There are time when I look up at the night sky in Shanghai and I can’t help but feel sad because it’s always impossible to see the stars in its murky grayness. Last December, back in Massachusetts after a 16-hour flight home, I remember pulling up to my parents’ house and when I looked up, I had this incredible moving moment just looking up at the sky – dark, crisp, and sifted with tiny stars. We never get to see that in Shanghai, and it’s not just a matter of being in the New England countryside vs an urban city. No, Shanghai skies are rarely blue and the only ‘stars’ we see are airplanes descending into Pudong airport.
Shanghai air is full of ‘fog’ and the Air Quality Index oscillates between 60-100 on good days and 250-350 on bad days. But on bad days, the US Embassy website always ‘malfunctions’, so the Chinese government never reports the AQI.
The past few weeks, however, we’ve had baby blue skies, and we will continue to have them until September 6th because of the G20 conference. The G20 is in Hangzhou, about an hour away by bullet train, and every factory in the three provinces around us has been shut down for weeks. I love these days. I love that my sinuses have cleared up and that my skin feels fresher. I love seeing the clouds as I scooter to work. I wish this was the Shanghai I lived in every day and not just a glitch.
At the same time, there is something artificial about these clear skies, because I know they are a glitch. It’s hard to enjoy being able to get drinks on a patio in fresh air when there are people living just an hour away from me who’ve been out of jobs for months, just so a few (twenty to be exact) countries can be impressed at how far China has come. It has come far, but there is still a lot farther to go. I wish there could be some sort of a middle ground.