|Beijing ticking down to 2008 Olympic Games|
By Zhan Yan, China Features
Jia Shasha, a 20-year-old student in the Beijing-based Renmin University of China, is longing to become a volunteer at the 2008 Olympic Games. Having worked as a volunteer on campus, Jia is quite confident in her experience and qualification.
In Beijing, there are many others like Jia, who wish to contribute their shares to the success of the games, the first ever to be hosted by China.
About 100,000 volunteers are needed for the Olympic Games and the ensuing Paralympic Games in 2008, which will set a record in the Olympic history, according to the Beijing Olympics organizers, known as the Beijing Olympics Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG).
Beijing is ticking down to the "great event", slated for August 8 to 24, 2008 with the theme of "One world, one dream."
Bird's Nest taking shape
Bird's Nest, the signature building for the Beijing Olympics, is beginning to take shape after it broke ground in December 2005. It is the nickname of the futuristic National Stadium for its nest-like steel-boned exterior.
All the new venues of the Games will be completed before the end of 2007, according to the organizers.
Beijing will build 12 new venues, expand 11 existing ones and set up eight temporary ones for the Olympic Games, the organizers say.
The organizers had planned to build three more, but changed their mind after learning that excessive venues are burdening some former Olympic hosts with high vacancy rates and huge maintenance costs.
"Thrift and pragmatism should be the first consideration for developing countries," said Yu Xiaoxuan, deputy director of the BOCOG Project and Environment Department, "and we have to think over whether the venues could be used efficiently after the games."
"The projects are scattered in the Olympics area, universities and residential communities, for more efficient civil use in the future," said Yu, "and temporary seats are also added to the venues to accommodate more people. The seats could be removed after the Games."
Covering a space of 258,000 square meters with 91,000 seats, the Bird's Nest will first stage the Games' opening ceremony, to be directed by China's best-known film director Zhang Yimou. It will also serve as the venue for football finals and track and field competitions during the Games.
Beijing Olympics organizers have repeatedly vowed to host a "clean Olympics", namely one free of corruption and scandals.
The BOCOG asked its department heads to sign anti-corruption pledges. The department officials would be held responsible for any violations of anti-graft rules within their departments, according to the letters signed on August 3.
"We promised a clean Olympic Games free of corruption when we won the bid. Now the department heads have signed the letters of responsibility, to show their commitment to preventing corruption within the BOCOG," said Liu Jingmin, the organizing committee's executive vice president, at the signing ceremony.
Challenging traffic jams
Sudden rainstorms have paralyzed Beijing's transport system this summer more than once, triggering doubts on whether the city's traffic network could beat the heavy transportation pressure during the 2008 Games.
Traffic jams have been afflicting Beijingers almost everyday in recent years, partially due to the increasing number of automobiles. It challenges Beijing's promise that all the Olympic venues could be reached within 30 minutes from the Olympic Village.
"Driving here is indeed a nerve-racking experience. The very first thing I do every morning is to figure out how to avoid getting stuck in traffic jams," said Jiang Nan, a software engineer with Baidu.com company.
Automobiles topped 2.3 million in Beijing by the end of 2005. Given the current growth rate, the number could rise to 3.5 million in 2008.
In order to ensure smooth transportation during the Olympic Games, Beijing has published and implemented a "transportation strategic plan" for the 2008 Olympics.
The plan focuses on promoting public transportation and providing special traffic lanes for exclusive Olympic use.
Subway transportation, which contributed to the success of the Athens Olympics, will also play a key role during the Beijing Olympics. The city is upgrading its underground transport network to relieve the pressure on road transport.
Meanwhile, the government has been replacing the old fleet of more than 18,000 buses in Beijing, not only as part of its efforts to present a "Green Beijing", but in the hope that more comfortable buses will persuade at least some drivers to leave their cars at home.
Free public transport is an important measure of encouragement.
People with tickets for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games can take free ride of buses, subway and light railway during the Games.
The city will dispatch 4,000 vehicles for free use, said Yu Xiaoxuan of the BOCOG..
Food, water and security
Beijing is carefully planning food services for both the competitors and spectators.
