Changing China

Giant on the move

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Where next for the torch?

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The national flag in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square flies at half mast in memory of those who died in the massive earthquakePreparations for the Beijing Olympics have understandably taken a back seat to the tragedy in Sichuan.

On Sunday, it was announced that the torch relay would be suspended from Monday to Wednesday to mark three days of national mourning.

The question officials at the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) returned to wrestling with after observing the three-minute silence at 2.28pm today is what should happen when it restarts?

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the torch was scheduled to visit Shanghai. Can a torch relay that is supposed to visit all of China’s provinces really skip the country’s financial capital (and venue for several Olympic soccer matches)? Will Sichuan, and most particularly the city of Mianyang, really be ready to host the flame in mid-June?     

Day 14 – Mission accomplished

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The Beijing Olympic torch is held aloft at the top of Mount Everest on Thursday in this image taken from television footage.

rtr20b7d_comp.jpg Three months to the day before the Games open, members of a 31-strong team reached the top of the 8,848-metre (29,030-ft) peak carrying the Olympic flame in a lantern before lighting the torch.

Nick (& Dave & Mark), the torch and Everest – Day 12

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At an early press conference today the novel inclusion of information we hadn’t heard before briefly raised spirits in what has become quite a downbeat media camp.

As the weekend snowstorms destroyed the careful preparations the Chinese had made on the mountain and a second week in Tibet became an inevitability, there has been a lot of talk about going home. Not just from journalists, either. Many of the officials who travelled with us from Beijing or joined us at Lhasa airport barely attempt to disguise their low spirits any more. I don’t know whether the cause is the altitude, the cold, the increasingly predictable diet, the lack of showers or just day after day of telling news-hungry journalists that there is no news. One of the senior officials told me again today that he thought we were getting “closer and closer” to “our goal”, while another said he thought our fond farewells would not be not too far away.

Nick, the torch and Mt Everest – Day 4

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More negotiations over whether we should delay our departure for base camp kept us off the road for an extra couple of hours and stretched the patience of the Chinese journalists.

All was forgotten, though, a couple of hours later when got our first real look at Everest from the top of a pass.

Jingshun Highway revisited

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Competitors at the Canoe/Kayak Slalom Open paddle on the practice lake at the Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park in BeijingUntil 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.      

Bread? That’s not for eating

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A Chinese employee carries a tray of Mantou steamed bread made of wheat flour in Xi’anAfter laying out our spread of spicy Sichuan food, the waitress returned with four slightly stale slices of white bread, each on their own glistening plates.      

I wondered briefly if DIY chili chicken and peanut sandwiches were a new fad in Chinese restaurants, but when I asked her how I was supposed to eat mine, she looked at me as if I was mad.     

Bird’s Nest to hatch

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On Wednesday, reporters will have a first chance to get inside the completed Bird’s Nest National Stadium, where some dreams will come true but many more will be dashed at the Olympics.

It’s been two years since I set foot in the stadium, which was then just a concrete bowl surrounding a muddy oval all shrouded in a twisting, dull, steel mesh.

Interval over…

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IOC President Rogge gestures to journalists ahead of the XVI Association of National Olympic Committees General Assembly in BeijingLast week was a busy one in Beijing after events surrounding the torch relay took over the news agenda.

I spent six days in the bowels of a five-star hotel in central Beijing chasing comments from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge and his colleagues on events in London, Paris and San Francisco.

“Fast-skin suits.” A swimsuit – or a performance enhancer?

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newtonj.jpgJonathon Newton, a Reuters account manager in Australia, has been a competitive swimmer for over 20 years. Last weekend, clad in one of Speedo’s newly released LZR racing suits that take at least 15 minutes to peel on, he came third in the 50 metre freestyle at the Australian Swimming Championships, but his time of 22.15 seconds was 0.13 seconds short of taking him to the Beijing Olympics. Newton, 27, talks about getting into his suit, how it affects his swimming and the debate around swimwear that boasts to improve times by up to 3 percent.

“You really need to wear socks or plastic bags over your feet to get the suit on as there is a kind of sticky rubber on the inside leg. If you’re even slightly wet it is impossible. They are not comfortable but you get used it. You don’t put the suit on until just before you go to the marshalling area and take it off straight after the race so it is on for maybe 30 minutes. You need two people to help with the zip on the back. They pack up very small — about the size of a bag of sugar — and people can’t believe you will fit into the suit when they see it packed. 

Landlords cash in on tourist influx

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All the tourists, athletes, journalists and other hangers-on flooding to Beijing for the Games need a place to stay, and with hotels already filling up fast, some landlords are more than just rubbing their hands at the prospect of a little extra cash.      

One friend is desperately hunting for a new apartment after her landlord said her rent would jump nine times if she wanted to renew her contract this summer.

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