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Thursday 17 Aug 2017 | 10:19 | SYDNEY
Thursday 17 Aug 2017 | 10:19 | SYDNEY

Beijing: Ready, set...

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9 July 2008 10:37

Guest blogger: Alistair Thornton is a Beijing-based economic analyst.

With a month to go until the lavish opening ceremony sparkles into life, Beijing is awash with activity. Finishing touches are being applied the city over, and on the face of it, the capital seems pretty much there.

In terms of infrastructure, Beijing’s Olympic efforts already contrast clearly with those of Athens four years ago. All 31 Olympic venues are complete, some well ahead of schedule, with both the Bird’s Nest athletic stadium and Water Cube swimming stadium long glowing red and blue into the city night. Swish new subway lines are in the test phase, including a high-speed Airport Express that whisks travellers from the new airport straight to the city centre. Road signs have started appearing around town, in both English and Chinese, directing traffic to various Olympic venues.

Olympic-specific infrastructure aside, the rest of Beijing is also donning its Sunday best. Quirkily designed new shopping centres and flashy office blocks are fast approaching completion all over town. My personal favourite, the new headquarters of China Central Television, looks like it could be finished in days. A lot of the older buildings have seen a new lick of paint, and authorities have even gone to the extent of building walls to hide the scruffiest of the lot. And as the building work and cleaning near their end, the whole city is coming together. I can assure you, it looks impressive.

However, it’s not all plane sailing. In other aspects, China may be less ready for the world, and vice versa, than expected. In one month’s time, when record numbers of visitors descend on Beijing, the locals very well may get bored of ogling and giggling at passing laowai (foreigners). I doubt however they will get bored of their seemingly favourite pastime, spitting. Spitting has been the target, along with littering and smoking, of a massive ‘civil improvement’ campaign, that more likely than not will have absolutely zero effect.

In a drive to make the city more accessible, 90,000 taxi drivers have supposedly been taking English lessons, with from what I can see, nothing to show for it. In fact, one taxi driver told me that he and his friends stopped attending after they decided the lessons were too difficult. However, they have all been provided with an English-Chinese phrasebook, that includes all those necessary taxi phrases, such as, 'Did you know China raised petrol prices for the first time in 18 months the other day? Analysts say it is because of the rising cost of oil around the world'. Somehow I think mastering the numbers would be a more constructive use of time.

As for pollution, there is also quite a way to go. The air is still thick with smog; the BBC claims that Beijing air fails to conform to WHO standards. However, in two weeks time, vehicle restrictions come into force, driving approximately half of the city’s cars off the roads. Officials insist that this, along with further planned closures of construction sites and factories, will bring pollution down to the required levels.

But for these few downsides, there is a great buzz and excitement in the air. China, as the world witnessed in the aftermath of the earthquake, is an intensely nationalistic and proud nation. All the Chinese I meet are overjoyed that China finally gets to host the world at an event it has so many times been the guest. It is their chance to show the world, from the inside, what dramatic steps China has taken in the past 30 years. And it is their chance to show the world, from the inside, where China is headed. All I can say is, I’m looking forward to the show.

Photo by Flickr user chrissuderman, used under a Creative Commons license.

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