Get­ting caught in a ‘Smoggy Hol­i­day’

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - PAGE TWO - Yuan Zhou

The diary of a smog watcher stranded in a “fairy­land”:

Dec 16, Fri­day

In the af­ter­noon, I was kept on the edge of my seat, peer­ing out­side the win­dow at white clouds and blue skies giv­ing way to a beige pall of smog that blan­keted Bei­jing.

Not every­one shared my mood for Smog Watch­ing that of­ten com­pelled me to write some­thing in the news­pa­per. Heed­ing a red alert from the city, many rushed to pick up their chil­dren from schools ear­lier than usual and stock up on gro­ceries for the week­end. The ring roads were crowded as driv­ers hur­ried home be­fore

This Day, That Year

an odd-even li­cense plate re­stric­tion came into force.

My son told me, elated: “The school said we’re go­ing to have five days of Smoggy Hol­i­day.”

Dec 17-18, Satur­daySun­day

We stayed home. Be­sides do­ing house­hold chores, I watched Bruce Wil­lis’ Ar­magge­donabout an as­teroid the size of Texas go­ing to im­pact the Earth. Air pol­lu­tion wors­ened but was noth­ing of apoc­a­lyp­tic pro­por­tions.

My wife noted that I’d been in my pa­ja­mas for the whole week­end.

Dec 19, Mon­day

On my way out dur­ing the lunch break, with a mask clamped on my nose, I ran into an Amer­i­can col­league and asked him why he didn’t wear one.

“It doesn’t bother me, Mex­ico is even worse,” he shrugged.

In the noo­dle restau­rant near my workplace, I thought about dis­rup­tion of life and work due to the red alert. My son was prob­a­bly binge watch­ing car­toon films. Far fewer peo­ple showed up for work with im­pro­vised flex­i­ble work­ing hours and the car ban.

It was only a year ago that Bei­jing is­sued its first red alert, hailed as a wa­ter­shed prece­dent that could force mil­lions of ve­hi­cles off the roads, shut fac­to­ries and construction sites, and close schools and kin­der­gartens.

But peo­ple doubt its ef­fi­cacy as it ap­pears to be a quick fix to the symp­toms, rather than treat­ing the root cause.

Dec 20, Tues­day

It fi­nally hit, ex­actly on the fore­cast day.

In the wee hours, I woke up to WeChat posts of “fairy­lands”, a satir­i­cal eu­phemism for city scenes en­veloped by dan­ger­ous lev­els of smog. When I went to work, traf­fic was light on the usu­ally busy ex­press­ways. The dim, par­tially hid­den sun added to the gloom of a be­sieged city.

Dec 21, Wed­nes­day

Smog was ex­pected to be blown away, with some­thing to chew on left in its wake.

Pub­lic aware­ness re­mained an is­sue. The po­lice wrote a whop­ping 85,000 tick­ets to driv­ers who de­fied the car ban in the first three days. They might be­lieve they had no re­spon­si­bil­ity to bat­tle smog.

It could have been worse with­out the red alert as a form of trans­par­ent and proac­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion. The dras­tic mea­sure height­ened the sense of ur­gency for ev­ery­body with facts and ev­i­dence.

Con­tact the writer at yuan zhou@chi­


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