Love is in the air…along with nitrous oxide and other goodies

I knew Beijing’s air was filled with poisons, but I didn’t know it could be this bad.

The Discussion: 24 Comments

That’s just stellar…Remind me to pack an oxygen tank and appropriate apparatus.

December 14, 2006 @ 12:43 am | Comment

…I told you to take a respirator along….

Seriously, some of the statistics I came across while doing research for a project that I was working on in China indicated that more than 300,000 people die every year in China due to respiratory related illnesses. That figure is expected to rise to more than 600,000 by the year 2010 (and that was a conservative figure).

The China Daily recently published an article highlighting the fact that half of the worlds cases of stomach cancer come out of China.

The pollution is a huge concern to anyone considering the idea of relocating to China.

December 14, 2006 @ 3:50 am | Comment

Well, I sometimes ask myself if it is such a good idea to live in China right now (I am considering to move back next year). It’s not only the air pollution but also the question, what kind of not so desirable ingredients are in the meat and vegetables you eat and how clean the water is your favorite noodle shop makes it’s la mian with.

What is everybody thinking? Are you sacrificing some years of your life to take part in the fun to be in China right now?

December 14, 2006 @ 4:05 am | Comment

Seoul’s air isn’t much cleaner; while living there, my snot turned dark greenish black, and I suffered from annual bouts of sinusitis and bronchitis.

Shulan asks some pertinent questions. Given the poor regulation of agriculture and food products, it would be difficult to find reliably clean food sources. Local produce in China is cheap, but I shudder to think of what chemical residues they might contain. US meat and produce are more contaminated that what is allowed to be sold in Canada or Europe, but at least independent data is publically available to help consumers make choices, and clean locally grown produce is available in many parts of the country.

Short-term residents can detox after they come back home. The human body is resilient up to a point – about 98% of human cells are replaced within two years. Toxins can cause cellular mutations and permanent damage.

I had just come from Sinocidal and Sinosplice, envious of the adventures those guys are having in China and wishing those days weren’t over for me. Then I come here and get a reality check.

It’s Wednesday night, and I’ve still got some locally grown organic kale in the fridge along with some organic apples and cranberries from Wisconsin. For lunch tomorrow, I think I’ll heat up that kale in a pot of chicken stock made from some freshly butchered chicken feet I procured from a local farmer who raises his chickens and pigs on pasture, not grain feed.

December 14, 2006 @ 10:14 am | Comment

Damn, those SEPA findings are pretty scary.

I’m currently in the U.S., but if an opportunity comes up for me to work to China, I think I’d still take it. If I don’t travel when I’m young, then when?

Sonagi, stop, you’re making me hungry. As my mama can attest to, chicken feet really do make the most sublime stock. (And make sure to shave some parmigiano on top of your bowl, y’hear?)

December 14, 2006 @ 11:33 am | Comment

It’s not just indirect pollution of the atmosphere and what you eat and drink. It’s also the dodgy chemicals injected into farm animals and fish for consumption.

Barely a day goes by in Hong Kong without the media reporting on some food product from the Mainland having to be withdrawn from the markets because of it containing some cancer-inducing agent or whatever.

Even eating fresh meat or vegetables then is something of a gamble.

December 14, 2006 @ 12:10 pm | Comment


These people are spoiling your fun isn’t it?
Yes the lax regulations couple with the get rich quick no matter how mentality is making the prices of Chines produce not as cheap as it apppears. BUt you are in China you may not have much choices so take a leaf from the Malaysians.

a) buy a good fliter that can remove ions and boil you water before you cook
b) soak veggies for a few hours before cooking
That should remove a lot of the pesticides.
c) eat out side less often as you cannot control how the restaurants handle their food.
d) buy a good air filter , Honeywell produces a few big ones for home use. It is very effective. This is true especially during winter but it may not be helpful for nitrous oxide but it sure moves a lot of the others.
Eat less pork and beef unless they are imported and more poultry smaller animals concentrate poisons less than big animals.

All sound alike a pain but with a bit of discipline you should minimise your pollution risk in China.
Just being practical.

All the best.

December 14, 2006 @ 1:43 pm | Comment

Flabbergasted, thanks for the tips. Unfortunately, I doubt I’ll have much time to make my own meals, but I’ll try.

An amazing factoid: I never once got food poisoning living in Beijing. Not once. In Shanghai, however, I got hit multiple times. Maybe just luck, who knows?

December 14, 2006 @ 1:49 pm | Comment

Pedantry time:

It would be nice if that stuff were nitrous oxide. LOL, as it were. But what they misname “nitrous dioxide” (no such thing) is apparently nitrogen dioxide: significantly nasty stuff, even if you don’t think about the products you get by dissolving it in water, like nitric acid.

December 14, 2006 @ 4:56 pm | Comment

Whatever we call it, it’s still poison. Thanks for the quick chemistry lesson!

December 14, 2006 @ 7:43 pm | Comment

Love may be in the air, Richard, but there are no more dolphins in the water. Thought you might want to blog on it…

December 14, 2006 @ 7:53 pm | Comment

Didn’t want to spoil the fun but I am not so sure if I can be so unwarped about the food as I was the last time. Tragic!

Eating out sides is one of the big pleasures in China from my point of view.
Not eating in restaurants in China would be like going to the seaside on a hot summer day but not jumping in the water while everybody else does. Something for masochists only.

December 14, 2006 @ 9:01 pm | Comment

When I left China last year my diet was somewhat limited. We didn’t eat pork due to the pig disease running rampant in the Sichuan region; we didn’t eat fish because of all the pollution in the streams and we were overly cautious when it came to eating poultry and other fowl due to the bird flu.

