Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Kicking up a stink over garlic

There are serious and pressing issues in Italy these days, such as saving the national airline and approving the country’s pension reforms. Oh yes, it's also the beginning of the summer, so highway traffic and accidents are also on top of travelers' worries.

But this being Italy, food is never far down below the list of people’s interests ... and in recent weeks a singular debate has raised a culinary stink among average citizens, politicians and prominent personalities alike.

At the center of the controversy ... garlic, and whether the pungent bulb is simply destroying the taste of everything it touches (including your palate) or whether it is an ingredient absolutely necessary to prepare some of Italy's best-known dishes.

"I will make people understand that Italian cuisine without garlic exists," says Filippo La Mantia, one of Italy’s best known chefs, preparing a dish of almond, basil and citrus pesto.

"In the U.S. when people see garlic they think about spaghetti or pasta, but that is wrong," he says.

In fact La Mantia says garlic is a leftover from when Italians were poor and needed it to enhance the flavor of their scanty meals. Today fresh produce such as basil, wild mint, capers, pine-nuts and fennel are readily available and are all substitutes of garlic he says.

La Mantia's no-garlic approach turned into a nationwide "get rid of garlic" campaign supported by a prominent TV journalist who is now writing a guide of garlic-free restaurants.

"It happened to me to kiss a lady who was eating garlic and it was terrible, the worst kiss of my life," he told me with a subtle smile. He also happens to be a close friend of another garlic-phobic personality, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi ... who famously insisted that his staff should always have mint-scented breath.

"Silvio Berlusconi hates garlic. He says it's not educated to eat garlic before speaking with somebody, before going to a business meeting. He hates garlic socially," Rossella added.

I took a quick stroll at Campo dei Fiori, one of Rome's oldest and best known farmers markets which supplies this city's most renowned restaurants. Each stands features long braids of garlic; fruits and vegetables complete a colourful display of smells and tastes.

Claudio Zampa smiles at me when I ask him if garlic is going to disappear from Italian tables. "Garlic stinks ... so what?" he says. "It's a battle of a small minority, something for the elite."

Statistics are on his sides. For all its prominent backers, the anti-garlic campaign may be a lost cause. Italians consumed more than 100 million pounds of it in 2006, up 4 percent over the previous year.

I'm not a food critic so I won't venture into taking sides here. I've eaten at La Mantia's restaurant and liked just about everything he prepared. When I'm at home I use garlic, onion and butter. So if you wonder whether garlic enhances the flavor or makes your breath stink, all I can answer is: Probably both.

Watch my report

-- From Alessio Vinci, CNN Rome Bureau Chief
Friday, July 27, 2007
Tear Gas Tourists
The smell of the tear gas wants to make you vomit. Literally. It’s like every fiber of your being wants to heave the poison from your body.

You cough, cry, tear up - thus the appropriate name, tear gas. It’s commonly used weapon by the Israeli Defense Forces against protesters, rioters - general troublemakers, as they’re perceived.

They come from all over - as close as this Bi’lin, deep in the West Bank where this particular protest is taking place. But they also come from Israel (protesting against their own troops), and of course from the Palestinian territories; places like Nablus and Jenin.

They’re also coming from America.

They are here because of a fence. This “security fence” that divides Palestinian farm land. Israel calls it necessary for to keep suicide bombers off its streets.

But it’s these foreign tourists that make this event – planned every Friday so interesting. Because here – this protest, is no joke. A rubble bullet can end your life, and tear gas can make you pass out - not to mention to the stun grenadines that can blow out an eardrum.

The day for these, “modern hippies” begins like any military briefing would begin. Except this one, is given by an Israeli – Johnathen Pollack, who has obvious experience protesting the wall.

"Do not wash your face, he says. “Tear gas sticks to wet surfaces and it will stick more if you water your face. What can you use is baby wipes or alcohol pads to wipe away the tear gas. Don't drink directly after you are hit with tear gas because it will bring in more tear gas in your system."

Of course CNN brings its own experience to the table. The levelheaded, always on top over everything, Mr. Ben Wedeman. This correspondent can walk into any Arab village and speak the language to which the first question will be “are you from here”

It drives the rest of us crazy.

Someone of his experience is far cooler in the face of incoming Israeli rounds than the foreign tourists. Once saying while the Israeli’s were unleashing tear gas,” no disappointment here - this is what you wanted,”

It was, I wanted to film something other that US troops firing at insurgents.

So, the tear gas was exchanged with the rubber bullets. And all the while American kids on their summer break travelled to become a part of this madness. I wonder if they had ever seen the end result of a rubber bullet?

