Let The Games Begin!

When I returned to Beijing this past Sunday after a short trip to the States, I found a city in Olympic mode. With the Opening Ceremony less than three weeks away, the signs are all there that the much awaited 2008 Olympics are near. As I stepped off the plane, I couldn’t help but notice the people holding “NBC” signs to welcome members of the network that will broadcast the Games, and the special immigration channels that have been established for Olympic participants.

On the day that I landed, Beijing began implementing the odd/even license plate system that will take at least one-half of Beijing’s 3.35 million vehicles off the road. The two-month traffic rule, effective July 20 through September 20, will see vehicles with even and odd plates allowed into the city on alternate days. Beijing authorities believe that this restriction, coupled with an earlier ban on vehicles with improper emission standards, will keep away about 2 million cars and improve air quality. We know that Beijing is enforcing higher emission standards from personal experience. The shuttle bus provided by our building was told to stop running several weeks ago because it did not comply with Euro III.

In addition to Beijing’s new traffic plan, chemical plants, power stations and foundries were told to cut emissions by 30 percent beginning Sunday. Dust-spewing construction in the capital was also to stop entirely. In our neighborhood, construction of the new Sanlitun retail complex is complete, and the workers are now focused on the finishing touches, including planting trees and flowers.

A step that Beijing is taking for security reasons, but which will also have a significant impact on traffic into the city, is the establishment of a series of checkpoints to search vehicles for explosives or other banned materials. About 100 checkpoints have been set up on expressways leading into the city, at entrances to urban areas, and at main roads in the downtown area. This will create further disincentives for motorists to come into Beijing proper. For example, ASIMCO has three factories in Langfang, a city that is halfway between Beijing and Tianjin. On a normal day, a trip to our headquarters near the Lido hotel from Langfang takes just over one hour. With waits of up to one hour at each of the three or four checkpoints along the way, however, these trips can now take three to four hours.

Needless to say, Beijing and China are taking security quite seriously. Airport check-in security has been enhanced, and an additional security check has been added at the Beijing airport. Before even entering the airport’s terminals, departing passengers must now go through a metal detector and random bag searches. Also, customs officials were using bomb sniffing dogs at the baggage claim on Sunday, something that I don’t recall seeing before in my time here.

Finally, it seems that the last of Beijing’s pirate DVD shops closed over the weekend. Several weeks ago, we began noticing such shops closing, one by one. While some of the best established ones managed to keep their doors open until now, they too have been forced to close. Visitors to Beijing may be buying a lot of sportswear at the new Adidas flagship store in Sanlitun, but they won’t be taking home any bogus DVDs.

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