Giant on the move
My abiding memory of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City – just a few months after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. — is of removing and putting back on my heavy winter boots several times a day at security checkpoints.
The experience of my wife and son at Qingdao airport yesterday, however, suggests that even security precautions can sometimes go a little too far.
After spending a couple of days at the seaside in the city that will host the sailing for the Beijing Games next month, three-year-old Max had packed his bucket and spade along with other favourite toys in a little plastic suitcase for the journey back to the Chinese capital.
Until a few months ago, a few weeks in some cases, the Jingshun Highway, once one of the main arteries out of Beijing heading for skiing in the mountains and the Great Wall, was lined with scrappy auto-repair workshops, metal yards, tyre stores, manual car-wash services and other businesses.
I am talking about the stretch of highway northeast of the huge conurbation of Wanjing, beginning where the airport expressway veers off to the right and surrounded by the suburbs of grandiose villa compounds with names like Beijing Riviera and Grand Hills, temporary homes to CEOs and other rich expats.
Beijing promised to turn itself into a model city after winning its bid for the 2008 Olympics almost seven years ago. I lived in the city then and thought, yay, go team. Beijing, afterall, could use some work.
Infamous traffic gridlocks would be sorted out, the waiting world was promised. Working-class taxi drivers who love to chatter in Chinese would speak English. City-dwellers would quit spitting on the sidewalks. The polluted grey skies that aggravated my head colds would turn blue. Order would be enforced at the capital’s chaotic international airport.