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Beijing in transition
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Beijing has steadily geared up to play host to the upcoming Olympics. With approximately 100 days to go, the city is still working hard to put on the best Olympics ever.

"This year's August Olympics are serendipitous for Beijing residents, as we now have a more beautiful and convenient city with more green spaces and better services," said Du Baoxu in an interview with China.org.cn, a fifty something local clad in a T-shirt.

Yet Beijing still faces gnawing issues ranging from air quality and congested traffic to unpleasant public toilets and public manners.

Transportation is truly a headache. The influx of so many international visitors during the Olympic Games will probably strain the municipal transit system to its limits. The city has enacted a raft of measures to circumvent this problem; for example, putting restrictions on vehicles allowed on roadways based on license plates. The government has been building new subway lines as well. These will help the city become more adept at providing better transportation infrastructure.

Zheng Jie, a non-local who came to Beijing ten years ago,  thought that Beijing has done much to improve public hygiene facilities. "Foreign visitors once scorned public toilets. In recent years, the city has had lots of old and fetid public toilets replaced," Zheng remarked.

She singled out spitting when it came to talking about public manners that would offend foreigners. "What if some foreign visitors encounter a minefield of phlegm left by local pedestrians spitting on sidewalks? This would be quite embarrassing!" she said. "Spitting is an entrenched local habit; it cannot be eradicated in a short period of time. But public education efforts are in place to curb it." In fact the city has implemented several campaigns to check unflattering public manners.

Chinese people view the long-awaited Olympics as a sort of international coming-out party. Beijing is getting spruced up; urban planners are busy incorporating new buildings into the cityscape.

"Some old hutongs and courtyards have been demolished to make room for the thousands of development projects swallowing the city," Du said, his voice full of sorrow and anguish.

The city's losses have saddened the Beijing native who has lived here all his life. "The new complexes sprawling around look mediocre and forbidding. I find the traditional hutongs and bungalows lovely and they give me great aesthetic pleasure." Du attributed today’s hapless situation to previously inadequate urban planning. "A Beijing hutong is a like a classical signature of an ancient Chinese city."

"As it is now, teeming with glittery skyscrapers and huge construction cranes, Beijing doesn't seem like a welcome place for foreigners who arrive in search of Chinese culture and history," said Du, recalling how as boy he enjoyed climbing trees while listening to a chorus of cicadas all around him.

(China.org.cn by staff reporter He Shan April 30, 2008)

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