As part of my continuing efforts to educate the public to bring about a "harmonious society" and bring China into the 21st century, I'll share some helpful hints regarding respiratory protection. First, a quick message from one of the Kill Bill: Vol. 2 characters
to the girls with surgical masks wandering around Beijing:Above:
no, it's not Michael Jackson
In Beijing, whenever the wind stirs up the dirt from the street or a diesel bus farts out a cloud of black smoke, there is inevitably a group of Chinese women nearby who immediately cover their mouths and noses with one hand to protect themselves from the pollution. It's conditioned behavior learned by imitating others. Just stand around and watch, and you'll see it for yourself. Now, unless Chinese hands are made of some type of new age porous material that blocks out airborne dust and pollution, the air is still being sucked in through the gaps between the fingers, and between the hand and mouth, along with whatever particles are in that air. I just wanted to point this out to anyone that may be reading so they can save themselves the wasted effort of covering their mouths. As an aside though, please do, however, cover your mouth and nose when you cough, sneeze, or pick your boogers in public. It's really gross and one reason I prefer to cook for myself these days.
That last paragraph should take care of the remedial students. Now let's move on to people that have figured out that a mask of some kind is the only real way to reduce your exposure to particle pollution. A lot of Beijing folks are giving it the old college try. They're making a commendable effort to protect themselves, but unfortunately it's in vain. I'll not go into all the details about the difference between surgical masks and respirators, you can read about that on other sites
. Essentially, a surgical mask is a barrier to protect a patient from the wearer's fluids and provide minimal protection to the wearer himself. A respirator, however, actually filters the air being breathed by the wearer. It requires a proper fit so that the air passes through the barrier and does not leak through the sides of the mask. Respirators come in different grades, such as N95. Certainly, one can buy high grade respirators with replaceable cartridges, but a respirator is not necessarily any more pricey than a surgical mask. In fact, a cotton surgical mask that provides almost no protection to the wearer costs about US$2 in Beijing, while N95 disposable respirators you can buy are about the same price.
Maybe the folks that wear the surgical masks are being considerate to others. Perhaps they have respiratory viruses and want to minimize the possibility of infecting their comrades. Spend more than one day in China, see how considerate the locals are to one another, and let me know if you still think that's true. Until then, I'll amuse myself by laughing to myself at girls that think their bare hands can function as particle respirators, and I'll be silently thanking the unintentionally considerate people who wear surgical masks.