Posts Tagged With: smog

Shanghai Shrouded in Smog

Shanghai has never had much of an issue with smog in the nearly 4 years we have been here. Yes there are a few random days where the air quality has not been great, but until last year we hadn’t really experienced how bad it could be. Read about that here. Beijing has a reputation for bad air. It is explained since Beijing is in more of a valley bad air gets trapped, along with dust from the deserts to the west. Luckily Shanghai’s geography has worked to its benefit. Being along a river delta and close to the sea winds blow away much of the bad air.  With the bad smog last winter and this past week the poorer than normal quality has been blamed on stagnant air, little wind, weather patterns and factories or farmers with excessive burning raising levels to new all time highs. This is according to many news agencies using Reuters as its source.

Shanghai Skyline Dec 6, 2013. Where did it go?

Shanghai Skyline Dec 6, 2013. Where did it go?

All I know is what I can read, see, smell, feel and taste and it was bad this past week. For the most part we have had warmer than usual temperatures until early November. When many people start to put on the heat and days are dark longer the levels typically rise. Much of China’s hydro and electricity comes from coal fired plants. Since Shanghai is more of a temperate climate with lows not getting much below freezing, although the dampness and chill factor make it feel much colder, houses are not centrally heated. We have a large unit on the wall of the main rooms of the house that are for heating and cooling. They run on electricity. When the colder temperatures arrive the pollution level takes a jump.

For the past 2-3 weeks the levels have hovered around 150 for the PM 2.5 levels. The 2.5 levels are the particle size and they are the nasty ones that can get into the lungs and therefore travel to other parts of the body. They can cause the most harm with long term exposure over months or years. Additionally, it is based on 24 hour exposure hoping a few minutes or hours are not as health threating. When levels are over 200 we do not allow the children out for recess, even the shorter 20 minute breaks. The World Health Organisation states levels over 20 are not acceptable. This September and August Shanghai levels ranged in the 20-50 range. Once the levels rose higher, over 150, I noticed daily headaches that I can’t seem to get rid of. If I am outside for longer periods I often get a nosebleed. Last year I had numerous sinus infections and twice had laryngitis. The doctor said the pollution was causing irritations in my body and I needed to take precautions and drink lots of water. I started to wear a little mask on bad air days. At work we have air purifiers that run non stop. All this helps keep us as safe as we can.

This past week things changed and levels soared, as you may have seen on the news. Levels went from 200-250 early in the week to 300+. Headaches and itchy or watery eyes seemed the norm, masks were the new fashion accessory and must have. Some schools decided to close, while others continued to keep children inside and cancel any outdoor sports. Local schools had to be told they also needed to keep children indoors this week. International schools started putting this policy in place last year when air quality diminished, but local schools had not.  By Friday all time records were broken and early Friday morning levels reached 590 according to the website I check. By 6AM levels were at 508. It looked dusky out and the sun was not more than an orange smudge that you could look at without squinting. The smell in the aire was acrid and smokey which caused my nose to tingle. My lips felt numb and my eyes wanted me to rub them nonstop. My mouth felt funny like my tongue was gross and I had forgotten to brush my teeth. I had yest another headache. At work we closed and sealed as much as we could and kept the air cleaners going at full speed. This didn’t even seem to help as eventually the bad air creeped into any quickly opened door or crack. Things looked hazy inside hallways, like you forgot to clean your glasses and they were smudged. Inside the classrooms it was better, but I turned the air cleaner on full just in case. Levels went back up to the mid 500’s and action needed to be taken.

Comparrison of the same view of the Shanghai skyline. The second (on right side)taken before a bad rainstorm a few weeks ago where pollution levels were reasonable. The other, on the left, was taken Dec. 6th, 2013 when levels were mid 200’s. I zoomed in closer trying to catch an outline of the tallest buildings, but they are invisible in this pic. This photo doesn’t even show the all time high reached Friday Dec 5th where we could barely see the plaza just beyond the hotel on the left side of the one photo. When levels are high it feels like you are in a fog and you strain to see things you know are there, but no longer can see.

