Diary of a Shunyi mum: Let's talk about car restrictions

You're only allowed to drive on alternate days during key city events

Diary of a Shunyi mum is a blog about family life in Beijing by mum-of-two Deborah Cooper. In this post, she opens debate on the car restrictions during APEC

I’ve just been given final confirmation on when we can use our car during the APEC conference on November 3-12. During this time, cars in Beijing can only be on the road on alternate days. For those like me who were not here during the 2008 Olympics when restrictions of this scale were last enforced, it’s quite a strange experience. I know that this topic has caused much discussion among Shunyi residents, many of whom have cars and drivers and go to downtown Beijing on a daily basis.

Needless to say, this is a total inconvenience, as is the cancellation of local events when the pollution is too high (not to mention the fuzzy headache that comes with it) – and here lies the Beijing conundrum.


The Beijing conundrum

The APEC restrictions highlight Beijingers’ reliance on cars, which also happens to be a contributor to air pollution. It’s difficult to say just how much: some reports say that car exhaust fumes make up less than five percent of the hazardous PM2.5 particles, while others say it’s more like 20 to 30 percent. But whatever the figures, this is a great opportunity to have an interesting discussion with our kids about why we’re having these car restrictions.

There is, of course, the quick ‘Welcome World Leaders to Blue Sky Beijing’ explanation that could turn rather cynical. But move on from that, and we can have a real debate with our children about the environment and how we can better look after it and not take it for granted, about how good policy and planning is so important to our future, and why we should believe in the saying ‘every vote counts’ or, in this case, every car counts.

If we really do want to enjoy blue skies in Beijing, then we all need to play our part. Cue the end of my rousing speech to my daughters, rounding off with ‘Yes girls, all those window-tinted 7-seater Buicks in the expat suburbs resting in their garages can make a difference.’


What is APEC anyway?

Don’t let the kids leave the discussion without chatting about what APEC is. Who is this group that restricts us to ten days of bicycling in a wind-chill factor of minus ten?

Here’s my ‘two-minutes-of-research’ take on it. APEC stands for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. It’s a forum that focuses on creating more economic growth and prosperity for its 21-member countries by developing good trade practices, investments and understanding. There are multiple conferences for CEOs, foreign and trade ministers and other officials over the ten days of APEC and it culminates with world leaders like Obama and Putin attending on November 10-11… and it means a few days off school. (The last bit is to snap the kids back to attention.)

What will come out of the conference besides a good handshake? Well, that requires more research than busy Shunyi parents have time for. For now I don’t have a clue - but I do know that I hope to enjoy some blue-sky days soon.

How the car restrictions work

Our number plate ends in an odd number, which means we can only use the car on the odd-numbered dates during the conference: November 3, 5, 7, 9, 11. Number plates that end in an even number can only drive on November 4, 6, 8, 10, 12. Despite what we Shunyi residents like to believe, the ‘no-drive’ days definitely means no driving anywhere, not even within the Fifth Ring Road or to ‘just pop up to Jenny’s’.

A tip: My husband and his work colleagues are making car-pooling arrangements to get to their downtown office. Maybe this is a good opportunity to get to know your neighbours…

Deborah Cooper is an expat wife and mother of two living in Shunyi. Originally from Adelaide, Australia, Deborah and her family began their life as expats in 2005, living in Finland, Germany and now China. In Beijing, she enjoys writing, volunteering her time to charities and running after her two daughters Maddison (11) and Erin (8).

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