I remember when I first arrived in Beijing, I didn’t even know it. Gazing out the window of my aircraft, I thought we were still amidst the clouds. Then there was the riveting jolt, signaling that we had just made contact with the airport runway.
Huh? I thought to myself.
After disembarking, curiosity urged me to solve the mystery. The answer was apparent above. The plane was not in the clouds, but rather in a thick veil of fog – artificial fog known as air pollution. My time was soon to reveal that blue skies were a rarity in Beijing.
Apart from infrequent, minor hiccups in my lungs, I thought I had bested this devious fog. But one night, I thought wrong.
8 pm. Musty and dimly-lit indoor track. Bags slumped around the floor and water bottles planted on benches. My friend and I were in for the workout of our lives.
It was a little something he called “high intensity cardio.” After grueling ab and leg workouts, we would have to complete short bursts of all-out sprints. Though not more than 30 seconds each with plenty of rest in between, just four rounds had me prostrate on the dusty pavement, crawling to reach the sanctuary of the mat and the oasis of my water bottle.
With the wind knocked out of me, I groggily affirmed to my friend that I had nothing left. His distant reply told me we would go grab some late night protein. Gathering our belongings, we lethargically slipped out into the night like two exhausted bandits.
That’s when it began to hit. The huffing and puffing of my unsteady breathing coupled with the ringing in my ears drowned out the din around campus. But I also didn’t feel right. I was too fatigued. Too short of breath.
Initially, I ignored it and continued to try to walk it off. But it seemed with each breath, it only got worse. I felt lightheaded, as if my lungs were devoid of oxygen, and I thought I was on the verge of collapse. As I continued to hobble around, I yelped to my friend that I had to find somewhere to lie down. With my vision blurring, I recall stumbling into a nearby dorm and immediately collapsing on the tiled floor. My friend was right behind me.
We drew looks from all around, and even the manager approached us to inquire what was wrong. To be honest, we didn’t entirely know what was wrong. We just needed oxygen.
Minutes passed without a word, with only the raspy cacophony of breathing. Per my friend’s suggestion, prolonged deep breaths began to do the trick. Slowly my mind and vision began to clear, as if the invisible fog was seeping out of my lungs.
No matter how hard I had worked out before, I had never felt this weak before. Late night research revealed my worst fear. That night’s air quality was abysmal in Beijing, so it was no surprise that we were so short of oxygen.
I was truly scared that night. There were some moments where I really did not know if I would be ok or not, with the option of the ambulance hanging over me. But I’m also scared for the future. With the present condition of Beijing, it’s frightening to imagine what the world would look like with increased levels of the menacing fog that lurks in the air. Because it’s already very real.