ENJOYING THE MOMENT: A fine summer day in Beijing (CFP)
Since stepping foot in Beijing's ground, I've found myself a dedicated reader of the city's AQI (Air Quality Index). Coming from Manchester, England, I have never put air pollution or smog high on my agenda when perusing the Internet—sports and China are usually the first to land in my Google browser—not at the same time, though. Now that it's summertime here, the whole city is alive and buzzing with happy locals and satisfied visitors—all making the most of the beautiful weather this country can happily offer.
Over the past six months, the smog has ranged from non-existent to extremely hazardous, AQI has fluctuated from 35-590, the importance of face masks has gone from caution to necessity, and the pollution alerts have see-sawed from green to red.
Let me quickly put this into perspective: 0-50 (good), 51-100 (moderate), 101-200 (unhealthy), 201-300 (very unhealthy), and 301-500 (hazardous). So, when Beijing's AQI went above 500, you can only imagine what the city looked like, because everything 50 meters or further in front of you disappears.
Right now, long gone are the days of hazardous pollution when Beijing was hidden by a crouching layer of muggy smog.
Summer has brought along the blue sky, complete with fresh and breathable air. Wind and rain have recently been around in abundance and they have blown a new lease of life into the capital.
Sunglasses are out and the face masks placed back in the drawer; how long this lasts for no one really cares as everyone is living in the moment. Despite all the negative press regarding the pollution, when the smog lifts, and Beijing appears, it's a truly beautiful place to be. The city's skyline stretches far and wide, and streets come alive with locals practicing their traditional dances and exercises.
During the heat of summer, it feels like a hot furnace has spread over Beijing like wildfire; an air conditioner and fan become necessities. Temperatures surpass 40 degrees Celsius and the umbrellas used when it rains become reusable and are turned into "sunbrellas" by a large group of the local female population. Whether they want to protect themselves from the heat or from becoming tanned, the sunbrella serves valuable for both.
The summer in Beijing opens up a whole new world of opportunities to travel and explore. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city is a must for anyone who spends long periods of time in the capital. Large selections of mountains, lakes, parks and forest are only a short bus ride away. Swap the mask for a flask and enjoy the natural beauty which Beijing has to offer.
Living in a city which can boast such tranquil summer scenery and numerous outdoor activities, you should make the most of the good days.
One thing is for sure, when the clouds of China go into hiding, it's highly recommended that you make the most of the abundant outdoor opportunities Beijing has to offer. Strap on some skates, hire a mountain bike, swim in luxurious streams and lakes and be part of a community proud to call Beijing their home. Don't stay in an air-conditioned room watching movies—grab a good book, smell the fresh flowers and join in summer fun with everyone else!
The author is a Briton living in Beijing