What a difference a day makes! We arrived in Beijing to apocalyptic pollution-350+ AQI which means the air was “hazardous” and choking full of bad shit that was being sucked into our ever dying lungs yet the locals walked around without masks and went about their daily lives like it was no big deal. And I thought I had low standards after getting used to 150 AQI days in Shanghai. I strapped on my new 3M mask that was awkward but no doubt necessary even if I didn’t have a pollution app on my phone warning me of dire consequences if I stepped outside unprotected.
Today, as the CPPCC & NPCC meetings take center stage in Beijing, the air miraculously cleared, in part due to a stiff wind and probably some government restrictions to clean up for the big events and world press in town to cover it. As we walked through Tianenmen Square on Monday, we saw a very heightened increase in police presence and even had to submit to several security searches of my bag. Again, probably due to the meetings this week but also the nation is now on high alert due to the recent terrorist attack on a train station in the south. Still, Thom and I both agree that we feel far safer walking the streets of China at night in any neighborhood, no matter how remote or dark, than we would in the U.S.
When I woke up to blue skies, it was such a delight that we had to go out on my lunch hour and walk the streets. Thom had already got in a lot of exploring so we headed out to a small alley he had discovered where he dared me to eat live scorpions and bugs on a stick. Yes, they were still waving their little parts and pieces as if to say “Get me the F*&$ off this stick” but the food vendor offered to fry them up for us because crispy scorpions are soooo much tastier than live ones. The various bugs on a stick and intestines on skewers were tempting but I opted to remain hungry and live to eat another day.
Thom had one scary moment this week as he walked around the hutongs of Beijing and happened upon a group of protestors waving a petition. As a security detail came to investigate the group, they decided to run after Thom as well, thinking he was part of the press perhaps. Luckily, I have taught him to just ignore anyone without a gun, so he increased his pace, headphones on and ignored it all until they caught up with him and then he just did the “laowai shrug” and walked away with a smile. The big ass camera he walks around with takes lovely photos but does make him a target at times. He’s a tough New Yorker so I have to believe he can take care of himself (and it’s not like he would pay attention to my plea for him not to take chances) but if you ever see him on a “have you seen this guy” posting on a China website, don’t be surprised! In the meantime, he will keep trying to make soldiers smile and scorpions squirm with delight as he records it all with his sensational snapshots of our adventures in Beijing.