BEIJING DISPATCH: Contrast In the city
Today began with a break in the weather. Last night’s rain appeared to cool down the temperature, although the high humidity continued.
Tickets to “sold out” events remain impossible to obtain. However, it has become apparent that many venues have a substantial number of empty seats. We understand that the Chinese organizers have invited unknown numbers of “cheerleaders” into the stands to fill these empty seats. This is an embarrassing way to “save face.”
How about opening up these empty seats, on a standby basis, to anyone who would like to attend?
Since we have now visited most of the local tourist sites, we decided to spend time exploring the city in more detail.
We discovered an area a few blocks east of Tiananmen Square were there were huge modern hotels and indoor shopping malls (thankfully with air conditioning). Many of the storefronts inside the malls were upscale labels that you would find in any major U.S. metropolitan area—they are just smaller.
We were particularly struck by the Nike uniform exhibit set up outside their store.
Nike provides the uniforms for most of the major nations, including both the USA and China, participating in the Summer Games. The well-designed display, which included mannequin models depicting track and field athletes in full stride, always placed the Chinese athlete in first place—obviously a position of national pride.
After leaving the shopping mall, we continued our walk and decided to veer off of the well-traveled tourist streets. After walking only a few blocks, we found ourselves maneuvering our way through very crowded back alleys filled with small, rundown two-table restaurants selling traditional Chinese food.
The conditions in many of these “restaurants” were filthy. We saw rabbits and pigeons caged a few feet from where food was being prepared. There was stagnant water everywhere. We quickly understood why we had been warned to stay away from foods prepared by street vendors. After wandering through the alleys we returned to the main streets, amazed at the disparity between neighborhoods that were located only blocks apart.
We decided to return to Tiananmen Square where protestors were identified the first few days of the Summer Games. It has been surprisingly quiet around the city. No protestors have been seen for days BUT the presence of security forces has expanded dramatically.
There are now 100,000 troops assigned to provide security in and around the city. Platoons of uniformed troops marching around tourist areas are readily apparent and we have observed security personnel stopping local residents to inspect paper bags they are carrying.
Volunteers abound in the city and are found on every street corner, in every tunnel, on subway trains, near the entrance to every subway station and sitting at small tables in all of the major hotels.
Volunteers are brimming with enthusiasm and a desire to be helpful. Citizens stop us in the street to welcome us to Beijing. Whenever we ask for help we are greeted with a big smile and a warm greeting—the language barrier is a major problem but the friendliness of the Beijingers more than compensates for the language difficulties that we encounter.
Tomorrow we hope to explore a large open-air farmer’s market and see how it compares to the farmer markets in the U.S. There are many exotic foods in China, some of which are quite foreign to us. We heard today that there are some people who enjoy scorpions on a skewer! Tomorrow we’ll see what we can discover.
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