28 July 2008
Pollution Like WHOA
I decided to conclude my trip in Beijing by spending a few days with the super-awesome Miss Stacy Aldinger. As she puts its, “we’re the same person, only you’re a year older. Oh, and I’m a girl.” Basically, yes.
Upon arriving in Beijing all I could think was how modern everything felt. A real airport. Real roads. Taxis all lined up. Had China become orderly while I was gone, or was Southeast Asia just THAT more “Developing?” Either way, I felt like a space cadet who just landed in Mars. Of course, it didn’t help that we filled our time doing “modern things” like wining, dining and taking in the theater. Stacy had gotten tickets to see Hairspray, which was in the middle of a summer-long China tour that was sweeping the nation with American idioms and social references that were miles over their head but left the two of us in stitches. To top it all off, the show ended with Tracy Turnblad telling the who audience to “stand up and dance with me” IN CHINESE! The crowd went wild! It was fantastic. One of those odd cross-cultural barrier-breaking moments that you can’t quite explain in words.
We finished the night out on the town with some of her equally awesome friends, then slept in and scarfed down an All-American breakfast at “Grandma’s Kitchen,” which could have very well been a Cracker Barrel. Then it was to the park, duck for dinner, a market, a dip in her pool and a close-up (as close as we could get) of the Olympic venues (the games start in 10 days!).
A few things struck me. First, this is not the Beijing I saw eighteen months ago. The highways are lined with roses and potted plants. There is no traffic. People line up to get on the subway. All the street markets have been closed to make the city look more modern. You can’t smoke anywhere. The English is all grammatically correct. It was like they took a big vacuum and sucked all the charm and energy out of the city.
Second, there are hardly any people out and about. The near-insane VISA restrictions have less hotels at 40% capacity in what is usually their business time! Restaurants were empty. Bars and nightclubs were vacant. Even the locals seem to have disappeared. There were hardly any bikes at all crusing the streets!
Third, the pollution is still TERRIBLE! I have no idea how they’re going to clear that up in the next ten days. I woke up Monday and couldn’t see across Stacy’s street not because of rain or clouds, but because of smog. We went to the Olympic venues and the Bird’s Nest, which is the same color as smog, looked “barely there.” You could look DIRECTLY at the sun. How is someone going to run a marathon OUTSIDE in two weeks? You can’t take every car off the road. You can’t turn off every air conditioner or shut down every factory. Or can you?
This is supposed to be China’s big coming out party. Half of me hopes it goes well, because China really is an amazing and captivating place. The other half of me just doesn’t see how it’s going to be possible. I guess we’ll know in 10 days. Tick tock. Tick tock.