By Acadia Otlowski
We stand on the Great Wall, having climbed a piece of it, overlooking the surrounding mountains. But something feels off. It is as if there is a veil over the surrounding landscape, keeping it from being truly real. That veil is the smog that encases the northern part of the country, pollution that causes health issues for more than a million people across the country.
In a country where the population seems very health conscious, the pollution is a damper. Gyms with names like “Ozone Fitness” litter the capital city, boasting clean air for the population to work out in. There is no way that one can go for a run in the capital city; the pollution destroys any health benefits one would obtain.
It is easy to see why no one goes out running in a city like Beijing, or any of the cities in the north. The same day we hiked the Great Wall, we were given the option to see the Bird’s Nest, the 2008 Olympic Stadium. We parked far from the stadium and were given 20 minutes to walk to the stadium, take pictures and come back. In any other city this would have not been a problem. But on a day that the U.S. Embassy warned of dangerously high pollution levels, it proved to be a challenge.
We power walked through Olympic Park, ignoring the odd looks we received from the locals (apparently no one moves that quickly in Beijing due to the pollution). We took some pictures, then realized that we only had a few minutes to return to the bus. We practically ran back through Olympic Park, and upon returning to the bus, I could feel my lungs burning. At the end of the day, between the challenge of climbing a particularly steep section of the Great Wall and almost running through Olympic Park, it left the group short of breath and better educated on the real problem in China.
The country is still obsessed with the fact that they hosted the Olympics five years ago. Vestiges of it remain scattered across the entire country. Faded spray paint on the highways and torn signs encouraging the Chinese cycling team can be seen. Even the labels on bottled water boast the Olympic logo. It’s surprising that the populous hasn’t learned from the cleaning up efforts during the 2008 Olympics. Those efforts, while extreme, managed to make air that was breathable to the entire population.
But the Chinese government has not made any significant efforts to solve the problem since then. In a country where the elderly gather in parks to practice Tai Chi and where even the sizes of soft drinks are smaller, one would think that solving the pollution issue would be a great issue.
But without free press, it is impossible for the people to make any sort of push against the government which seems unconcerned by the pollution. It even goes so far as to lie about the pollution levels, which has been linked to the deaths of 1.2 million people according to Lancet, a British medical journal.
China should be healthier than America; the portions are smaller and salt and sugar are less prevalent in the diets. But pollution seeps into every crevice of life in any major city in China, causing major health concerns that the population is not even aware of. In a place that seems so health conscious, where obesity does not even show as a blip on the radar, it seems that the pollution should be a key problem to be solved.
But for now, it seems that some of the country’s greatest sites will be obscured by a veil of smog, causing health problems for millions of residents, while the government simply attempts to cover the extent of the problem.