The Seattle Times Company

NWjobs | NWautos | NWhomes | NWsource | Free Classifieds |

Nation & World

Our network sites | Advanced

Blogging Beijing

The 2008 Summer Olympics will punctuate three decades of development and test China's global legitimacy. They've already transformed the way millions of people think and live. Seattleite and Fulbright researcher Daniel Beekman brings you Beijing.

RSS feeds Subscribe | E-mail |Home

December 31, 2007 5:27 PM

Heart of the city - part two

Posted by Daniel Beekman

I recently visited three hutong districts (see 'Heart of the city - part one' for an introduction).

Just south of Tian'anmen Square, where old men fly kites and the 'great liberator' - Mao Zedong - lies embalmed, is a neighborhood known as Qianmen. Qianmen means 'Front Gate.' Originally Zhenyangmen ('Noon Gate'), the neighborhood's massive namesake was built in 1419. For centuries it served as the entrance to Beijing's imperial city.

Today, there's a McDonald's across from Qianmen (the gate) and a mall. Beyond those, Qianmen (the district) begins. One of 25 neighborhoods labeled 'historic' in 2002 at UNESCO's advice, the 1.45 square-kilometer space is criss-crossed by hutongs. Beginning in the Yuan dynasty, Qianmen housed the bulk of old Beijing's brothels, shops and theaters.

Fresh off the subway, I ducked behind McDonald's and bumped into an elderly lady. She was sweeping the steps of a sagging, wood restaurant. How long had it been there? She didn't know.

"It's coming down soon," she chuckled. "It's coming down soon."

Having been marked with the Chinese character chai, the restaurant was in for a serious makeover.

"See that peeling paint? Ugly." I was told. "Thank goodness for the Olympics. Now it's going to look beautiful."

A curious waitress joined us outside. I asked her opinion.

"I can't really say," she answered. "I just moved here last month - from Hebei (a Chinese province close to Beijing).

Nodding goodbye, I wound my way further south, deep into Qianmen. I eventually found a cluster of residential quadrangles, traditional homes known to Beijingers as Siheyuan. There weren't many people around. I latched onto an octengenarian.

"These houses will never fall," the retired doctor said confidently. "They're too famous, too old, too historic."

And the others? The hutongs now under seige, the homes already gone?

"Different." Her tone was final. "They needed to go. Those neighborhoods were always worthless."

When did she move into Qianmen?

"I was born here," she replied. "I'm Manchu. Do you know what that means?"

The rulers of China's Qing dynasty were Manchurians, who swept down from the north to capture Beijing in 1644 and weren't overthrown until 1911.

Days earlier, I'd ventured down a different sort of hutong. Located well beyond Beijing's old city walls, on the banks of a man-made canal, Wanshousi (Long Life Temple) once served as a rest stop for emperors. Bound for the Summer Palace, the emperors traveled by boat. Now Wanshousi houses an art museum.

A small hutong neighborhood, built in and around the remains of an unpreserved temple, stands between Wanshousi and a block of new flats. I pulled out my camera and ducked under an open, stone-bordered door. Unlike Qianmen, the neighborhood recieves little outside attention. A wheezy old man stopped wheezing to stare.

At first I passed pigeon coops, broken-down bicylces and half-collapsed shacks. But the further I walked, the nicer the hutong became. Hutongs aren't wide - it's nearly impossible for one car to pass another parked on the side. Yet, here were Audis and Hyundais. Hutongs are so quiet, I thought to myself - spying two woodpeckers perched high up a tree.

An elderly couple had trouble understanding my Chinese - initially, the woman frowned while the man gaped at me. They'd shared the same home for 40-plus years.

"Our house is too old," said the woman. "We're too old, too."

Stepping out of the alley, I asked a busy shopkeeper about the unpreserved temple. Annoyed, she shot me a scowl.

