Tag Archives: air quality

Thoughts upon returning…

Have I really been back in the States for over 3 weeks?  My how time flies.  Culture shock is to be expected when you leave your homeland and travel abroad; yet, culture shock also works in reverse. After spending a significant amount of time in a culture different than your own, you return and are shocked at how strange things seem; things that are oh-so-familiar just seem odd.

Here are a few of the thoughts that have crossed my mind in the last weeks of being home.

Wow.  There are SO MANY white people here!  And the words ‘so many’ are relative to other ethnicities because really there is hardly anyone here.

It is empty… the airports are empty, the streets are empty, the stores are empty.

Portland is SO quiet, peaceful, clean! The air smells so good! I’m so overwhelmed!

Shhh… you hear that?  NOTHING, oh wait, there is a bird… silence is amazing.

Everyone is so friendly!

There are so many conversations to eavesdrop on… Everyone is speaking English!  I can understand it all!

Where are all the Chinese characters?

Portland (which until 2011 was the biggest city I had ever lived in) is so SMALL & cute!  Look at those quaint little buildings downtown that think they are skyscrapers… how adorable.

Clouds are so cool.  I could spend hours staring at the clouds.  They are all different types, shapes, sizes, colors… they are magnificent and beautiful.  Some bring rain, some don’t… Some are wispy, white and whimsically float through the air.  Some are big, billowing, beastly and loom over the valleys.  In China, it was often cloudy… or just smoggy, but I realized I never really saw the clouds.  In Shanghai, you get one type of cloud – the monotone, all encompassing, sheet of gray – with a hint of brown.  There is no variation, no beauty, no personality in the clouds.  But here… oh, clouds are mind bogglingly fascinating.

Can’t I just swipe my Shanghai subway card? (When looking for cash to pay for a public bus ride in Portland. Fact, a ride on the bus in Portland is about the same as the starting fare for a taxi in Shanghai.)

The freedom to drive and the open road – LOVE IT!

Wow, us Americans spend a LOT of time in the car.

People are fat.

Does everyone in America always wear that much make-up?

Holy crap this place is expensive! (When I find myself converting everything back to RMB in my mind.)

Seeing Asian babies and children makes me happy… like, an “I feel at home” sort of happy.

Was I really in China for over a year?  Was that just a dream?

I hate small talk.  Small talk after returning from Asia sucks.

“Oh wow, you were in CHINA?  For HOW LONG?”

“Yup, 14 months.”

“Wow! How was CHINA?”

Seriously?  How does one respond to that?  We have 30 seconds for small talk and you want to know how China was?  Here’s an idea… read my 96 blog posts.  Then ask me a better question.

Bubble tea in Portland sucks.  I want to go back.

You say “Chinese food” but I don’t think you mean Chinese food… at every Chinese restaurant I go by… I know they are only there to disappoint me, so I don’t bother going in.

You are 3-D? (My response to seeing my boyfriend after 4 months of video-chatting online and not seeing each other in person.)

I’m BORED… Unemployment is no fun.

I watched more TV in 3 days than I did in the past year.

Grocery stores – AWESOME.  They are huge, they have so-so-sooo much selection.  They are neat, they are organized, they have so many familiar things.  It is sort of like heaven… but a grocery store.

Smile, say thank you.  Cashiers at grocery stores and other places here don’t just glare at you or completely ignore you, so you can be nice back.

What?  My ID?  Why do you want to see my ID?  Oh yea… we control who buys alcoholic beverages in this country.

Public restrooms – they have toilet paper, they have soap, many have paper towels, they don’t smell all that bad… and I even dare to sit on the seat occasionally.  Seriously, a girl could get used to this!

AHHH, I’m gonna die!  Oh wait, people STOP for pedestrians here.  Random… I mean, I know I do have the right of way, but you actually stopped for me?!?

Don’t run into people, don’t run into people… I know they are in your way, but you are in America, you need to be nice.  You can’t just bump people out of your way here.  Be polite, Julia.

Darnit… we have to tip.  The no tipping custom in China is an easy one to get used to.

Yes, I’m home.  Home in a place that sometimes seems so foreign, but only because something truly foreign became such a home.  It’s definitely an adventure, whether you are coming or going.



I am interrupting my 3 part series on my Monday adventures for a quick picture and link. (I promise I will write up part 3 of 3 today!)

This is the view from my bedroom window today.  It is a hot, humid and sunny day in Shanghai.  It is about 80 Fahrenheit or 26-27 Celsius.

1pm on a sunny day - yet so dark

Those aren’t rain clouds, they aren’t clouds at all… that is straight up pollution.    I was disgusted to see my ayi opened my bedroom window and shut it immediately when I got home from Chinese class.  I wonder if that sky is the cause for my headache….

And here is a link – some facts regarding the Shanghai air I have talked so much about.


Green Things

It is amazing how much some trees and greenery can excite foreigners who have been in Shanghai for a couple months.  I was looking for somewhere to go this afternoon as tomorrow (Tuesday) is my one full day off each week, but this week I have training for work all afternoon.  I needed to get out and do some exploring.  I sent out a text to a couple friends this morning during Chinese class and got a response from Adam & Yumi (fellow MIM 2010 graduates who are studying in Shanghai this term) saying, “Going to a picnic to see cherry blossoms. Meet at Jing’an subway stop at one.”  Hmmm… I don’t know where there are any cherry blossoms (or spots to picnic) anywhere near Jing’an Temple or on West Nanjing road – but I headed in that direction after getting out of class.

