Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Are We Ready?
Today was another milestone in the road to the Olympics with the 100-day countdown.
All over the country there were events to mark the day, from the 1,000 people who ran a marathon that went past the National Stadium or Bird's Nest, cheered on by 10,000; in Qinhuangdao, teachers wrote poems including "Olympics, we're always prepared"; a gala was held in Shanghai; and in Qingdao, over 10,000 participated in a mini-relay.
And tonight there was a giant celebration in Tiananmen Square, that was broadcast on every giant outdoor screen in the city as well as inside every bus.
I only caught part of the show on the bus. A man and woman who I recognize from the one-year countdown sang "One World, One Dream" and Chinese favourite Jackie Chan sang "We Are Ready".
The hostesses, three in all, wore ballgowns, the men in dark suits. The lighting in the area was quite bad and so the pictures were dark. However, you could see the crowd waving or banging inflated sticks together.
The festivities cut to a studio where two women flanked a man in a set that included a background with the design from the Bird's Nest and in front the swirling "lucky cloud" design. And constantly flashing in the right bottom corner were the Chinese characters Wei Xiao Beijing or "Smile Beijing". Did people need to be reminded?
Then the program cut to a pre-recorded segment showing images of ethnic minorities who live in China dressed in their colourful costumes and singing or playing musical instruments. Why is it that these people are dragged out when China wants to show complete solidarity from everyone in the country? And in their ethnic costumes no less? It seemed like a deliberate move after the unrest in Tibet.
All the news here is about how the city is ready and everyone is wishing Beijing a successful Olympics. But is it really ready?
While practically all the venues are completed, there was the embarassing acknowledgment most of the loos were of the squat variety. Venue managers promised to make a few alterations in the plumbing department.
And Beijing Capital Airport's Terminal 3 is open, but already it's packed with people and crowd control is an issue, according to a flight attendant friend of mine.
The air quality at the moment is hardly reassuring; every morning I've been waking up to a white haze over the city that the wind isn't able to blow away.
Beijing is currently in a tussle with US and Australian Olympic teams over them wanting to bring their own food, but China wants to prove that it will provide quality food for the Games.
The dialogue with the Dalai Lama has yet to happen as far as we know, and for some reason, the Chinese state media are still vilifying him. A commentary on China Daily says "Dalai Lama Still Spewing Lies". It's hardly productive.
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who helped create the iconic Bird's Nest design, has poked jabs at the Chinese government for blinding people into buying into the Olympics and how he is surprised at how slowly the country is changing. Ouch.
So there's now technically 99 more days to go (Beijing time). With the clock ticking, people seem to be working faster to get things done.
As I was walking home, I saw an army of people working on a small patch of land at the corner of my block. It's been neglected as far as I know since I got here. But tonight all these people were madly planting trees, shrubs and small plants like marigolds and pansies -- in the dark.
Tomorrow there will be an instant garden.
And you thought Beijing wasn't ready.