Biking and Chinese cultural conflict

On 29 August 2016 I was invited for a debate in Yenching Academy, in Beida (as we call it in Chinese). The students were all Chinese, the foreign students were not available.
The theme was Beijing air pollution. I gave a short introduction of my book “Toxic Capitalism”, the evolution of air pollution in Beijing and what we can do about it. Indeed, as I officially stated to the Beijing Government, traffic is a serious contributor to the air pollution and it is made worse by bad behavior of the drivers and the inaction of the traffic police.

See here the intro of the Academy from Yenching Academy

The Yenching Academy of Peking University builds bridges between China and the rest of the world through an interdisciplinary master’s program in China Studies for outstanding graduates from all over the globe. This initiative brings together young people who show promise to lead and innovate in their fields in an intensive learning environment where they can explore China and its role in the world – past, present, and future. The Academy aims to thereby shape a new generation of global citizens with a nuanced understanding of China and its role in the world.

Founded on the ideal of fostering global connections and dialogue, the Yenching Academy is a fully funded residential program offering a wide array of interdisciplinary courses on China within broadly defined fields of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Working closely with their academic mentors, Yenching Scholars are granted the flexibility to create their own study paths by choosing from six academic concentrations and a variety of extracurricular activities. Studying at the Academy represents a unique opportunity not only for intercultural and academic exchange, but also for personal and professional development.

Two Yenching scholars also gave a short intro for the debate, Ugne (Lithuania) and Ben (UK).

One of the main issues we have with using a bike instead of a car is the Chinese cultural and social “loss of face”. While in European countries even ministers go to work on their bike, Chinese object: it is a loss of face to go to a 5-star hotel or a business meeting on a bike. Furthermore girls who are looking for a husband have stringent requirements: he needs a good position, a house and a car. If not, bad luck.

Some in the audience said the bike trip could make too tired or make one sweat too much. As for myself I explained I have no problem to bike in the cold, the hot, rain or snow. It is a matter of being prepared (put the suit jacket and tie in a plastic bag!). Of course the poor biking lanes and dangerous car drivers are an issue indeed.
In the end, we all have to contribute for a better environment, it requires education, change of mindset and preparation.

I bike every day and just look at the enormous traffic jams and drivers looking for a parking spot.
As for rain protection, sadly to say, I had to buy the outfit in … USA, as Beijing rain caps are too badly made.
How did I go to Beida? It is the other side of Beijing. Well, simple: I jump on my bike to the subway station and then use the subway. The city has made enormous progress in building more subways and installing 68,000 public rental bicycles.

What about the “Beijing Cough”?

As I have been fighting a vicious cough since the middle of December, I delved a bit deeper into what is called “Beijing Cough”.
So, I created a new page, see on the right side: Beijing Cough: a myth?
Feel free to comment (directly to me). I will keep the page updated to clarify some of the misgivings around that issue that makes our life in Beijing, at times, miserable.
With the pollution, my American family has cancelled the idea of visiting us here in Beijing. The risk of getting adverse reactions for their family (including two young kids) is unfortunately too real – they have some issues with allergies and asthma.

Beijing traffic and my report to the Mayor

I mentioned earlier the report that I delivered to the Beijing Mayor, report that was widely circulated in the Government. At first I thought none of the remarks were taken into account.
Well, maybe they did listen to people like me.
One of my main recommendations was to improve driving manners. See here the article of China Daily, and below the mentioned “bad habits”. Sounds familiar?
Driving manners target of five-year policy, 21 Feb 11, by Chen Xin (China Daily)
As others already pointed out, the new policies should not give us too much hope as enforcement will again be the weakest point. Who will fine bikes who fail to stop for the red light? What is being done about all the cars without a license plate?
Other new positive measures intend to improve parking lots in buildings and related. Too many parkings in buildings are either difficult to use or have simply been converted for other use (like a KTV…).
10 bad habits on the road:
1. forcibly overtaking another vehicle;
2. dangerously weaving between cars;
3. not giving way to pedestrians on a crosswalk;
4. using a cell phone when driving;
5. not wearing a seat belt while driving;
6. freely using the horn;
7. throwing garbage out of car windows;
8. not moving to the curb following a minor traffic accident;
9. running a red light on a bicycle or tricycle;
10. not using a crosswalk or following signals when crossing roads as a pedestrian.
They better hurry up and do something. In the past days we had again AQI levels between 400 and 500. Fortunately today the pollution was blown away and right now we can enjoy a real “blue sky day”.

