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It seems almost every blogger in Beijing is taking photos out their window to illustrate  how the much-vaunted pollution control measures don’t seem to be working.

Reuters have a nice 6-day comparison photo, and suggest the local Met. service may be whistling up some rain in the next few days to give the place a bath; the BBC reports the Olympic Villiage opened yesterday surrounded by flats “shrouded in a pollution haze” and James Fallows comments that the state-run media has started commenting on it (so it’s an ‘official’ problem now), and says new traffic control measures may be considered:

… not an even/odd license plate system but an “exact digit only” system.  On a date ending in 9, like July 29, only licenses ending in 9 could drive, and so on. In theory this could cut traffic by 90%.

A new air-quality website has forecasts for the next few days (you can forecasting this stuff??), and things will apparently improve tomorrow and Wednesday. But they said this about yesterday as well, which was definitely not a good day (we haven’t been below 100 API for a week now).

It’s also slightly ominous that the 100-150 API range, which would be considered atrocious anywhere else (here it’s labelled ‘slightly polluted’) is represented by the colour green on the map.


If you’re bored….

the Telegraph discusses the curse of the Olympic Fuwa mascots…

… the Daily Show follows Barack Obama as he visits the manger in Bethlehem where he was born…

James Fallows manages to blog about the further crackdowns here in Beijing, despite being in the U.S (the ‘fog’ is again bad here today)…

… in New Zealand the FTA-enabling legislation is passed, opposed by the Foreign Minister in a different coloured hat…

… and finally this jem from the back-in-form Jib Jab guys:

Send a JibJab Sendables® eCard Today!

Olympics – 14 days to go

Things are really screwed down now – lots of passport/ID card checks; reported big queues at the Beijing city limits where cars are being searched before entering the city; big delays at the new airport, where everyone’s bags are personally searched up to 4 times before you get on a plane.

Beijing has now designated 3 official ‘protest’ zones, where protesters can wave placards and complain – but they still need to get a permit to protest before they do so, so I wouldn’t expect much actual protesting (apparently Hong Kong, with it’s more liberal visa process, is being lined up for that).

One of the zones is our local park – Ritan Park – but you’d be brave to try anything there, as it is surrounded by Embassies and a corresponding huge number of cops with guns.

The odds/even car policy has been in force since Sunday, taking 1/2 the cars off the roads (though I’ve noticed a few people ignoring this – others have merely removed their license plates). This has done wonders for the traffic around here, but in the Olympic areas it hasn’t made much difference, as Olympic-only lanes are now in place – the fine for being caught in those is rather ruinous.

What is worrying me is the ‘fog’ – I really did think the shut-down of the factories (apparently not yet in full effect) and the cars would clean things up, and we have had some wonderful days. Today is not one of them (today on the left, a good day on the right…)

The view - 14 days to go

Am a little nervous – but possibly not as nervous as BOCOG.

Beijing is truely magic on a good day so I hope things do clean up shortly. Some pictures from a recent good day are here.

Human rights no issue here….

From the South China Morning Post (account required, so I’ll post the whole thing):

Authorities order bars not to serve black people

Tom Miller
Jul 18, 2008

In our series looking at preparations for the Games, Tom Miller reports on plans to crack down on “undesirables” in the bars of Beijing

Beijing authorities are secretly planning to ban black people and others it considers social undesirables from entering the city’s bars during the Olympic Games, a move that would contradict the official slogan, “One World, One Dream”.

Bar owners near the Workers’ Stadium in central Beijing say they have been forced by Public Security Bureau officials to sign pledges agreeing not to let black people enter their premises.

“Uniformed Public Security Bureau officers came into the bar recently and told me not to serve black people or Mongolians,” said the co-owner of a western-style bar, who asked not to be named.

The local authorities have been cracking down on blacks and Mongolians in an attempt to stamp out drug dealing and prostitution ahead of the Games, the proprietors said.

A few months ago, police launched a violent sting on black men drinking in the Sanlitun bar district, and a notorious nightclub largely populated by Mongolian prostitutes was also shut down.

