Is Beijing ready for the Games?
Having been chosen as the destination for 2008 Summer Olympics, Beijing is, in some ways, like a moony heroine in a new relationship.
Already there are two anniversary celebrations. Since July 13, 2003, when Beijing won the Olympic bid, the day is celebrated with cultural and sports activities. On August 8 this year, China staged lavish celebrations to mark the one-year countdown to the 2008 Olympic games.
But celebrations are not taking away from the organisational aspects of the game. The city’s authoritarian government has managed the impossible by being on schedule for most of its targets. More than $40 billion is being spent on new subway lines and skyscrapers, twice the cost of 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. Except for the 91,000-seat ‘Bird's Nest’ National Stadium, the building and renovation of all of 37 venues are to be finished by the end of this year. Apart from the Herzog & de Meuron-designed Olympic stadium, the aquatics centre next door and the new National Grand Theatre are making waves.
Beijing is a city known by its high level of ambition, even by Chinese standards. And there are huge infrastructure developments taking place. The $2.1 billion operating budget has been offset by the vast revenue expected from TV and sponsorships.
The China Central Television, or CCTV is getting new headquarters – a 755ft tall monument designed by Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren of the radical Dutch firm OMA. Revenue from local sponsorship is expected to be at least double that of Sydney or Athens, reported to reach $1.5 billion.
The new Terminal 3 is designed by Norman Foster, at the Beijing Capital International Airport and will cost $3.6 billion. It will be the world's largest air terminal when finished, at close to 10 million sqft.
The four-year preparations since the 2004 Athens games have included making sure that the season remains dry, weatherwise. Meteorologists began tests last month, firing rockets to disperse rain clouds. They've also fired rockets containing sticks of silver iodide to induce rain to clean the air.
International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge has warned that Beijing's dirty air might force some events next year to be postponed. To guarantee clean air during the 17-day Olympics, about one million of the city's 3.3 million vehicles are expected to be kept off the roads.
They already had a dry-run for the Olympics when 1.3 million cars were banned recently. Transport authorities laid on 800 extra buses and 240 additional subway trains during the four-day period. The ban affects state-owned vehicles as well as the city’s 2.4 million private cars, which are allowed to run on alternate days based on odd and even licence plate numbers.
They have also told the Olympic Committee that factories will be closed for three months in 2008. More than 28 million trees were planted in and around Beijing last year.
There are numerous civic campaigns going on against spitting in public, jumping ahead in line and littering. Cab drivers and volunteers are learning Basic English and other international languages. Beijing will offer free multilingual help lines and is working to standardise English on road signs and menus.
To improve food safety for athletes, Beijing will contract with exclusive vendors and will test food samples on mice.