At last, I set out for the hutongs at Qianhai and Houhai (Front and Back Lakes), where scholars once lived and tourists now swarm. I headed for one home in particular - the former residence of 20th century author Guo Moruo. Being unfamiliar with the area, I'd decided to spring for a cab. Unfortunately, my soft-spoken driver knew Qianhai no better. We soon found ourselves lost.

Most hutongs, which twist this way and that, are maze-like by design. To make matters worse, they often dead-end. Many of Qianhai and Houhai's hutongs were being redone. We reversed back down alleys and begged locals for help. Once, caught between a wall and a manhole, we barely scraped through.

It was hard to tell which homes were truly historic and which were restored. Either way, the hutongs were charming. After saying goodbye to my cab driver, I met a lady on her way to buy fruit.

"I live in an old house by Xizhimen," she said. "But I'll have to move out very soon - in the next month or two."


"It's been marked for destruction," she said. "For the Olympics."

I asked if she would recieve compensation.

"Yes, yes," I was told - enough for a flat past the Fourth Ring Road. "But I don't want money. I want my house. Living out there just isn't convenient. Where will my grand-kids go to school? Where will I buy vegetables? I'm not used to life on the outskirts. But, I have little choice."

Hutong newslinks:

"Top legislature adopts landmark property law" (Xinhua)

"China looks to protect private property" (Wash. Post)

"Back-alley blues" (TIMEAsia)

"Here today, hutong tomorrow" (London Telegraph)

"Warriors' protect hutong with cameras" (China Daily)

"Thousand cities, one face" (BeijingNewsSpeak)

"New construction crowding out Beijing's hutongs" (NPR)

'Hutong Chronicles: Danwei TV Hard Hat Show':

Interactive map of Beijing - follow up on posts and get oriented (please allow time for map's features to load):

View Larger Map


"Beijing says venues almost all ready"

"Wanted: tall thin women to present Olympic medals"

"China finds American allies for security"

"Baby boom for the Beijing Olympics"

Comments | Category: Olympic Countdown |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

December 28, 2007 3:00 PM

Heart of the city - part one

Posted by Daniel Beekman

Beijing's 2008 Summer Olympics will herald the emergence of a new, modern China.

But here in the capital, the Games will also symbolize China's recovery from a century defined by suffering, chaos and war. Chinese civilization has survived, and thanks to Beijing's Olympic organizers, the world won't soon forget it.

Where do the city's crumbling, residential alleys - its traditional hutongs - fit in? They represent China's past and, months away from the Games, their fate still isn't clear.

Most hutong homes are cramped and old. Few enjoy central heating or running water. But they're clustered around downtown Beijing - where construction firms dance to the tune 'location, location, location.' Paid off by developers, many Beijingers have willingly bolted their hutong houses for modern flats in the suburbs.

Hutongs are part of Beijing's cultural heritage. Like the Forbidden City and the Great Bell Temple, these Qing dynasty blocks memorialize Asia's most storied capital. The Qing were Manchurians, who swept down from the north to capture Beijing in 1644.

(Note: Some hutongs pre-date the Qing. Hutong apparently comes from the Mongolian hottog, meaning 'water well.' Mongolians ruled China during the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368).)

It's hard for some 'hutongers' to imagine living anywhere else. They stroll arm in arm just before dusk, smiling to old friends and waving hello. The hutongs' narrow brick walls shelter a rare sense of community.

Hutong homes scheduled for demolition are marked with the character 'chai' - which means 'to dismantle.' Residents leave. Bulldozers move in. Neighborhoods disappear overnight.

Consequently, Beijing looks less (architecturally) 'Chinese' each day. Where graceful roofs once curved towards heaven, concrete storefronts cast blocky shadows.

According to the Communist Party, all land is state land. But legislators here, citing China's rapid economic development, have passed laws designed to protect private property (the first of their kind). Adopted in March, the measures may benefit opportunistic officials and dishonest developers as much as they aid poor homeowners and farmers. Legally, however, they've nudged Beijing towards a market economy.

