The View From Beijing

 This is the view outside my office window. The first picture is from June 15.

The second picture is from today, August 8th.

I left the office around midnight yesterday, and the pollution was the worst I had seen all summer in Beijing. The building’s air-conditioning was turned off early, and by the time I left I could see wisps of smog on the lobby ceiling. Outside, the air was thicker, giving the city an eerie orange glow.

When I left the house this morning, twelve hours before opening ceremony, I had hoped to step out the door to a clear sky and a soft breeze. But the gray smog had not dissipated. Millions of yuan and years of research spent on cloud seeding and weather control but to no effect.

Earlier in the summer, we had storms for days on end, and rain would burst from the sky at the same time every day — almost, it seemed, to the minute, which suggested that maybe the cloud seeding was working. Those soggy days were followed by shocking, brilliant blue skies. I could see the sun. And on some nights there were even stars. But this past week, heavy smog has settled, and each day seems smoggier than the last.

But perhaps the only people who really mind are foreigners, who think that blue skies are to be expected, not celebrated. In my office today, none of my co-workers remarked on the weather. They are debating whether or not Liu Xiang, the hurdler who won the gold in Athens, can win again despite the immense pressure heaped on him. (Government officials have informed his coach that if he cannot win gold again in Beijing, “all of his previous achievements will become meaningless“).

And, after all, whatever we in the West may think, this Olympics fundamentally for and about the people of China. Who cares if the sky is a soup of smog? The Olympics are starting!

See also: Ming Thompson reports on security in Beijing, and Dan Mattingly tells us what the Chinese really cheer, how they treat Taiwan’s athletes, and what the athletes’ parents must go through.

Plus, visit Ming’s Beijing food blog

I bet I know part of the problem. I work with people in the fashion industry who were agog when they were told that Chinese dyeing factories and other garment related factories were going to have to close down in anticipation of the games. They were warned because supposedly they weren’t going to be able to get their orders filled in time.

But guess what? There has been no hitch. I suspect factories that were supposed to close down never did. Or worked during hours when they weren’t watched.
I just find it hard to believe anyone lost good money in industry for the Olympics.

Anyone do any research on the actual factory closings?

carolita    Aug 8, 02:05 PM    #

I know that hundreds of factories have closed, but none of the ones I read about were garment factories. They were energy, construction supplies, etc… I have read that China’s economy has slowed this summer.

— Austin    Aug 11, 12:56 PM    #

Yes we have read about China’s economy slowing but that is relative. The AP reports that “analysts expect economic growth to fall as low as 9 percent this year. That’s well ahead of other major countries but a sharp decline from 2007’s 11.4 percent.” For comparison, the U.S. looks to grow at an average 0.7 percent annual pace from July through December, according to Bloomberg. To get back on topic, show me the shuttered factories don’t just tell me about them.

— Hurtle    Aug 11, 02:12 PM    #


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