16. Breathing is overrated.

I think most of you are wondering how this blog has come so late, but to me, it is more interesting that it has come at all… at least here in Changchun.

The pollution levels here are normally (relatively) good. In fact, it was probably a fairly good reason for me coming specifically to this city, in favour of some of the better-known ones around China.  Sometimes in Beijing, the atmosphere is yellow- ouch. So it is interesting that the last, during virtually the entire week, the city was the worst in China for air pollution. You can see now why my lungs have gone on strike.IMG_2744

(A room with a view??)

To give a bit of background flesh to this, the rating for air pollution is called the Air Quality Index (AQI). This chart is measured on an individual basis by governing agencies throughout the world, so the categories are set at independent levels. I understand China’s AQI to be officially measured between 1-300, but we will come to why this is slightly irrelevant in due course. Naturally, each country has a luddite-friendly colour code for their AQI charts, with handy explanations for each. They have different meanings for foreigners and Chinese people:

Colour rating Meaning Chinese people Foreigners
Green Excellent Enjoy it until your alarm clock goes off. Safe.
Yellow Good See above. Not dangerous to anyone with a healthy set of bagpipes.
Orange Slightly Polluted Nothing out of the normal. Enjoy your day! Indoors if your lungs are bad and/or you have a dicky ticker.
Red Moderately polluted Carry on as normal, nothing to see here. Have a little think today about how important breathing is to you.
Purple Heavily polluted Consider wearing a mask Rent a DVD and get cosy, you’re not leaving the house today… preferably don’t breathe at all.
300+ Severely polluted Make sure you actually wear your masks. Wear a rope and take a whistle with you when taking out the bins, it doesn’t pay to take chances.

This helps the simpleton, such as my good self, immensely as anything above orange creates a ‘Is my trip outside necessary?’ type of question. Often, ‘not necessary enough’ is the answer.


Changchun rarely reaches the dizzying heights of even Moderately Polluted and generally stays within the lower echelons of Slightly Polluted. (As I write this, I realise how bizarre this must sound to you, but I repeat, this is relatively good for China. Dare I say that I’m even grateful for this…?) Look through most of my photos, and you will see some pretty clear scenes, along with the occasional misty background. Not too bad, overall.

So then we come to last week. I click on my AQI app to have a little look at what’s going on and find that the AQI reading is at a brain boggling 568. If that doesn’t register, remember that the scale was only designed to go to 300. To give that a bit of perspective, it was very difficult to see the top of the buildings only a hundred yards or so down the street. If you are having trouble imagining that, then I really wouldn’t recommend finding out in person… Have a look below instead.


I’d even argue that the camera has done the pic a favour here.


Furthermore, on that day I only found one place in China with a rating of in the Green section- Tibet. There we a few places even higher, notably Haerbin at 780, which must have been a citywide game of Blind Man’s Buff for a few days. In contrast, the ENTIRE UK was reading Green, as was the vast majority of mainland Europe.

China’s northeast hit by air pollution so bad “you can’t see your own fingers in front of you”

For those of you scrabbling for the tissues and weeping for my safety, it quite important to note that there are no ill effects of this level of exposure, at least for the amount of time that I will be in China. The long-term effects kick in after perhaps 10 years here- short term I may have a chesty cough of two, but that’s about it. On that note, if there is anyone such as a doctor or Wikipedia expert who can disprove this, I’d prefer it to stay between you and you. Thanks.

Nevertheless, there is a serious health implication for the dear Chinese, who suffer this year after year. It’s perhaps similar to what many ‘developed’ nations experienced during their industrial revolutions throughout the past few centuries. Imagine the smog of London with Jack the Ripper snooping around and were about there. Oddly, attitudes today towards health haven’t developed a conscience. In fact- and I quote- the polluted air is ‘Good exercise for the lungs’. Without a doubt this is a line fed to schoolchildren and adults alike through public health announcements, but the danger is still there. Conscious or not, there is a profound effect upon health in terms of stamina and general exercise habits here. The fact that this is a part of life here, and that people are so blasé is obviously more troubling.

All I know is that my lungs have taken a kicking over the last week, and I’d much rather see the return of bluer and clearer skies thanks very much. If anyone knows the weatherman, let him know for me.

IMG_2747  I blame these guys!

With all this in mind, I’m not going out today… I’m staying put. Have a good week!!


4 thoughts on “16. Breathing is overrated.

  1. Shirley Pilkington says:

    Hi Simon, We encountered this atmosphere when we were in Chongching 1999 – I would have thought things had got better since then. Ah Well! A Shirley & U John

  2. […] For those of you have read Breathing is overrated, this apparently includes the memorable ‘exercise for the lungs‘ lesson, but I digress. Once a week- as is compulsory for all students in china, including at […]

  3. […] shocking as usually it lingers up near 200 or above on the AQI, as you may be able to remember from Breathing is overrated.  In fact, we almost apologetically stumbled over the Forbidden City, such was our ease on […]

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