WORLDBEAT - With 100 days to go, Beijing faces the music

The host city is now pretty much as it will be on August 8. That's not good

Welcome to Beijing.

There are 93 days until the opening ceremonies of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. While there's still time for some coats of paint, the host city is now pretty much as it will be on August 8. That's not good.

I've lived in Beijing for more than 10 years now. It is my home. I ... no, I don't love it. I like Beijing, but I don't love it anymore. Quality of life has gone from fair to good to pretty good and then back down to fair, where it is now.

I haven't lived in a city about to host an Olympics before, but this doesn't feel like a place ready to welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors. The air quality remains poor. Traffic is improved, but still borders on horrendous. Lately, some people in China, including in Beijing, have prepared to welcome the world by organizing boycotts against French retailer Carrefour because of aggressive, pro-Tibet protests during the Olympic torch relay in France, and demanding CNN apologize for the remarks of a newscaster. "One World, One Dream" it ain't.

This Olympics has set a goal of being a "High-tech Olympics," something that will be completely lost on foreign visitors. They probably won't notice that local mobile-phone service is actually better than in their home countries because they'll be roaming. For people with 3G phones, sorry -- no support for you. You'll have 3G if you were lucky enough to get one of the 15,000 3G phones that Samsung gave to the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG). To the committee, that makes good on China's promise to have 3G for the Olympics, even though it's not available to the public and supports a homegrown Chinese standard not compatible with foreign systems.

China invested hundreds of millions of dollars to build one of the world's largest IPv6 networks, but it has little traffic because its use is currently restricted to being an experimental network or for academics. As for the Internet, China promised that it won't block Web sites during the Games. Seeing will be believing.

Beijing wanted the Olympics to show the world how far it has come after almost 30 years of reform. It is true: Beijing has come a long, long way, and it should be proud of that. But the world will also see it still has a long, long way to go.

Welcome to Beijing.

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Steven Schwankert

IDG News Service
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