Sunday, June 03, 2007

A room with a view: clean air in Hong Kong

After just saying that the air in Hong Kong is never clear enough to see very far, I have been proven wrong, blissfully wrong. For the past week, we have had very clear skies. Prior to this great weather, we had a week of solid rain. Now we have a breeze. It is my feeling that both of these factors contributed to the increased visibility we have now. Really it feels as if we are living somewhere else. A typical taxi ride along a windy road we always travel now has the power to take your breath away with its stunning views. Everywhere you go locals, rather than tourists, are staring out across the harbor, out to neighboring islands, out to passing ships. Our apartment looks out on to a little island (actually, two islands, one behind the other); see photo above. While we will can usually see these islands, they are mostly hazy. And what we usually cant see are the islands on the horizon, far behind the first.

Air quality in Hong Kong is a big issue. The air quality is poor and getting worse. Visibility is declining over the years as well. Sometimes it is impossible to see across Victoria Harbor, only a kilometer or so. In the continuum of Asia cities, Singapore and Tokyo have the best air with Hong Kong in the middle and Beijing, Mumbai and New Dehli, ranking poorest air. Air pollution is often blamed on mainland China. A large amount of pollution does come from the Pearl River Delta in southern China, particularly from coal fired plants. On holiday days when the plants in China are not working, the air in Hong Kong is noticeably improved. Of course, much pollution is home grown as well. Traffic congestion is high and traffic pollution accentuated by the "street canyon effect" of so many high skyscraper buildings.

This past week the air pollution index has been at record lows of 16. Much more typical is around 50 plus and upwards to 100, which then triggers warnings to stay inside. There are no government run pollution check points on the south side of the Hong Kong Island where we live. Typically the air is thought to be better on the south side and on the peak, though contrary reports say that the large number of tour buses on the south side and indoor mold at the Peak counter whatever positive these locations might have.

Whatever the reason and whatever comes next, these past few days in Hong Kong have been glorious. The views of the South China Sea on one side and the deep green of Hong Kong’s rolling hills (called dragon’s back) on the other make for the perfect feng shui. While I have never gone much for this wind water equals harmony concept in the past, all of our good moods over the past few days might just convince me.


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