The Olympic Games has started. Who in the world is not focusing on the Beijing Games? We, foreigners in China, as well as the Chinese people, have been waiting for seven years for this important moment. Year after year, month after month, and day by day in recent weeks, we have seen Beijing changing considerably for the 2008 Games.
The Games have contributed to unifying the nation. "One World, One Dream", is not only a slogan but has become a reality. The Olympic spirit is everywhere, with the support of the whole nation.
The largest airport in the world has opened in the Chinese capital. Kilometers of subway lines serve the 17- million people city. New roads have been constructed, new highways opened.
Lots of old structures have been demolished to be replaced by new ones. Sometimes it seemed to me that apartment buildings, hotels and office buildings had sprung up overnight.
Public toilets are now easy to find. They are clean, can be flushed, and have not only water but also soap. Wasteland along roads have been transformed into parks, planted with trees and beautiful flowers.
Last week, I took public busses to tour the city, and I could not but exclaim: "Wow! Beijing is wonderful!"
For developed countries, hosting the Olympics means huge expenses and small profits, but for a developing country, it is a chance to achieve progress. In a move to host the best ever Games - green, popular, scientific, Beijing has changed beyond recognition and much earlier than expected.
It has improved its natural environment, raised its green coverage and let "not one centimeter uncovered", as promised. We enjoy fresher air and reduced pollution. Blue skies have returned, though some people still confuse fog with air pollution. Telecommunications, transit, commercial, financial, tourist, real estate and information sectors have seen huge progress.
One thing is for sure, the world has enhanced its knowledge of China, as China had an opportunity to fully accomplish its opening to the outside world.
However, the city can be further improved.
People who read my articles know I never miss an opportunity to talk about the bad habit of spitting. From the day Beijing was announced as the host of the 2008 Olympics, I have seen a little improvement, but the city in fact should have done more.
In the city's neighborhoods, several men and mostly women wearing white and green T-shirts have recently been assigned to public order in their surroundings. Good. But I saw some throwing their ice cream wrappings on the ground, and others, spitting on the grass where kids play, on the paths, and even on restaurant floors.
We appreciate thousands of volunteers' help to foreigners in a variety of languages all around the city, but my experience indicated that some of them have not been well-prepared.
Last week, at Xizhimen subway station, I was checking which exit was the closest to Renmin Hospital.
A 20-year-old girl tried to help me,saying, "just a moment, I will ask." A second later I found the exit myself. I waited for her as I thought it was rude not to thank her, but she never came back. Although it was a rare case, it really showed only enthusiasm was not enough.
Once, there was a municipal government's website and a phone number where one could report English mistakes on street signs, and I did it often. But they suddenly disappeared. So, one week before the Olympics, we still see: "Don't drive tiredly", "Stay clear from tracks", "On drunken driving", "Fobit the flame", "Don't neutral slop".
Some restaurant menus have been illustrated, some have been translated, but not for the better in all cases.
Would you have "Aborigine gril" (grilled egg-plant), or "Boiled milk with meat" (Stewed mutton); "Italian ketchup noodles", or "French cow orderly" (niu pai)?
Another measure regards taking dog meat off the menu to please Western animal welfare activists, instead of informing them that a small portion of Chinese eat dog meat. Canceling dog meat from restaurants is really unnecessary, as it will be allowed again later. What about snake and turtle that some foreigners find disgusting? You cannot satisfy everybody.
Anyway these are just some aspects that can be improved further. During a year full of difficulties for China, holding such a sporting festival is not an easy thing.
Despite the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan, despite humiliating and often wrong statements made by some Western countries about China, China has gone through all these to show the world a magnificent Olympics. China will make it.
The author is a Canadian scholar living in Beijing
(China Daily 08/10/2008 page11)