No private firm, Beijingers have told me, may kick a 'hutonger' off his or her property. Stubborn Chinese who stand up to developers are called 'hard as nails' - dingzi hu.

From the municipality of Chongqing - perhaps China's most intrepid dingzi hu. According to a Chongqing native I know, this home's owner hauled his meals up in a bucket and waved a Chinese flag out his window to fend off demolition teams.

But public firms - those carrying Olympic development contracts, for example - may force 'hutongers' to move. In 2002, workers were leveling 600 hutongs per year. More than 62 square kilometers in central Beijing have been cleared since 2004, according to UNESCO. And Switzerland's Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions has suggested that, by August 2008, 1.5 million people will have been displaced. Beijing's vice-mayor Liu Zhihua, who once oversaw Games-related urban planning, was dismissed for corruption in 2006.

(Note: Estimates differ with respect to Beijing's total hutongs, According to a 2006 NPR special, there were 3,000 hutongs standing 50 years ago - and only 1,000 today. Another report suggests that 1,330 hutongs existed in 1949. However, a Chinese source claims the city still contains 4,500 or more. These discrepancies are complicated by the absence of any official criteria. Some hutongs are ten meters wide. Others span less than a meter, wall-to-wall.)

On the one hand, Beijing's Olympic preparations have accelerated the hutongs' demise. Ordered to 'clean up' the city before 2008, Beijing's leaders have forced forward a modernization program based on construction. The capital's most decrepit hutongs, branded unsound and 'backward,' were always destined to go.

Yet the Olympics have also revived interest in Beijing's traditional culture.

"The Games are an opportunity to teach China's history," I've been told here time and again.

Few cities boast such a colorful past - next August will likely resemble a glorified tour. Half a million foreign tourists are expected to attend the Olympics.

Local leaders have promised to host an event both 'world-class' and 'uniquely Chinese.' To that end, they've ordered a number of hutong districts preserved. In some cases, 'preserved' has meant 'left as is.' In other cases, it's meant 'razed and rebuilt to international regulations.'

So where do the crumbling, residential alleys fit in? Squeezed tight between China's glossy future, tumultuous past and Olympic present, it seems.

Check out 'Heart of the city - part two' - coming soon - for a look at three hutong neighborhoods.

Hutong newslinks:

"Top legislature adopts landmark property law" (Xinhua)

"China looks to protect private property" (Wash. Post)

"Back-alley blues" (TIMEAsia)

"Here today, hutong tomorrow" (London Telegraph)

"'Warriors' protect hutong with cameras" (China Daily)

"Thousand cities, one face" (BeijingNewsSpeak)

"New construction crowding out Beijing's hutongs" (NPR)

'Hutong Chronicles: Danwei TV Hard Hat Show':

Interactive map of Beijing - follow up on posts and get oriented (please allow time for map's features to load):

View Larger Map


"Double challenge to Beijing orthodoxy"

"First public hearing over environment"

"Beijing 2008 ticket sales to close on Sunday"

"Beijing air pollution 'as bad as it can get'"

"A humble home for humble workers"

"Beijing rolls out carpet to disabled visitors"

Comments | Category: Olympic Countdown |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

December 25, 2007 2:49 PM

Christmas in Beijing

Posted by Daniel Beekman

"In Beijing, Christmas is cool," a Chinese friend told me.

"Our parents don't pay it much attention," she said. "We young people do. Christmas here is romantic."

Few Beijingers would say they're religious, let alone Christian. Yet the city exudes 'holiday cheer' - carols and lights, trees and reindeer.

Christmas wasn't always big in Beijing. For years, China's leaders discouraged any sort of religious display. But economic reforms have driven consumers' tastes west. As in the U.S., excessive shopping now frames the day.

"We do good business on Christmas," a waitress told me. "Our decorations are pretty."

