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Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. - Cyril Connolly
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
Guest Blogging from the Beijing Olympics
While I'm recuperating from knee surgery, I asked my buddy in Beijing if I could post some of her emails as she observes first hand, the preparations for the upcoming Olympics this weekend. If you encourage her, perhaps she'll let me post her photos from the Opening Ceremonies and other events as she witnesses them. Enjoy:
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Countdown to *8/8/8*, and the opening ceremony that will commence at *8:08pm* local time.

I cycled across town to Tian'anmen Square last week to see the clock as it marked the 10 day countdown – well actually by the time I got there it was 9 days, 22 hours and 27 minutes. [That's a sentence I never -- ever in my wildest dreams -- thought I'd have cause to write.] In addition, I got a nice shot of the entrance to The Forbidden City with some Olympic signage mounted in the foreground.

During the next fortnight, I'm hoping to take photos of newly gentrified neighbourhoods and some of the extravagant floral displays around town. Now that my Internet service has been restored, I will upload them throughout the Games. As one of the lucky lottery winners, I have tickets to the Opening Ceremony (8th ), the Closing Ceremony (24th ), some athletics events, and a swimming session. In addition I've been invited to a final session of the diving competition. Lots to look forward to once the Games get underway.

So, 8 days to go to the Opening Ceremony, and 625 since I arrived in country. Some days have dragged, but on the whole, time has flown. Unlike the early days, I'm now comfortable getting around town, using the bus and metro systems, and going into local restaurants without feeling too intimidated by linguistic constraints.

In the meantime, I've grown to enjoy some aspects of life here, and continue to abhor others. Learning the language grew on me. At first I was totally overwhelmed by the prospect of tackling it, but quickly realized that I needed to, in order to derive more enjoyment from the experience of living here. Ironically, given that I was daunted by Chinese script in the early days, I now really enjoy learning to read and write characters; however it takes a huge amount of stroke practice, followed up by recognition and recall exercises. That being said, there's still so much to learn, it could easily become a life-long endeavor. For the moment, I'm happy with what I've achieved.

I've grown to really enjoy local cooking, and accustomed to eating from communal dishes as long as I know the contents; however, I remain deterred by the thought of eating donkey meat, dog meat, or dishes containing any type of penis. I understand that Beijing restaurants have been discouraged from serving donkey and dog meat during the Olympic period.

Sanitization of restaurant menus is the tip of the iceberg. The city has undergone enormous change in the run up to the Games – much of it welcome. One of the more positive – but to date short lived -- aspects have been the improvement in local air-quality. Two weeks ago, we enjoyed the most stunningly clear skies that I've seen in the twenty months of living here; however, the past week, the skyline has been alternating between the hazy smog that so often degrades the quality of life here, and what the authorities consider to be an acceptable "blue-sky" day.

Interestingly over the last 6-8 weeks, we experienced thunderstorms, the intensity of which was spectacular. Many of us speculated that the meteorologists were somehow 'playing' with the weather controls. It's no secret that the Chinese authorities have been experimenting for years with rain generation, and cloud manipulation. I recently learned from a foreign environmentalist that during the last few months, there have been accusations of 'cloud stealing' among the provinces that surround the municipality of Beijing. Apparently this activity is all part of the practice routine necessary to ensure a dry Opening and Closing ceremony. According to the state run news agency – XinHua – the Beijing "weather engineering office" is in charge of the massive 'Olympic weather modification' project. Using technology developed by US scientists, cloud seeding is achieved by shooting shells or rockets containing silver iodide particles into the clouds. The icy particles freeze the drops in the clouds, make them continue to grow and eventually fall out of the clouds.

If the fireworks practice session that we enjoyed here one night last week is anything to go by, the country that invented gunpowder will pull out all the stops to provide the pyrotechnic show to beat all. Although the athletics stadium, now more usually referred to as the Bird's Nest, will be the focal point of the ceremony, the firework display will apparently extend as far south as Tian'anmen Square, which is located on the central axis of the city -- about 10km south of the Olympic Village.

During the last month I had the opportunity to run with friends up and around the Village. Now that it is completed, the environment has changed dramatically since my first visit to the area over a year ago. Gone are the migrant workers; gone are the prefabricated buildings that they slept in; and gone are the hole-in-the-wall eateries that fed them for the years that they lived on site working on the iconic structures of the Birds Nest and Water Cube. These workers – like so many others scattered around the city -- came from all over the country, typically working twelve-to-fourteen hour days, seven day weeks and living in extraordinarily primitive conditions. While here, they reputedly earned a wage that far exceeded what they could have earned as peasant farmers back in their hometowns. Maybe, what was visible to us in terms of their quality of life was merely an inconvenience; perhaps their total earnings will provide them with a cushion that will finance an education for their 'one-child', or will fund improvements to their living quarters back home. One can only hope and wish that having had a long distance relationship with their family, it will have been worth while.

