Changing China

Giant on the move

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This is normal, it happens in all countries…


It arrived.

Chinese President Hu hands the Olympic torch to Liu Xiang in Beijing

Some 5,000 VIPs, cheering workers and media gathered on Tiananmen Square on Monday to welcome the Beijing Olympic flame and launch the 137,000-km torch relay.

Predictably, security on the square was tight. 

The 600 reporters, photographers and television crews were bused from the Olympic media centre some four hours before the flame made an appearance.

As with all Chinese security checks, there were inconsistencies. The metal cigarette lighter in my pocket was confiscated, for example,  but the cheap plastic one in my bag made it through. Many of the security officials themselves were smoking, perhaps they got a light from the flame.

“This is normal, this happens in all countries,” said the policeman who insisted I give up the lighter.  

“Sport builds bridges, not walls” – Germany


Germans have had an extraordinarily unique perspective on the issue of Olympic boycotts — and what they might or might not accomplish.

Germany is the only country whose competitors missed the 1980 and 1984 Olympics due to boycotts. Germany was reunited in 1990. West Germany joined the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan while Communist East Germany joined the Soviet Union and east bloc allies in boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Beijing can’t fake itself just for Olympic visitors


A worker smokes after his lunch at a construction site in BeijingBeijing 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.

So let the Relay begin



The moment China has been waiting for … well one of many Olympic moments. The torch relay kicked into gear on Monday, but not without a bit of drama. (The above picture is of China’s gold medallist swimmer Luo Xuejuan.)

The Chinese media lauded the event, and several pages of newspapers were devoted to lavish descriptions of the event.

China’s third-tier cities


Forget Beijing and Shanghai. If you want to see real China, go to some of the country’s third tier cities.

They’re fascinating, and I’ve been trying to go to as many as possible before leaving China for my next post. Places like Chifeng, Ulanhot, Ankang and Golmud.

Beijing shopping surprises


Shoppers rest in front of a billboard in BeijingI love to shop – I’m not afraid to admit it. And I passionately believe you can never have too many T-shirts, shoes or bags (and that you should never underestimate the power of a good moisturiser either).

One of the great joys of living in China, and especially in Beijing, is the shopping.