What to do with the kids when the pollution hits 400

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Pam recently wrote a post about the pollution levels in Beijing and how it has truly become one of the most important threats to life in the capital. Some people have asked us what do we do with the kids when the pollution outside is so bad that you cannot (and should not!) leave the house.

As the pollution levels have climbed steadily since clear-skied Wednesday, hovering in the high 300’s and even edging above 400, today we took a taxi and met some friends at a mall that has a whole floor packed with places with fun activities for the kids. There were indoor play spaces (like the chiquiparks in Spain), arts and crafts centers, a literacy center (where your child can learn how to read), a videogame arcade, and a music school where there were kids taking piano and guzheng (a Chinese plucked zither) lessons. Even the restaurant we went to had an enclosed area where you could drop off your kids (at some point all of them were all learning how to dance Gangam Style).

It makes sense that there are places like this in Beijing with so many different children’s activities: there are not that many playgrounds in the city, and if you add to that the pollution levels (and, in winter, the cold weather!), you need a place to take the kid(s) so they don’t go crazy at home. There is probably also a demand for these type of businesses since most families have only one child, and the middle class has enough disposable income to spend on their kids to bring them to such places. Our kids had a lot of fun, especially on the bungee trampoline (Sophia and Dylan both said it was the highlight of their day).

In the pictures below you may notice a few interesting things: most kids end up in their long underwear since they are running around and get very hot; quite a few parents take the opportunity to take a (probably well deserved!) nap (the father sleeping in the picture ended up with a crown made out of Legos, courtesy of his wife!); and you can also see a traditional boy haircut with just a bunch of hair in the front and in the back (the Brazilian player Ronaldo was brave enough to get a similar haircut a decade ago). You don’t see that haircut as much in the city these days, but you can still see it in the countryside.

Today is the last day of central heating in China. Since they use coal plants to heat up the city, a lot of people have speculated that the pollution levels will really go down after tomorrow (or whenever this “pocket” of pollution clears with the next wind). Let’s hope they are right, because we are seriously considering getting an air filter for the house!

Manu

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