American Skies

Blue sky gradientThe sky is bigger and bluer in America. It’s true. Even though I’m in a city filled with high rises and skyscrapers, the sky is obviously clearer and larger [than Hong Kong specifically, and other places generally]. This may seem like just an aesthetic quality, but let me assure you it is not. There are two unexpected implications of this clear, blue sky: sun damage and pollution.

There are two reasons for the bigness and particular blueness of the sky: the geography of the mid-west in the states (flat) and the different air quality. In Hong Kong the sky was often greyish with smog and also covered by buildings, mountains and trees. looking over Victoria Harbor

This meant that running in Hong Kong, though doable with a variety of trails and parks, was also often hurting your lungs. I would check the AQI for my neighborhood, and if it was over 100 (in the Orange range of “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups) I wouldn’t go out jogging. Even when it was nice out, I would often feel tired and short of breath quickly. On the occasions when I was back in the States, if I went for a run, I would feel amazing and be able to go miles further without noticing any tiredness. Running in HK felt like mild asthma. Some friends’ asthma worsened because of the pollution, and when they left the country for a place with better air quality, their symptoms mostly disappeared, and they no longer required regular inhalers. Simply put, pollution is bad for you.

Living in Chicago, I no longer check the pollution before leaving my bed. I check the temperature, because that is incredibly unpredictable (variations of 40°F day to day), but I don’t check the air quality. I get up, I go for a run, and my lungs feel good according to my cardio vascular health rather than according to whether there is a public holiday in China.

There is one downside to this new sky, however.

I went running in a tank top in May, and when I returned my shoulders were red. 30 minutes in the sun in Chicago will actually cause sun damage. In HK, I would wear sunscreen if I was going to be out for hours hiking or boating or lounging at the beach, but I wouldn’t really worry about it on a run, because I never had a problem. The layer of haze, counter intuitively perhaps, actually seemed to offer some protection from severe sun damage. Now, there is no such layer. If I intend to be outside, I have to sunscreen up.

When you’re used to one climate and transplant to a new one, no matter how much you’re prepared it will surprise you. I’ve moved from polluted tropics with typhoons, to a clear aired seasonal city with tornados and blizzards. The major climate changes, like the bitter, bitter cold, people will tell you about. But small habits also take some awareness to change. Sun set

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