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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.

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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"

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12:23 AM, Dec 20, 2007


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