China’s environment is in a very, very sad state and it’s not going to get better anytime soon.

December 14, 2006 @ 10:01 pm | Comment

Yeah, I saw the dolphin story yesterday. It’s just too heartbreaking for me to write about it.

December 14, 2006 @ 11:26 pm | Comment

But there’s also a happier dolphin story on Yahoo news today, a real “only in China” kind of story: the world’s tallest man, a Mongolian herdsman, was called on to save two Chinese dolphins through the use of his extra long arms.


I ask you, what other country has news stories like this? No other country, and that’s why I live here. ๐Ÿ™‚

Richard, I have had the opposite gustatory experience in Shanghai: I get mild food poisoning (“la duzi”) here less often than when I lived in San Francisco (I get it maybe once a year in Shanghai)! This amazes me, because sometimes I eat at rather grimy hole-in-the-wall restaurants (which so often seem to have the best food).

I recall one significant dietary difference between us, maybe it’s related: you like seafood, while I seldom touch it, especially fish (which I abhor). Critters that live their lives in contaminated water apparently can really concentrate toxins. Even if I liked seafood, I wouldn’t eat anything that spent its life in waters in or around China. Yuck.

I agree that food contamination is a real issue for anyone living here, you have to take whatever measures you can. When I cook at home, I scrub every vegetable I can’t peel, and of course, any non-bottled water that is used must be boiled.

And certainly no raw eggs, ever. That means … no Christmas eggnog. ๐Ÿ™

December 15, 2006 @ 1:57 am | Comment


Not just China, but the whole world is polluting our food sources. Tuna is now off the menu for pregnant women and young children, as are most types of seafood. Pity since tuna is an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids, not to mention darn tasty sliced and served raw at a sushi joint in Tokyo’s Tsujiki Fish Market. The taste of fresh, fresh, maguro is truly sublime! The flesh melts in your mouth! Even if you are not a raw fish fan, you must try a tuna sushi sampler plate in Tsujiki Market if you ever go to Tokyo.

Independent organization in the US periodically test produce for pesticide residues. Before testing, they treat the produce as the consumer would treat it either by washing or peeling. Most US fruits are very high in pesticide residues. I eat only organic fruits. Veggies vary. Pomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, and spinach are high. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, onions, and leeks are low.


As you know from spending time in your mother’s kitchen, simmering chickens’ feet for 24 hours makes an excellent, thick gelatinous broth loaded with minerals. I cook up a big batch and freeze it in small canning jars. Foolish Koreans waste the nutritional potential of chickens’ feet by slathering them in hot sauce and serving them Buffalo wings-style.

If you must eat meat in China or the United States, avoid the fattier cuts since toxins and pesticides are stored in fat cells, yet another reason to avoid organ meats : (

Small, wild-caught fish like sardines, anchovies, or even salmon are okay, but the problem in China is the lack of labeling. Chinese fish in the States is labeled “Pacific” on the front to disguise its origin, but required labeling in small print on the back clarify which side of the Pacific the fish came from.

December 15, 2006 @ 8:15 am | Comment

Sonagi, you sound like quite the expert! This is a serious question: duck is loaded with fat, but Peking Duck is usually less fatty due to the ways it’s prepred. Do you think I put myself at risk of toxins by eating it? (And in China I eat it a lot.)

December 15, 2006 @ 8:38 am | Comment

LoL I was eating 香肠 from the local Jingkelong as I read this…

December 15, 2006 @ 9:16 am | Comment

From what I know, duck isn’t the most nutritious meat, and animals in China, like animals most everywhere else, are probably fattened on grain, not pasture, so the meat is of low nutritional quality. At least the Chinese cook their poultry with the skin intact, which for some reason protects the meat from developing carcinogens.

What is “a lot,” Richard? Once or twice a week? Do you eat healthy otherwise?

While I was in China, I didn’t pay much attention to nutrition, other than the standard food groups we all learned in elementary school. Ignorance was bliss as I sampled China’s delicacies without worrying about fatty acid ratios.

December 15, 2006 @ 7:02 pm | Comment

Since I don’t gain weight and am always hungry, I can polish off half a duck pretty much by myself, and will probably go for Beijing kaoya once a week. I tend to eat healthy, don’t eat sugar (except when I give in to a strange craving for vanilla ice cream) and hate food cooked in a lot of oil. (Which severely limits my options here in Taipei.) I like vegetables and never go near fast food. So I would think the occasional indulgence in Kaoya wouldn’t pose too grave a risk. My other big vice in Beijing is jiahuashengmi – I just love the fried peanuts over there. I eat way too much of those, probably two or three times a week.

December 15, 2006 @ 7:13 pm | Comment

It sounds like you’re eating healthy. I don’t have the link off-hand, but I recall reading a study that examined correlations between food and heart disease. The number food wasn’t meat or vegetable oil, but sugar! If you avoid sugar and its artificial subsitutes, which are worse, then you’re doing your body a lot of good. One Peking duck meal a week isn’t going to shorten your lifespan. Savor that crispy, juicy duck without worries, Richard!

BTW, you do get bloodwork done regularly, don’t you? I found out my lipid and fasting glucose numbers for the first time after I returned last year. Decent thanks to great genes on mom’s side of the family, but I still watch what I eat since heart disease and diabetes killed my dad and most of his siblings.

December 16, 2006 @ 12:31 am | Comment

judging from some of the alarmist comments in this thread, i should probably be dead by now! i have eaten, and continue to eat some of the scariest stuff. in six years living here, i have only had food poisoning serios enough to warrant medical attention once. i think it was some dodgy cold meat from a supermarket. i do stay away from fish though, but mostly because i dont like it.

December 16, 2006 @ 7:27 am | Comment

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