New York to Beijing – Pollution/Smollution: How the Air Quality in Beijing is a Lot Like Crime in New York


How the air quality in Beijing is like crime in New York –

It exists as an issue, but is much more exaggerated than reality.

Living in Beijing is NOT Equivalent to Smoking 40 Cigarettes a Day


Taking the Beijing Subway Last Week- AQI was 350/Hazardous

Before moving to New York City in the 90’s I had heard how dangerous it would be there. I was told by many people to be careful and they would pray for me.

Like most issues that make the news, stories of an extreme nature become of high interest. Fear is created in viewers with the hopes that their consumer hearts will be stirred to purchase something, anything, to help us cope with our dire circumstances. Remember when everyone duct taped their windows in fear of chemical or bio-chemical terrorism? Or how about the end of the world fear when the clock struck 2000? It’s the end of the world as we know it! Gay people are getting married. And so on  it goes.

As with these fear-based notions, I quickly learned, after moving into Harlem in 1994, that the media hype on crime was just that – hype. Sure, like in any urban place, it is important to be smart. Don’t go flashing all your bling in the subway. Know where you are going. Don’t go down dark alleys. Common sense anywhere really. By following these simple rules, my years in NYC were crime-free. (I am not counting the times our bike seats and wheels were stolen – an easily avoidable situation by carrying the bikes to your 6th floor walkup, or at least taking the seat and tires with you.)


I raised all four of my children in Washington Heights. My oldest traveled freely, alone, as young women, to and from school, to Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens…… not a scratch on their heads. I am not saying New York is free of crime. I am saying that most of what you read about it is absolute rubbish.

Now, here we are in Beijing where there is an “Airpocolopyse”. Ahhhh – I can’t breathe….. we’re all gonna die!!! Again, exaggeration. Good readers, take note – what you are hearing in the news in the States is very close to rubbish when it comes to the reality of the Air Quality Index (AQI) in Beijing. Sure, there have been a few days since we moved here in August when the AQI has risen to levels that are unhealthy and staying inside is recommended. But, the word “few”  is the key word in that sentence. And, especially, in our circumstance, we have so many safety controls in our home and work that make even those days nothing near an “Airpocolopyse”.  Exaggerated Article – Showcases my Children’s School in Photos

This was yesterday in Beijing!


Here are some things that are true:

  • We have ridden in a took-took this winter that had an actual coal burning stove inside.
  • We have seen people burning random items on the sidewalk.
  • The first thing everyone does in the morning is look out the window to see if we can see the mountains – then check the AQI app. See below alternate views.
  • A few times, we have cancelled plans for the day in order to stay close to home and avoid the air.
  • School was “cancelled” only once for AQI at my kids British school- but the staff went in and it was optional for students.
  • When measuring the AQI in our apartment and school, it is always a low and nice number – somewhere under 30. (And, this is where we spend the majority of our time anyway.)


Good Day = Mountains

Bad Day  = a few days a month and sometimes clears up by noon or end of the day, sometimes lasts a few days. 


Also, worth noting are all the precautions and warnings that Beijing itself puts into place. Driving restrictions on bad days, reminders to stay inside, most buildings beginning to implement HEPA systems, air purifiers, measurement of AQI etc. Expat Doctor Advice on Air Purifiers

This is our Purifier – Blue means air is clear and good – Pink/Red means AQI is worrisome and purifier needs to run – It has only been pink once since August.

Los Angeles was a “walk -in-the-pollution-park” back in the 80’s. My husband grew up there. He remembers going outside to check if he could breathe before being allowed to play. His dad would say, “Does it hurt to breathe?” – No – “Then go outside.”

Take note Americans – where to worry in the US…..Current US Polluted Cities

Mountain ranges in LA create the same issue as ridges around Beijing – Trapped air. China is working to improve the AQI and many people drive electric vehicles or ride bikes, helping curb emissions. They want it to improve too, the same way LA has.

Tips to Healthy Breathing in Beijing


  1. On days the AQI is high, wearing a mask is a must. Not just any mask. It must have a filter on it and you need to replace the mask/filter over time and use.  Also, wear the mask appropriately snug around your nose and face. I use the Vogmask
  2. Stay inside as much as possible on the really high pollution days. (That has been about 5-6 days since we got to Beijing in August.)
  3. Avoid exercising outside on high pollution days – even a mask wouldn’t be as helpful as avoiding it altogether. (We have an indoor exercise facility with HEPA systems and air purifiers.)
  4. Have air purification systems in your apartment or home. Change the filters as needed. (Photos above. Ours were included with our apartment.)
  5. Being out in the pollution is NOT like smoking an entire pack of cigarettes. Read the article at the top of the Blog for real comparisons.
  6. People in Beijing are NOT buying bottled air. That is a joke. Those who might be, are like the duct-tape buyers averting chemical terrorism in the States. They have been suckered!
  7. Pollution is a problem here, but precautions are in place. AND, it is not polluted every day!!
  8. Pollution is not weather – sometimes, when we are talking about it here, we say, how is the weather? We should not consider smog to be like fog.

AQI ChartAQI Chart_20

We have had many days that are in the 100’s. Those are really not that bad or noticeable. (Honestly, we do not wear masks on those days at all – but we do not have asthma.) There were a few days in the 200’s each month and a few weeks ago, we did have a “400+” day. (Mask, hood, stay inside if possible.) It smelled like walking in a coal mine! They predicted even higher readings and that it would last much longer than it actually did. (Like a blizzard being predicted then only getting 2-5 inches of snow.)

If we stay inside on the bad days, we stay healthy. The school has alerts in each room with AQI readouts and the school nurse sends a daily email alerting us of the status.

Here is a view from a classroom window a few weeks ago – during the “Airpocolypse” week.


So, the take away here is…. don’t believe everything you hear about crime in NY and pollution in Beijing. Both cities are wonderful places to live and raise families.

Next up: Expat holiday blues – or not…..

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