Vegetables will get their own identity numbers and go through inspections at the distribution center before they are eligible to enter Olympic kitchens.
In this way, if there is a safety incident, the vegetable's file can be immediately checked and its origins traced.
The city will need more than 5,000 tons of vegetables during the Games, mostly from Beijing and the northern Chinese provinces of Hebei and Shandong, according to Zhang Baohai, an expert with the Agriculture Research Center under Beijing Academy of Agriculture and Forestry Sciences.
The Academy is counseling the Games' organizers on how to provide diversified and safe vegetables during the Games.
Water safety is also highlighted since Beijing is located in the drought-prone northern China.
Beijing is stepping up efforts to improve its water environment for the aquatic sports venues of the 2008 Olympic Games, says Beijing Water Authority.
The city will need about 3.89 billion cubic meters of water in 2008, while an estimated 4.2 billion cubic meters of water will be available at that time, according to a three-year water plan released by the Beijing Water Authority in July.
Nevertheless, the city has been encouraging the public to use water more efficiently, since its per capita water resources stand at less than 300 cubic meters, according to the Authority.
The 2008 Games are expected to receive about 7 million spectators, but it's still not clear how many of them will come from outside Beijing.
The city's 650 star-rated hotels and 4,000 common ones could accommodate about 500,000 visitors, said Wang Wei, BOCOG's executive vice president.
Smaller guesthouses in the city could accommodate more, Wang said.
BOCOG is also mapping out security arrangements for the 2008 Games.
"When bidding, we planned to deploy 20,000 policemen for the Games, along with 10,000 professional security staff. We are upgrading the security plan in the run-up to the Games," Jiang Xiaoyu, another executive vice president of the BOCOG, has told a press conference.
Dreams and toil
"As long as the tickets are not too highly priced, I would like to go to watch the high-level Olympic competition on the venue," Chen Qiuying, a civil servant in Xiamen City of Southeast China's Fujian Province, told China Features on the phone.
Many people like Chen are eager to get a ticket of the Games. This might test the city's infrastructure capacity, since Beijing now has some 15 million residents already.
Campaigns have been launched to improve local people's etiquette.
A three-year campaign is helping some locals fight bad habits, such as spitting, jaywalking, and talking too loud in public. It focuses not only on daily social manners, but also proper ways to communicate with foreigners and get to know their cultures.
The campaign was launched by the Beijing Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China, the Beijing Municipal Government and the Capital Ethic Development Office in January 2005.
China is also promoting Olympic knowledge among the public.
The Games' organizers have compiled books about the Olympics and will distribute the books in about 500,000 schools across the country with some 400 million students.
Most local residents of the host city see benefits of the Games, according to a survey released in July by the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences (BASS).
More than 70 percent of the surveyed think hosting the 2008 Olympics can help raise the international prestige of the Chinese capital, and 42 percent hold that the event is conducive to enhancing the cultural awareness of the locals.
About 41 percent believe the city's infrastructure and environment would improve through the Games, and 37 percent expect the city's employment rate to increase.
BASS researchers Nian Wei and Wen Boneng did the survey last year. It covered a community in downtown Beijing that had "typical characteristics" of ordinary residents in the city, they said.
Nian also predicted the average ticket price for the 2008 Games could be between 20 and 30 U.S. dollars.
About 7 million tickets will be available for the public during the 2008 Olympics.
The organizers will start selling tickets to contracted corporate clients in September, and to the public in the first half of 2007, BOCOG President Liu Qi has told the press.
Liu said the BOCOG will unveil the prices for the Games pending final approval from the International Olympic Committee, and the tickets would be moderately priced so that more people could afford watching the Olympic matches live.
Working at an Olympic construction site in the Beijing Science and Technology University, a migrant worker surnamed Li said he would never afford to sit in the gym he is building now to watch the exciting Games.
"I earn about 50 yuan (6 U.S. dollars) a day. We could not afford that," said Li, who came from Central China's Henan Province to work as a carpenter.
"One world, one dream? That's a good theme. But now my only dream is to make my children live better than I do through my work."
(Lin Lin, Song Rui, Song Mo, Fang Bing and Wang Jing also contribute to the story)