<
>

REPORTING FROM ... THE BEIJING BUREAU

8/5/2008
You can't escape the Fuwas. But, then again, why would you want to? Anthony Tao

Rounding the corner—17 days left until Opening Ceremonies.

It's been a seven-year marathon for China's Olympic planners—longer, really, since Beijing was a finalist in 1993 to host the 2000 Games—but we've finally made it to the home stretch. As August 8 nears, a recent spate of initiatives has helped Beijing find its sprinting legs.

From the past few days:

JULY 15
Three "defense lines" of security checkpoints are established, offering layers of protection for the center of the city—fitting because Old Beijing used to be surrounded by a massive wall dotted with gates with names like "Gate of Virtuous Triumph" and "Gate of Heavenly Peace" (Tiananmen). Mao Zedong ordered the walls torn down when he took power, but the gates have retained their names to this day.

JULY 16:
Colorful flowers—2.6 million of them—liven up Beijing's central business district.

CIRCA JULY 18:
Fuwas—the official Olympic mascots—appear in hotel lobbies throughout the city.

JULY 19
Two new subway lines open: the long-awaited Airport Express Line and Line 10. A third line is expected to be operational by the start of the Olympics.

JULY 20

  • Odd-even license plate restrictions go into effect, as nearly half of Beijing's 3.3 million vehicles are taken off the streets (exceptions: taxis and emergency vehicles). On this day, only cars with license plates that end in even numbers are allowed on the road.

  • Restrictions go into effect on "Olympic lanes" that are only open to Olympics-related vehicles. More than 175 miles of roadway are suddenly off limits from 6 a.m. to midnight.

  • Chemical and power plants cut emissions by 30 percent.

  • Construction is halted citywide, with fences erected to screen off rubble.

  • State-owned enterprises such as malls, research institutions and other businesses change their opening and closing times to lessen the number of commuters during regular rush hour.

  • Security checks are installed at the entrance of each of Beijing Airport's three terminal buildings.

  • Ten new bus routes start operations, with 24 more set to run on Aug. 9.

Add these to the small changes that have taken effect in the past month—we're talking park toilet upgrades and renaming of menu items—and it's apparent this is a country with a pathological need for these Olympics to go as planned. It has spent a record $42 billion, after all.

The transformation can feel dizzying, even to locals. Ding Zhanming, a 40-year-old taxi driver who has lived in Beijing all his life, couldn't find a road in the western part of the city because, in just the last week, it had been appended to connect to another street.

"Look at the banners, look at the flowers," he said as we sped down Eternal Peace Avenue, the main East-West thoroughfare cutting through the heart of the city. "The changes have happened very fast."

But fast enough? Beijing's said for months that they're ready; soon we'll get to see if they're right.

ALSO ON THE PODIUM

  • A Beijing family living in a "nail house"—so-called because they've refused official orders to move out—recently saw what happens when you don't capitulate to the government: they send in the demolition crew.

  • With half the city's cars out of commission, subways are getting overrun. On Monday, a station had to be closed off due to a crush of passengers.

  • As athletes consider wearing masks to protect against Beijing's pollution, Time provides reasons for optimism when it comes to Games-time air quality.

  • Now we know the Opening Ceremonies will feature fireworks—enough to color the night sky red, as seen in these two videos from an Opening Ceremonies rehearsal.

  • Here's the trailer for Let It Out, which may be the sappiest, most feel-good Olympics documentary ever.

  • Two very educated, very informative articles about what the Olympics means to China and how the Olympics has, and will, shape the country: Elizabeth Economy and Adam Segal writing in Foreign Affairs and Jim Leibold for China Beat.

  • The Chinese government is even cracking down on the friendly neighborhood barkeeps.

Torch relay update: Just passed: Qingdao, recently cleared of algae and visited by President Hu Jintao. Next up: Linyi, a 2,400-year-old city in Shandong Province, the excavation site of the oldest military treatise in the world, The Art of War.

For the Beijing Bureau archive, click here.