I went out an around Beijing a little this weekend, being a tourist and exploring some of my old favorite spots that I'd heard had gotten face lifts. I just can't get over how this city has changed in just the 18 months I've been here, not to mention since I lived here in 2004!
The infrastructure is very developed with new subway lines, roads, police forces, etc. The "Odd/Even Rule" is working out pretty well. If your license number is an odd number, you can drive on odd days of the month, and vise versa if its even...cutting the number of personal cars on the road in half for the next two months! And they are strictly enforcing it. Security checks are everywhere, English speaking volunteers are asking if you need help, and the general population has been trained to stand in line! (not a typical Chinese characteristic.) I have to swipe my electronic card 3 times to get into my apartment now. Once for the complex, once for the building and once for the elevator. No thieves getting in there, not that I ever felt it was unsafe to begin with.
In public there are enormous Beijing 2008 banners everywhere, often strategically placed to cover up entire buildings or streets that may not be pleasing to the eye. This is in Wangfujing, the most popular and expensive shopping street in the city. Everything here is in a large scale, and I was surprised to see the whole street was plastered with the banners.
And on every corner there is a place to buy official Olympic merchandise...not the knock-off stuff. And on a normal day before the Olympics are even here, you would be standing in line to purchase anything.
One of the streets that I used to go to a lot is called DaZhaLan street, and is just south of Tiananmen Square. It has a lot of Beijing's "Oldest" or "Firsts" like the first movie theater, the most famous silk shop, the most famous shoe makers, etc. Just recently it and the entire area around it got a very expensive face lift with widened walkways, clean streets and new store fronts, opening just in time for the Olympics:
As you can see in the photos, the skies have been clear for several days now. Perfect blue skies. The cab drivers are saying it's the odd/even rule, but who can explain it. It makes me think that maybe the government might actually be able to make good of their pollution promise. We'll see.
But for the rest of the city, it seems as if a lot of deadlines were met. The Olympic stadiums are all ready and waiting, sparkling new buildings and streets are opening up all over the city, and security seems to double each week. For the opening ceremony we're going to have a party on a roof-top bar next to Tiananmen square so that we can simultaneously watch the TVs as well as the fireworks outside. I can't wait. As for the actual events, I'll just be going to artistic gymnastics on the 14th...so if you're watching TV...watch the stands for a blonde girl in the sea of black hair :)