Country Living with Francis Farragher
April, is probably the ideal month to visit the Chinese capital of Beijing. At that time, the often extreme sub-continental climate of the region is at its most benign – neither too hot or too cold – so with high pressure dominating, everyone should be basking in glorious sunshine as the temperatures touch 20° Celsius. Well not quite.
One of the most unusual weather phenomena in Beijing, is that of the sun not being visible, despite the fact that there’s no cloud in the sky. The answer, is of course smog, involving a mix of sunlight and organic compounds that merge to form a toxic cocktail on nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide.
In early April, the smog wasn’t particularly bad and the AQI (Air Quality Index) was often a lot higher but ‘the monster’ was always there in an eerie kind of way. It was like being stalked by a ghost – we all knew the sun was trying to break through, it was bright, and yet a blanket of haze covered a city with over 20 million people.
To complicate matters, Beijing is located in a natural bowl and when high pressure, with its characteristic still air develops, there is just no wind activity to disperse the smog that has come about with the huge industrialisation of the city.
On a holiday in the city, I found no immediate adverse reaction to the smog, despite having a touch of asthma that sometimes can be aggravated by pollen or pollutants, but studies carried out by different researchers have linked one third of all deaths in China to respiratory problems, essentially caused by bad air.
The class system decides who breathes the good and the bad air. The middle to upper classes live in the cleaner parts of the city: they can drive to work in the really bad smog days and they can afford to have internal air purifiers.
In the inner city though, across the modest and cramped dwellings of the hutongs, the most common defence is a white mouth and nose mask, worn by many Chinese on a daily basis, something that any Irish person would find totally alien.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.