This site’s redesign is still in progress as I finish an intensive Mandarin course this week and travel south to Hong Kong and possibly other destinations. For now, here’s a short piece of writing I put together for a publication that couldn’t use it in time to make it timely. As is, it’s a few days old.
BEIJING, August 13, 2007—On medians and buildings across Beijing, billboard clocks are counting down the seconds until the city’s Olympics. At 8:08 p.m. on 8/08/07—one year before the opening ceremonies—a new year of sorts was celebrated in Tiananmen Square. This will be a year of intense preparation for Beijing. Many of the city’s abundant construction sites will be replaced by fresh buildings, sports complexes, and subway stations. The changes leading up to the games will be as much a spectacle as the ceremonies and competitions themselves.
Late-comers to this month’s celebration were stopped by a massive police and security cordon and two closed subway stations. As fireworks erupted to mark the moment, thousands of people in the streets watched in relative quiet, many of them capturing images with their mobile phones. Some who were turned away took to strolling the perimeter of the adjacent Forbidden City, where guards stood at attention when a patriotic song could be heard in the distance.
Shortly after the fireworks in a nearby alleyway, men talked and ate meat skewers outdoors; the indoor glow of the televised ceremony was acknowledged, but unwatched. The Olympics are all but inevitable here, but as with any human city, much is not. Who could have predicted, after all, that the first days after the pre-anniversary would be met with the clearest air in weeks? Perhaps, rumor had it, the authorities were behind it.