(Don’t) Breathe (Very) Deeply

*Note:  This post was written before we left Shanghai for our holiday break.  I was just too overcome by the smog to actually post it.

The pollution in Shanghai has been out of control.  Maybe you have heard?  Maybe you have Facebook friends constantly posting photos of the hazy view outside their living room windows?  No?  We obviously don’t have the same taste in friends then, because many of mine have been dedicating their time and attention to posting shots of what looks like San Francisco fog but is, in fact, horrible smog.  The pollution has always been something we complain about.  There are rules about when the kids are allowed outside and there is that nifty little scale that tells you how close you are to cheating death by breathing more of the Shanghai air.  Of course, we have never had it as bad as Beijing.  Remember last year when the poor, poor people of Beijing couldn’t even see a few feet in front of them because the pollution was so horrible?  Ahem.

IMG_0686 No, that isn’t fog.  And even worse, it isn’t even close to sunset.  That is a photo of my children waiting at the bus stop in the morning.  Waiting and poisoning their tiny little lungs as they gulp down toxic air!  It was predictable, I suppose.  This is the kind of thing that always happens just when I think I have settled in here.  Just when I have made my peace with China and we have eased into some sort of tenuous ceasefire, things fall apart.  I apologize to all the other people unfortunate enough to live with us in Shanghai during this trying time.  I am sorry you have been drug into this never ending fight between China and myself.  Who knew it would get this ugly?  Who could have anticipated that China would literally fight dirty?

Normally right about now you would be looking at the Peal Tower.  4pm, by the way.

Normally right about now you would be looking at the Peal Tower. 4pm, by the way.

I have actually been having a few good months over here.  I know I shouldn’t say this out loud, but I have been finding my groove.  I finished my dissertation and, after banging my head against the wall for a few weeks, I decided to go back to work.  There was an opening at the kids’ school in the Admission Office and since I’ve been going to work every day things have really evened out.  It turns out being at home with the ayi all day is a little hazardous to my mental health.  It probably helps that once you are inside the school you feel like you could be in the United States.  Well, almost.

Being at school is most likely the only reason we will survive living in Shanghai if the pollution levels stay as high as they have been.  The school has an excellent filtration system.  This is lucky for Team Erickson because, you see, I have been living in denial.  Despite everyone’s dire warnings about the air quality in general and Lucas’ asthma in particular, I have refused to plan ahead.  This is how I deal with the things I cannot change in China.  In a place where you get an email from one of the local grocery stores with the title, “2013’s Food Safety Scandals Reviewed (& some festive cheer!),” living in denial becomes the most reasonable option.  When everyone else was buying air filters for their houses and stocking up on N95 surgical masks I was apparently focusing on other things.  Admittedly, I was most likely arm wrestling Sally the ayi for ultimate control of my household, but I certainly could have taken a break to check into some of the safety issues that are now front and center.  Now as the pollution levels have gotten ridiculously high, I find myself having panic attacks on the way to work.

Talking to my colleagues doesn’t make things better.  They are shocked at my lack of planning.  One of the school nurses took pity on me and gave me a handful of surgical masks for the kids.  A fellow parent left another few on my desk.  Everyone is encouraging me to get air filters for the house.  Of course, those are the things everyone else has been stockpiling.  The things that are now impossible to buy! Lucas asked for a respirator for Christmas.  A respirator!  One evening when the air inside the house began looking like we had a something burning in the kitchen, Mark commented, “We have got to get the hell out of here.”

Which isn’t going to happen any time soon, of course.  So I added some extra things to our “bring back from the USA” list.  I am hoping that this ensures that the air stays breathable once we get back from our winter break.  Like the lice shampoo I buy every vacation as a talisman to prevent the children from getting lice (successful thus far!), maybe a huge stack of masks to keep out the dangerous pollution particles will appease my arch nemesis.  China, this time you’ve gone too far.

IMG_0695

*Also would like to mention here that the air has been relatively clean since we arrived back with my excessive number of surgical masks.  You are welcome, Shanghai.

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