Saturday, July 19, 2008

Beijing: Calm or Chaotic?--I cannot decide.

My second day, I grabbed lunch with my friend Vicky. Five dishes later (I’m serious), I was asking her about all the preparations for the Olympics. ‘It’s so fast that even we, Beijing Ren, don’t know what’s going on!’

It’s true. In the last two months, they’ve put in automated machines in the di-tie (subway), implemented security checks, even changed subway exits. The automated machines are great—I particularly enjoy their English option—and yet despite 5 machines at a time free and in service, people still wait in line to buy their tickets from the ticket counter. It takes time to adjust, and Beijingers have had to do a lot of adjusting lately. The government has closed up rec areas and streets, accelerated drug crackdowns in bars and clubs, stopped giving out plastic bags COUNTRYWIDE (something the US should learn, and that Seattle is trying), require you to carry your ID with you for random checks, and even make you take a sip of your drink before taking it on the subway—to prevent explosives, perhaps? They’ve already restricted cars entering Beijing, so much so that grocery prices have gone up because not enough trucks with, say, vegetables can make it into the city. The car ban—where cars with even license plate numbers go on even days, etc to cut down on crowds and air pollution—begins on Monday (July 20). They’ve even stopped giving out visas to tourists because there are too many coming in August (phew, I’m glad I got mine!). And yet, to my foreign, unfamiliar eyes-- it seems ultra calm. People are as friendly as ever, the subway’s new expansion is amazing (Chicago el—you’ve got nothing on it!), and the Forbidden City felt half as busy as it usually does. Still, maybe this is just the calm before the “storm.” I really wish I could be here for 08/08/08, to see what all the commotion is about.

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