Postcard from Beijing: Home of Clean Air and Cheap Beer.

Beijing Olympics

Just got an email from blogger extraordinaire, Ben Ross that does a nice job encapsulating what is going on in Beijing these days after I secured Ben’s permission to post that email so here goes:

Just wanted to give everybody a quick update from Beijing. For starters, this has probably been the most enjoyable week I have ever spent in the Chinese capital. The Olympics are in full swing, and though I never thought I’d say this, I hope they never end. I’ve been spending much of the past week enjoying clean air, drinking cheap beer, and watching world class athletes compete for the price of upper-deck Royals tickets.

As I’m sure you have probably heard, starting July 20 the local government closed most factories around the outskirts of Beijing. They also implemented a new system where private cars could only drive every other day, based on their license plate numbers. The impact of the traffic regulations were immediate. (Chicago could really use a rule like this as well). Roads which were otherwise jam packed, suddenly allowed traffic to flow freely, turning potentially hour long cab rides into quick fifteen minute trips. To even further facilitate transit, multiple new subway lines have begun operation as well.

As for Beijing’s air, which seems to get more publicity than the games themselves, the effects were not so sudden. In fact, up until the first day or two of the Olympics, Beijing was still covered in a layer of smog, albeit a somewhat thinner layer of smog. On the third day of the games, we got torrential downpour which lasted about three days. Since the rain cleared up, skies have been clear and blue, and the weather has been in the 80’s with no humidity. It feels like Colorado in the summertime!

As for the games themselves, originally I figured I’d only be able to check out one or two events if any at all, and probably have to pay through the nose for my tickets. Tickets have been sold out for months, and scalpers can be seen around town selling them for hundreds of dollars. On the first day of the games, a friend of mine from California, who is a martial arts aficionado and was visiting Beijing for the weekend, wanted to see the Judo competition. Not having tickets, and not knowing where to get them, we decided to go to the venue anyway. We waited outside the gate for around fifteen minutes before we were able to purchase face value tickets from some Americans who had 2 extras.

The cost:7 bucks each.

Seeing how easy it was to get tickets to judo, I have been employing this strategy at various other events. Basically, I have just been choosing a random event every day, going to the venue half an hour before it starts, and standing around until I find somebody with an extra ticket to sell. So far I have been able to see at least one event every day, all for face value. Tickets range from around $4 (USD) to $20, and with the dirt cheap concessions (they sell beers for 70 cents!) this Olympics has turned into the biggest bargain entertainment I have ever experienced. So far I have seen, boxing, handball, soccer, basketball (no US), water polo, judo, beach volleyball (twice) and baseball (twice), drank heavily at most events and still probably haven’t spent more than $100 USD. There is never going to be another Olympics this affordable ever…unless they decide to have it in Myanmar at some point.

Other than sports, the atmosphere in Beijing is incredible. There are people here from all over the world, and the locals are all incredibly fired up as well. Part of the reason everything is so cheap is because events are all staffed by an army of college student “volunteers.” From information booths, to ticket takers, to the girl who throws new water polo balls into the pool, all of the legwork has been handled by these volunteers. Senior citizens are in on the volunteer action as well. However, most of them are stationed in random areas where they just sit around and read the newspaper all day. China has never really had a labor shortage.

I hope everybody is doing alright and enjoying the Olympics on TV.

13 responses to “Postcard from Beijing: Home of Clean Air and Cheap Beer.”

  1. I have had a similar experience to Ben and would have to say that being here for the Olympics has been fantastic. Tickets to world class events at face value, cheap drinks, less traffic and clean air have made it a pleasure to be here.
    Have been to 10 events so far and plan to see a few more before its all finished.

  2. Hi, it’s nice to read your blog. Btw, ever thought of going to Shanghai for 1 or 2 days? I know that Beijing has done a lot for the Olympics, but black or white, it’s a gray city in my eyes, not the smog, but the buildings and the structures. I like Shanghai better and it’s a city just like NY or Tokyo. Hence I suggest why don’t you write something about Shanghai to make people all over the world have a better idea of China? Cheers,Smiling

  3. Nice account, something you won’t find in the media! For all the pre-Games talk of smog, I have noticed a conspicuous lack of “mea culpas” now that the skies have cleared up. Maybe it’ll come out in the post-Closing Ceremony wrapup stories.