Some moments you can’t see your hand in front your face. The tear gas is so potent. It makes you cry and gag and unable to do your job. You can’t film - you can’t take still photos - you can’t do anything.

Two American students remark almost aimlessly about the serious event for one local – and how it played out for them, thinking first Israeli troops had shot a Palestinian kid, later finding out it was not true ...

“I was here when this guy got hit - his buddy hit him in the head with a rock and everyone was like ... it's a rubber bullet”

Some Americans are here strictly for political reasons.

"Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign aid- and I disagree with what has been done with our money. I feel that this is the least I could do to come and stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people", says student Ryan Graves from Arizona.

Maybe it’s their summer of living dangerously. Maybe it’s misplaced aggression. But every week, the youth of the West are joining the weekly exchange between Palestinian youths – and Israeli soldiers.

-- From Cal Perry, CNN International Correspondent, in Bi’lin.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Iraqi Refugees
The haze of hubbly-bubbly smoke hangs thick and blue in the Saxaphone café in Amman, Jordan. It’s packed with eager Iraqi soccer fans, watching their team play South Korea in the Asian championships. Everyone here is a refugee. They’ve fled the grinding violence of Iraq, hoping for a better life. The noise is deafening – drums are flamboyantly pummeled, as men dressed in Iraqi soccer shirts dance and sing in support. I hang at the back of the packed room, as we film the chaotic scene. But despite my best efforts to remain anonymous and discreet, I am warmly proffered soft drinks on the house, by the owner, who is delighted to have an outlet for his generosity. In my experience, the most welcoming and hospitable people, are those who have nothing at all.

Jalal La’eighty is typical of the men gathered here. He arrived a year ago after the situation in Baghdad became intolerable. His two and a half year old son was kidnapped by a sectarian gang. Little Ali was released unharmed, but for Jalal it was the breaking point - he simply had to leave. At first, he and his family fled to Syria, but then they came to Jordan. In many ways they are lucky. Jalal lost his father to the civil war in Iraq, but his children and wife are alive and safe.

They are staying in the apartment of a family friend. But money is tight. Jalal is not allowed to work in Jordan; a condition of his admission to the country as a refugee. He had to borrow $4500 from a relative to pay for food. But he only has $300 left and doesn’t know what he’ll do when that runs out. In reality, he’ll probably be forced to work illegally. He isn’t just providing for his three children though – his family has been touched by tragedy in Jordan; his brother and sister in law were killed in a house fire in Amman, leaving three orphans. Jalal is now also looking after them. Six children, no income and no hope of a proper job – Jalal is facing a bleak and uncertain future. But he is relieved at simply having escaped the oppressive nightmare of Baghdad. His wife Siham, weeps as she admits that she may never breathe the air of Iraq again. The whole family desperately wants to go home – Jalal wants to take-up his job as a taxi driver in Baghdad again. They had a nice house, friends and family all around them But now it’s simply too dangerous to contemplate returning.

I ask him if life was better under Saddam. He says life is better now – but says the country is in chaos. He is resigned to life as a refugee for now. He’s determined not to put his family at risk again by returning to Baghdad – not until the kidnapping, torture and killing stops.

Jalal is just one of an estimated four million Iraqis who have been displaced by the sectarian violence. It’s putting a huge strain on Iraq’s neighbors, like Jordan and Syria. When they arrive, refugees want to send their children to state schools, they need hospital treatment and healthcare. Jordan is a country of just five million people, but the government estimates the population has been swelled by up to 750,000 Iraqi refugees. It’s stretching resources to breaking point. The UNHCR is appealing for $123 million dollars to help. For Jalal, with his dwindling $300 dollars of borrowed money, help can’t come soon enough. He needs money to feed his family and time is running out.

Watch my report

-- From Dan Rivers, CNN International Correspondent, in Amman.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
This is not Britain's Katrina
Interesting being one of the many correspondents covering this flooding disaster, one who also happens to be an American citizen. You hear journalists and a few flood victims talking about how these devastating floods - the worst flooding England has seen in some 60 years - as Britain's Katrina. They are, of course referring to the 2005 Hurricane that devastated much of the south and gulf coast areas of the United States.

And while some British opposition politicians are criticizing Prime Minister Gordon Brown's party for allegedly not taking enough heed to years-old official warnings that this country's flood defense system could not cope with an unprecedented incident like this - this isn't Katrina.

Following initial chaos, there seems to be a coordinate effort to get help to those who need it most in a timely manner.
Unlike the Katrina aftermath, there isn't widespread lawlessness here. There aren't police officers walking away from their posts. There aren't bodies abandoned on the road, or floating in the water, and so far, no apparent disparities between who gets help when.

