit here on the balcony of my high rise apartment, between the smog like haze and the smell of Asian cooking from an apartment below, I could easily be back in China.


Expo is go!

May 5, 2010

The world Expo has kicked off and as expected, the crowds have been nasty – so much so I feel tired just reading about it. A combination of heat, lack of shade and massive queues are unsurprisingly leading to tourist angst and frustration.

The Expo is set across a massive park which is divided into five large sections. Two of the most popular pavilions; USA and Japan, are on opposite ends, with an approximate hour long walk to get from one to the other. Due to the lack of shade, people are forced to use the shadows cast by these grand structures themselves in order to avoid actually tanning – which we all know is a big no no in China. White skin = happiness!

Anyone who has been to China will know that the sun can be ridiculously potent during the summer months, and whilst it is still only Spring, temperatures will be climbing by the day. Due to the ever present smog layer, it’s not particularly common to have clear skies, and hot days are generally a combination of sweat inducing humidity, and a super glary smoggy haze sky. When that sun does poke through the smog however, the combination of the heat and humidity is an absolute killer.

People have been turning out in droves for the Expo after it was opened on the weekend with a massive fireworks display and typical epic (and somewhat gaudy) live Chinese extravaganza. Despite the complaints regarding unintuitive layout, queuing and heat, you can be assured that the Chinese patriotism on display would be so in your face it would be almost difficult to stomach.

I only wish I could get there myself, as despite the pain and frustration, it would still be a blast. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I most definitely do heart Shanghai.

Not for all the smog in China

November 12, 2009

If there’s one thing China is well known for these days, it’s smog. As a direct result of almost inconcievable progress, the entire country is constantly submerged beneath a blanket of foul chemical mist. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a place in the country devoid of it, with even neighbours such as Japan complaining about being affected by it.

Whilst in China, I had the pleasure of exploring quite a few different parts of what is an absolutely massive country, though I don’t think we ever got away from the smog. There were certainly cities where it was better than others, such as Kunming in the south, and then the smaller, much higher places such as Dali, Lijiang and Zhongdian(Shangri-la) – the latter of those being right up in the mountains. Yet even in the mountainouse Zhongdian, I still always wondered if that beautiful mist was in fact mist, or smog.

The following link is eye-opening. To look at the level of black matter on the face mask shown after a mere four hours outdoors in Beijing….well just imagine that stuff lining your lungs. Whilst we were living in Wuxi, Courtney had an almost constant cough, and both of us had sore throats on a very regular basis.

China is a beautiful country, full of amazing culture and super friendly people. Its pollution however, is beyond bad, and I can only seeing it get much much worse before it begins to improve.

Those going there be warned – you are potentially risking your health breathing this stuff in. I used to think – heh, I quit smoking over five years ago, and now while I am here, my lungs are probably worse off than then. And to think, China has more smokers than anywhere else in the world. Double whammy anyone?

The sky is grey.

February 18, 2009

Recently, my home state of Victoria has been beset by ferocious bushfires. Approximately 7000 people have lost their homes with a death toll of 200 and climbing. Initially our Summer was quite mild, but by the second month it had kicked into top gear. Through mid to late January and then into February we had what became one of the hottest weeks on record, with days of temperatures over 43 degrees Celsius. We actually hit the record high of something like 45.6 degrees.

Smoke from country bushfires lingers over the city of Melbourne.

Smoke from country bushfires lingers over the city of Melbourne.

This extremely hot weather combined with a lengthy period without rain became the perfect combination for an absolutely terrible bushfire. Even today, over two weeks later the smoke still lingers in the sky.

The sky in Melbourne for this past week has resembled how the sky in China looks practially every day. The horizon a constant grey haze which leads into a light blue grey sky. On the heaviest smoke day, there was no cloud definition; just like China. The biggest difference however was in China, the visibility is 100 times worse. In Melbourne, despite the haze, you can still see a very long way; in China – it gets so smoggy it’s just outright disgusting.

Smoke from factorys and man made pollutants lingers over China..permanantly.

Smoke from factorys and man made pollutants lingers over China..permanantly.

Through the lens – I see smog.

January 14, 2009

There was one thing that stood out to me, as clear as night and day, when I walked off the aeroplane into Melbounre airport. Clarity. Everything suddenly looked like it was amazingly in focus. I couldn’t believe it – it was that profound. I remember looking across the airport at all the planes, everything looked so crisp, so sharp. The countryside between Tullamarine airport and Melbourne, all so vivid – so focused and so clear. What was the difference? Was China out of focus?


Shangri-la, China

The answer? Yes, it actually was. What the hell does that mean you ask? Smog. Everywhere you went in China was basically covered by a layer of smog. It took climbing over 3000 metres above sea level to the Tibetan town of Shangri-La(Zhong Dian) to get away from it – but even there you then had mountain mists – and well, I often wondered if that truly was mist.

The thing about smog in China, is that it is always present, always. You get days that are quite remarkably clear, but practically everywhere you go, there it is. Some days were terrible. Some days visibility could be  as low as 20-30 metres tops. Obviously you could see it in the distance, but the interesting thing was you could look at a tree a few metres away and see the smoggy mist between you and it. It’s hard to explain just how that looks. The end result? The tree looks somewhat softened.

An example of smog - note the haze visible on even the closest buildings.

An example of poor clarity in China - note the haze visible on even the closest buildings.

The thing that amazes me about Chinese air pollution is that you rarely see it on TV. It’s only the rare documentary or show set in China that actually shows China even remotely close to what it looks like in reality. I think lens polarizers completely counter the smog haze. On multiple occasions I tried to photograph it to show friends and family back home exactly what we were breathing on a daily basis, but the photos just didn’t do justice to the reality of standing there amongst it. I know for a fact that due to this reason, when we both landed in Shanghai and it was white with heavy smog, we were both surprised – I don’t think either of us truly thought China was as smoggy as you read in the papers – well, it was alright.

When you get a clear day in China, everything looks so much cleaner. When you compare it to say somewhere like my home city of Melbourne, there is just simply no comparison. As I said earlier, the difference in clarity and sharpness is like night and day.  You never – if rarely- see it on TV however. You see people in popular tourist destinations, and sometimes you will see it portrayed as a sort of ‘beautiful mist’ – and yes, sometimes if you closed your eyes then re-opened them, you could look at the industrial air pollution as something quite…nice, but you’d be dreaming. Even the Panda sanctuary in Chengdu was so smoggy – amongst the jungle bamboo like environment, it was almost a case of gorilla’s in the factory created mist – panda style.

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