According to the Shanghai Daily Newspaper on Friday the Government halted construction, pulled up to 30% of government vehicles off the road and asked factories to reduce or stop production to help. During bad level days fireworks are also banned. By Saturday levels returned to the 200’s after the short-term fix. Earlier today, Sunday, levels were finally under 200. A thick fog moved in overnight as temperatures went from seasonal low teens to 18-20c.  The levels are now back over 200 possibly as result of the earlier fog trapping in more bad air. Part of my regular daily routine has become checking the pollution websites as much as I check the weather. Let’s hope soon this will pass and Shanghai can again breathe easy.

Stay tuned…

Categories: post a week | Tags: , , , , , ,

Hell of a Hike: The Forbidden City

This is part 3 of our recent trip to Beijing.

After 2 early starts and many miles put on our tired and weary feet we had a later start to our day as we planned to do a self guided tour of the Forbidden City. After another breakfast of coffee and pastry from the bakery next door we set off to the metro stop which was conveniently right in front of our hotel. After our walk to Tian ‘anmen Square, the long way round on Friday, we decided the metro was a better option. The Beijing Metro is extensive and covers large ground. 2 RMB (about 30 cents) to most stops is a super cheap way to travel.

After 2 short stops we arrived at our destination and when we excited the subway, police and security were blocking access to Tian ‘amen Square . We assumed it was due to the large crowds that were already congregating there. We were on the opposite side to the Forbidden City, so back in the metro we exited on the opposite side of the road and joined the crowds pushing towards the entrance. We hoped we wouldn’t be held back here.  Surprisingly the crowds moved quickly and we were inside the grounds. Queues were in different locations and we were not sure exactly where to wait to buy our admission tickets. No one was barring our entrance, so we pushed on through various gates after snapping a few photos. Finally we came to a location where tickets were being presented. With broken English a fellow directed us where to go. Many agent windows were open and the process was slow going. Luckily a gentleman came and pointed to an empty wicket and with some hesitation we moved forward. Luckily a new window opened and we got our tickets within minutes and were inside the next set of grounds.


During the Ming and Qing Dynasties the Forbidden City was home for 24 Emperors.  It is relatively new (1368-1644) not as old or ancient as I would have thought. Our guide, Jason,  from the previous day said most palaces were moved or built a new with each Emperor, so only 1 other is still in existence today. An Imperial Palace housing numerous Emperors over generations was usual. The Forbidden  Palace grounds  contain over 8 700 rooms. The moat which is 52m wide is backed by a thick stone wall which stretches 10m high which provided further protection. Today it only keeps tourists out and allows entrances and exits through its 4 main gates.


Part of the moat inside the city walls. Only beautiful stone work walls here on the inside.

Today was a disappointing day as the pollution, fog and smog made for a cloudy dull day. The brilliant reds, greens and yellows were lost in this dullness that enveloped everything. It was barely above 5˚c, not the sunny high of 15˚c that was predicted. Best to keep moving. I am not sure what I expected but the many buildings all looked similar and none allowed entrance inside. An opening over a railing allowed you a peek inside if you could stand the crowds jostling and vying for position to get a look. Never mind stopping to pose for a photo because you would be taking someone else’s profile or back of their head. Rarely will people stop and wait as you take a photo, often they walk through your shot oblivious to what you are doing. The sparsely decorated rooms were not much to see. Some were covered with plastic coverings or layers of polluted dust. Such a shame to let a large part of history fade away. I guess I expected more opulence and splendor since it was forbidden to most commoners in the day. The wind picked up and despite my many layers, gloves, hat and scarf I was chilled and starting to feel miserable. This only added to the feeling of an anti-climax and we questioned this is it? Additionally, knowing now we will leave China next year added to my sadness. Slowly our plans and excitement around Asia is coming to an end  as so many things are getting crossed off our “Must See List”. The anticipation and feeling of ample time is turning to a feeling of loss and sadness to an interesting place that has been home and sooner than later will only be a collection of memories and photographs.


