Article by Brian Cotter
You know how it goes. You have one of those amazing Xi’an days where just about everything goes right. The traffic is non-existent, there’s no queue in Vanguard, and all the locals understand your ever so slightly off-kilter interpretation of the second tone. You’ve won today. You think to yourself “You know, I could get used to this Xi’an thing”. And just then, that thought returns. You hadn’t thought of it yet today; everything had been going so well. But it never really leaves, does it? You try to re-assert your good vibes, but it catches you in the end. “You know, I could get used to this Xi’an thing”, you repeat, “if it wasn’t for the pollution”.
It’s easy, and maybe a bit tempting, to adopt a defeatist attitude to air quality around these parts. To throw your hands up and say “well…I can’t do anything about it”, and continue on in a state of slightly ignorant bliss. I had taken this approach myself in my first three winters here, but earlier this year for reasons still unclear to myself, I decided to do something slightly odd. I decided to research pollution.
I won’t bore you by detailing the hazardous effects of pollution; I think we’re all aware of these at this point. Instead, I want to confront the “I can’t do anything about it” argument and mention what we CAN do about it. In particular, I want to talk about air purifiers.
We probably spend between 50-75% of every day, including sleeping time, in our apartments. So if we can control the air quality in our apartments, then we can do A LOT about the air quality in our lives. There are a number of high-end air purifiers on the market, notably ones offered by Philips, Blu Air, and IQ Air, and while I personally can’t speak about their effectiveness, they seem to gain some great reviews online. They work quickly and they work quietly. But the one downside constantly mentioned is the price. At between 3,700 RMB and 8,000 RMB, these things are expensive.
I then found about Smart Air Filters. A relatively new company in Beijing, run by expats and locals, they noticed that by basically attaching a HEPA filter to a similarly sized fan, they could achieve results as good if not better than the high-end air purifiers. They started selling these simple products on their website and on their Taobao store, and started getting a lot of positive international and Chinese media attention. And the price? The basic model is only 200RMB.
I decided to try it out for myself. I had bought a treadmill a few weeks previous, and was noticing on average to bad AQI days (>150) I was feeling a slight cough after finishing up my workout. I then started using my Smart Air when running. I turned it on an hour or so before starting, and left it on while running. There was no more coughing. You probably want more tangible proof than my running anecdote; the graphs on this page are a pretty good illustration of how effective these machines can be. They’re cheap and they are effective and the only slight downside is that they are fans and do make a bit of noise. However, I’ve found that the noise is not particularly loud, and because it is consistent, blends easily into the background.
Smart Air sells two models. The 200 RMB one will work on a room of about 15m2, so it’s ideal for a bedroom. I’ve since bought the bigger model (The Cannon, 470 RMB) for my living room. The company’s website has a load of data, FAQs, and links to various media reviews about their products. They have aTaobao store or you can buy via PayPal, and delivery within China is free.
Air purifiers will probably not be able to rid your mind of that thought. The air outside will still be that big caveat we all have when considering life in Xi’an. But they will influence the air inside. And you don’t have to spend a month’s salary on it anymore.