Christmas hasn't eclipsed China's Spring Festival, known to Americans as Chinese New Year (February 7, 2008). Yet Santa is gaining, it would appear.

Last night, revelers flocked to hear Christmas Eve Mass at St. Joseph's Cathedral ('Dong Tang') in central Beijing. One of the year's hottest (and strangest) dates, it's become a Christmas tradition. Those without tickets gathered nearby.

"We know Jesus was born," one student told me. "The rest isn't too clear."

"Christmas is sexy," observed a security guard. "We're all young people here."

"I don't care for Christmas," a rose-hawker admitted. "What does it mean?"

"We party, put on beautiful clothes, buy delicious food," a teen wearing red devil horns shared. "We celebrate Christmas because...well, I'm not sure."

I approached an old woman sitting just past the crowd.

"The kids like to play," she said with a laugh. "They love western culture."

By eleven o'clock, St. Joseph's was awash in young couples. Christmas here just isn't a family affair.

"What are you doing for Christmas?" another Chinese friend inquired of me. "My buddies and I are headed to Beijing's best Russian restaurant. Then we're going for beer."

Christmas in China is strictly an urban phenomenon. "I'm from the country," a cab driver told me. "No one knows Christmas out there."

In Chinese, 'Santa Claus' is 'Sheng Dan Lao Ren' - 'Old Man Christmas.'

At last report, there were roughly 54 million practicing Christians in China.

A year ago, ten Beijing university students posted an anti-Christmas petition on the Internet, asking their peers to show more respect for Chinese traditions.

Valentine's Day is also a favorite with young Beijingers, for similar reasons.

St. Joseph's Cathedral sits on one of Beijing’s most famous streets – Wangfujing.

The Jesuit cathedral was built in 1655, destroyed in 1720, gutted by fire in 1812 and leveled soon after. Foriegners rebuilt the structure in 1860, only to watch xenophobic militants raze it during the Boxer Rebellion. St. Joseph's was last renovated in 2000.

Interactive map of Beijing - follow up on posts and get oriented (please allow time for map's features to load):

View Larger Map


"China falls for Christmas, at least in stores"

"PhD students say 'no' to Christmas (2006)"

"In China, feeling snowed under by Christmas (2006)"

Comments | Category: Cultural Exchange |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

December 23, 2007 2:44 AM

Cautionary tales

Posted by Daniel Beekman

During a backstreet excursion about one week ago, I stopped to admire a series of cartoons encased in glass - cautionary tales, courtesy of Beijing's municipal authority.

I've posted photos from and translated two of the cartoons below.

Neither references the 2008 Olympic Games directly (most signs here do). Still, I think they're worth a look.

I found the cartoons in a middle-class Beijing neighborhood.

"Keep an eye on things": "Street-corner swindling"

"Aunt, I've come to the city for work and I need to rent a room. Do you know of any?"
"Yes, I do. How many are there of you? Come in a have a look."

"You can't rent this house now. Its 'fengshui' is poor. You don't want bad luck."

"Amida Buddha! It's really bad - all the signs are odious."
"Oh mister, I'm begging you to help. See if you can fix what's wrong. I'll give you money to burn as a sacrifice."

"Rental 'fengshui' fraud: a swindler finds your house for rent, says its 'fengshui' is poor, agrees to perform a ceremony and takes your money. This crime is generally perpetrated by two middle-aged men working together. One-story houses and older persons are at risk."

"Aunt, do you know the way to the post office?"

"You look like an honest person - no need to keep secrets from you. I moved here for work and found eight gold coins at a construction site. Mailing them isn't convenient - I'm afraid they'll get stolen. If you could keep them in your house for a few days - until it's time for me to travel home - I could come fetch them. I'd be grateful."

"Ok, I'll keep them for a few days in my home. Grateful or not, you better hurry back to fetch them."
"According to the people from the cultural relics department, gold coins from the Ming Dynasty are worth several tens of thousands of yuan. Aunt, I'm begging you, please keep these for just a few days. I'll thank you."

