Beijing: the scary and the rare

This week’s blog title refers to the infamous air quality in Beijing. This past week, the air quality was atrocious. What I mean is the PM 2.5 index, which ranges from 0 to 500, and hopefully is under 50 or 100 was in the 200-300 or 400 range, which is quite dangerous for human health. So, the following pictures are not just fog, but smoggy, polluted, and the common situation for Beijing.

In the business district in Beijing, China. This is not smog, but a bad air quality, polluted day.

In the business district in Beijing, China. This is not smog, but a bad air quality, polluted day.

A lovely smoggy day in Beijing.

A lovely smoggy day in Beijing. 

Reasons for the pollution:

  • Beijing is surrounded by Hebei Province, which has lots of factories, so the pollution blows in.
  • Illegal factories in Hebei, and pollution blowing in
  • Mountains surrounding Beijing help to trap the air inversion
  • Lots of cars

So after all these factors,this is why you have the soup called a “smoggy” (aka a normal day) in Beijing. So, yes, I bought a face mask at a local convenience store. But, it makes you warmer, more uncomfortable, and I’m not sure how much it protects you from what you saw above.

But, since Tuesday, July 2, the last 5 days are super rare. I woke up to the reflection in my mirror reflecting perfectly blue skies. Blue skies are quite a rarity, happening less than half the year, so 5 days is quite a treat.

This is what an abnormal day in Beijing looks like.

This is what an abnormal day in Beijing looks like, in the business district, near my office.

However, these blue skies have come with pretty intense heat. Although it has been hot, it is summer, and I am just happy to finally see the blue sky. It is so simple, but amazing that something so simple can uplift people’s attitudes and moods.

I also wanted to mention public transportation a little bit in this post. People use public transport here, but there is sort of a stigma against buses. Although buses can be the cheapest (in Beijing, with a transportation card, it costs 0.40 RMB, so like $0.07USD, or buying a ticket, 1RMB or $0.16 USD), oftentimes they are super crowded, and can be uncomfortable experiences if you don’t want to feel like a sardine during rush hour.

Note how people are at the door, barely on the bus.

Note how people are at the door, barely on the bus.


So, most people are excited about the subway, which in Beijing, each ticket is just 2RMB ($0.33 USD). Public transportation is heavily subsidized in Beijing, so it is the cheapest subway in China, because usually other cities’ subways depends on distance, whereas Beijing is a flat-rate fee. The Beijing subway has developed quite rapidly since my last time here. Here is a link to the Beijing subway:

The subway has signs in English and Chinese, and buses typically don’t at the bus stations, so you sort of have to know how to read Chinese characters to take buses. However, the subway doesn’t have stops everywhere, so sometimes the most direct form may be a bus. The problem is that during rush hour, buses can take forever. Also, taxis are abundant, but the fare just increased a few weeks ago to a starting rate of 13 RMB ($2.11 USD), and increases 2.30 RMB after 3 km. A cab ride can still be cheap by US standards, but I only have taken cabs four while here, only because it was late at night, and buses and the subway don’t run that late.

But, the stigma is similar here as in the US about public transportation. Most Chinese people hope to make enough money to buy their own car. However, license plates in Beijing cost almost $30,000 USD, and that is on top of the price of the car. But, the dream of owning a car, and stigma against public transportation is quite big. However, the good thing is that there are plenty of people who take public transit here, which is why I feel safe riding by myself here and not back home.

But besides ranting about public transit, and air pollution, this week has been a good week. I finished my half-annual report for the Clear Water project. I also finished translating an awards document, and I finished my translation and edits for the Organic Agriculture program. I also started translating a new section of the website. Next week, I will be working on more Clear Water stuff, as well as translating like crazy to get a draft of the shark-fin brochure by Friday. I also will be attending a teacher training on Sunday, so next week will be quite busy. I’m just sad that today will be the last blue sky day for a while, since it will be rainy starting tomorrow. And on that note, I sign off to enjoy the rest of this sunny day. Zaijian!


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