Tour guides, who approached us outside the main gates and audio tours were available, but we decided to do it at our own pace. The local guides are not hired by the location, so we were leery of how authentic and true their information may be. Not to mention you must wonder if they will scam you later for a large price than agreed on. We may have taken the audio tour, but to be honest we didn’t seek it out and we didn’t notice a place where this was available. With our limited Chinese we decided not to ask, but instead use the well posted signs around the City in convenient locations that explained briefly what we were looking at in Mandarin and English.

Inside one of the many Forbidden City Rooms

Inside one of the many Forbidden City Rooms

The most surprising thing I learned was of the large stone wall and moat that ran around the Forbidden City. Little of the city wall is left today, but the similar style of wall  is still visible here. The moat, still filled with water, can be seen just after you enter near the Tian’anmen square gate. Moats seem more medieval Europe than Chinese, so it was something that really caught my attention.  Our tour guide from our Great Wall Tour told us that today’s Tian’anmen Square used to be part of the Forbidden City, the Emperor’s front yard, he explained. The gardens in the rear of the palace are the only ones left today. The square was built after a model of the Soviet squares in  Russia something that is not normally seen in Chinese city planning. Tian’anmen Square means Gate of Heavenly Peace and according to Wikipedia was destroyed during heavy fighting during a former dynasty. The name of the former gate was used to name the square Tian’anmen.

Stay tuned for more… next time the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

Categories: Chinese Adventures, Culture, post a week, teaching overseas, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

CTB and a New Shade of Darkeness

I have been worried about CTB going into darkness over the last few months and weeks. Well this week a different kind of darkness rolled into Shanghai. As you may already be aware from the news reports pollution levels have been extremely high. Beijing has had the most attention with bad air, but due to its location in a valley it is more likely to have trouble since the pollutants easily get trapped and settle. Shanghai is closer to the sea and pollution is not always as severe. I hardly noticed it before that is until this year. It was here, but rare.

When you think about the population of the city (close to 24 million permanent residents) and the increasing numbers of cars on the road it is no wonder the city has pollution. I started to count ‘blue sky days’ like at home where we count ‘smog days’. The sun comes out, but it is always hazy. Few days are completely clear with blue sky and clouds. Now some of that is also the moisture in the air due to the location of Shanghai on the East China Sea and part of the Yangtze River delta. The city is also divided by the Huangpu River. Summers are sticky humid and winters are mild, but so damp you swear it was 5*c or more colder than what the thermometer shows.

Sun is dull through the smog

Sun is dull through the smog

I have noticed the pollution more in the last 12 months or so. With increasing levels our school has also started to monitor conditions and days where levels are high asthma students stay indoors (orange level or unhealthy for sensitive groups according to the US consulate in Shanghai) and other outdoor activities are limited. Some days when the levels are highest (red –unhealthy) we treat it like a rainy day and everyone stays inside. The worst day this week was red or maybe even the highest level purple. I could feel it in my nose and throat. From my classroom we could barely see clearly across the street, never mind the skyline of Shanghai. The sun was not visible and you felt like we were in a thick fog; darkness even in the middle of the day.

Straining to see the skyline and able to look directly at the sun.

Straining to see the skyline and able to look directly at the sun.

Thank goodness something changed and the next day things improved and we were back to orange levels. Not great, but at least bearable. The temperatures went up a bit too this week and I wonder if that helped as heat was turned down, or off. The is citing that a colder winter (I think earlier too) and different and unlucky wind patterns have contributed to the woes of many cities across China seeing an increase in pollution levels.

Many locals wear face masks and they are sold along with hats, mitts and scarves come winter. I was told they were for cold weather, not pollution. I bought one this year and it makes a difference to block the wind when driving the scooter. Now sales are increasing as people are wearing them while exercising, walking or just out of doors.

I didn't snap a photo of the worst smog this week, but I found this example from Reuters.

I didn’t snap a photo of the worst smog this week, but I found this example from Reuters.

According to smog has actually improved over the last few years with many factories moving inland and to other cities. They claim the dust and particulates in the air come from things that are being burned as well as construction which is extensive in Shanghai.

It has been a busy return to work after Christmas and today I decided to open the drapes, enjoy the view and veg out inside. Good excuse staying indoors and lounging in my jammies all day, don’t you think?

Stay tuned…

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