"Aunt, I'm scared of being swindled. Before I leave the coins with you, pay me a deposit - 1000 yuan each. Ok? When I return, I'll pay you back and let you keep one of the coins."
"Ok. It's not easy being an independent woman - I'll help you. And pay you a deposit like you said."

"Thanks for your help. I'll leave the eight coins here, take your 8000 yuan and return next month."
"Eight thousand yuan! I want to help you, and you're counting on me - but it sure is hard to be kind. Are you a swindler or not? Even if you are, I suppose I don't have to worry - you're leaving the coins with me. If you don't return to fetch them, it'll be your loss, not mine."

"Oh! These coins are just copper knock-offs and two months have already passed. She'll never come back. My good intentions have backfired. Oh! I really should die!"

Migrants show up in both cartoons, which isn't surprising. Nearly one in three Beijingers belongs to China's "mobile population."

In the first cartoon, a homeless migrant worker sets up the scam. His sob story is convincing because it's all too common. Beijing real estate values have soared (42 percent in three years), trapping workers in a kind of 'Catch-22.'

Most migrants work in construction/demolition. In other words, they're paid to pulverize Beijing's affordable housing. Olympic organizers call this beautification but it's tough on migrant workers. What pays the rent today may leave them homeless tomorrow.

The second cartoon features a stereotyped migrant worker as well. She's young, troubled and alone. She's come from a construction site. She's not to be trusted.

In both cartoons, innocent, friendly Beijingers get burned.

The city is changing, Beijing wants its grandmas and grandpas to know. Buildings are shooting up. Traditions are fading away. Migrants are pouring in.

Most migrant workers, of course, pose no real danger. But excitement breeds anxiety. It's December 2007; Beijing is buzzing; and the Olympics are eight months away.

Interactive map of Beijing - follow up on posts and get oriented (please allow time for features to load):

View Larger Map


"Beijing offers tour of interrogation room in anti-corruption education"

"Beijing sparks fuel tax debate"

"Bike Beijing, Green Olympics"

Comments | Category: Cultural Exchange |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

December 21, 2007 5:44 PM

'Good Luck Beijing' - table tennis

Posted by blog

The lights went dead inside Beijing University's new gymnasium a week ago, plunging some of China's best table tennis players into sudden darkness.

"I felt like the whole world had shut off," said Chinese star Chen Qi, who won a gold medal three years ago in Athens (Xinhua). "At that moment, I could see nothing at all."

Twenty minutes later the situation was resolved and Chen's International Table Tennis Federation ProTour match resumed. He and his partner Wang Liqin, ahead 3-0 against a pair of Singaporeans when the blackout occurred, quickly wrapped up a 4-0 victory. Eventually, Chen and Wang struck gold - Chinese paddlers placed first in all four of the tournament's events.

China's Guo Yue and Li Xiaoxia defeated Tie Yana and Zhang Rui of Hong Kong Tuesday. (Xinhua photo)

While Beijing's Olympic organizers failed to predict the outage, they've been waiting for something like it to happen. Both the 2007 ITTF ProTour and the 2007 International Table Tennis Invitational (also held at Beijing University) were scheduled in concert with 'Good Luck Beijing.'

'Good Luck Beijing' refers to a series of 42 international athletic competitions currently underway. These tune-up events are designed to help Olympics athletes, organizers and volunteers prepare. Interpreters are drilled, teams are formed, new venues are put to the test - and next August's Games are HYPED, HYPED, HYPED!

Hoping for an Olympic preview, I snagged tickets to the Invitational's finals - set for Wednesday evening.

I'd never attended a big-time table tennis match. Like most Americans, I equate the sport with flip-flops and laughter. It's different, less casual here. Most everyone plays table tennis in China. Children worship pro 'paddlers,' who frequently appear on TV.

