China 2015 (Beijing, Great Wall)

This was approximately the height of the air quality problems in Beijing, and it was quite bad. It was as if the entire city were under a perpetual blanket of thick fog; on bad days, we had to wear N95-type masks (before they were cool!) whenever we walked outside. We had to check the air quality before going out much as one might check the weather. The Beijing air has since gotten much cleaner due to some government crackdowns on factories1, but I took some pictures to illustrate just how bad it got:

Highway with thick pollution Pollution over Forbidden City
That’s not natural fog; that’s air pollution. I believe the second picture was taken at Jingshan, a hill to the north of the Forbidden City. (Click on any image to view at full resolution.)

It wasn’t all doom and gloom; sometimes there would be decent days when one could make out the blueness of the sky. I’m not an expert in climate or pollution or anything, so I have no clue how this works.

Asian man in Forbidden City
Me as a high school freshman, standing in the Forbidden City on a good day. (Click on any image to view at full resolution.)

Luckily, we managed to escape the city for a bit: a relative with a car drove us to a section of the Great Wall away from the city. This was quite nice; not only was there no smog, but the usual throngs of people were absent! For the most part, we were the only people there, which is a rarity at a Chinese attraction as popular as the Great Wall.

  1. Or at least that’s what a local told us during a later trip to the city.↩︎