how Beijing is different during the Olympics

1. There’s no street food. This bothers me the most since I’m always hungry before and after work, and even though my commute only takes half an hour, I need to eat something on my way to the subway. The informal vendors who used to hang out by the Dawanglu subway station are no longer there. Also, all of the stores in my subway station have been shut down, depriving me of my favourite wonton joint and bakery.

2. The traffic is much better since half the cars are taken off the road every day. I haven’t been in a traffic jam once within the Fifth Ring Road since the Olympics began. Funnily enough, the one time I did get in a traffic jam it was in Shunyi, a district commonly described as Beijing’s suburbia.

3. Because of the car regulations and the shutdowns of the surrounding factories, the air is far better than it usually is. It smells great. It even seems a bit sweet. It is much better than it was this time last year. We’ve also had some spectacularly clear days, the kind that only happen a few times a year. Sometimes it is hazy, but it still seems nicer than the usual air we get here.

4. Everyone is more polite, because no one wants to be that person who ruins someone else’s Olympic experience. The other day a man let me sit first when we both headed for the same subway seat. Because women hold up half the sky here, women aren’t usually given seats first, unless they are elderly or pregnant. Since the dashes for a Beijing subway seat could rival Usain Bolt’s world records, this was extremely welcome.

5. The subway is decidedly more international. The subway is a place where usually the laobaixing (literally the Old Hundred Names, but it means “the common people”) and the brave who dare the masses enter. Even middle-class Chinese are hard to find on the subway. As for foreigners with fat expat packages, forget about it, they are getting around with taxis and their drivers. These days the subway feels like New York’s: a mix of people of all different classes and ethnicities.

6. There are no non-Olympic advertisements anywhere. I do actually look at advertisements since they are a great way to practice my Chinese, but these days only official sponsors can display their advertisements. All of the ads, of course, are Olympic-themed. Even UPS has a terrific ad campaign.

7. It’s strangely deserted–most of the migrant workers are gone as there is no work for them during the ban on construction until after the Paralympics. Many other residents of the city are avoiding the whole thing. Much of Beijing seems much quieter than it did before, with the exception of any restaurant or bar with a kilometer of an Olympic sports venue.

To be honest, I like Beijing better during the Olympics. However, it would be better if the street food came back.

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3 Comments on "how Beijing is different during the Olympics"

  1. Jet So
    21/08/2008 at 11:50 pm Permalink

    Street food caters to migrant workers; hence, the rest of the regular stuff that makes the city such an interesting yet at times suffocating mixture. Better enjoy this while it lasts ….

  2. 宝茹
    31/08/2008 at 3:24 pm Permalink

    I read this commentary by Anita Chang, I think. And she mentioned the street food situation also. She said there’s this area in Beijing, a hutong-type of area that secretly sells street food like the cold noodles.


  1. Bookmarks about Subway 03/11/2008 at 2:30 am

    [...] - bookmarked by 6 members originally found by chaneka on 2008-10-13 how Beijing is different during the Olympics ...

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