I think many have read or heard that I am leaving China in January. After 8 years here, we are uprooting, selling off our 220V items and following my husband’s career to the Bay Area California. I do not have much to say about my departure, as I think the DH made more eloquent points here. To keep it simple, I’d say that living, working and bringing up baby in China has been a very interesting, rewarding and enriching experience. There were moments I hated and am glad to leave behind; and there were others that surprised and enriched my living experience here. It is really a mix of emotions that I say good-bye to China.
However before I do so, the sight of plastic bags whipping by my windows right now reminds me to share some thoughts about surviving Beijing’s winters. There are some simple things I have learnt in the past 8 years of coping with the skull penetrating, nose hair freezing winter winds:
Skin, Hair and Body
- Trap the moisture in. That dry northerly will rob your skin of moisture and turn you into a dried shitake the moment you step out of the house. So, find a good moisturizer, slather it on from moment you are towel dried from the shower. Finish off with a thin coating of oil to seal it in. I have tried olive oil and found it not that effective because it left an oily sheen. It rubs off on clothing rather than cling to skin. Best results and absorption came from virgin coconut oil or argan oil. You can pick up food grade coconut oil in places like Jenny Lou but the stocking is never certain, while argan oil you will need to order it in from overseas websites like iherb (discount code: TIK009). With your hair towel dried, comb through a ten mao coin size amount of oil (or less) to seal the moisture in and style as usual.
- Take your fish oil and other healthy oils. It is not only for your heart’s health. Your skin is the largest organ on your body, and it will thank you as it drinks up healthy oils that supports its cell structure against the drying onslaught.
- Drink and shower with filtered water. Gallon bottles are fine, but the environmental impact and the amount of BPA leaching into your water can be avoided by using a good filter. Your skin and hair will benefit from filtering out the potential heavy metals and more importantly the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be vaporized in a hot shower and breathed in. Personally speaking, I have found my skin and hair to cope better with the weather after I started filtering my water. Give Aquasana kitchen and shower filter a try, they have the best bang for your yuen. They have a office in Beijing or just call 400-000-8320
- Have 2 sets of moisturizers. Desert dry winters followed by summers worthy of a hamam, means you will need to adjust your skincare regime. I have a normal/combination skin and use oily skin formulation for summer and a dry skin formulation for winter.
- Pamper yourself a little more. I call it the squinched shoulders. A result of huddling inside your coat against the winds that can really leave some tense muscles on your shoulders. My treat is getting a nice massage and my particular super treat for winter is the hot stones massage at Hummingbird. Beyond indulgence, I found it very therapeutic to just lie there, have the heat, shea butter and essential oils soak into my bones and driving out the chills that found their way in.
Living with Polluted Winter Air
- Air filters are a must. Dr Saint Cyr has written about the association between pollution and health extensively and it will continue to be a timeless issue until this city cleans up its act. Even if you are at work most of the day, please filter your sleeping air because at least you are covering 30% of your time here breathing cleaner air. You will wake up fresher and more clear-headed I promise you.
- Use a BeijingAir app on your phone. Match your outdoor activity to air quality. Or use a simple rule of thumb. Wind from north and west is clean. Southerly tends to be nasty, stay home with your filters and east brings snow.
- PM2.5 is 300+? Try a Totobobo mask when heading out. I like their fitting, ease of care, filter cost and have seen the results of usage on the filters when I change them. Not just because it is a Singaporean company (though it helps), but I do think it is a good product. Fair warning: the small still does not fit my skinny 4 year old’s face well. You can now get them in Beijing from Torana Clean Air Center.
Think antioxidants from food. You have probably read or heard it from various sources about the wonderful benefits of antioxidant food this, or that. The truth is you need them all, with as much variety as possible for them to work well. Eat a bit of every antioxidant vegetable and or fruit out there in its natural ‘untouched by machines’ form. If it comes in a box or packet… forget about it. Even the humble cabbage is surprisingly beneficial. The main thing you need to avoid is anything made from refined flour, it contributes nothing to your defense and may even weaken it.
Watching your calories? Use dark green and colorful veggies and make it 50% of your total daily food volume. With kids of course many naturally do not like the vegetables that tend to be high in antioxidants such as purple cabbages and brocolli. You can always use a wide variety of fruits such as blueberries and strawberries instead.
Vegetables and fruits may not share the same antioxidants, but they still work in very similar ways and the end result is still the same. Helping yours and their little bodies cope with pollution.
- Use filtered water in your humidifier. Remember you are breathing it all in. Any potential pesticides, volatile organic solvents, heavy metals that came through your tap water will be evaporated and you are breathing it in. Yikes! Using bottled water? Not great either from cost and environmental perspective, and not to forget the plasticizer chemicals used in making the bottle can leach into the water. See entry about filtered water above.
- Clean the humidifier! All that water attracts bacterial and fungal growth. You do not need to use bleach. Give it a good white vinegar scrub every month. Sometimes I use hydrogen peroxide (双氧水, shuāngyǎngshuǐ) from the pharmacy to soak the sonic plate in the humidifier to get any colonies in the crevices.
- Measure your Vitamin D and supplement. Most of the international clinics in Beijing will measure it now. Vitamin D is closely tied to your immunity, how your cells replicate and there is growing evidence that it even influences how you feel in the darker months. Although some folks require it more than others, I would hazard to say that Vitamin D deficiency would be more rampant here than other cities on the same latitude because pollution blocks out the UV-B spectrum needed by the skin to make Vitamin D. Due to pollution levels, even during the summer months, your skin maybe making less vitamin D then it normally would walking around bare armed in Beijing.
- Key Supplements are Vitamin C (time released) and Alpha Lipoic Acid (time released). Vitamin C is a great overall antioxidant, but it does not stick around in your body for long and taking large amounts at any one time is a waste of money because your intestines can only absorb about 200mg in any given hour. So your best bet would be a time-release vitamin C such as the ones made by Solaray that release 1000mg of vitamin C slowly in your digestive tract. This way you are bathing in its protective benefits all day.
Alpha lipoic acid is a very unique antioxidant that I highly recommend for living in pollution. It is a unique antioxidant that not only as the ability to help your body recycle its own manufactured antioxidants, it also helps your body reuse the ones you get from food such as vitamin C and E. It is the perfect antioxidant to sit on the cell membranes of your lung, supporting its own cleansing functions. Downside to this antioxidant is that it has an even shorter lifespan than Vitamin C in your body. So you really need a constant infusion to really reap the benefits. Hence, time-release alpha lipoic acid formulations such as the ones made by Jarrows is ideal.
- Consider quitting milk. The old wives tale about milk making the cough worse is only partially true. For some, a mild milk intolerance that was not even noticed in your home country, can be made more pronounced from exposure to irritation from the dry polluted air, resulting in more mucus produced. That then in turn will make recovery from any respiratory infection a lot more difficult because it makes clearance of phlem more problematic. Even if you do not have milk intolerance, the proteins found in milk will naturally cause a thickening of mucus already present in your throat upon contact.