Map of phase 1 of Gucun park

Apparently, Jing’an was only the meet up point.  After a few delays and meeting up with Adam, Yumi and six others from their university, we hopped on the line 7 to ride all the way (14 subway stops) out to Gucun park.  When we finally arrived and walked out of the subway station we saw – construction, more construction, cranes and an empty shopping center that reminded us of an outlet mall in the states more than anything.  But it was further out of the city than any of us had been in quite some time, and beyond the newly constructed, still empty shopping center it appeared to be the end of the world.  No more city, no more buildings, just… wait for it…. TREES and an empty road lined with colorful flags.

Where are the cherry blossoms?

Gucun park – phase 1 is 180 hectares of manufactured nature.  Yes, it is true they manufacture everything in China, even nature.  Phase one is still being implemented, as we noticed when we were unable to enter the “exotic romance garden” as it was still under construction, and we saw truck driving loads of blooming flowers into the park. Phase 2, the sign says, will be another 250 hectares.  I’m assuming of more gardens, pathways, amusement park rides (which strangely no one ever seems to be ride) and really odd out of place statues, artwork?  Like machine guns, or the giant Tarzan like man with an ape .

Children in a fort, a child in a boat, flags and... a ninja with a machine gun??

Posing with the giant machine gun statue

Was it the Princess and the Pea or the Princess IN the Pea? I don't know, I was just excited to see another blonde!

We did find a grassy spot to sit down in and eat our lunch, and after awhile, were joined by a Chinese man who asked (in Chinese), “May I look at you for awhile?”  We said he could, so he did.  He observed the foreigners sitting on the grass eating, made some remarks in Chinese about us and then walked away as we got up to leave.

This is really hard to do...

I think they meant get off your bike...

The cherry blossoms which were blooming were beautiful, but there were many more not in bloom yet. Waterways, bridges, the random art and plenty of good Chinglish made it a delightful afternoon.  But honestly, greenery, trees, flowers and quiet open spaces made it worth the hour long subway ride.  Was the air “fresh”? Perhaps not – the horizon in all directions was the normal China-grey, the sun slightly dimmed by the haze; yet, the CO2 loving, oxygen producing, trees and plants did feel nice.  We felt that perhaps a bit more oxygen was being delivered to our nostrils.  Maybe Shanghai has driven us to fantasize – but we take what we can get.

Trees! And flowers! Is this heaven?

Cherry blossoms in the sun

I might as well be out in the country!


The quality of Portland air is one thing I miss most in China. I have jokingly asked for someone to bottle some up for me so I can keep it by my bed and take a big breath of clean air each night. It is something that is always on my mind, partially because I see it each and every day (yes, I do see the air), and partially because I breathe it every day.  Today, I don’t have a voice.  My first month in the country, I was stricken with head cold symptoms that only ebb and flow, but never completely go away.  I use almost as much tissue in Shanghai as I do in allergy season in Corvallis (which is unofficially the allergen capital of the world).  Today I read an article, found after reading another article recommended by my dad, about the air in China and it’s affects.  My favorite (perhaps most striking) quote:

“After stalling, the Chinese government recently accepted a World Bank estimate that some 750,000 of its people die prematurely each year just from air pollution.”

Read the whole article at:  How I Survived China by James Fallow

This article and the recent wide struck fear of radiation, motivated me to write about the air in China.  Today it rains, as it did yesterday and Saturday. As I left work Saturday, I was warned to be careful as the rain is dangerous. Of course the rain is acidic, the quality of the air should give that away.  But I think the comment was more inline with the (hoax) text message I received last Tuesday delivering the message so many in China received:

“Japanese government confirms radiation leak at Fukushima nuclear plants. Asian countries should take necessary precautions. If rain comes, remain indoors first 24hrs. Close doors and windows. Swab neck skin with beta dine where thyroid air is, radiation hits thyroid first. Take extra precautions. Radiation may hit Philippines starting at 4pm today. Pls send to your loved ones.”

While those in other countries rushed the stores looking for iodine pills (article), those in China looked to a more commonly found source in table salt.  Wiping out supermarkets and convenient stores in a mad rush to buy pounds of salt. (Times article)

Apparently, the radiation rumors and the salt rush only caused scandal in China – which was, in one case, handled by the Chinese government.  See: Punishment for Rumors and Salt Refunds.

I often sit in my large window sill in my bedroom window of my 28th floor apartment.  I made it into a cozy seat with Ikea blankets and pillows.  A small desk, protrudes from a large entertainment center/wall unit and is to my right, handy for my laptop (when not on my lap), a cup of tea or my Chinese homework.  The window over looks the section of Puxi (the west side of the Huangpu river that divides Shanghai) between my apartments and the river, the Pudong skyline, and to the left the Nanpu bridge (which I got a closer view of one day while wandering).

My lovely view - on a very clear (despite being cloudy) day!

Nanpu Bridge - also visible from the comfort of my room

So what does this have to do with the Chinese air – well my window also serves as my pollution detector.  Occasionally, I actually see real true fog (although I’m sure it is not clean fog).  But most mornings, I can open my window and get a good glance at the air quality that day.  Some days I get a clear view, like above.  Some days, I can barely make out the outline of the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center in the brownish yellow haze.  You know it isn’t just cloudy and overcast when you look up and see bright blue skies, yet look out and see only gray.

Gray skies - with the sun brightly reflecting off the Pearl Tower

But remember, Shanghai has “clean air” compared to many places in the country.  Beijing had “unmeasurable” pollution a few weeks ago.  See Beijing Air.  Chongqing (the fastest growing city in China, located in the middle of the country), Guangzhou and Hong Kong also made a recently published report on the Top 10 Cities with the World’s Worst Air.

All this talk about air quality is making my throat hurt… off to get some more lemon-ginger tea with honey to nurse my voice back to life before I have to teach again.  Hopefully, the rain will wash away some of the grime in the air and give us a day or two of “fresh air”.

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