China’s Smog: An Interview and Probe

Post 5 by Lucy Allen

For someone living with Type 1 Diabetes it’s really easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone knows and understands the disease and if not, that they should. This somewhat arrogant view was challenged when undertaking an interview and probing activity as part of design-led ethnography.

I devised four probing questions that I hoped would open up discussion and allow my interviewee to really articulate their assumptions, knowledge and understanding of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. My hope for these questions was that I could develop a better understanding of how people view those living with Type 1 Diabetes and the assumptions they make. 

My probing questions:

  1. What comes to mind when I say Diabetes?
  2. Do you have any experience with Diabetes? Say with family, friends, peers?
  3. What type of body do you associate with Diabetes?
  4. If you were diagnosed with Diabetes today how do you think your life would change?

I wasn’t however prepared for if my partner had no previous experience or knowledge of Type 1. Quite naively it hadn’t even crossed my mind that this was a possibly, perhaps because to me it is so normal and day-to-day. Once realising my questions were too tricky for someone that knows nothing about the disease I began trying to adapt my questions to make them a little broader whilst also explaining a bit about Type 1 to my partner. I realised after my partner very apologetically couldn’t answer my questions that my interview would have to take a different path. 

With some help from my tutor I was able to delve into my partners own experience with health and wellbeing, particularly in relation to his birth country, China. I asked him questions about Chinese culture and the health of people over there and he informed me of the smog in China and how this has a enormous impact on the health and wellbeing of the Chinese. The most interesting thing I learnt throughout the process was that the smog in China is so thick that at the end of a day when people take their masks off, the filters have black sludge on them. I found it hard to imagine when my partner told me this, we are so used to clean fresh air here in Australia and it really made me appreciate this.

It was a really eye-opening experience to carry out an interview that was so different to the one I’d played out in my head. It was a fantastic experience for me learning to think on my feet and ask probing questions. What eventuated was me not so much learning about the area I was focused on but being engaged and enlightened in a much more personal and interesting topic to my partner that in turn informed and engaged me.

Some interesting points I took away from my interview are

  • There is a bigger focus in China on Cancer as a leading health issue apposed to Diabetes
  • Air Quality is seen as a big threat to the health of the Chinese
  • The ‘smog’ effects lungs, teeth, skin and general ability to exercise and be outside
  • Government has attempted to fix to smog but it as seen as a helpless situation, very few people have hope it will ever change
  • There is a focus on physical health apposed to invisible e.g. Amputated limbs vs. mental health disease

When deciding on a probing activity for my partner to undertake it was tempting at first to focus on increasing his knowledge of Type 1 Diabetes. In the end however I appreciated that my interview had taken use down a different path and that this was now an opportunity for me to learn more about China and their healh and wellbeing. I started out with quite complex and time-consuming probing tasks however was advised to keep these simple so as not to make the task feel like a chore.

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Smog in Beijing (Huffington Post, 2015)

My probing exercise:

  1. Undertake 3 x 10minute research sessions on the health of China. Record any interesting points and health terms
  2. Write out how the life of Chinese people would be different if the smog disappeared

The outcomes I received from this activity were really fantastic. It was amazing how when somebody can relate to an issue or is passionate about it how it inspires them to throw themselves into a task. Being able to access Chinese news and website my partner was then able to translate many of the statistics and research for me, invaluable information. It was also really great to see health terms highlighted clearly, this really informed the associative word task we undertook the following week.

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An great extract from my partners research. Translated Chinese health statistics with highlighted health terms

When reading my partners response to what would change if the smog in China didn’t exist I suddenly realised how interlinked the smog and health are. As my partner pointed out that alongside the health risks, the smog has additional physical and emotional effect on people. It stops the Chinese from spending time outside and exercising as well as blocking the sun meaning most days and grey and dull. Being informed of this issue that is so foreign to us was really incredible and I feel lucky to have learnt so much from my partner and his access to relevant information. 

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Chinese News Source my partner used as part of my probe activity

Looking back on the interview process some part of me wishes I had been better prepared with broader probing questions however at the same time I am so happy with how the process evolved and the path it took. I have learnt so much and been engaged in a totally new realm of health that I wouldn’t have been otherwise. In saying that I would have liked to do some more unique and creative probing exercises. Due to the nature of the topic the interview led us to it was hard to come up with fun and original tasks to give to my partner. In this particular circumstance I do think that the probing exercises turned out well and really benefited both my partner and I.

Reference List

English, A.J, 2015, “Inside Story – China’s Pollution Dilemma”, Youtube, viewed 23rd of August 2016, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYzedoKTx3Q&gt;

Hunt, K., Lu, S., “Smog in China Closes Schools and Constructions Site, Cuts Traffic in Beijing”, CNN, viewed 22nd of August 2016, <http://edition.cnn.com/2015/12/07/asia/china-beijing-pollution-red-alert/&gt;

NTDonChina, 2013, Top Health Expert Says China’s Smog “Scarier than SARS”, Youtube, viewed 24th of August 2016, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsCfzAncWLk&gt;

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