Eggs benedict with hollandaise sauce, bacon, pancakes, dragon fruit, tiny oranges, chocolate chip shortbread cake (my contribution to the meal), all with a side of dense, industrial-grade smog.
That’s what we call a true Chengdu brunch.
When I roll out of bed on a Sunday morning, look out my massive floor to ceiling windows in the master bedroom and realize I can barely make out the PLA Hospital that is just a block up the road, I know it is going to be a rough day on the ol’ lungs. Some days the gray can be blamed on 90% humidity- a fine mist that cools my skin and smears my make-up on my daily scoot to work.
Today’s air is thick and gray, not the white of pending rain. Today’s air has the taste of coal and chemicals. Thad suggested that maybe Sichuan is celebrating a new sister holiday to the Spring Lantern Festival, this one being the Autumn Tire Burning Festival.
Of course, I couldn’t just sit on the edge of the bed and marvel at the lack of visibility. I had to know just how bad it really was. So, throwing on my fluffy pink robe and pink, monster-feet slippers, I shuffled out to the living room to fire up the internet and put a number on just how murderous the day would be on my pulmonary friends.
The United States Consulate in Chengdu has a great website filled with information about current events, upcoming activities and the array of American Citizen Services offered by the mission. None of that matters to me. I have the air monitor bookmarked on laptop and on days as hazy as today, go directly there to get the bad news as it is posted.
So, just how bad was the air in Chengdu today?
“Hazardous.” All day long. (Okay, to be fair, we got a brief respite for about four hours in the late afternoon where the air popped up to the glorious level of “very unhealthy.”) According to the EPA, when the air quality is labeled as “hazardous” by their standards, “everyone should avoid all physical activity outdoors; people with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should remain indoors and keep activity levels low.” (If you’re interested, I would suggest a quick trip over to http://chengdu.usembassy-china.org.cn/air-quality-monitor4.html , where the calculations are explained.)
There are a lot of great things about Chengdu. We’ve got pandas. We’ve got Sichuan Opera. We’ve got lovely parks and spicy food. The air is not one of those great things. Today, my eyelids feel like they are made of sandpaper. My throat has a scratch to it that wasn’t there yesterday. And the five air filters in my apartment are working overtime.
Sometimes, my lungs sure do miss Idaho.