Olympics Obervations

The Olympics have been in the air for the last six years in Beijing, but over the last week or so it’s finally hit everyone that we’re less than a month away. It seems like just yesterday that the ubiquitous countdown clocks were showing several hundred days, and now they’re down to less than 20!

Sunday was the big day for traffic changes in Beijing, which will last from July 20th through September 20th, after the Paralympics end. The big change is that cars with license plates ending in even and odd numbers will alternate days on which they are allowed to drive. Today is an even day, so all the odd cars have to stay home. Taxis, buses, Olympic vehicles, and some government vehicles are exempt.

Another change is the addition of the Olympic lane to many main roads. There is a big Olympic logo printed in these lanes every several hundred yards, and only Olympic vehicles are allowed to drive in them. Finally, the Olympic areas have been sealed off to private vehicles without a permit. Our apartment is within the area that has been sealed off, so getting in and out of home will be a hassle for the next two months.

To me the starkest recent change here has been the greening of Beijing. Trees, bushes and grass are all over the place, and the rains of the last month or so have made the greenery stand out even more. I hope things will stay this way after the Olympics, but I worry about how much water it will take.

Speaking of rain and water, the rain over the past month in Beijing has been bizarre. I think it actually rained every night for over two weeks, which is very, very rare for Beijing. I wondered if they were shooting missiles into the clouds again, but I don’t think even missiles could create so much rain over an extended period.

Rockets are shot into the clouds, by the way. It’s called “cloud seeding“. I had always thought it was just an urban legend until a few summers ago in late August when a friend pointed out that it had rained every Sunday that summer.

A couple of nights ago we were watching a movie when we heard explosions outside. It sounded like the firecrackers at a wedding, but people don’t usually get married at night. When we went to our window to see what it was, we were confronted with the most incredible fireworks display either of us had ever seen. We used our digital camera to take a video, and maybe I’ll upload that later, but the video doesn’t do it justice. There were Olympic rings and I think maybe even words written in the sky (it was hard to tell from our angle). The fireworks covered a spread of several kilometers, and were coming from the the general direction of the National Stadium (the Bird’s nest). After a while, the fireworks stopped, but we were still hearing explosions. At first I thought it was just the echo of the fireworks, but when the echo didn’t stop I got confused. Then we ran to the window on the other side of our apartment and saw that the fireworks were still going on in the Olympic Forest Park (another part of the Olympic area that is home to several other venues). What a huge spread!

The next morning I read in the paper that they had been rehearsing the Opening Ceremony. I’d been ambivalent about the Opening Ceremony, but now I’m excited about watching the fireworks again from our window.

A good friend had a ticket to the Opening Ceremony and was planning to sell it. All other tickets can be transferred freely, but Opening and Closing Ceremony tickets can only be transferred once and are associated with the name of the ticket holder. He found out two Fridays ago that last Monday was the last day to transfer tickets, and wasn’t able to get it sold by then. The restrictions are certainly due to security concerns, and I assume that the early deadline is so that they’ll have time to do background checks on all of the ticket holders. Should be a very safe evening.

Of course, people have been very concerned about safety. I have my moments when I get a little jittery about Beijing being a target, but I think that the world’s generally a pretty safe place, and I don’t like to worry too much. I’m actually less worried about some sort of terrorist attack than I am about the sort of thing described here. Similar thoughts had occurred to me, but my nightmares had pictured just a place with a lot of people rather than a venue. It would be so, so tragic if the Beijing Olympics were remembered as the Olympics where the protestor got beaten up by the crowd.

Hmmm… Chinese nationalism is something I’d really like to think and write more about, but I’m not sure how to do it in a sensitive way.

We’ve got tickets to several events. I’m not sure which ones we’ll go to, but I’d like to visit the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube, and I’d love to see a basketball game.

Join the Conversation


  1. Hey,

    you mentioned that you friend wants to sell his opening ceremony ticket but was a bit late? If he brought the ticket from cosport, he might still be able too.

    Can you have him contact me at xabaglione@gmail.com.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.