Ah Beijing! You seem cool but you are bloody disgusting.
I have the morning off work and the plan was to go out exploring with my camera. Unfortunately, it looks a little like the photo above outside. That was taken yesterday from my hotel room window and there really hasn’t been much of an improvement since then.
I woke up early today, looked out of my hotel window, was filled with disappointment and just went back to bed for a few more hours. Rather than exploring the sights I’m sitting in Starbucks with a friend, drinking coffee and writing. It’s just like being back at home.
This Starbucks is one of the fanciest I’ve ever visited. To get here you walk through golden revolving doors, go to the far end of a lobby draped in flowing red banners and beautiful red flowers, pass under a huge chandelier, walk past an art installation or clock (it might be both), then up a spiral staircase. Then and only then can I get my caffeine fix.
This place is only a short walk from my hotel, but going outside means breathing in that air. After a few minutes I can feel it in my chest and after a few more my eyes and throat hurt from it. It feels like I imagine most smokers do after a few packs of cigarettes, which makes me wonder why they don’t all try to give up. I couldn’t put up with this all the time.
To get to the office from the hotel I have to walk over a bridge that crosses a busy main road. By the time I’m half way over it I’m breathing hard and desperate to get back indoors, not that you can escape it entirely there either. Our venue was distinctly smoggy towards the end of the day yesterday.
The air yesterday was described to me as an airport smoking lounge, which was a perfect analogy. I was here three years ago and I don’t remember it being quite this bad. As it stands, while I want to go and explore the sites and take lots of photos in my time off work, I simply don’t want to be outside.
A group of us did go out on Friday evening for drinks and dinner when the smog was lighter. There’s an area of Beijing that has lots of bars and restaurants lining the edges of a lake. It looked like a popular spot, but with so many people in this city, everywhere looks popular.
After dinner, a small splinter group of us went to a few more bars to listen to some live music, which that area had in abundance, and have a few more beers. So far, that has been my only experience of Beijing outside of work, Starbucks and the hotel this trip.
I do have tomorrow morning off work too, but I have my doubts about being able to go out for long then either. The forecast does not look promising. I’m going to buy a mask later today that will help filter out the worst of the smog (I hope) and I’ll try to get out and take some photos first thing. It may not be too great for my health but as it stands I’m going a little crazy with the feeling of being trapped in the hotel with my time off.
I’m sure Beijing has a lot of wonderful things going for it but I’ve got to be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever come back unless it’s for work, even then it’ll be under protest. I’ve been here a few days and I feel terrible. I can’t imagine what it’s like growing up in this city.
Photo © Christopher Hamilton