In the immediate aftermath of the BeiChuan earthquake, I thought that the massive reconstruction effort needed in that region might provide employment opportunities for these tens of thousands migrant workers who were coming to the end of their Beijing based shelf-life. But, as time passed and I've read that the local authorities in BeiChuan are reluctant to rebuild along the fault line there in SiChuan province. As a result, I've more recently contemplated that the migrants may simply revert to their former occupation of peasant farming.

In addition to the many that worked on the Olympic venues, many more worked around the city on various commercial, residential and government funded construction sites. Some of those buildings that met their pre-Games completion dates are being occupied. Across the city, blocks and blocks of former construction sites have transformed the face of neighborhoods – some spectacular in their architectural design, many others simple – but sprawling in their nature. In the last couple of months acres and acres of retail/commercial space have become available, but interestingly it appears only a fraction of the total available space is occupied.

On the other hand, existing legitimate business that have been operating for years have been effectively choked by restrictions imposed by local authorities. Two Beijing based English language magazines that apparently operated since their inception 4/5 years ago were recently forced to comply with a 'dormant' licensing law. As a result, the June edition of one publication was impounded at the printers and reportedly pulped before it could hit the streets. Many night-time entertainment spots are being forced to apply for 'live-performance' licenses that heretofore had not been required. This week I also realized that Mongolian street vendors who had sold their ethnic jewelry outside one of the local markets have disappeared.

On a positive note, the authorities seem to have completely eradicated the sale of counterfeit DVDs, which previously had been available in the underground access tunnels to the metro system. In addition, the powers that be have closed down what I considered to have been the more 'legitimate' outlets. But, funnily enough a friend relayed the story of one store where a bookshelf on casters masked a wall behind which she was offered a full choice of counterfeit DVD stock.

In addition to the arrival of some national contingents in the Olympic Village, the other big news last week was that the authorities acknowledged the need for three 'zones' where individuals can gather to protest. This was big news; however, what appeared to have been a significant concession transpired to be shrouded in a complex application process that is expected to stifle all but the most persistent applicant. From what I understand of the rules, these zones will not be available to facilitate 'spontaneous' walk-in protesters. Rather, according to a local press report, BOCOG (BJ Organizing Committee of Olympic Games) will notify a designated park; if, as a result of a successful application, there is a demonstration scheduled. No doubt there will be adequate police and possibly army presence – as the local government publication 'Beijing Today' reported on July 25th -- to 'prevent riots or similar conflicts'.

Although not expected to result in crowd misbehavior, the last round of ticket sales on Friday (25th ) provided the authorities here with a taste of crowd control issues. While this went under-reported in the local press, the Hong Kong based South China Morning Post, did not hold back in drawing attention to the experience of their photographer covering what should have been a benign journalistic event. They reported the HK Journalists Association saying 'it was shocked by the violent interference with HK journalists' reporting activities. One photograph published, of a policeman restraining a cameraman as a fellow policeman is clearly pointing at another photographer telling him to stop shooting. Unfortunately, this kerfuffle is not a good start to what could well be a strained relationship between the local authorities and the droves of international correspondents expected in town to cover all events, warts and all, of the Games.

Although I have misgivings about the prevailing political environment, and continue to question the wisdom of the IOC for awarding the Games to Beijing in the first place, I hope for my Chinese friends there is no disruption at the competition venues and that they have the opportunity to enjoy the event as a wonderful sporting occasion.

Unfortunately the Irish team don't carry too many medal hopes, so on any occasion, I may cheer for a US win, or indeed my current host country. Who'd have ever thought it…?

All the best from Beijing on this hot, hazy and humid night...I'm sure the weather Gods will have another go to clear the air between now and Friday night...
posted by Broadsheet @ 8:06 AM  
1 Editorial Opinions:
  • At August 10, 2008, Blogger Don said…

    Hello,

    May I suggest a link related to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games?

    Our site:

    URL: http://www.2008chinaolympics.com
    Title: Beijing Olympics

    Please let me know if you want a link back.
    Many thanks for your reply.

    Best Regards,

    Don
    chinaolympics8@gmail.com

     
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