Small data points on the "are we ready?" Olympic front (Updated)
No one will know whether Beijing is fully "ready" for the Olympics until the games begin in 36 days. As previously discussed, you can reel off your list of possible concerns -- environment, political climate, etc. And your comparable lists of reasons to think it will all work out.
Two minor travel-related readings from the last 24 hours, involving human flow for the expected crowds:
1) New regulations concerning security and customs-scrutiny at Beijing's Capital Airport, with its spectacular new Terminal Three, went into effect on July 1. Soon thereafter, my wife and I arrived on an international flight. Before, getting through the passport line had averaged maybe one minute per person being admitted, and the bags typically showed up maybe 15 minutes or so after you were out of the passport line.
This time, the passport line was notably slower -- while I watched, it was two or three minutes per person, but in fairness I was in line behind a large group of Turks from a Turkish Airlines flight, so maybe that was somehow a factor. (How could this matter? The government is very concerned about disruptive threats from Uighur activists in the Xinjiang region; ethnically and linguistically, Uighurs are related to Turks; QED.)
The real difference was the bags. After an longer than normal trip through the passport line, we still waited more than an hour before the first bags appeared -- and this on a weekday afternoon when only one other flight (the Turkish one) seemed to be in the works. Flight staffer said: bags were being looked at one by one. On our way out of the customs hall, many more customs inspectors than before, plus sniffing-dogs, and a generally more attentive air. It will be interesting to see how this scales for the Olympics.
Update: Michael Standaert, novelist and author of the China Notebook report on China, writes to report this differing experience at Terminal Three not long after we passed through:
We came through T3 from Hong Kong on Wednesday evening ... smoothest process I've been through ever in Beijing. Only about 4 people deep at the immigration line and our bags were already on the turnstile at the baggage claim when we got there. We were seated in the very last row of the plane though, so that could have made a slight difference... All of this probably fluctuates from flight to flight. I also wonder if, since we flew through HK, if our bags were prescreened there instead of after landing in Beijing like yours were.
2) Yesterday came news that the new subway lines 8 and 10, plus a new Airport Express line, will not open at the start of July, as previously planned. (Before that, early June was the target; last summer, we'd heard it would be some time in May.)
Around our household, we refer to Line 10 as the "Dear God, if you have mercy, please please please let it open sometime soon" subway line. It will follow much of the path of one of the city's very worst traffic nightmares, the East Third Ring Road. It will also make feasible the frequently-necessary and usually-daunting road trip from the Central Business District in east-central Beijing to the Haidian university/high-tech concentration in the northwest. (Nice large scale subway map here. The new Line 10 is the semicircle in light green; the also-delayed Line 8, in dark green, is three stops long and runs to the main Olympic venues in north-central Beijing.)
Since renting an apartment last year near a future Line 10 station, we have stared expectantly at the construction site every day, willing it to be done and counting the days till the promised opening. During the Olympics themselves, Line 8 will matter even more, since it will be the main artery getting people to the games. Not to mention the Airport Express. And now all are being postponed until late July, with the events starting on August 8? Well, it will be exciting. For nice speculation on the reasons behind the delay, check here.
By the way: Happy Independence Day.