Friday, August 1, 2008


Beijing's countdown board, which one couple I met said they saw with thousands of days left, is down to single digits now. Olympification is in high gear.

"Pictures cannot reflect reality," Du Shaozhong, a high-up, said in response to the bad press it's getting about Beijing's air quality. "They are not accurate." (As if I have enough skill to know how to upload a picture to Photoshop, let alone alter it.) But pictures are still speaking a thousand words for me, making this a very long entry.

Most intrusive to the average Chinese, of course, is Beijing's traffic rule that license plates ending with even numbers can only be driven on even calendar days, and odd-numbered license plates on odd calendar days. My solution, of course, would be to drive without a license plate, but I understand why many haven't adopted that. (They would ban cars altogether, then, of course.)

Or, if you're like my Chinese dad, you just don't go to work on the days you can't drive.

That looks like a substantial number of cars, you say, but you're wrong. These cars don't even have their brake lights on, and everyone knows that it's not an Olympics-worthy city unless there's normally a traffic jam anywhere cars are allowed (and some places where they aren't).

What you can't see in this picture is the Olympic lane that most of the roads have. Highways only have three lanes each way here, and when you cut out a whole one for an unknown Olympics-related reason, you're back to a reasonable amount of traffic.

Exhibit two is Beijing's prettifying.

A week or two ago, Average Zhou and his buddy painstakingly positioned a flowery pedestal every hundred feet or less. Apparently, these were a one-time investment for the government, because since then the potted flowers have been withering and the nice enamel has been cracking. Today as I walked by they looked like something Beijing should clean up instead of evidence that it has.

I'm not sure if this sign was added in preparation for the Olympics, but it fits in. In case you wanted to time your terrorist attack properly, car bombings are only allowed from 6am to midnight. I don't know how else to interpret that sign. They've started to check my backpack every time I get on a bus now.

And then there's overall Olympification. This structure was in a garden Emma and I visited recently. Our school has been working on it's own project, a papier-mâché globe twenty feet in diameter. At least that's what it looks like. They make me show my ID to get into school now (since I don't look foreign enough already), so I concentrate more on accepting China's restrictions than on appreciating their artistic prowess.

If effort won gold, though, then China's in for a big victory party. But from what I hear, over eight people and the gathering is illegal. Gotta watch out for separatists.

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