"In table tennis, we're the best," one satisfied man explained Wednesday. "It's China's game."

More than 300 million Chinese take part, according to one report. Nearly 30,000 receive formal training and 2,000 compete professionally.

Table tennis is a spectator sport - check it out (please allow time for video to load):

I arrived late to the tournament. Beijing University is located near the city's high-tech sector, blocks from a monstrous Wu-Mei (Wal-Mart) and two manic malls. It sits on Zhongguancun Dajie (Zhongguancun Big Road), which during rush hour turns into a parking lot. Between angry honks I heard someone mutter, "You see? There are too many people in China."

Off Zhongguancun, I ran into a band of perky 'Good Luck Beijing' volunteers. They beamed and spoke perfect English. "This way," "thank you," "of course," "to your left," "here you are," "enjoy!"

The gymnasium, less than half-full, was bright and new. Most of my fellow fans looked rich - well groomed, well dressed, well acquainted with luxury. Their collective disinterest made for a quiet event. I took in the facility's jumbo-tron and drank from a clean water fountain. It hardly felt like Beijing.

Each time a paddler wound into his or her serve, the crowd hushed. Vicious rallies followed on a few occasions, forcing both players (all four during doubles) back away from the table. I gasped for breath. But the surgical slams and serious spin applied by Chen and his dominant teammates kind of ruined the fun. My 50元 seats (US$8) were upper level - out of earshot and removed from the action. From the outset, it was clear the Chinese would win.

Local government officials doled out the awards. Out on the concourse, I approached a middle-aged man and launched into my spiel - 'I'm here to research Beijing. What about that last match? Why table tennis? Got tickets for the Olympics?"

"I'm from San Diego," he replied.

A few Beijingers gathered around.

"Tonight was great. I'm glad the Chinese won," one woman said. "I've already ordered Olympic tickets. Now I'm just waiting for them to arrive."

I walked up to a heavyset man with whiskers.

"Oh, this was great!" he said. "Fearsome table tennis! The ushers were wonderful. Are you an American? Tell your friends to watch the Olympics. They'll get to know China."

"If tonight was any indication, the Olympics will go very well," an older man assured me.

One volunteer, a Beijing University psychology major, is also planning to work the Olympics next year.

"It has nothing to do with my studies," she said. "I just want to help out, have fun and represent my university - these competitions are very important for China."

I headed back to Zhongguancun Big Road puzzled. Had I received a realistic Olympic preview?

"Aoyunhui, zaijian!" a line of waving volunteers yelled. "Olympics, goodbye!"

Interactive map of Beijing - follow up on posts and get oriented (please allow time for features to load):

View Larger Map


"China sweeps the board as venue stands up to the test"

"As Olympics near, Beijing endeavors to better citizens' manners"

"Seattle table tennis champ is out to make success of new training center"

"Games-time volunteer applicant pool grows to 760,000"

Comments | Category: Olympic Countdown |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

December 17, 2007 8:35 AM

Rebuilding Beijing

Posted by Daniel Beekman

Construction in Beijing exploded in 2001 after the city won the right to host a Summer Olympics.

When (if) the dust finally settles next August, 2.7 billion square feet of property will have been developed - an area roughly the size of metropolitan Seattle.

For the journalists - 10,000 new flats. For the athletes - 11 new venues. And for the fans - countless new restaurants, shops, hotels and a US$2.8 billion addition to Beijing's international airport.

Astounded? Rightly so.

Check out "Higher and Higher" (below) - a brief 'construction introduction' (please allow time for the show to load).

Around noon each day, a sea of hard hats engulfs the sidewalks surrounding Beijing's Olympic Green. Construction may have slowed somewhat elsewhere, but it's sprinting up here.

Not far from Beijing's Olympics Sports Stadium, two fathers from Sichuan province work underground. More than 1,000 miles from home, they're hacking out a new subway line. Line 10 will run east-west across the city, linking the rest of Beijing to Line 8: the Olympics Spur Line.

