Results Update: China has beaten Sweden 2-1 in the opening game of the Olympic womens soccer competition. Go China! WO AI ZHONG GUO!!! 中国加油!
Well as usual I have left it till the last possible moment, on the eve of the 2008 summer Olympics, to write on this topic, but you know what they say about it being better late than never.
On July 13th 2001, Beijing was awarded the 2008 Olympic games. Beijing’s win was Toronto, Paris, Istanbul and Osaka’s loss. I was living in Beijing at the time and the whole city just went wild on that Friday night in July.
Ever since then, China has been working hard to ensure that it puts on an impressive show for the rest of the world, clearly trying to prove a point. I’m not entirely sure why the Chinese are so desperate to get approval from abroad. They certainly don’t need it. The Chinese economy is growing at an enviable rate and if anything, it is the rest of the world that needs to gain favour from the Chinese in order to be part of this extraordinary growth.
Nevertheless, no expense has been spared and nothing is being left to chance. A brand new 986,000 square meter 3.8 billion dollar airport terminal (larger than London Heathrow’s 5 terminals combined and twice as big as The Pentagon!) designed by Norman Foster has been built. The city’s subway system has been significantly expanded, numerous 5 star hotels have been built and a new airport rail link has also been installed, finally!
Even the weather is being strictly controlled and experts will be on hand during the opening ceremony to ensure it doesn’t rain. If clouds dare to form over the stadium, chemicals will be fired into the clouds to “delay” the rain until after the clouds have passed.
All the unsavoury elements of life in China have been conveniently removed, including prostitutes, beggars, street vendors and Tibetans. Even in Shanghai, which will host some Olympic events, most of the DVD stores selling pirated copies of western movies and tv shows have been forced to shut down, or at least to move to a back room. Bars have had restrictions on their opening hours, the many “health sex shops” have had to remove any English signage which might embarrass foreign visitors (Chinese is okay though because obviously no foreigners can read Chinese!). Just as it was during the SARS crisis, people have been encouraged not to spit (a common habit in China), previously blocked internet sites (like Wikipedia) have been unblocked (at least until the Olympics are over).
To me, this is a common Chinese solution. Rather than actually trying to improve things, just hide everything under the carpet, so everything appears to be squeaky clean. (They famously spray painted brown grass to make it look more green when Olympic inspectors came to evaluate Beijing’s bid for the Olympics in 2001.)
And of course, security has been stepped up everywhere to counter the terrorist threat from Xinjiang sepratists and Tibetans who want to spoil the party. Even ordering products on Taobao, China’s answer to eBay, is not possible if the seller is in Beijing, as they are bizarely not permitted to ship out of the city.
Visas for foreign visitors has been severely restricted and that has had a very negative impact on businesses of course. It’s also meant that the many newly built hotels in Beijing that expected to be packed with guests paying well above the normal rates are in fact going to be half empty this August.
In short then, in an effort to make sure the event is a success, have actually already ruined the event before it’s even started. Perhaps not (yet) for the participants, but certainly for the locals and visitors who are not involved in the event, and let’s not forget the unfortunate people whose homes happened to be in locations planned for Olympic sites who then were forced to move and their homes demolished.
Let’s hope when the event gets underway, things will run well and run smoothly. I will of course be reporting on the even over the next few weeks, at least until I lose interest, which could be as soon as the opening ceremony, but let’s see shall we. Either way, I’ll be happy when it’s all over and we can get back to the normal pre-Olympic madness lifestyle we all love.