I'll know for myself when I get off the airplane I'm about to get on, but Friday's reports from Beijing, where the Olympic Games begin two weeks from now, are ... challenging. The air is apparently not getting better, despite the big factory-and-traffic shutdown that started five days ago, and may even be getting worse. For panorama of what "worse" might mean, pictures over the last few months here.
Transportation is oddly becoming more snarled, rather than less, in the wake of the even-odd license plate rules designed to get cars off the road. The spiffy new subway lines that have just opened are already overloaded, in part because, as predicted here three weeks ago, they don't have as many subway cars as planned so trains can't run as often. Also, on most big roads a whole lane has been removed from normal use as an "Olympic Lane," so overall congestion has more or less reached previous levels. Taxis are harder to find. A representative note from one of many I received this morning:
Subway line 10 [a new one] is much nicer than the others. But also super-crowded. Every 5 min departures are too infrequent to prevent huge lines. I suspect that the air con is a big draw.
My airport expway/ring road daily commutes are slower than usual - closing the left [for Olympic Lane use] lane totally negates the "savings" of taking cars off road. Day 1 (Monday 8/21) commute, north Chaoyang to Wangfujing, 9+ minutes of cab "wait time" in stalled traffic vs. the usual 2 min! Big diff. Today (Friday) slightly better, but it's inconsistent.
My office looks east on Chang'An Jie [the main, monumental downtown road, comparable to DC's Pennsylvania Avenue] and it's very gray and soupy
And at our own apartment complex, a notice today of the following "Welcome to the Olympics" preparations. Number two certainly gets my attention.
1) If you have any visitor staying with you at anytime, please ensure your visitor must register at the front desk upon arrival.
2) PSB [Public Security Bureau] personnel may conduct surprised [sic] inspection of our property without notification to examine your passport documents including checking your luggage and personal belongings, etc.
3) Please also take note that all foreigners working or living in Beijing are required by the Division of Entry/Exit Admin of BJ Municipal Public Security Bureau to possess a valid passport, ID, and visa and are properly registered with the Hotels or Residences as their place of residence.
So if I am reading #2 correctly, the police can come into our apartment at any time and look around. When I first came to China in the mid-1980s, this kind of thing was taken for granted. It's not at all the way contemporary China has seemed or felt -- until the magic of the Olympics arrived. Let the games begin.