Ready or not (mostly not)

Beijing says it's ready for the Olympics. Uh, really, Beijing?
By SARA FAITH ALTERMAN  |  August 8, 2008

Photo by Sara Faith Alterman.

BEIJING — On television images and in photographs, Beijing looks ready for the surge of athletes, government officials, VIPs, and gazillion visitors who are about to cover this city like white on Olympic rice. The international media has fractiously scrutinized China’s capital for the past few years, allowing the Western world to look over Beijing’s shoulders as the city prepared to host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. We watched as it put the finishing touches on state-of-the-art athletic facilities; fought air pollution; and equipped taxi drivers, hospitality workers, and public servants with the English skills they’ll need to communicate with the thousands of foreigners who will be flitting about Beijing during the month of August.

Except . . . not.

Beijing 2008: Special issue: China, Tibet, and the Olympics
I’ve been living in Beijing since the beginning of July, covering the mad month-long preamble to the Games. My experience has been the polar opposite of what I had read and seen in news stories about how the Chinese are ready and willing to accommodate the Olympic athletes, coaches, spectators, media, and volunteers. How silly of me. I should have known that a country that vehemently denied SARS and tried to poison our pets and children might be a little less than forthcoming about the asinine, algae-scented shitshow that is the 2008 Olympics.

Oh, Beijing. You’re like the ex-boyfriend that I wanted so badly to love, but just couldn’t bring myself to face in the morning, once the booze wore off. I wish I could break it off with you (and go home), but I’ve vowed to stick it out, so I’m trying to make the best of it. Really, I am. But you lied to me, Beijing, and that hurts. It hurts my heart, and it hurts my pride. And it hurts my tender lungs and sinus cavities, too.

Hack attack
I have literally seen the sun once since I have been here, and not because it’s been rainy, or cloudy, or because I sleep off my one-dollar-draft-beer hangovers until the following evening. The gray haze that hangs over the city like a burdened conscience is the result of years of pollutants being wafted to the sky, tits to the wind. Hacking up black mystery gunk has become an accepted part of my daily routine, and I’ve grown to actually find a cathartic satisfaction in hawking a chunky loog — though I’m not sure that Olympic athletes will find that as hilarious as I do. How any of the outdoor competitors will complete their events without developing a nasty case of emphysema in the process I’m not entirely sure. I can’t even walk three blocks without sputtering and wheezing like a dying engine.

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