Especially in winter, the air in Hong Kong isn’t particularly great. This year, however, I’ve been particularly aware of it, and tracking the air quality has become a daily habit.

Recently we’ve had a particularly bad bout of air pollution, apparently a by-product of northern China’s “airpocalypse”. Although I tried to limit my exposure, I still started developed an itchy throat and a cough. I can’t imagine living in such a polluted place as Beijing, as a few days of terrible air here was frightening. I love my life here in Hong Kong, but I do worry about my health, and I realise by moving here, I’ve swapped clean air for a “better”  lifestyle.

In contrast to the bad air days, the wind has blown in the right direction (or whatever the scientific explanation is) and we’ve also had really good days, with my app displaying all too rare green signal that is the norm in my home country. On those days, I breathed in deep, relishing that crisp, clean winter air that I used to take for granted.

Would you go hiking, knowing the air is bad?

Today, unfortunately, the air quality is so bad that the government’s index, whose “acceptable” level is well beyond that of the World Health Organisation’s, even recognises it as “high”. Guess today’s planned hike will have to take a raincheck. Instead, I start packing for my Chinese New Year trip to a destination known for its clean air. My air purifier doesn’t get switched off.

I believe acceptable PM2.5 levels are about 25 in a 24 hour period.

It doesn’t seem to bother some people here, though. A colleague who insists on blasting the shared office with unnecessarily cold air conditioning, four fans and the windows open (all at the same time), regardless of the temperature outside, kept on with his morning routine during the really bad air days. While the weather bureau had issued a “cold” air warning which meant he couldn’t use the air con (thank God, it was 15 degrees after all), he continued to sigh, mutter under his breath while fanning himself and opening all the windows. Exhausted from a recent cross-cultural clash about the air con being used during winter (I had seriously caused a loss of face, questioning the local obsession with “ventilation”), I said nothing this time. Inwardly, I was seething, incredulous that habit and sheer stubbornness would trump common sense: surely air bad = windows closed, right? Though I guess that if this was my forever, I’d be tempted to have my head in the sand, too.

I naively hope that, as spring is approaching, that the air goes back to “moderate” and I can go at least another year without being the office’s conflict-causing gweilo 😉 I wonder if, eventually, I won’t be able to ignore the air quality and might trade the bright lights and excitement for fresh air.



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