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.
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)