Changing China

Giant on the move

Beijing bustling again already

August 25, 2008

As Olympic visitors started to worry on Sunday about airport return traffic, cars in Beijing were being parked on sidewalks again.

Night clubs were open after an anti-prostitution blitz a few weeks ago. Once banished vendors scrummed on sidewalks to sell Olympic pins, the collection of which had grown to a competitive roar among locals close to the Games.

In shopping districts, you’d win gold for walking 100 metres in under an hour, a silver to stay standing amid shoves and a bronze to hear yourself talk on the phone.

China’s athletic dominance at a terrorism-free Olympics motivated celebratory locals to re-emerge into the streets over the final days of the Games, clogging venues with bodies and cars, basically returning to life as usual.

The coming-out followed a chill over Beijing orchestrated earlier this summer to reduce the risk of upsets during the country’s signature event.

“There’s a happy atmosphere now in Beijing,” said Sky Zhou, 23, a government employee, on Sunday as he joined crowds of police, military and athletes in lining up for the closing ceremonies. “Two weeks ago there was an atmosphere of anticipation.”

Before the Olympics, Beijing sent migrant workers home, removing the ubiquitous din of hammers and the smell of poured cement at construction sites. Beijing car owners can drive only on alternate days, hollowing out once gridlocked intersections the size of small sports fields.

Planes all but exceeded passengers at the normally packed Beijing airport. Chinese outside Beijing stayed home to avoid newly mandated interrogations at highway or railway checkpoints about their reasons for visiting the capital. For a while it was oddly reminiscent of the outbreak of SARS in 2003, when 2,500 people got sick in Beijing, at least 190 died and there was a ghostly feel about the city.

“The Olympic atmosphere is better than the normal one,” said university student and Games spectator Long Su, who has lived in Beijing for four years. “The construction sites have faded out, and my feeling is that Beijing has gotten cleaner.”

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