Life in Beijing on the eve of the Olympics


Should I stay or should I go?

As August 8 approaches, it’s time for Beijing residents to decide where they’ll spend the games, if they haven’t already: will they stay in the city and experience the Olympics first-hand, or escape to someplace quiet and wait out the three weeks of madness in relative calm?

Yuan Yue, a consultant and columnist whose unique blogging style involves including a poem, a photo, and a recipe alongside each blog post, has come up with justifications for either decision:

Will you stay in Beijing during the Olympics?

by Yuan Yue

At last the Olympics have arrived. We all hope that the Olympics will be an untroubled success, but as a professional who spends a lot of time living and working in Beijing, should I remain in the city during the Olympics, or should I hide out elsewhere? Below, allow me present five reasons to stay in Beijing and five reasons to leave.

Five reasons to stay in Beijing: (1) This is a once-in-a-century opportunity that we ought to personally experience. When your grandchildren ask you about it, you should be able to say that you personally witnessed the spectacle, or else they might look down on you. (2) Lots of friends are coming to see the Olympics, so if you run off to avoid them, they’ll think that you’re not welcoming. I’ve even got some foreign classmates who are set to watch the Olympics. (3) There’ll be swarms of celebrities at the Olympics, and for many people, this will be their only chance to see them. And you’ll be able to see lots of superstars all at once, so you can really satisfy your hunger. (4) Many people will be able to employ their skills, to some degree. For example, there’ll be even more foreign reporters than athletes, so those of us who know English can go around giving interviews so they’ll have a more well-rounded understanding of China. We’re always going off to far-off countries to promote China, but this time they’ve come here, so why not make a contribution? (5) The Olympics are the Olympics, and work is work. Athletes fight for the glory of the country in the arena, so we should continue to work steadily at our jobs so we don’t fall behind. We should do what we need to here in Beijing, rather than let the Olympics delay the work at hand.

Five reasons to leave Beijing: (1) The Olympics don’t need us. We have a huge, dedicated team, and the on-site volunteers are all set. Competitions on TV are clearer than in the stadiums, so let’s not add to the mess by staying in Beijing and crowding out the international guests. (2) Everything will be inconvenient during the Olympics: cars use the even-odd system, roadways come under frequent control, and many places aren’t easily accessible because of the need to look after foreign guests. Even many familiar bathhouses, massage parlors, and KTV joints have been closed. So with convenience and practicality in mind, we should go elsewhere for our activities. (3) During the Olympics, Beijing has substantially fewer meetings and professional, many of which have been moved to other places. Some international guests are even hoping to host events outside the country after being unable to obtain a visa for this period, so we ought to go where we’re needed rather than remaining here idle. (4) During the Olympics, everything will be done for the service of the games and everyone will be focusing on the Olympics. But in fact, the things that people focus on are not necessarily the most important, and it is precisely during this period that many other thing require our attention. The victims in the Sichuan disaster areas, for example: we need to take this time right now to conduct another round of surveys of the needs of those victims. (5) The company’s headquarters is located in Beijing, and I typically use that as a reason to spend most of my time here. Now there’s finally a good reason to check up on my colleagues, clients, and partners in other areas.

So I’ve decided to spend half the time – particularly the beginning – in Beijing, especially to take care of friends and special guests who have come to watch the Olympics and to do what I can to contribute as needed. But the other half of the time I’ll go elsewhere rather than postpone my work, both revolutionary and otherwise. So what’s your choice?

Beijingers are being inconvenienced not just by traffic restrictions and shuttered entertainment venues. As journalist Zeng Pengyu relates on his blog, the Games are being used as a reason to temporarily close markets and athletic complexes:

Truly, these are Disruptive Games

by Zeng Pengyu

Eating breakfast this morning, my mother told me, “Starting tomorrow, the market will be closed. From then on, if we want fresh vegetables, we’ll have to buy they from some place more expensive.” I was shocked. Why? She said that it was because of the Olympics. The market would be closed until 1 September.

After this news, my meal didn’t taste quite right. Close to home, the market has been there for years and affects the lives of more than 10,000 people in the surrounding neighborhoods. Every morning my mother and father get up early to buy fresh fruits and vegetables there. The prices and quality are much better than the stuff sold at supermarkets, but this morning there was a notice posted: To create a good environment for the Olympics, the vegetable market will be closed until September.

This is not the first time that something has announced its departure from our lives because of the Olympics, even if only temporarily. But it is ridiculous precisely because it is temporary. Who knows how they came up with these policies? Did they ask for the opinions of the common people? Smacking my forehead, I realized the reason: a place as intimately connected with the lives of the common people as the vegetable market gets temporarily closed because of a sporting event, so what do foreigners see? Us Chinese common people going to the supermarket every morning to buy expensive stuff that’s not fresh? That’s how we live our lives – stupid much?

Two weeks ago, without any warning, I received a notice saying that the fencing hall would temporarily close, to reopen on 1 September. The news was a bolt out of the blue, and there too the reason was the Olympics. Truly inexplicable, for what is the main idea of the Olympic Games? The hope that through athletics, humanity will have the will and the courage to advance toward a higher goal. But now, even the largest fencing hall in Asia open to the public has to shut down. This….can this really be explained?

No, there’s no explanation. I heard that the coaches spent the day calling up members to notify them and express their apologies. More than a thousand of them. And those busy kids who had wanted to train up over the summer holidays – just great, the summer’s plans have all evaporated.

I do think that most of the common people support the Olympics’ emphasis on security – no one wants anything bad to happen when they host a banquet. But the games haven’t even begun yet, so how is it that to some people it seems that the sky has already fallen? Sure, there are more than enough reasons to increase the standard of security inspections at major public transport and civil aviation locations, which have to do with public security, but it’s kind of far-fetched and not at all thought through to close vegetable markets and fencing halls, which have little to do with the Olympics but much to do with the common people.

Here’s the only way I can explain it: some of those policy-makers simply unqualified. They don’t know how to handle an unpredictable future or how to resolve potential dangers, so they resort to these crude measures – can problems be solved like this? So much past experience proves that there are some things obstruction just won’t solve!

One day the foreign ministry spokesperson said in answer to a reporter’s question that policy would strike a balance between Olympic security and convenience for the public. That statement still echoes in our ears, but the vegetable market is gone. What next, bathhouses? Restaurants? The post office?

Really, it’s obvious that all this is to let foreigners have a laugh at the expense of the Chinese!

Some of these policies appear to be the work of overzealous local law enforcement rather than directives from the city government. According to an article in the Mirror on 17 July, Beijing’s district Bureaus of Commerce announced that vegetable markets are not to be closed without reason during the Olympics; shuttered markets will be found during city-wide inspections and returned to normal operation.

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