It's a tough gig for these middle-aged men, who enjoy little job security. The air is bad in the tunnels and a few of their friends have fallen sick.

"If you're too sick to work, they'll re-hire," I was told. "There are so many others - wo men tai duo."

Of course, things could be worse. Combined, my Sichuanese friends are pulling down US$250 a month, not bad for a pair of migrant laborers. They weren't sure they'd find steady employment when they moved east together last year.

(Note: In 2006, Beijingers earned, on average, US$420 per month.)

Line 10 will be ready soon. And then what? I asked them. "We'll have to move on." To where? "We don't know. In fact, we don't really care."

A half-mile east, a 50-year old farmer from Henan province hangs telephone line. He makes only US$100 a month - hardly enough to feed himself and his family. "Do all Americans speak Chinese?" he asks me.

My Henan friend has a wife and a son. Both stayed behind last month when he left for Beijing. "There are too many cars here," he observed. "I'm going home for New Year's."

Farther south, a gaggle of "Lao Beijing" (elderly native Beijingers) dissect the construction boom from the steps of a neighborhood restaurant. "We're happy to host the Olympics!" I'm told. "Our health has improved - we're exercising more. But all these expensive new apartments and gyms? We're not quite so sure."

"They're building too fast," one woman growls. "Too fast means poor quality - that's bad."

Two construction workers were killed and four injured when scaffolding at a site in South Beijing collapsed last month, according to Chinese government media. In September, at least six laborers died and 20 were injured in a similar incident.

In March, six migrant laborers, five from Sichuan, died in a Line 10 subway collapse. Rather than report the incident to Beijing authorities, the project's managers mounted a rescue operation of their own. Workers not trapped in the collapse had their cell phones confiscated.

Beijing authorities arrived on the scene more than eight hours later - only after a worker from Henan called home and his family sought help from local police.

Government media reported in January that migrants employed at Olympic construction sites (who number more than 30,000) would receive substantial wage bumps this year.

A community center rises behind green netting.

Migrant workers break ground on a subway stop just south of Beijing's National Stadium. A tricycle porter looks on.

Redmond East: Microsoft has dug in near the Olympic green.

Many Beijing construction workers believe they have little to do with the Olympics. "We're just regular guys," I was told.

Cold weather and construction have temporarily turned the Olympic Green gray.

Interactive map of Beijing - follow up on posts and get oriented (please allow time for features to load):

View Larger Map


"So much work, so little time"

"Migrant population swelling in Beijing"

"Beijing increases migrant workers' salary for construction of Olympics venues"

"Beijing construction firm chief gets 13 years for graft"

"High speed rail on track for Olympics"

Comments | Category: Exploring Beijing |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

December 15, 2007 1:06 AM

Big, cold and gray

Posted by Daniel Beekman

You shuffle through the sliding glass doors at Beijing's Capital Airport and a gust of dusty December wind whips round your ears and neck. You take a look around.

Big, cold and gray.

You and your rumpled driver merge onto Beijing's Capital Expressway. He coughs loudly, coughs again, clears his throat and opens his window. A wad of gunk comes apart in mid-air. He rolls up his window. Coughs loudly. Coughs again. You take a look around.

Big, cold and gray.

Your cab inches into Beijing - a forest of concrete apartments and high-rise office buildings. Crowds form at every corner. A siren sounds, then a jackhammer. City girls and country stiffs text-message down heaving sidewalks. You take a look around.

Big, cold and gray.

That's one version of Beijing.

Another version is vibrant and colorful. It boasts palaces and museums. The Great Wall looms nearby. And crouched between its busy thoroughfares, 17 million people tend to a unique urban culture.