  4. Just got back from Beijing myself, and I have to concur – the city was lovely. I love the new subways, love the little pocket parks, love love love the halved traffic – can they keep it that way forever, please? I’ve been to Beijing I think 11 times beginning in 1979, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the city in what I can only describe as a collective good mood.
    I really hope that some of this spirit carries over after the Olympics are done. And the cleaner air…Beijingers really deserve a more livable city, and the Olympics show that it can be achieved, albeit at a huge cost.

  5. Other Lisa – I’m so pleased that you enjoyed your most recent trip to Beijing, and that your impression of the city is so favourable. When I was last in Beijing, which was during the middle of the cold icy winter of 2002, the sky over the city was every day a clear, sharp, beautiful cobalt blue. I know that during the summer months, the sky over Beijing and Tianjin is often very dusty, and that this high atmospheric dust is often mistaken by foreign visitors as photochemical smog. A great fuss was made by the Australian media about Beijing’s “pollution” problems in the lead up to these Olympics, and although some individual athletes dismissed the claims as an exaggeration, most of those who provided the media with commentary on the issue were clearly convinced that the brownish haze they saw over the city each day was indeed photochemical pollution, as opposed to atmospheric dust.
    I was wondering what you made of the air quality while you were in Beijing. Is it as bad as the press here in Australia (and in the US) have been making it out to be? I know that the number of privately-owned cars has increased very significantly since I was last in Beijing, and so no doubt photochemical smog is a problem, particularly in the summer months when it reacts to the heat and moisture. But surely Beijing’s air quality isn’t as bad as Tehran’s or Bangkok’s? Right?

  6. I heard from friends who travel to Beijing often that the city feels deserted. Does it not not lack a little renao (heat and noise) with so many Beijing locals gone? Anyway, I wish I had gone.

  7. An interesting report in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, detailing the contents of a speech delivered by former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating:
    “The former prime minister Paul Keating has attacked the Western media’s coverage of the Beijing Olympics as condescending, elitist and typical of the developed world’s general disdain for China.
    Most of the coverage was seen through the prism of T1b*t, Mr Keating told the Melbourne Writers’ Festival at the weekend, and disregarded the “massive leaps” forward in areas such as poverty alleviation and declining infant mortality.
    “In a Western and elitist way, we have viewed China’s right to its Olympic Games, to its ‘coming out’, its moment of glory, with condescension and concessional tolerance,” Mr Keating said.
    “The Western critic, feeling the epicentre of the world changing but not at all liking it, seeks to put down these vast societies on the basis that their political and value systems don’t match up to theirs.”
    – I agree with him entirely.

  8. @MAJ
    A ludicrous speech indeed. In a sentence: The West should be judged on the basis of the good and bad it has produced during the past two centuries, whereas China should be judged on the progress the country has made in the past 30 years.

  9. No Hemulen, this is NOT what I am saying, nor is it what Paul Keating is arguing. What we are suggesting is that China, as well as all other countries, ought to be assessed fairly, by employing a sober sense of balance. China, as Professor Colin Mackerras and many others have noticed, is rarely assessed in such a way by Western journalists.
    Kind regards,

  10. @MAJ
    Undoubtedly you have read Keating’s speech better than I have. I remember him criticizing the “West” for its past mistakes during the past 200 years. Where does he dwell on the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution in any other way than to prove that China is infinitely better now than then? I mean, we could apply the same yardstick to the “West” and be eternally grateful that the “West” is no longer exercising real political authority in China. Why even discuss the past if the present is so incredibly superior anyway?

  11. Hemulen – Keating’s speech touched on China as it is today, and on the way the Western media, in general, assesses China unfairly. Many others have argued this recently too – Professor Colin Mackerras, Professor Doug Guthrie, Professor Randall Peerenboom, as well as other Sinologists like the sociologist Barry Sautman, Mark Leonard, the list goes on.
    Why would, or should, the world continue to view today’s China through the prism of the Mao era?
    If Keating brings up the past 200 years, it is to illustrate his belief that the history of the European Enlightenment hasn’t always been so enlightened. We ought to now accept the reality that our institutions (including democracy and even human rights) are not universally applicable. There are, as Daniel Bell among others has recently argued, morally legitimate alternatives to democracy, and to Western notions of human rights.
    Kind regards,

  12. I really appreciate Beijing Governments move on closing the Factories on the city outskirts temporarly and regulating the private transport usage for minimising air pollution

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