Of course, there is widespread devastation. Personal and agricultural and business losses will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars...not to mention the emotional trauma of losing everything one owns to putrid waters.

But what I am seeing is an overwhelming 'can do' spirit, flood survivors uttering the very British we will 'just get on with it' phrase I've grown accustomed to hearing. I've seen ordinary citizens working alongside government and military teams to help the elderly, the weak and needy. I'm thinking of one rubbish collector helping distribute water bottles at a local government council building - it was close to midnight, and he'd been lugging those heavy water boxes to flood survivors all day. Anyone else would be exhausted: he said he was pleased to know he's doing something to help. And that he'd be back in the morning.

--From Alphonso Van Marsh, CNN International Correspondent, in Tewkesbury.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Iraq - Quit or Stay

This Iraqi woman lost her grown son to sectarian violence, and now helps raise his children.

The streets of Iraq are filled with anxiety and war weariness -- much of it hinging around the question of whether U.S. troops should stay or go. Some say the sooner they get out, the better. Others say the soldiers are needed to prevent a sectarian bloodbath.

"If they leave today, the militias will take control of the country. Neither the American soldiers or the Iraqi Army or the police can protect us," Mongeb Alnaieb told CNN from his modest apartment in central Baghdad.

Alnaieb represents a unique perspective here. He is Sunni; his wife is Shiite. Both agree the U.S. military should stay in Iraq to fix the chaos they say the American occupation has created.

They have three sons and say they do not feel comfortable letting them walk in Shiite neighborhoods anymore. One of their sons had a typically Sunni first name, so he changed it to the less distinctive "Ahmed" -- a way of making sure that his ID card will not give him away if he is stopped by militias.

With debate raging in Washington and across America about an exit strategy for U.S. troops, it remains a hot topic of discussion on the streets of Iraq -- where the effects of a pullout would be most felt.

Most people who spoke to CNN said they follow U.S. political news closely. They say what happens in America and what is decided with regards to the war in their country will have a direct impact on their lives.

There is no shortage of people who say the American troops should leave, and leave now.

"They came and destroyed the country, nothing less nothing more. It was them who started this sectarianism in the country," said a man in a majority Shiite neighborhood.

He would not give his name. Many other Iraqis who spoke with CNN agreed that the continued American troop presence is hurting their country.

"It is true when they first came, they got rid of the former regime, the Baathists. They got rid of them, but they didn't provide us with security and stability in Iraq. They destroyed the Iraqi economy, they destroyed Iraq," another man said.

Iraq's leaders are feeling the heat too. Facing increasing pressure from the United States to do more internally, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Saturday shot back at his naysayers, defending his government and the progress made by Iraqi security forces.

"We will be able to, God willing, completely take the full responsibility of the security situation when the international forces pull out -- anytime they want," he said.

The White House last week reported mixed progress on al-Maliki's government to meet 18 U.S.-set benchmarks. The U.S. House later voted to require a troop withdrawal from Iraq by April 2008.

Another progress report is also due in September from Gen. David Petreaus, the top American commander in Iraq.

Hussain Fallouji, a Sunni member of the Iraqi parliament, told CNN the idea that the Iraqi government can meet the benchmarks in three months "is a mere illusion." He also blasted al-Maliki.

"Maliki cares so much about pleasing Bush, but he doesn't care one bit about his own parliament," he said.

Back at the apartment complex in central Baghdad lives Munthar Nader, a Shiite. He used to be a cab driver, but says he was shot while driving on the dangerous road between Baghdad and Mosul. His car was stolen after the attack and he is now unemployed.

Nader's brother was murdered last year in a sectarian killing. He says his brother was on his way to work one morning and never returned. Nader identified his brother's body at the city morgue the next day.

Despite the violence his family has suffered, he says the Americans should stay in Iraq.

"If I do not see U.S. forces in front of me, I feel scared. Honestly, I feel scared,” he says. “The terrorists [are] afraid of U.S. forces along with Iraqi forces, so I prefer for them to stay.”

Nader is now taking care of his brother's two children. His mother also lives with him. Whether the U.S. military stays or goes matters little to her now.

"The dearest person to me was killed and he was my son. Now I do not care about anything. His children became orphans," she says, her eyes watering.

Above the television set in the Nader household, there is a picture of a dead son -- and the hopeless realization that no political benchmark or military strategy will ever bring him back.

Watch my report

-- From Hala Gorani, CNN International Anchor, in Baghdad.
Monday, July 16, 2007
My sashimi sensation
The things I do for this job.

Before my recent trip to Tokyo, I had hoped to shoot a story on Japanese cuisine, more specifically the raw food eating culture, often considered the "height" of the nation's culinary experience.

