Friday, August 01, 2008

Things Beijing Olympics

Having been in Beijing a few days, I’ve experienced many things expected and unexpected. Before I left the U.S., I read lots of articles about all that’s happening in Beijing. I also spoke with friends here and learned about a few things not covered by the U.S. media. But now that I’m here, I realize whatever you read and watch in the media tells just one side of the story. (See my post called The Other Side of the Story for more on this.)

We've all read about how Beijing has tried very hard to improve the climate. Manufacturing in the city and surrounding cities has stopped, trucks aren’t allowed to drive in the city, and drivers are assigned to drive on only odd or even numbered dates. One thing I didn’t know is that construction, even renovations for residents, isn't allowed! Even so, when I arrived in the afternoon, the sky was totally gray and muggy—a typical hot summer day in Beijing. I instantly wondered what all the athletes and foreign visitors would think. I worried the western media will have lots more to say about Beijing’s climate. Such weather lasted a few days; until today, I haven’t seen sunshine! And it rained for three nights straight, even during the opening ceremony rehearsal nights (2 nights already, and there’ll be another one Tuesday). Then I began to worry about what will happen August 8th. Will it be another gray muggy day? Will it rain? (That’s what everyone is talking about now.) What do people around the world think of Beijing when they see such weather on TV? I’m anxious yet hopeful the weather we can’t control will be on Beijingers’ side.

Although the weather can’t be controlled, everything else in Beijing can be managed. The streets are extremely clean and flowers are blooming on all major streets, even spelling out words like “Welcome to Beijing,” “Beijing 2008,” or “One World, One Dream.” All major streets—really almost all, not just one or two—hang the Olympic flags and Beijing Olympic logo. The flowers and flags make the city look so colorful and appealing in contrast to the gray sky! Beijing also opened all subway lines. Until April, there were just three, and now eight lines are open. The last line opened July 31st. It's just amazing to see all these modern and convenient new subway lines! A 1.5-hour taxi ride takes just 25 minutes on the subway. I wish we’d had it long time ago. Before I came back, I heard about the subway randomly checking people’s bags. Guess what? Now it’s not random but mandatory. Everyone carrying bags must go through the security check in each subway entrance across all stations. You think there’d be a long wait? No, there isn't a line. I haven’t waited more than a minute to go through. Amazingly, no one complains about going through such a hassle just to carry a bag. Think about what New Yorkers would say if they had to deal with such checks in each subway station!

ID checks are another inconvenience people encounter daily. Although I haven’t been stopped or seen such checks, I've heard stories about people from another city who had to leave Beijing because they don’t have residential permits. Some of my suppliers’ workers left for the same reason, and now we can’t source certain products because those factories are closed. I also saw residents in my father’s building check people walking in and out and ask strangers to register. Maybe that’s because their building is very close to the National Stadium – Bird Nest, which can be seen from many residents’ windows. Many streets, even up to 2 kilometers away, will be closed August 8th.

Media is also managed well. Now everything you read, listen to, and watch concerns all things Olympics. “We Are Ready,” a popular Olympic theme song, describes just how ready Beijing is. There are live reports from the Olympic village and airports about arriving teams, press conferences of President Hu Jingtao (so different from western press conferences!), rehearsal preparations and the soon-to-be-open Olympic park, volunteers around the city, ordinary residents preparing for the Games by learning English or hosting Olympic visitors. Everything seems great if not perfect. Everyone seems so happy and proud to be Beijing residents! Ten days before the Games, CCTV hosted an evening all-star entertainment show. The atmosphere was amazing. All the songs, dances and plays showed how proud Beijing’s people are to host the Olympic Games. As I watched, I wondered what the performers think about all the daily inconveniences. In light of all those hassles, how could they be so happy and proud?

But after just a few days here, I’m already used to it and realize why we have to experience the inconveniences. All I wish—and I believe all Beijingers wish it, too—is that the Olympics Games are a big success and show the world what China and Beijing stand for.