BY GARTH WILSON
With less than 100 days until the Opening Ceremony, Beijing, like all Olympic cities-in-waiting, has laid plans for security, public health, tourism and logistics.
Officials are planting trees, building parks and have completed construction of all Olympic venues.
More intriguing, however, are the ways in which Beijing’s preparations differ from those of its Olympic predecessors. Beijing has worked tirelessly to comply with the criteria set by the International Olympic Committee, but it is clear China has gone above and beyond the call of Olympic duty to prepare for the Games.
Spitting has been declared Beijing’s number one bad habit, but in the lead up to the Games a citywide anti-spitting campaign has seen streets and parks festooned with billboards and posters asking residents to abandon the habit. The new rule is being enforced by a combination of increased policing and closed circuit cameras, with an army of uniformed ‘phlegm fighters’ patrolling the streets handing out free spitting bags.
Former anti-spitting patroller Lu Ping said the task was more difficult than she originally believed. Lu cited a case when, upon confronting a man spitting directly in front of a no-spitting sign, she was assured the sign was ‘merely a suggestion’.
When Beijing’s Transport Bureau moved to replace the city’s small red taxis with spacious new station wagons, it came to light that many of Beijing’s taxi drivers live, eat and smoke in their vehicles for days at a time. The Bureau responded by forcing all taxi drivers to regularly bathe, wash their hair, brush their teeth and change their clothes.
These stipulations are detailed on a sticker affixed to the glove compartment of each Beijing taxi and are not negotiable. Undercover ‘stench detectors’ have been employed to catch cabs throughout the city to make sure these steps are being followed. The penalty for a malodorous cab, or driver, is a two-day license suspension.
Wang Huan of Beijing’s Transport Bureau explained that many of Beijing’s taxi drivers live in outlying areas and prefer sleeping in their vehicles between shifts instead of driving for hours to get home. ‘Taxis are certainly much cleaner,’ she said. ‘Taking a taxi in Beijing is no longer a hit and miss affair.’
There are also campaigns to curb smoking, queue jumping and swearing and to promote friendly, helpful and ‘civilised’ behaviour. Representatives of the Beijing Spiritual Civilisation Bureau say these campaigns are needed to internationalise Beijing and make visitors feel welcome during the Games. ‘We are extremely satisfied with the progress of these campaigns, and plan to continue promoting civilised conduct throughout the Games period.’
Whether these efforts continue after August is unclear, but with the 11th month of each year now designated to hold a citywide ‘no queue-jumping day” the month was chosen because the number 11 resembles two people queuing ‘ the city’s plan to change standards is showing signs of permanence.
However, Beijing is unlikely to fully adopt Western norms, with the concept of depositing phlegm into a handkerchief cited as number one ‘bad Western habit’.