When in Beijing, we had a chance to unofficially preview the site for the 2008 summer Olympic Games. The city still has eight months to prepare but I can't say everything is ready for a successful hosting. The theme is 'One World - One Dream' and the Olympics are represented by not one but five official mascots. The Fuwa embody the natural characteristics of four of China's most popular animals -- the Fish, the Panda, the Tibetan Antelope, the Swallow -- and the Olympic Flame.
Each of Fuwa has a rhyming two-syllable name -- a traditional way of expressing affection for children in China. Beibei is the Fish, Jingjing is the Panda, Huanhuan is the Olympic Flame, Yingying is the Tibetan Antelope and Nini is the Swallow. When you put their names together -- Bei Jing Huan Ying Ni -- they say "Welcome to Beijing."
In some respects the Chinese are ready for the the Games. The stadiums are all nearing completion and should be wrapping up construction in plenty of time to welcome athletes. The most famous of these stadiums is the National Aquatics Center or 'Water Cube' as it has come to be known. This building will house all of the swimming events and was designed to be visually stunning. The exterior of the building is meant to imitate water. The picture I snapped of it from the bus didn't capture the glory it was meant to reflect. But the artist interpretations are quite impressive, inside and out. Despite the stadiums being built, Beijing still has a lot of work to do to be ready. One clear downfall is the transportation system. The subway routes are adequate but the trains are short and run at infrequent intervals. They have attendants whose sole purpose is to forcefully shove people onto an already over crowded train car to ensure that the doors close. We were victims of said forceful shoving and nearly toppled out backwards when the train arrived at the next stop. The buses are no better. Buses in the city are numerous but so many people ride the bus that they are already overcrowded with Beijingers. I can't imagine adding the thousands more who with surely swarm the city to attend the Games. Don't even get me started on taxis! Accessibility is nice. One hardly has to wait 30 seconds to be able to hail a cab. But don't plan on going anywhere fast during rush hour. The twelve miles from the Summer Palace to our hotel took an hour and a half. The one nice thing about all the public transportation (taxis included) is that it is incredibly cheap. The city of Beijing won the Olympic bid with reservation from the Olympic committee. They would be allowed to host only with conditions. First, they must improve the humanitarian efforts for their own people. Human Rights Watch is having a field day with the lack of effort on this front. Pictures circulating the web speak volumes of China's shortcomings. Second, this Olympic Games would be billed as a 'green' Olympics. 'Green' Olympics in Beijing? Who are they kidding? It has to have one of the worst air pollution problems in the world. Their proposed solution is to take a million cars off the road by the start of the Games. My questions: How? and Won't it just worsen the already problematic public transportation system?
On the plus side, Chinese horticulturists have outdone themselves with temporary monuments to the Games. Unfortunately they'll have to start over next spring because there is no way the plants will make it through the winter. I hope the budget allows for it.
One more bit of trivia for you... We learned that the Olympic metals will be unique this year and will be inlaid with jade. I guess it is appropriate considering the Chinese fascination for the stone.
Are you excited for the 2008 Games?