Opening the curtains in the morning to check on the days weather has become a fruitless task, the weather largely stays the same: “Gray, with a hint of gray” This is not smog central Beijing, this is Qingdao – reportedly one of the cleanest cities in China and a long time member of the “Top Ten Most Livable Chinese Cities” lists that come out every single year.
Whilst the majority of international media are based in Beijing close to the political center of China, not so many are out in the second and third tier cities where the smog-olypse is just as bad as Beijing, or even worse. Beijing’s pollution issues stem from its geographical location in the basin of a valley, most older Chinese cities were based at the foot of a mountain range or along major rivers, 5000 years ago city building was about defense from bandits, now it is about defense against killer smog.
For the past three months I’ve personally given up on driving to the office, it takes 45 minutes to travel 11 kilometers in traffic so Ive opted for my bicycle which takes 23 minutes over the same distance (downhill) and 29 minutes on the return journey (uphill). I’ve been riding through the smog pretty much every day, except for today where you can barely see 15 meters, I chose to work out of the home office today. I sweat a lot, so perhaps my position on driving will change come summertime and the comfortable minus temperatures are replaced with plus thirty degree heat.
Today the Qingdao local media announced that this is the worst fog in 52 years (since modern records began), all highways are closed and the airport is cancelling and re-routing flights to fog free areas. Of course the AQI (Air Quality Index) figures provided by the government are still hovering at overly optimistic 90 but then again the local government only measures PM 10 and hasn’t yet rolled out city wide measuring of PM2.5, current PM2.5 readings are 325, ranking it eleventh in worst air quality in China.
A trip into downtown Qingdao for lunch (by car, of course) showed that local residents were not so optimistic by the foggy weather, face masks have become the norm. Restaurant owners are noting that lunch time customers are down as people prefer to stay in their air conditioned offices, take away sales are up but restaurant owners cant keep up with demand as most of the delivery boys are in the process of heading home for Chinese New Year.Â Daytime driving is a low speed affair with every possible light turned on, the good news is that most drivers are uncomfortable driving in such conditions and nearly always opt for public transport. The bad news is that once the fog dissipates, everyone jumps back in their cars and the smog returns.