Sunday, July 01, 2007
Hope and anxiety in Beijing

Heavy traffic in Beijing

Few things you read and hear from the international media about Beijing and the rest of China these days strike positive notes.

Crackdowns on Internet viewing, arrests over forced-labor operations, food-safety concerns, mind-numbing traffic congestion and mind-altering air pollution are the major themes repeatedly sounded about China's capital city. I confess that I've chosen stories on some of these aforementioned issues for CNN International Web site users.

But a trip to Beijing this week also offered exhileration that took me to another place in the world at a different time. Beijing is changing, and doing so at a breathtaking pace. Stop on a street corner and blink for a moment in this massive city of 15 million and the landscape is sure to change. Such a scene reminded me of when I reported in Central and Eastern Europe in the early 1990s. Hope and anxiety seemed constant companions when reporting in those post-communist European countries.

It's the same in Beijing in 2007, a year before China capital unveils itself to the world at the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Sun Weide, deputy director for Beijing's Olympic Organizing Committee, brags to me about the moving of 200 factories away from Beijing to reduce the city's infamous air pollution, but won't speak about the daily geometric rise in the number of new cars hitting the roadways. A travel agent named Jane complains to me about the lack of hotel space for next year's Olympics, but hints that her company is doing well by escorting Olympic delegations around the city.

Meanwhile, 74-year-old Li Bingran tells how developers have their eyes set on her modest little home, but she insists on "squatting" until the government offers her a fair price for her Beijing home. She's nervous about moving, she says, into a high-rise apartment -- away from a nearby hospital and far above the ground.

A young woman who calls herself Nancy relates to me she's working two jobs: by day learning to be a travel agent, and by night waitressing at a bar, all in hopes of forging a life more rewarding than what was on offer from the small village northeast of Beijing, where she grew up.

These human snapshots and others I took in Beijing offered up an energy that's hard to conjure in Hong Kong, where I live and work. As exciting as neon-lit Hong Kong can be, and despite the good stories that city can offer, it can't compare to living in and covering the capital of a country people wait to rise as the dominant power of the 21st century.

For sure, Beijing isn't without its frustrations. Moving around the city isn't easy, thanks to its sheer size and to the rise in the number of vehicles. The city occupies 16,410 square kilometers (6,336 square miles) -- an area bigger than three U.S. states.

Further, in the space of a generation the number of registered vehicles in Beijing has jumped from less than 10,000 to an estimated 3 million today. But the city's road system wasn't designed for all of the vehicles. As a result, rush hour begins early in the morning and doesn't stop until 11 at night or later.

Additionally, air quality in Beijing is worsening, by most outside watchdog measures. While summertime admittedly is the time of year when winds blow dust into the city, the smog this week often has reduced visibility to less than a mile.

Yet despite the traffic mess, the air pollution, the heat and the humidity, the spin by government officials and tales of woe by some residents, Beijing is a unique place to be. Or perhaps it's because of all of these factors. Hope and anxiety make irresistable companions.

From Kevin Drew, Supervising Editor, CNNI Interactive
I wonder how long Drew has spent in Beijing total? Most people get excited when their imagined dystopian commie nightmare expectations aren't met, but once you get over that... well, I've lived in Hong Kong and Beijing as well, and other than the lower humidity and prices, I can't think of many columns where I'd chalk up a victory for Beijing in any comparison. I guess there are some foreigners that genuinely love it here, but really, get almost any two foreigners who've lived in Beijing together and chances are good that the conversation will turn into a gripe-fest.
I have been to and through Beijing several times, most recently in May this year. I have always found it smoggy and depressing.

SURABAYA, Indonesia -- China's insatiable appetite for lumber and the resurgence of smuggling rings in Indonesia have undermined the Indonesian government's efforts to crack down on illegal timber exports from one of the world's biggest remaining tropical forests.

Two years ago, the government took aim at the illegal logging in its rainforests, which are among the most extensive -- and most rapidly disappearing -- anywhere. Illegal timber shipments from the huge province of Papua to China nearly stopped, environmentalists say. Following the clampdown, the flow of smuggled logs from Papua -- about 600,000 cubic meters of timber a month in 2003 -- dried to a trickle. Total illegal Indonesian timber shipments fell to three million cubic meters in 2006 from 10 million cubic meters in 2003, according to some estimates.
This past summer I have lived in Shanghai and Beijing as a student. The one thing that I noticed was the pollution and the amount of vehicles. Although to me, coming from Canada, this is a large amount of excess. But at the same time I notice how there are still more bikes and buses than personal vehicles. Comparing the individual output and intake compared to Canadians and Americans I have found that we are worse. Because their population is larger it only emphasises what we ouselves are doing. In fact they don't waste energy on what they don't need. Most households don't have a clothes dryer because they don't see the need to use it or use the power for it. If anything I think we should take a lesson from them and not be hypocrites.
"I guess there are some foreigners that genuinely love it here, but really, get almost any two foreigners who've lived in Beijing together and chances are good that the conversation will turn into a gripe-fest."

