Archive for April 9th, 2008

Discernal clouds are a welcome sign in Beijing since it means that the omnipresent smog has broken, if only briefly. Spring has come almost overnight: fruit trees, lilacs and flowering bushes are just on the verge of full blown white, red and pink floral extravagance. I read with trepidation about arriving in a city where everyone wears surgical masks, and the sky can be more orange than blue, when you can see the sky at all. In fact, I have only seen 2 masks in 3 days, and the air quality seems reasonably good for a city teeming with cars. The real culprit these days is the dust, stirred up by constant construction in a city that is naturally dry. In fact, I have given up trying to take a picture without cranes: my new mission is to take pics with the most cranes in one shot! Much has been written here about the impact of all of this smog and dust on ones’ lungs – the general consensus is that if you stay away from the main roads and avoid strenuous exercise outside (mmmh, I am assuming all of the Olympic athletes will be competing indoors ) the damage is about the same as living with second hand smoke for 10 to 20 years. Since few expatriates plan on being here for that length of time, most are fairly sanguine about it. Of course, I am here in the spring when the light winds are blowing the dust off, and the fragrance of the lilacs around: in winter, dust and pollution just hangs low and thick , suspended in the air around you. In an effort to mitigate some of the effect of dust and emissions before the Games, 24 hour construction is prohibited though it was the norm until recently. There is a huge (and what is not huge) office building going up next door: we don’t wake to birds or church bells, but the clang of metal on metal at 6:30 am as the workers start their long days. Many of them sleep in tents or other temporary accommodation at the feet of buildings they are working on . Tomorrow I am hoping that the good weather holds, and I can head up to the Heavenly Gardens where the senior citizens practice Thai Chi and the gardens should just be starting to come into glorious bloom. Theoretically, you should be able to get a panoramic view of the city from there, but I suspect that even if the sky was perfectly clear, it is just too massive to capture by eye or by camera. So I have decided to forget trying to photograph the skylines and focus on vignettes of people, the older, small ancient buildings, and hopefully, spring blossoms.

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