As the sun began to set in Beijing the air was filled with a mist like I’d never seen before. I questioned it: “is this what the air really looked like when the temperature sunk below zero degrees at sunset?”
Walking around the walls of the Forbidden City in search of Tiananmen Square and the entrance to the Palace, I thought that I could almost be on a Hollywood movie set; with perfectly positioned lights accenting the pagodas and a heavy spray from a smoke machine somewhere giving everything a dreamlike quality. The world had turned mystical and transported me back to the time of the Ming dynasty.
But one thing confirmed that I wasn’t on a Hollywood set. A sneeze wracked my body and out instead of the healthy clear colour of a normal sneeze, blackness came out of my nose. I yelped – was I in a time travel movie? Had my Ming dynasty dream suddenly changed countries, from China to Britain during the black plague? I coughed again, my lungs fighting something; I spat, and out came mucus speckled with black – yes, I was clearly fighting the black plague; I must be dying.
Perhaps if I’d booked my holiday with Zoover.co.uk they would have informed me that Beijing is one of the most polluted cities in the world and I would have taken precautions before landing. Instead, I had spent the afternoon traipsing through what I would soon discover was the worst pollution day on record in, not just Beijing but, China, and reached levels that were off the measurement chart; and here I was developing what has now been not-so fondly nicknamed as “Beijing cough”, by the cities expat community.
Whilst the pollution helped create some fun effects with my photography over the next three-days, the coughing and black-pollution that coated my clothing and face by the end of the trip was not worth it!
Tips for Dealing with Polluted Air when Travelling
Buy a face mask and wear it
Sounds silly but I didn’t realise that Beijing’s air was so filthy until after I begun coughing and sneezing black. I recommend you wear a face mask from the time you leave the airport/hotel to ensure you minimise rick of breathing in that yucky pollution.
Need to buy a mask? Head to the local supermarket or chemist, or if staying at a hotel ask the concierge for their recommendation of the best place. I also recommend buying a N95 mask, something I didn’t learn about until after my trip.
A N95 means that it will filter 95% of particulate matter as small as PM0.3 microns, which is much smaller than the PM2.5 microns which cities like Beijing and Shanghai experience currently.
Smart tip from Aisleen: if you wear a face mask be sure to wash it each night and wash your face frequently to stop pimples!
If you’re one of those mad people who like to exercise on holiday, I commend you; but in places like China and India where the air is bad please try to exercise indoors to minimise the risk of breathing in the pollutants – panting, increased blood circulations and pollutants don’t exactly make for increased fitness levels!
Get out of the cities!
Choose some fun activities outside the city to escape the pollution for a day.
Instead of climbing the more touristy sections of the Great Wall, spend some extra time to get to the Jinzhou section of the wall before spending time in the surrounding area; including Yiwulu mountain, one of three sacred mountains with many temples and sites to see throughout the mountain range, and the Liaoshen Campaign Memorial, which houses a large museum of over 16,000 pieces of equipment used during the military campaign.
Follow @BeijingAir or similar
The US Consulate have an automated Twitter account that frequently updates about the state of the air in certain cities, Beijing and Shanghai being two that I’ve used.
Each Tweet shares a bunch of information which I’m no expert about so the numbers that I concentrate on is the concentration number (size of the particles in PM) and the AQI (unhealthy/moderate/good etc.).
There is also a website which I recommend that monitors air quality throughout China and Asia (click on the ‘More Cities’ tab for Asia)
Invest in pollution reducing moisturiser… or any moisturiser!
A recent introduction of a new ingredient to Chanel’s Précision line are creams and serum, tulip tree lead extract is said to target the residue that pollution can leave on skin.
“The tulip extract works as a magnet that traps pollutants accumulated on the skin, then rinses them away with water,” explains Armelle Souraud, Chanel’s scientific spokeswoman. As for whether the tulip-tree extract rids skin of environmental residue better than a regular cleanser, Cincotta says, “Most cleansers will remove environmental grime, but if you can leave a barrier of protection from pollutants on the skin, that could be beneficial. I’d want to see studies conducted to determine both the amount of tulip-tree wax left on the skin after cleansing, and the amount of pollutants the cleanser was able to buffer, to see if it’s legitimate.”
I’ve tried the moisturiser and the UV protection cream in the Chanel Précision line and the jury is still out as to if it made a difference. Whilst my skin felt softer and cleaner, isn’t that what any beauty product should do? I will admit that having something on your skin is probably a smart move to ensure pores don’t get to clogged up, and it’s better to be safe than sorry!