Little did I know my curiosity would lead me to eat a plate of uncooked chicken.

Japan is famous all over the world for its sashimi, choice morsels of raw fish, delicately sliced into thin, mouth-watering slivers, ready to be dipped into a mix of soy sauce and wasabi.

But in Japan, dinner at the local sushi bar isn't limited to the traditional seafood fare. It can include raw meats such as deer, horse, whale, pork, and chicken.

I consider myself a sushi lover - but raw chicken or pork? Had anyone there heard of salmonella or trichinosis?

Tokyo-based food writer Lauren Shannon tried to convince me that these dishes were healthy delicacies. The preparation is meticulous. The chicken meat is cut from organic birds and eaten within two days. Pork and venison can be chilled and eaten over five days but the meat is choice cut and the industry highly regulated.

So how does it taste?

The deer is light and elegant. The raw pork, cut from the pig's belly, reminded me of bacon. The chicken sashimi is tender and -- er -- tastes like chicken. I was less of a fan of the whale sashimi. Politics aside, the meat is chewy with a strong game flavor and is often eaten with a slice of raw blubber. (Not my cup of tea.)

Yet, for the most part, I enjoyed my meat sashimi. And I'm still around to tell you about it.

From Eunice Yoon, CNN International Asia Business Editor

Watch my report
Friday, July 13, 2007
Meeting a matador
It may not look really dangerous, but bullfighting certainly can be.

The recent bullfight we attended in Segovia, a lovely ancient city an hour's drive northwest of Madrid, was a case in point. Of the three matadors originally scheduled to fight, two had to drop out, because they were gored in other fights just days before the Segovia event.

The third bullfighter, Alejandro Talavante, 19, had been gored only last May -- he showed us the big scar on his leg -- and he missed two weeks of work, and the accompanying income. If you don’t face bulls, you don't get paid.

But Talavante wasn't alone in Segovia. The fight promoter found two substitute bullfighters -- each seasoned matadors -- but one of them, Juan Bautista, was thrown by his first bull, whose horn tore his matador's elegant "suit of lights." Bautista got up, the leg of his pants ripped, and finished the fight, to the delight of the crowd.

My favorite part of the fight is when the matador deftly works the cape as the bull passes close by and they twirl around. But I don’t enjoy seeing the "picador," on horseback, drive his lance into the bull's back, early in the fight, drawing first blood.

Nor the ending sword of death that the matador pushes into the bull, which by that time can be wheezing and bleeding profusely. A lot of Spaniards don't like the fights and never go. But some do, and the fights -- which are covered in the newspapers as cultural, not sporting, events -- do offer insight into the essence of the Spanish identity, or at least a fundamental custom for a part of Spain.

Watch my report

From CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman
Monday, July 09, 2007
Iraq troop surge - motivation and frustration
One of the soldiers inside the CH-47 Chinook helicopter screamed as we take off for a nightly air assault mission south of Baghdad. The soldiers are looking to capture suspected insurgents, people they claim were involved in bombing an American patrol base close by, killing two US soldiers and wounding several others.

First Lt. Matt Sheftic is a squad leader and was in charge of the raid at one of the suspected insurgent's houses. “You know these guys are like the mafia, they don't keep stuff in their house for the most part. So we have to look real hard to find different components and what not,” Sheftic tells me, as we kneel in cover in front of the house, while the other soldiers are detaining and questioning those inside.

In a shed next to the to the main building, they find the evidence they are looking for: Ladders, pickets, and razor wire, stolen from the destroyed American patrol base only a month before. “This will be enough to put this guy away for a long time”, one soldier
tells me and adds, “this raid is already a success.”

The raid highlights some of the successes US troops have been achieving, but also some of the frustrations they still face.

Since the increase in U.S. troops levels in and around Baghdad, this unit has been freed up to conduct operations against suspected insurgents, they have been on 14 in raids just the past three weeks. The constant US interference keeps the insurgents on the move. It deprives them of the possibility to move around freely and regroup, as they can never be sure the house they are in won't be raided soon, and that makes planning and orchestrating attacks against coalition forces and against the civilian population much more difficult.

But the soldiers we talked to say they¹re not sure the gains they are making now will really last. Their work here resembles police and FBI investigations more than it does military operations. A lot of time is spent collecting evidence against the suspected insurgent commanders to try to build a case that will hold up in Iraqi courts. But very often the cases get thrown out and US soldiers see insurgents they know have planned and conducted attacks against coalition forces back on the streets only days after they were taken into custody.

