It rained on Tuesday, and I opened all the windows in our apartment to get some fresh air. Clean air for a while! I thought. I’ll be taking Baby M out for a few walks this week!
Nope. We’ve kept her inside since Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, the air was thick with smog. Checking my air quality app, I was disappointed to see that the air was already at an “unhealthy for sensitive people” level, and steadily climbing. By noon, the air quality was above 150, “unhealthy for all.” And there it stayed. For more than 48 hours.
I know our windows aren’t airtight. But it makes me feel a little better knowing that keeping Baby M inside, while also running the air purifier, is better than being outside. Alex wore a mask to and from the bus. But he was one of the few. It seems like most Koreans are either unaware or don’t care about the air pollution. I could see students (at our local middle school) having their phys-ed classes outside. People were playing tennis at the local tennis court. The gym in our building had the windows open while people were running on treadmills (and breathing in a lot of air). And, when I finally left the apartment on Thursday (by myself, after Baby M went to bed) — sweet freedom! — I saw guys in suits sitting outside our local convenience store, drinking beer. Moms pushing babies around in strollers. Children sitting outside a coffee shop, eating ice cream. I checked my AQI app. Had the air gotten better? Nope. It was at 175!
Around Friday afternoon, I noticed that I could see the (second closest) bridge. AQI – 110. I figured that 3 whole days of staying inside probably wasn’t good for Baby M either. So I took her across the street to our grocery store. There were vendors standing outside, and they had probably been there all day (in the morning when the AQI was still at 150, the day before when the AQI was at 175). But, what are you supposed to do? Say, no, I can’t work outside all day, because the air is hazardous? The windows and doors were open at the grocery store. And at the adjacent coffee shop. This is when it really hit me. It’s sad people are resigned to the fact that toxic air is a normal part of their daily lives. Hazy skies. “Foggy days.” But, what can you do? Be a hermit and stay inside for 30% of the time?
This is our third spring in Seoul, and the worst one yet, in terms of air pollution. I’m thankful that we won’t be in Seoul (or Asia) forever. But 99% of these people will. Looking at an AQI world map, there are just pockets of bad air hovering around India, China, Korea and as far east as Japan. AQI’s of 150, 200, 250. “Normal.” And then you look at Europe and (central/west) North America and it’s 50 (when I checked today, the east coast was averaging 75).
There are some things I will miss about living in Korea, and in Asia in general, but I’ll breathe a sigh of relief (pun intended) when a “bad air day” means the AQI is 75.