Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Do the Tighten Up
According to the large red countdown board outside my place of employment it's 30 days until the Olympics begin. Despite China's hopes for blue skies for the opening ceremonies and beyond and its loudly trumpeted anti-pollution measures (as well as rumored urban-mythical "weather control machines"), the last month has seen mostly rainy, smog-ridden, humid, phlegm colored days and starless nights, though Sunday night a group of us leaving a goodbye party looked up and gaped at a stunning sight. A star! Two stars! Well, maybe they were planets, nonetheless it was a welcome vision.
My neighborhood and areas elsewhere throughout Beijing are seeing a notable increase in police, albeit the unarmed variety, and foreigners with stories of being stopped for passport checks by both plainclothes and uniformed cops are becoming common. At the airport new "special police" armed with machine guns are roaming in twos throughout the three terminals in order to "enforce the existing security force's capacity to deal with emergencies in the airport," says an unnamed airport security droid. Most of the airport users, according to China Daily, feel happy and safer with black uniformed, nervous-looking 19 and 20-year-old acne-scarred males toting loaded machine guns in a crowded public venue, but somehow it doesn't make me feel anything but slightly queasy.
A Canadian software engineer who has been living in a largely foreign populated compound in north Beijing for several years told me that he and others there are now required to sign in and out. "It's a bit crazy," he says. "The guards and I know each other by sight - I've lived there longer than some have worked there. But we have to play the game. I generally sign something like "Mickey Mouse" "Osama Bin Laden" or "Tim Horton" (a popular Canadian coffee house chain). They can't read it anyway and it gives me a little lift."
It's not just foreigners. A 27-year-old Chinese woman surnamed Shen and who goes by the self-dubbed English name "Road" ("Because life is a journey," she says) is a front desk manager at a 3-star hotel about 2 kilometers from the Bird's Nest stadium. She said she and other employees in the area will be required to show newly issued Beijing Olympics-related ID cards as of July 15 in order to enter the area to come and go from work.
"I don't know what hotel guests will do," Road said. "We are not even fully booked. I took this job hoping to meet Olympic tourists. I enjoy talking with foreigners and practicing my English, I was hired because I am the only one who speaks English. But we have no foreign reservations and Chinese tourists are not so many now."
The visa situation for some foreigners already here or hoping to come also remains troublesome, despite repeated "assurances" by the foreign ministry that the visa restrictions are "unchanged" and "not designed to deter visitors or people doing business in China". Meanwhile, China's tourist numbers were down for the first 5 months of the year, though the official blame was put on factors other than the visa clampdown and the country's oldest trade fair, The Canton Trade Fair, reportedly saw its first decline in visitors and exhibitors in decades.
Like the USA in the post-911 era China is using the overreaching "terrorist" label and boogieman to include the "Dalai Lama clique/Tibetan separatists," so-called Islamic separatists in western China and just about anyone who might be suspected of putting a blemish on the Olympics.
Still there is some levity amongst the muck. Witness Ou Zhihang, a southern China TV host and photographer who has posted a series of photographs on his blog at http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_4d1b21a90100a6as.html of him doing nude pushups in front of assorted Chinese landmarks, including the Bird's Nest. I don't know how he got that close without an ID, though ...
He calls himself the "Pushup King" and says: "I love my body and homeland. I use my small body to do pushups for exercise and to 'talk' with these large miraculous and world famous landmarks."
Comments on his au natural pfitness tourism campaign range from "You've f*cked every scenic resort, is that what you mean?" and "Good body, bad brain" to "Pictures are shocking, but we support you."
Posted by Justin at 1:52 AM