I must confess that I think airpocalypse is a wonderfully apt and evocative new word. It’s right up there in the expat zeitgeist along with crazy bad and gutter oil as definitive additions to our lexicon. Airpocalypse perfectly encapsulates those miserable, gray January weeks of endlessly beyond index air pollution. Since those dark days, I’ve been inundated with interview requests looking for new angles on this old story. Last month, a slew of them decided there had been a “game changing” mind shift among expats, now suddenly fleeing for the exits to return home. I’ve been asked over and over (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, Bloomberg Businessweek, Economic Observer, Global Times, Swedish TV) the same question, “have you noticed more patients and expats leaving China since January?”
Before I give my answer, I thought all this was such an unusual media crescendo that I thought I’d ask all of my readers the same question, to assess whether the media is manufacturing its own reality or are they tapping into something real. So please take the poll below and answer one question: Does The Recent Airpocalyptic Pollution Make You Want To Leave China? If you cannot see the poll below, click here to vote.
Regarding my answer to most of these reporters: yes, since January I’ve definitely noticed an uptick in such conversations with many of my patients as well as Beijing friends, both local and expat. Certainly last winter’s air pollution was unusually serious, and I’ve never felt such collective anxiety in Beijing as I felt then. Bulletin boards, TV, radio, Weibo, my blog — the conversations were filled with anxious moms desperately looking for sold out air purifiers; frantic discussions about pollution masks for their children; tense Q&A sessions at multiple embassy and business events.
I myself must admit that while I still intend to live here many more years, even with my newborn son, January’s nightmare was very difficult to gloss over. Health and wellness, and a sense of happiness and fulfillment in life, are much more complex than just one issue such as pollution. Our minds are powerful mediators of our physical health. But daily stress and anxiety from constantly waking up to dangerously grey skies and not being able to send your kids outside… all that stress takes a major toll on your physical health and immune system. Everyone needs hope and silver linings, and I desperately hope dramatic steps can soon be taken to improve this situation.
What do you think? Please leave comments below.