Thursday, January 23, 2014

How China Makes Us All Crazy

My friends and I have had endless discussions recently about the various ways that China gets in your head and makes you wonder and worry about everything.

Granted, there is reason for concern. Just today, for instance, the air in the city hovered between "very unhealthy" in the high 200s and "hazardous." Just as I was about to walk out to meet a friend for lunch, the numbers tipped into "hazardous," so I pulled out a face mask for the walk to the restaurant.

I think my head is too big and my face too small, because the whole thing was unpleasant.
The elastic that was supposed to go around my ears pulled my ears out, making it tough to put a warm hat over my head, and the mask went all the way up to my eyes, making my mascara start to smear.

Nevertheless, I set out. A few minutes of walking and I realized my nose had started to run. Instead of taking the mask off and blowing my nose, I just sniffled my way down Dongzhimen. Just before I got to the restaurant, I realized I had to sneeze. "Do not sneeze," I ordered myself, imagining the snotty mess inside the mask.

Anyway, I got there, wiped my nose, cleaned up my mascara, had a nice lunch, and decided that I would skip the mask for the walk home. The air was only 280 or so -- "very unhealthy" -- and I just couldn't stand the discomfort.

Earlier that day, I had an ongoing IM chat with a few friends who will remain unnamed. In one case, we had an exchange about being able to spot the air "trends." In other words, some days the air is not good but you can tell that it's "trending" in the right direction. One friend admitted that she not only had an app for the Weather Channel to get the temperature, but she also looked at the wind speed and direction, in a scientific way to see if the wind might blow away the pollution.

"I found that chances are the pollution clears up generally when the winds are more than 5 mph," she wrote to me. As we were chatting, the wind picked up to 7 mph, for about 5 minutes, which clearly wasn't enough to blow away the bad air, since it went up to 360, hazardous.

The friend set off to pick up her son at his school, which didn't provide air purifiers indoors.

Suddenly she sent another text. On the way to pick up her son, she was having a beer at a local bar. "Mother of the year," she wrote. Another friend wrote, "the best mother takes care of her own mental health so she can better take care of her kids."

"Getting the check now," she wrote. "Going to get him. For real."

Unless another local bar is open, she added.

And that -- along with chocolate-chip cookies, binge-watching TV series, being excited about each new restaurant that opens, having endless discussions about where to buy meat and fish and fruit -- is how we pass so many hours. How will we ever amuse ourselves back in the USA?


  1. Debbie, there are better anti-pollution masks. The one you wore is useless. Try

    1. But Frank, what about the placebo effect? Okay, you're right.