The lower level commanders don't like to talk politics. They say they're not sure whether the operations they're conducting and the losses they're taking are really making a difference. One platoon commander tells me that in his area there are three groups of people: Insurgents, those that support the insurgency, and those that don¹t support the insurgency but are so afraid that they look away and refuse to work with or even talk to coalition forces. “How do you deal with that, how many operations does it take to weed them out,” one commander asks and adds that he believes it could take many years to make a difference in Iraq.

Do the US forces have that much time?

No soldier I talked to would comment on that. Most say it's up to politics and the American people to decide which way to go - the troops are just here to do their job.

-- From Frederik Pleitgen CNN International Correspondent.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Welcome back Alan

Alan Johnston

I didn't sleep a wink last night, but I'm not tired. After a night of anxiety and drama, the BBC's Alan Johnston is finally free.

For 115 days, (the BBC says it was 114 days because they don't count the day he went missing. I suspect if you ask Alan he wouldn't discount that one day as a hostage,) those of us who know Alan have been fretting over his kidnapping and looking forward to some good news.

I knew something was afoot Monday when CNN's Gaza producer Talal Abu Rahmeh told me Hamas forces had closed off the Gaza City neighborhood of Sabra, where it was widely believed Alan was being held. Talal said Hamas troops were stopping and checking the identity of everyone entering and leaving the area. And on Tuesday night, he said Hamas had increased their military presence in Sabra, and that "something" was about to happen.

Throughout Tuesday evening and into early Wednesday, I made and received dozens of phone calls to and from Gaza. And even though the signs increasingly looked positive, I knew that hopes had been raised before only to be dashed. On June 16, just two days after Hamas decisively defeated Fatah in Gaza, I spent the day at the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel, having been told by Hamas leaders Alan would be released "within hours." But hours turned into days, and days were turning into weeks.

Then, on June 24, the kidnappers released a disturbing video in which a clearly distressed Alan was shown wearing what he called an explosives vest. He warned his captors would detonate the bomb if Hamas made any attempt to free him by force, turning his cell into a "death zone." The captors' statements became increasingly shrill and threatening, sparked heightened anxiety over Alan's fate.

All the while, though, we knew Hamas was eager to bring his kidnapping to an early end. Hamas wanted to resolve the Johnston kidnapping not wholly out of altruistic motivations. Much has been said and written about Hamas' desire to project an image of law and order. But they also consider the pro-Fatah Daghmoush clan, out of which the Army of Islam was formed, the single biggest obstacle to complete control of Gaza.

My contacts there say sooner or later Hamas will move against the Daghmoush. Furthermore, Hamas leaders are worried the Army of Islam represents the thin end of al Qaeda's wedge, and are determined to eradicate it, not because they've suddenly signed on to President George W. Bush's so-called global War on Terror, but rather out of a Machiavellian desire not to be outflanked politically.

The often scorching heat of Gaza's complicated politics shows no sign of cooling off.

But the ordeal of Alan Johnston is over, and amazingly he seems to have emerged in surprisingly good shape. When I spoke to him on the phone early in the morning Wednesday, he sounded positively giddy. "I'm so glad to be free," he gushed. "It was a nightmare, and I didn't think it would ever end."

Despite occasional threats to kill him, his captors seem to have treated him relatively well, all things considered. His captivity was certainly easier compared to the ordeal endured by some of the western hostages held in Lebanon during the 1980s and early 1990s, some of whom were kept chained to the wall for years in cramped, dark, closets.

Alan, on the other hand, was provided with a radio and thus could listen to the World Service of the BBC. He was fully aware of all the dramatic developments going on in Gaza, and more importantly, Alan told me, was his ability to hear on the BBC that his friends and colleagues both inside Gaza and outside, hadn't forgotten about him, and were agitating and pressing for his release.

I'm thrilled you're out, Alan. Take some time off, please. Unwind. Enjoy your freedom. Try to get Gaza out of your head. I know how hard that can be. I was shot in Gaza, watched, stunned, as CNN producer Riyadh Ali was kidnapped before my eyes.

Just last week I huddled against a wall as bullets zinged around me. And still I keep going back. The temptation to return to a place where the story is raw but real is intense. There is nothing Paris Hilton about Gaza. But resist the strange attraction of Gaza for a while. You've invested far more sweat and stress than I have there. But in the end you probably will be drawn back. Gaza's like that.

From Ben Wedeman, CNN Jerusalem Correspondent
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
Hear from CNN reporters across the globe. "In the Field" is a unique blog that will let you share the thoughts and observations of CNN's award-winning international journalists from their far-flung bureaus or on assignment. Whether it's from conflict zone, a summit gathering, or the path least traveled, "In the Field" gives you a personal, front row seat to CNN's global newsgathering team.
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