Security officials are targeting Sanlitun, which Olympic organisers expect to be a key destination for foreign tourists looking for a party during the Games.

The pledges that Sanlitun bar owners had been instructed to sign agreed to stop a variety of activities in their establishments, including dancing and serving customers with black skin, they said.

They have been allowed to keep copies of all the pledges except those relating to blacks, implying that the authorities are wary of charges of racism.

“I am appalled,” said a black British national who works in Beijing.  “I understand that the government is trying to stop certain illegal activities, but I don’t think blanket discrimination is going about it the right way.

“Chinese people are prejudiced, but I would have hoped that the government would set a better example as it debuts on the world stage.”

Calls to Dongcheng district and Chaoyang district public security bureaus, which oversee the bar districts, went unanswered.

The authorities’ attempt to keep unwanted behaviour from damaging the squeaky-clean image of the Games is the latest example of heavy-handedness that critics say is killing the party spirit of the Olympics.

During the Athens Olympics four years ago, bars and nightclubs were allowed to stay open all night. But venues in Beijing that are not being shut down during the Games will have to close at 2am and maintain tight security.

“The officials told me to inform my customers that they must at all times carry their passports or ID cards,” said one bar owner.

“Security is important, but Beijing is becoming a fortress, and that’s not attractive.”

Rumours that all bars within 2km of an Olympic venue will need to close remain unconfirmed, with many managers complaining that they still have not been told whether they will be allowed to open or not. Several bars have been raided in the past few weeks as local police step up a campaign of low-level intimidation, according to several witness accounts.

Bar and restaurant managers in Sanlitun have been instructed to remove tables from footpaths in a crude attempt to prevent fighting in the streets.

“The local police told us to get rid of the tables because they’re scared that if too many foreigners congregate outside there could be trouble,” said Song Xun , who runs a burrito joint in the area.

Local musicians say that a clampdown on live music risks stifling Beijing’s thriving cultural scene and giving Olympic tourists the false impression that the city is artistically anaemic.

Several popular live music venues have been shut or instructed to stop all outdoor shows, and club owners complain they have got used to strange new guests nursing a beer for hours and suspiciously observing everything around them.

“The whole music scene is angry and bewildered. It is impossible to understand how keeping tourists from seeing an open, culturally vibrant and diverse Beijing is possibly a good thing for anyone,” said one well-known figure in the local music industry.

David Mitchell, a Beijing-based jazz musician, said it had become increasingly difficult for his band to find anywhere to play.

“It appears the local government is trying to control every aspect of the experience that foreigners get when they come here,” he said.

“Everything is aimed at creating stability, but they don’t understand that is precisely the unfounded prejudice that foreigners have of Chinese society – that it is a highly controlled and not a very cultural place. It seems completely self-defeating.”

Additional reporting by Peter Simpson


Ooh, should mention that we have bought one of those very cool Chinese Vespas, discussed in previous blog posts. It’s black and enormous fun, but you do need to keep your head screwed on when riding it – “give way” signs here are only obeyed by sissies.

I did say in my previous post that when buying one of these you needed to make good and lasting friends with your mechanic, and I’m happy to say I seem to have done this, as I needed one after owning the scooter for about 7 minutes. After handing over the cash, I left the shop, turned right, rode under the fourth Ring Road and the thing died on me moments later.

Resolving to never ride anywhere without my cellphone, I called the mechanic and much confusing Chinglish was spoken by both parties as I attempted to describe where I was. Eventually I passed the phone to a slightly startled parking attendant nearby, who sorted things out. 10 minutes later the cavalry arrived, and while I sat on the sidewalk drinking tea they got to work disassembling the bike, dumping engine parts all over the footpath until they reached the carburettor – which was dirty. 5 minutes later we’re back in service.

I think the parking attendant occupied this time by telling me I had just bought a lemon, but happily he was doing so in Chinese, so I didn’t have to attempt some sort of defence.

