Thursday, July 29, 2010


Last week I had a wonderful reminder that we should never assume that people don't understand what we are saying in English.

I was taking the Line 13 subway train from Dongzhimen, near my apartment, up to Wudaokou, the university and technology hub of Beijing. It was crowded when I got on but I was able to get a seat and started reading, glad for the comfort of the air-conditioning in this ridiculous heat wave. After a few minutes I heard two people speaking English but ignored it...until I heard the woman say "You look so good in that T-shirt, I could totally do you." Her tone was pure comedy, and it caught my attention. As I started to laugh they both looked over, appalled to realize that they weren't the only foreigners on the train.

Nice couple. They were going to the same station so we chatted the rest of the way, about life in China, politics, language...and never assuming that people won't understand what you say.

Silent Spring

This morning I attended the opening session of the 3rd annual World Environmental Conference, held at the Asia Hotel on Gongti Beilu in Beijing. Like many conferences here, it was a showcase for Chinese officials to discuss what they are doing and what the goals are. One Chinese official, Cheng Siwei (成思危), Vice Chairman of the 9th and 10th National People's Conference Standing Committee, surprised me by referring to Silent Spring, Rachel Carson's 1962 classic that was an alarm bell for the environmental movement. He mentioned the book as one of the first calls for action and environmental sustainability, and went on to say that we need to change our path, on a global scale.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Summer in the City

Beijing is in the middle of a summer heat wave, just like most other major cities in the northern hemisphere. Last month we had several days in a row in which temperatures hit 40 Celsius, over 100 Fahrenheit. Few people I know like the weather this warm. In Beijing, the discomfort is due to more than just the temperature. It's hot, it's humid, and it's polluted.

Prior to the Olympics, the Chinese government limited traffic in Beijing and closed factories close to the city in an effort to improve air quality during the games. That was my first summer here, but friends who have lived here for years tell me that the number of blue sky days was higher than in recent years.

Blue sky days. Those are the days when we look up and the sky is blue, with perhaps a few clouds in the sky. We've had a good number of them this year, but we've also had periods over a week long when the sky was just gray and we could tell it wasn't due to the weather. In the morning you can usually look outside and see what the weather will look like, but there's also a Twitter feed that broadcasts information on the air quality in Beijing. Twitter, like Facebook, blogs and other social media, is blocked within China but some people are still able to access it to get the latest information on the air quality. We can use this information to moderate our exposure to the pollution, limiting our time outside on days when the air quality is bad and spending more time outdoors on days when the air quality is good.

Today is a a blue sky day and the air quality is good. I'm going to go sit under a tree by a canal near my apartment and read. I hope you can go and spend time outdoors with safe air too.