I can't speak for non-Americans foreigners who have lived in Beijing. But I know many Americans who have lived there, including myself.

You are right about the fact that the chances are good that the conversation will turn into a gripe-fest. However, that probably has a lot to do with Americans, or rather people in general, having the mentality that different = bad and being close-minded.

In my own personal experience, I've noticed that those who have stayed in Beijing for less than 3-6 months tend to have a negative impression while those who have stayed longer tend to have a more positive impression. Of course, there are always exceptions.
I never was lucky enough to see Beirut before it was ravaged by war. They say it was the most beautiful city in the world. Make no mistake about the goal of Al Queda. Given the chance and not stopped they will make the USA like Beirut. Our freedom and pleasant living style does not come free. It has a price and unfortunately our young people have to pay that price. Thank heaven they have the energy of youth to carry out this mission. The Bush administration received the ultimate challenge on 9/11/01. But they took the fight to Al Queda and that fight continues today. We should thank this young Texan (George W. Bush) for the courage and intestinal fortitude for the progress in the war on terror. It is no accident we have not been hit again. It is an unpopular war but one that has to be fought so we can sleep at night in a free country.
Nova Space
Broken Arrow, OK
But I think that Chinese is not prepared with the olympic games.
In my memories,chinese people are
so rude,so hostile.
when I was in China,there was no
one good memory.
Once in exchanging money to RNB in a bank(the jiaotong-yinhang),there
2 countfeit 100RNBs.later I go back to the bank and ask them to change my money.but they denied.
they have cheat foreigners on purpose.
they have moral hazards.
Having lived in Beijing since 2003 I can say that the majority of my coversations turn sour quite quickly! It is a shame as I remember how excited I was to move there after being away for just over a year.Things were still the same when I arrived, but now, favourite spots have been knocked down, Chinese sales people have become greedier and life in general will become harder in this year leading up to the Games. Freedom we had with visas is just about over (now the longest business visa you can get is a 3 month one), and prices are going up.

But I do not agree with the former poster saying that China is not ready for the Games....China will be the most ready an Olympic country can ever be. The Chinese people are more friendly to foreigners than they are to each other (even if some of those smiles are fake and related to money)and the Beijing Games will be outstanding. But the void they will leave behind is something China should be worried about.
If you think the Olympics will change China think again. I am in Beijing now and for the last two days CNN stories critical of the Chinese government have been censored. The story starts goes on until a critical comment is made then the screen goes blank . Yesterday it was during the part on political dissidents today on a story showing how a young girl is being "trained" by her father. The blank screen lasts for about 5 minutes and CNN comes back up. I watched the same thing happen at several different times so it is not technical, If CNN cannot gets its own stories shown in Beijing what chance does the local media have ?
Drew, Please don't use a colorful eye to look at China. All people worldwide do have the equal right to survive. Come or not come to Beijing is your choice. If you don't like beijing, please don't travel in this city and don't spray dribble out your mouth on this city.

To be an internaltion critic means to be SB, keep energy to solve your problems!!!!
My family and I just returned from Bejing and Hong Kong. I would agree with the Kevin, Beijing is an amazing city to visit right now. Yes, it has horrible air, a very different government and social structure than ours, and yet is a place full of amazing history and excitement. The people are so hopeful, all so many want to do is practice their English and show off what they are doing. The human spirit is blazenly on display in Beijing, and that is exciting to watch.
I visited Beijing last year for two weeks. While Beijing is cleaner than other cities in China and its residents more accustomed to foreign faces I think
western visitors during the games will still come away with a bad impression of the Chinese. The air pollution is appalling and compared to Europe or other asian countries the use of English is almost non-existant. I stayed in a new, modestly priced, american style chain hotel. I asked one of the staff, a young woman, for some towels, she just laughed, not understanding anything I said. They laugh out of
emabarrassment and even after living in China a year and half I still find the response offensive. Imagine how people there for a few days will find it.
jean-claude dehmel
716 886 9074
46 15th st.
buffalo, ny 14213
Kevin ,one crisis you not mentioned for beijing was the water shortage,a japanese television station NHK had photoed a series newsreels named torrent china,one scene was about the water crisis in beijing ,big problem for the captial ,also north china.
besides, man who not live in china cannot catch the word "SB" ,appered in upper comment,in chinese,it means foolish man ,idiot.The guy must accept high education for the usage of e, it's not a acceptable behavior for guests
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