Ever since Beijing was awarded the 2008
Summer Olympic Games, the Chinese capital has been in the midst of
a massive construction boom. In addition to new sporting venues,
there are now six ring roads encircling the city, facilitating
movement of an ever-increasing number of vehicles. Newly wealthy
Chinese are replacing the once ubiquitous bicycle with cars.
The new airport is
fully operational, designed to handle the expected influx of
athletes and tourists in the Olympic period next August. A wide
freeway that links the airport to Beijing is already handling large
volumes of traffic. Other highways link the center with attractions
such as the Summer Palace, on the northwest outskirts, and the
Great Wall and Ming Tombs, 45 miles to the north. The main Olympic
stadiums also lie to the north, beyond the fourth ring
Across the city,
towering office blocks, many with innovative and distinctive
designs, are sprouting seemingly overnight, alongside a vast array
of residences built to house the influx of workers from other
Given the workers
on hand, everything happens very quickly. My first night in
Beijing, I walked past an empty hair salon that had been stripped
for renovation, with only the red-striped barber's pole still
operating. By the time I wandered past the next evening, it was
already back in operation, with nine chairs in two rooms
One element Chinese
authorities cannot control is the weather. Of particular concern to
Olympics organizers is the persistent haze that hangs over the
city. It is rumored that officials will banish private vehicles
during the Games, but industrial pollution and dust from desert
sandstorms account for most of the haze. During my stay, it was
only after a day of persistent rain that the next morning dawned
clear. But the haze was back the next day.
On sunny days, the
Summer Palace grounds are thronged with locals escaping small
apartments for a day of relaxation on and around its large lake.
Visitors in town for the Olympics might take a ride on one of the
lake's dragon boats or stroll along its ornately painted, covered
walkway and 17-arch bridge. The entire complex is a de facto museum
of Chinese architecture.
Square, tourists still line up to view Chairman Mao's embalmed body
in its large mausoleum. At the northern end of the huge square,
they enter the Forbidden City, with its bright red and yellow
buildings and vast courtyards.
The covered Pearl
and Silk Market on Jianguomennei Avenue offers floors of clothing.
The designer labels are fake but the quality is
Another joy of
visiting Beijing is the food. I have found that diners with a yen
for authentic Chinese cooking should seek out restaurants where the
clientele is local. There, they'll likely find a delicious meal at
a reasonable price.
A good Chinese beer
is the best accompaniment to spicy, Sichuan-style
contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].