Twenty four hours into Year of the Rat, and safely back "home" in Beijing. Actually feels like home -- or maybe it's just the travel-induced thousand-yard-stare 24 hours after starting the trek from DC. Apartment looks and smells great; Beijing Capital Airport keeps applying various de-bureaucratizing (!) speed-up tactics US international airports could study*;and my wife and I are hoping that the ongoing cannonade of New Year's fireworks outside the window, will, in compliance with "strict city regulations," end as promised at midnight.** Or that we'll be tired enough not to care.

新年快乐, Happy New Year.

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* One-third as many forms to fill out as on our previous visits. Immigration card, yes. But no longer a public-health screening form, which I assume got started during SARS; and no customs form at all, unless you have goods to declare. Despite our huge, groaning suitcases full of supplies from the U.S., we technically had nothing to tell the officials about.

** This might sound like an amusing festive touch, but based on last year's New Year celebrations in Shanghai, it's closer to living through some documentary about City At War, with concussive blasts round the clock. In this new year of pre-Olympic orderliness for Beijing, we'll see how the not-past-midnight rule goes. Outside just now: KABOOM!!!

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