How terrible a place is Beijing?

Judging by the lengths the government is going to make Beijing a “nice” place — pretty terrible! Here are some emergency measures being taken to turn this city around for the two weeks APEC will be in town:

  • Pollution: Government officials have promised nice air for APEC, by closing factories and kicking people out of the city. Drivers both inside the city and in the surrounding provinces are also being forced off the road.
  • Food safety: Hotels receiving APEC attendees must source their food from a list of 20 government-approved vendors.
  • Traffic: The government is restricting cars on the road by alternating the days on which cars with even- and odd-numbered plates can drive. Moreover, public schools and “non-important” government offices (such as the marriage bureau and visa office) were ordered to close from today to Wednesday of next week, with make-up days this past Sunday and the following Saturday. Private schools were “encouraged” (i.e. forced) to voluntarily close, and companies and other institutions were asked to allow employees to work from home those days. Even hospitals will be closed.
  • Security: Security checks have been ramped up at the airport and subway and around the city. According to Boyfriend, the subway has introduced bins, similar to the ones used at airports, for people to put their belongings in for the bag scan, and security no longer allows people to breeze on through with their bags open for a nominal security glance-check to see what’s inside — regardless of how much you scream and yell. I wonder if the scan checkers actually look at the screens now.
  • Press freedom: At the media center, not only can you get an overdose of Chinese culture, but also access to famous banned websites, such as Google and Facebook.
  • Protestors and small business owners and other “undesirables”: Who?

Why is the Chinese government going through all this trouble? Is APEC a big deal? The short answer, for us everyday plebes, is: Not really! But government and business leaders from all the important Asia/Pacific nations will be here. The United States is attending — Obama is coming — as well as Putin and Abbott and Abe. They will talk about cooperating with each, economically, and maybe reach some big deals. So APEC has the potential to be important, but probably not to the point where more normal countries/governments would feel it was OK to disrupt businesses and people’s personal lives just to suit some big shot officials. But this kind of high-level, multinational, all-talk-no-action forum is exactly China’s cup of tea, so it’s practically like the Olympics all over again. It’s even being partially held in the Olympic Park, and they’re planning some kind of fireworks show for APEC.

China’s foreign minister explained China’s goal as such: China wants to host a “harmonious and smooth” APEC that would leave a “deep impression on history”.

This is a forum that is held every year (last year, it was in Bali).

APEC preparations began last week, and true to their word, officials managed to clean the air. Between Friday night and Saturday morning, the AQI had fallen from a high of 274 to a low of 46 by noon. Unfortunately, by Tuesday, on the eve of the first APEC events, the AQI was back up to 305 before dropping back down to healthy levels again for two days. But then again, today, as APEC kicks off in earnest, Beijingers awoke to familiar hazy skies. The AQI was back up to 160 this morning. Someone should get fired.

And despite the government’s efforts to turn Beijing into a wonderful place, there are still some emergency measures not being taken that would go a long way toward improving the city:

  • Ban on sidewalk/street-side parking
  • Ban on honking for no reason
  • Ban on shouting into phones
  • Ban on pushing and shoving and not lining up

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