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T-Minus 5 Hours: Crowded and Grey

CCTV 5 — sorry, ‘CCTV Olympic’ or whatever they’re calling themselves — is broadcasting a succession of reporters standing in front of the Bird’s Nest stadium and pontificating into the camera about the Olympic Green, which registers behind them as a murky, greenish grey color, sort of like a cowpat that’s been out in the sun for a long time.

This might be because I haven’t yet gotten around to switching to digital cable, but just as much of it has to do with the air, which – in case you have not read any foreign newspaper reports lately – is bad. From the sheer volume of ink spilled and bits transferred on the subject, I can only imagine that newspaper editors around the world are calling their bureau chiefs in Beijing: “Goddammit, the Post scooped us with that amazing air piece. Go out there and pound some pavement, and don’t come back until you’ve got some facile observations for me! And don’t let up on that breaking story about how some websites aren’t viewable in China — that one’s got Pulitzer written all over it!”

The Manchus who ruled the Qing Empire, of which China was a part, made their capital in Beijing despite hating the place and finding it ‘pestilential and malarial.’ A French expatriate newspaper published in the foreign community around the turn of the century christened the city ‘Pékin des Odeurs.’ The first blog post I ever wrote from China, in July 2001, started off:

I like the air here.
In some places, you don’t know what you’re breathing. Here, you can see it right before your eyes: straight-up, no-bullshit carcinogenic smog. It casts a faint halo around lights, blurs objects that are more than 50 yards away, and is undoubtedly lethal.

Some things just never change, I guess. Except they do: the air here is, by any measurable standard, far better than it was a year ago. The grey mist currently choking the city may well actually be somewhat sort-of natural in composition, as the authorities are claiming; at the very least, rainstorms here no longer spatter light t-shirts with dark, gritty stains.

We had a few beautifully clear days last weekend, and everyone was hoping for more of that today, but the general level of excitement doesn’t seem to be much diminished. People are predicting massive crowds around the Bird’s Nest – apparently some people went into nearby restaurants at 8 AM to squat for 12 hours on a table so they could get a view of the games, and overpasses and highrises around the Green are guaranteed to be packed. Fireworks are going to go off all over the city, mainly in short bursts up and down the city’s north-south axis from Yongdingmen to Tian’anmen to Shichahai to the Green, and given the crush on Tian’anmen Square last night just to see the flag-lowering ceremony, I can only imagine what the crowds will be like 5 hours and four minutes from now.

Everybody wants to say they were here. I’m here, too.

One Comment

  1. Michelle Buckley wrote:

    It is true. Looking in from outside The Middle Kingdom, those two topics (internet access and air quality) seem to be the obsession of the worlds media. What about sparing a couple of minutes air time for those English speaking taxi drivers???

    Friday, August 8, 2008 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

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