Squeeze close to that Beijing, and here's what you might hear, meet, touch, taste or see:

- Taiwanese pop blaring from a 24-hour karaoke bar
- A toothless pool hall attendant, bored out of her mind
- The smooth head of an elephant idol
- "Tang erduo" (candy ear), a deep-fried street-side snack
- Magpies wheeling overhead

- The rumble of an elevated train grinding down its tracks
- An elderly man with his 'erhu' (two-stringed instrument)
- The prickly mane of a fruit-cart pony
- Cow's tendon and robin's egg kebabs
- Clear blue skies

Since arriving in Beijing one month ago, I've often wondered: which verison of the city will its Olympic guests see?

Neither, most likely.

Beijing's officials are spending US$40-60 billion on the Games. They've built impressive stadiums (the colossal 'Bird's Nest' cost US$500 million alone), moved heavy industry outside the city and sponsored an inclusive English-learning campaign.

Why? In the words of one Chinese scholar, to guarantee "a robust, modern Beijing" is the version that foreigners see.

Next up...a construction discussion.

Interactive map of Beijing - follow up on posts and get oriented (please allow time for features to load):

View Larger Map


"Beijing's Olympics Stadium"

"Beijing expands 24-hour transport system for Olympics revelers"

"Chinese delegates brief African Olympic officials on Beijing Olympics"

"China Shrinks"

Comments | Category: Olympic Countdown |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

December 13, 2007 2:25 AM

Blogging Beijing

Posted by Daniel Beekman

Hello and welcome to Blogging Beijing - an online journal about China's capital city and the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Beijing is a fascinating place. Unlike its extroverted cousins, Shanghai and Hong Kong, Beijing is an urban preserve - for Chinese culture, Chinese history and the Chinese Communist Party. Foreign influences have always met resistance here.

Yet Beijing is changing, and in a monumental way as it prepares to host next August's Olympic Games. Preparations for the Games have already transformed the city physically, attracted global attention and sparked international exchange.

As a U.S. Fulbright Research Grantee, I'm here to study Beijingers' ideas and feelings vis-à-vis the Olympics. As a native Seattleite and the author of Blogging Beijing, I'm here to give you an inside look at this changing city.

Blogging Beijing will explore a different China than often appears in the news. It won't cover Party politics, or global warming, or Pacific-Rim business. It will comment on each - as each relates to Beijing's dynamic culture, landscape and people.

A street vendor weighs oranges in front of a government-sponsored advertisment. "Embrace the Olympics - study the 'ten dos and ten don'ts,'" the ad's smaller characters read.

"Do protect the Olympics' intellectual property rights. Don't buy or sell pirated imitations," warn the ad's larger characters.

More 'dos and don'ts' are plastered nearby. Behind the ads, construction workers carve out another subway line. Infrastructural improvements and public education campaigns have defined Beijing's Olympic preparations.

That's all for today - stop by again for stories, insights, travel tips and more. Thanks for visiting Blogging Beijing!

Post categories will include: 'Exploring Beijing,' 'Olympic Countdown,' 'Cultural Exchange,' 'Green Beijing' and 'Travelogue.'

Below each post, you'll find Blogging Beijing's interactive map and web-links to China/Olympics news.

Interactive Map of Beijing - Follow up on posts and get oriented (please allow time for features to load):

View Larger Map


"Beijing's population exceeds 17. 4 million"

"Looking for a room in Beijing? Be patient"

"Beijing Olympic organizers provide air pollution findings to IOC"

"New subway lines start construction in Beijing"

"God and the Olympics"

"Not much Chinese food in Olympic Village"

Comments | Category: Exploring Beijing |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

Recent entries

Dec 31, 07 - 05:27 PM
Heart of the city - part two

Dec 28, 07 - 03:00 PM
Heart of the city - part one

Dec 25, 07 - 02:49 PM
Christmas in Beijing

Dec 23, 07 - 02:44 AM
Cautionary tales

Dec 21, 07 - 05:44 PM
'Good Luck Beijing' - table tennis







Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
Browse the archives

August 2008

July 2008

June 2008

May 2008

April 2008

March 2008