I really do love living here in Beijing. As great as it is living in a place that has so much history with so much to do, it’s not quite perfect (where is though?). The biggest downside to living here (t0 me) would be the air pollution. Sure, we do have some gorgeous days with clear, blue skies. Then, we have other days that aren’t quite so clear but not “that bad” either. And still, there are days that just seem to be extremely foggy…aka extremely polluted.
I was happy that when we first arrived to Beijing that we had a good air day. First impressions count! I may have had a different first impression of the city if I couldn’t see anything as we were landing, so we fortunate for good air that day, especially since there is usually poorer air in the winter time. However, in our first few days, I could start to ‘taste’ the air sometimes. Gross. (And unfortunately, I must be getting used to it because there are some days when I don’t really ‘taste’ it but I should because it’s not the cleanest day).
How’s the Air Today?-Air Quality Index
Overall, we have had many good air days, some ok air days, and really, just in the month of the January, some horrible air days. This week we had some good air days (along with some cold days). That seems to be the trade off. Good air and cold, windy days. Or bad air. I’ll take the cold and good air days any day to the bad air days. Bad air days sure can mess up your plans. Sure, there is plenty to do on bad air days (watch a movie, read a book, write a blog post, shop in a mall with air filters, etc.). However, there are some activities (like horseback riding!) that you just can’t do. (Well, you could still choose to be active outside when the air is deemed unhealthy or worse, but I choose not to overexert myself on those days).
The air can change so quickly–it’s amazing how you can go from a horrible 300+ air day to a great 50 air day the next day. The air quality also depends on where you are located in the city. You’ll usually find slightly better air in the outskirts of the city. The website, aqicn.org, not only tells you what the AQI is in different areas, but it also predicts what the air quality will be in the coming days (like predicting the weather).
To Wear a Mask or Not (Wear it, I say!)
Like I said, the air can change so quickly, not just from one day to the next but just in one day alone. Below, it shows just how much the air can change–in one day alone. These are snapshots just from today. When the wind comes in, it can really change the air! Unfortunately, with it changing so quickly sometimes, it does make it hard to plan certain activities, but you just do what you can when you can (and hope that the clean air stays around!).
The screenshots from above are from the app on my phone, China AQI, that I use to help me determine if I need to wear a mask. I also use the app AirVisual to see what it’s like in different locations within Beijing.
So Many Choices-Which Mask?
There are all types of masks out there. You want something that is N99, 3M–it helps protect you from breathing in the fine PM2 particles.
There are the white masks like painters and construction workers may wear (the two on the left). We started off with these but they just weren’t as comfortable. I think they worked fine but it just made me overheat to quickly with not enough air flow.
Vogmasks (the two in the middle) are a popular choice because not only do they have a valve to help with the air flow a little more, they also have many stylish colors ;-). I have found these to be the most comfortable, and it is my go to mask for most days. You can pinch the middle of it over the bridge of your nose to get a better fit. I also like that it goes right over your ears (and not your entire head).
The Techno Respero (top right) was a mask I wanted to try but it didn’t fit my face right. It hooks in the back but kept sliding off my nose.
The ID mask (bottom right) is our newest purchase. It has a very secure fit. I can feel that it has a good suction and it still lets me breathe easily. The filters are easy to change (and sometimes you have to change them just after one day of using them because of the bad air!). I’m not particularly fond of having to put it over my head and the fact it always leaves bad lines on my face, but I do know it is secure and working well (as good as it can given the pollution).
When deciding whether or not to wear a mask (and which mask I wear), here’s what I personally do when looking at the AQI:
- <150 no mask
- 150-300 Vogmask
- 300+ ID mask
Why Wear a Mask? (Why not?!)
Some people wear no mask at all. I’ve also heard people say, “oh, you’ll get used to it here and then won’t wear one unless it’s above 200, ,then 250, then 300.” That may be the case, but I hope not. I don’t want to breathe in that crud, so I will wear a mask if it’s recommended, even if no one else is wearing one. Fortunately, I haven’t felt that my health has been affected by the air, but I’ve talked with a few people who now wear a mask when it’s recommended because they have gotten sick more times than ever before.
The downside of wearing a mask is that it leaves marks on your face (so attractive) and can make you overheated (it’s nice to take them off and breathe easier again) but the positive is that it’s protecting your lungs from 99% of the pollutants. Now, which is more important-protecting against pollutants or not looking silly?
Keeping the Air Clean at Home-Air Filters
The polluted outside air can come in, so that is why we have air filters. Some malls and other establishments also have them (although you can only guarantee air quality in your home because you don’t know the effectiveness of the air purifiers elsewhere).
We are fortunate to have 5 BlueAir purifying systems in our house (basically, one in each section of the house). The filters are supposed to be good for 6 months but it is advised to change them more often in the winter time when the pollution is worse.
There is a countdown on the filters that keeps track of how many days you have left of the filter. Our’s still had two months to go, so I didn’t think we needed to change them, but I took the advice and did (check out that before and after picture)—man, I am glad that I did change them, and I will be sure to change them sooner next time!!
Can you imagine if we didn’t have these filters? Do you see why I feel it’s so important to wear a mask while outside (even if it “looks” ok)? Just the thought of breathing all that icky stuff in doesn’t make me happy. I’m still going with the recommendations from my apps and will cancel outdoor activities and wear a mask (even if hardly anyone else does). Your health is important!
So Beijing does have some bad air days, but they aren’t as often as I thought. It’s not every day that I’m wearing a mask. It sure makes you appreciate the good air days and want to take advantage when you can. If it’s not the best air day, at least we have masks and air purifiers to help limit the pollutants we breathe in.
*These are just my thoughts on the matter. The choice is yours as to what you do and what you choose to use.
TOTE: Not everywhere is perfect. You just have to adjust!