Wednesday, April 2, 2008

When the Wind Blows

I'd been warned about the sand storms that blow through Beijing around this time of year.

And yesterday after work I had my first encounter.

The wind was kicking up gusts that blew the sandy dirt up into the sky and into our eyes. Most people including myself weren't prepared and I had to keep rubbing my eyes as I waited at the bus stop. The wind was relentless and luckily I had a scarf to use as a breathing filter until my bus arrived, literally sheltering us from the fine dust storm.

Even my colleagues complained about the commute home. The weather has been unpredictable as the day before that it was raining and cold.

And according to concert organizer Emma Entertainment in Beijing, Canadian chanteuse Celine Dion cancelled her April 13 concert here because of the impact the sandstorms would have on her voice.

Earlier there were unconfirmed reports she had a throat infection and upcoming concerts would be postponed.

But a spokesperson for Dion denied it was the sandstorms, and said it was because Emma Entertainment had sold over 10,000 tickets without permission.

It's unclear what the real reason is. For someone who is very careful about looking after her voice, it's strange that she would perform at Worker's Stadium, an open-air space. But then again over 10 years ago she did sing on the runway of Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong after operations moved to the then new airport on Lantau Island.

The alleged accusation of Emma Entertainment selling tickets without permission is bizarre too, but sometimes the government has second thoughts about having performers come and is using the organizer as a scapegoat.

But the singer is squeaky clean compared to Bjork, who has made life tougher for musical acts to follow her when she shouted "Tibet! Tibet!" at the end of her Shanghai concert.

Dion has cozied up to Beijing Olympic organizers by submitting an entry as a possible song for the opening ceremonies. She was going to debut the song in Beijing, but perhaps Games organizers wanted to keep that top secret too.

Nevertheless, she will still come to the capital on April 11 for Olympic promotional activities and media interviews.

We may never get to the bottom of this strange turn of events.

But back to the sandstorms.

Today state media says in a recent survey, two-thirds of Beijingers believe the city's air pollution has improved, up from 53 percent from 2006. What happened to numbers from 2007?
The notorious sand storms, which used to blanket Beijing during early spring season, have not come this year. On the contrary, sunny days and spring blossoms have cheered Beijing residents and visitors up.

This is Beijing's way of fighting back against claims the capital's air pollution is unfit for athletes.

But with no solid numbers of the total number of people surveyed, who they were, and where they lived, we'll just have to go by what they say, with a pinch of salt -- or a pinch of sand.

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