I spent Wednesday of this week going with my family to Nanjing, which is fascinating but which on that day fully justified its reputation as one of the "Three Furnaces of China" (with Wuhan and Chongqing). It was so hot and the trains there and back were so packed that soon after we reached Shanghai we fell asleep with the room lights still on and the TV news droning in the background.
In that hallucinatory state I half-noticed the shots of celebrations from Beijing, as the one year countdown to the Olympics began. Then I thought I heard the head of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, say something truly astonishing: that the air in Beijing was so bad that some events (like, the ones where athletes have to breathe) might have to be postponed!
In the morning I couldn't be sure whether that had been dream or reality.
Rogge's comment would be enormous, nation-shaking news -- but I didn't see any followup. Also, how could the authorities have let such a remark be aired? Much less threatening comments have recently been zapped by state censors.
Now that I've had a chance to prowl around, it turns out that in an interview with CNN Rogge actually said what I thought I heard, even though I've not yet seen a mention of it in the Chinese media. And how did it slip through? I must have caught the interview when it was first being broadcast, live, and the authorities were apparently not able to react in real time. (They wouldn't dare block the interview as a whole, since Rogge's otherwise upbeat comments have been the centerpiece of this week's Olympics Countdown coverage.)
On the brighter side, the rumored air-quality trial run -- ordering half of Beijing's cars off the road for a few days, to see how much difference it makes in pollution -- is going to happen, starting next week. Here's hoping!
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