I’ll post some pictures of the thing sometime soon. And to answer everyone’s most pressing question, no Zara is not coming on the bike. Reid, on the other hand, sits on it side-saddle.

Olympics now just days away…

Have a mountain of other things to blog about, and a stack of photos to publish, but am raving busy. In the meantime – some more notes on the Olympic prep.

    * The new difficulties in getting visas to come to Beijing has caused BOCOG (the Olympic Organising Committee) to revise downward the number of visitors. From James Fallows:

    From a friend with close connections at BOCOG, the Olympic organizing committee: Initial estimates for total foreign visitors at the Olympics were roughly 500,000. Now the working plans estimate 140,000. My friend comments: “Has any economist run the numbers on what this is costing the government? Frankly I doubt if the government even cares as long as they can hold control of what happens and what is seen.”

    Mr Fallows has been also running a week-long series, sarcastically titled “We Are Ready” (from an announcement by BOCOG and the President that Beijing is ready for the Games). He lists several things are are in fact not ready, including

      – the subway line out to the airport and the Olympic village (delayed again, now ready at the end of July with reduced trains and inexperienced drivers)
      – visas for big-name Olympic advertisers, who have had to cancel lavish functions for their clients, as their clients can’t get permission to be in China during the ‘tense Olympic period’

    Fallows also lists some stuff that is ready – the broadcasters have now got permission to do live crosses from outside the Games areas, for example.

    * The pollution has been a real roller-coaster. The big-time draconian crack-down doesn’t start until this weekend (half the cars off the road, factories shut-down etc), but they’re obviously doing something as we’ve had some amazingly beautiful clear days in the last week, the likes of which I have not seen in my year here. On the other hand, the weather has been a problem – there has been much rain, and the BOCOG weather department is now talking up the possibility of weather interrupting the opening ceremony and Olympic fortnight.

    * By this time, all dissidents or undesirables have been escorted to the city limits and not being let back in. Examples:

      – a radical lawyer was due to meet with some American Congressmen who were here a couple of weeks ago found himself instead being thrown out of the city
      – another lawyer who was representing the families of earthquake victims (complaining about shoddy construction) has been chucked back in prison. All complaints on this subject are on hold until after the games.
      – Many expat visas expired at the end of June, and we know many who are still out of the country, waiting for new documentation (though apparently it is still easy enough to get visas from Hong Kong).

    * We’re going on a picnic out of Beijing on Saturday, and the organisers have just sent me a note advising us to take IDs and passports, based on this advisory:

    Transportation: Olympic security checkpoints causing serious delays on arterial routes into Beijing, China, since July 15. Expect vehicle searches and document checks.
    The locations affected by this alert are:


    Authorities have established hundreds of checkpoints on highways leading to Beijing from Hebei Province and the Tianjin Municipality as part of a three-tiered Olympic security plan. These blockades have been causing severe traffic congestion since they were established July 15. Motorists are subject to vehicle searches and identification checks. Bomb-sniffing dog teams are deployed at many of the checkpoints. Police will also be setting up random checkpoints on suburban roads and major streets in the city proper through the end of the Olympic (Aug. 8-24) and Paralympic (Sept. 6-17) games.

    Authorities have also boosted security at Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) and on trains bound for the capital. Security personnel have also been conducting random checks on the Beijing subway system and on commuter buses since the end of June. Authorities will start conducting identification checks and searching the belongings of inbound bus passengers on July 20.

    Expect major delays if driving to from outlying area to downtown Beijing. Although the worst traffic jams will probably primarily be on inbound routes, allow extra time to reach Beijing Capital International Airport due to potential security delays. Random checkpoints could also cause significant disruptions within the city limits despite temporary restrictions on the use of private vehicles in Beijing through Sept. 20. Using hotel shuttles, express buses, or the new Airport Line subway for transfers to the airport is advisable. Carry identification at all times.

    * Any gathering of more than a small number of people must have a permit. Actually, this has always been the case, but it’s now being enforced even in the Diplomatic accommodation compounds.

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