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Mr. Know-It-All: Breathing in China

WIRED MAGAZINE: ISSUE 15.12 published on the 27th of November 2007:

I’m about to travel to Shenzhen on business, and I’m concerned about the city’s atrocious pollution. Will I offend my Chinese hosts if I wear a dust mask?

Not at all, since many natives have adopted this practice, too — though it’s generally more popular among bicyclists than pedestrians. Sure, a few folks might think you have some horrendous disease and thus refuse to sit next to you on the bus. But most Shenzhen residents will realize that you’re only trying to protect your health. Just don’t delude yourself into thinking a skimpy mask of the sort favored by many Chinese urbanites will do much good. “Cheap surgical masks give a false sense of security,” says Christian Masset, chair of the antipollution organization Clear the Air Hong Kong, who contends that those filters catch few harmful particles. He recommends a higher-quality mask; many travelers opt for ones with replaceable charcoal filters. A little bulky and unsightly perhaps, but your lungs will thank you.

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