Friday, August 07, 2009

Beijing One Year Later

It's hard to imagine that it's just a year ago that the Olympics opened in Beijing. So much has happened in the intervening 12 months, what with the emergence of the international economic crisis, the American election, and the death of Michael Jackson (to name the single most important events of the period...). But this blog is not about all those weighty things. Instead, I want to write about what is left of the Olympic spirit in Beijing 365 days after the opening ceremonies.

Much was made of the pollution problem in Beijing in the lead up to the Games, and indeed for a while the pollution problem seemed to have been somewhat resolved. Many people thought that the traffic restrictions put into place during the Olympic period may have had a role to play, so it was decided that the restrictions would continue afterwards. Of course, limiting people to be able to drive their cars only 1/2 of the time would have been very inconvenient, so instead the rule is that each plate has one day a week when it cannot be driven. Unfortunately, this does not really have that much of an impact on the pollution (or the traffic), and there are stories of people buying second cars to get around this. So chalk that up as a failure.

There were also a lot of campaigns in the pre-Olympic period to stamp out or reduce spitting, improve queuing etiquette, and reduce smoking in public places. Although J2 disagrees with me on this, I don't see any reduction in spitting, and as far as queuing and smoking are concerned, those programs seem to have been completely forgotten.

Also, what about those massive and impressive buildings that were the highlight of the Olympics, the Bird's Nest, Water Cube and the rest of the Olympic Green? Well, the Bird's Nest is hardly used for anything other than as a tourist attraction (RMB 50 for a ticket to see the inside), and the Water Cube has been turned into a shopping center and public swimming pool (at least that last part makes sense). The Olympic Green is popular with Chinese tourists, but otherwise it's got no reason for being any longer, and the Government's fear of groups gathering means that they won't set it up as some sort of venue for activities like they might do in London or somewhere else.

And finally, there were hopes that the Olympics taking place on Chinese soil would encourage more Chinese to get into sports and become more fitness oriented. It was in this spirit that Alpha and we opened up our little fitness studio, but nothing we've seen leads us to conclude that attitudes toward sports have changed, or that more Chinese are becoming concerned with their fitness. What sporting facilities there are for the public to use are generally derelict with no one but old people using the "gymnastics" equipment that have been installed (even since before the Olympics were awarded to Beijing) around the city.

So, I think it's safe to say that the Olympics came and went without leaving much of an impression, other than making the Chinese proud of being the hosts for such a major event.