The deadly threat from our bad air

In Beijing we are all supposed to be happy with the great efforts of our beloved leaders to achieve so many blue sky days.
Unfortunately, it’s all a lie and for the past 12 months we live with average AQI values of 150 (i.e. the readings of PM2.5 thanks to the USA Embassy). We all know the Embassy is right and representative of the whole Beijing city area. (the normal limit would be AQI=50)
Even official sources in China are starting to question the validity of the official figures, as reported in China Daily.
Well, in Hong Kong they are in great panick because API figures are going over 100. Lucky people! Can we have your air pleeeeeaaaase?
According to recent studies by the University of Hong Kong and other institutes, air pollution causes about 10,000 deaths per year in the Pearl River Delta including Hong Kong and Macao.
The South China Morning Post reported details on 20 January (see here abbreviated version). Their values: they measure as in Beijing, i.e. micrograms of PM10 per cubic meter.
See here a typical reading from the USA Embassy in Beijing:
21 Jan 2011; 12:15; Past 24hr: PM2.5 avg; 52.9 micrograms; AQI=130; Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups
HKU links pollution to increased mortality risks (by SCMP – Elaine Yau)

(pictures are all from SCMP)
For every kilometre of reduced visibility, an additional 70 deaths occurred every year over a decade, a University of Hong Kong survey has found.
Chief researcher Professor Anthony Hedley said visibility was strongly negatively correlated with air pollution, especially with particulates and nitrogen dioxide.
“Loss of visibility kills people,” he said. “The higher the pollutant concentrations, the lower the visibility. Every kilometre in reduced visibility increases our mortality risks.”
The team, which analysed 360,000 deaths between 1996 and 2006 along with data from the Observatory, took into account factors including humidity, temperature and the incidence of flu epidemics.
Postdoctoral fellow in community medicine Professor Lai Hak-kan said that the average visibility in the city over the past four years was 12.6 kilometres, well below the norm of 30 kilometres from a 50-metre structure.
The university’s associate professor in community medicine, Dr Wong Chit-ming, said the situation was alarming. “The visibility in the city was five kilometres yesterday, with 84 micrograms of particulates every cubic metre,” he said.
The World Heath Organisation sets the minimum safety levels at 20 micrograms every cubic metre.
But Hong Kong set the level at 55 micrograms.
Rob Chipman, the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, said last week that pollution was becoming one of the most serious threats to the city’s competitiveness.
The findings of the survey were published in the academic journal Environmental Research.

Pinocchio has arrived in Beijing

And his nose is growing sooooo large.
China Daily reported that Beijing has hit its “blue-sky target” of 266 days ahead of time. We wonder, what is the definition again? I think the Beijing Environmental Monitoring Center is:
– color blind
– denies factual findings that only naive idiots ignore (including a number of foreigners)
– follows the official line that orders to systematically deny any problem of whatever nature in this country (bleached mushrooms, pork full of antibiotics, milk with you-know-what, corruption by officials in land deals, name it.); till the Internet forces them to swallow some of their words.
I chose, all of the above.
This year has seen till now an astonishing degradation of the air quality that leaves in the dust (literally) the short-term progress of 2008. The situation is actually hopeless. Traffic is mostly to blame. As soon as the wind stops, pollution shoots up to levels of 150 to 300 AQI.
Check it out on Twitter.
La morale de l’histoire: Chinese government officials cannot be trusted, but even Chinese know that. They say, “You can’t even trust the weather report!”
How true indeed.

And those poor Hong Kong people are worried about their air. Can I have some of it over there?