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Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Art of Breathing . . .

Growing up in New Zealand, I never really thought about clean air - it was, literally, as natural as breathing. I suffered asthma as a child but, like many asthmatics, grew out of it and never thought about it again until I began traveling overseas.

During my first overseas sojourn, to Melbourne, Australia, I developed a nagging cold I just couldn't shake. Or that's what I thought, at least. When a doctor asked me to describe my symptoms, I said it felt like I was wheezing (my younger sister had more serious asthma so I was familiar with the symptoms), the doctor did some tests and told me I was correct. Unaccustomed as I was to the different pollens and histamines in Australia, my asthma had returned but wasn't more than a minor problem.

Until I moved to Asia, that is.

Seoul in 2001 was a shock to my system and I experienced my first asthma attack - a terrifying experience as I was not in the habit of carrying my inhaler with me. Tougher emissions controls and tighter regulations on industry mean Seoul's air is now much cleaner but I have taken maintenance medicine for my asthma almost every day since then. (The exceptions being because I hate the idea of ingesting any chemical daily so tried a few times to do without - before learning the hard way that I really need asthma meds to breathe in Asia.)

Obviously, considering China as my next place of employment meant considering many factors - salary, saving potential, travel and writing opportunities, relationship impact, lifestyle and living conditions. Top in the living conditions column was the quality of air, or, in China, lack thereof. I laughed it off, telling friends I would purchase air filters for each room, particularly as my utilities were being paid as part of my remuneration package. I was more concerned than I let on, however.

As I was right to be. The world media has been covering the pollution problem here and the stats are readily available and frightening, as are the photographs and first-person reports. The country IS doing what it can to alleviate a problem many developing countries have already experienced - London during the Industrial Revolution, Los Angeles and Chicago much more recently - but any solution must be multi-faceted and will take time. And is unlikely to happen in my time in country.

Not such a nice day in Beijing - the US Embassy lists the current air quality as 161 on a scale of 0-500, 0-50 being 'Good' and 301-500 being hazardous. ' "Unhealthy" AQI is 151 - 200. Everyone may begin to experience some adverse health effects, and members of the sensitive groups may experience more serious effects.'

So I turned to my first plan - air filters so at least my apartment would have clean air. I had a US-made filter in Seoul so shipped that to China and found a voltage converter for it but, in a moment of inattention, moved it from my bedroom to my study and plugged it in without the converter. Bye bye Honeywell HEPA filter, at least until I find an electrician who may be able to resurrect it.

With winter approaching and many warnings of how bad the air gets during winter, it was time to find a replacement. I started looking, and found the brands here ranged from 3,000-13,000 RMB ($500-2,100) or even higher, and started to consider having a friend ship one or two from the states.

Then I found the solution . . .

(To be continued, time to venture into the smog to go to the gym and the market - a mask will probably be my next line of defense)


  1. God but I hate these serials !@

  2. haha, I thought I was rambling a little, Fred, and the next post is more the solution than me, so decided to separate the two

  3. Looking forward to part 2...Kim (Jeju)