BEIJING -- The local media have given it a name: “Beijing Ke,” or the Beijing Cough, defined by the China Daily as “a bout of persistent dry cough or throat tickle because of Beijing’s poor air quality.”
Earlier this year, the local air-quality reading was so bad that citizens were warned to stay in doors for days on end. The international media called it the “Airpocolypse.”
For Beijing’s 20 million residents, pollution has become a way of life. Even on the relatively good air-quality days, such as the ones that cold winds have brought here this week, locals take precautions.
But protecting one’s self from particulate matter isn’t just a matter of public safety. It’s an opportunity to accessorize. Couples walk hand in hand down busy sidewalks wearing matching blue surgical masks over their noses and mouths. For some, the face coverings have become fashion statements -- masks of cow print, wild paisley and neon green are seen on city streets.
Beijing’s air pollution also presents an opening for Gov. Jerry Brown to promote his environmental credentials.
The governor is meeting with top Chinese officials on Wednesday, including the minister of environmental protection, Zhou Shengxian.
They are expected to sign a nonbinding agreement to work together to clean up the dirty air in the Chinese capital and other cities across the country that are also suffering from crippling smog.