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Opinion ... ...
    Shangri-la's consideration makes Beijing blush
Tan Hongkai
2004-10-08 06:05

I rummaged through the drawers and closets of my hotel room on a recent trip to Diqing, Yunnan Province, trying to find the plastic laundry bag I see in most hotel rooms.

But in vain.

Plastic bags were prohibited for environmental concerns in the town and some other parts of the Tibetan autonomous prefecture, I was told.

The message was confirmed the next day during a meeting with local officials.

Abandoned plastic bags used to be a haunting nightmare in the long and windy winters of Diqing, which now is officially named Shangri-la. Many locals have the unpleasant memory of plastic bags, or what locals call "the hadas of Shangri-la," of all sizes and colours, swirling in the wind, waving on tree branches, and rustling in the bushes.

Local authorities were finally fed up and launched a mass campaign in 1998 to do away with what they called the most disgusting "visual stain" on the face of Shangri-la.

In order to clear the ground for the ban, the local government bought back all plastic bags from stores and stalls of all sizes. Following that, the use of plastic bags has been subject to a heavy fine.

That sounded outrageous.

Even Beijing, birth place of the bulk of the country's well-touted environmental awareness proposals, has never fancied such an idea.

Just another ear-pleasing slogan, I told myself. Officials don't often try hard enough to execute the slogans.

I decided to see for myself.

I bought souvenirs from three stores, none of which used a plastic bag. Instead, I got a raw cloth bag from one of them. That was the officially recommended package when needed, according to the store owner.

In the beginning, local officials recommended dissolvent plastic bags. They changed their minds after finding the so-called dissolvent bags did not dissolve at all.

I was very impressed local officials even bothered to find out if the bags did dissolve, as is not something you can see with immediate results.

Like their counterparts in Beijing, officials there also complain about tight schedules, making it difficult for them to focus on anything for a sufficiently long period.

They could announce an explicit ban and avoid the trouble of offering a solution. They can always cite bigger and more urgent calls to answer even if there are complaints.

Their peers do that boldly and assuredly.

That they had bothered to find out a satisfactory substitute should make many of our local administrators blush with shame, including those in Beijing.

Not that Beijing officials do not want a clean and pleasing local environment. They have done a lot, and are doing more to prepare for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

They are counting the number of blue-sky days to appraise their achievement.

But the city's deep-rooted fondness for the grandiose has blinded it to many apparently less-than-great undertakings that could have made tremendous differences.

Take its long discriminative restrictions on small vehicles. The city has had a ridiculous rule that deprives low-littreage automobiles the right of way on the main road of the city's famous Chang'an Avenue.

Were they annoyed by low-littreage vehicles' low fuel consumption or low emission?

It is good to learn the city is loosening such a rigid and bizarre rule.

Beijing's ecological well-being is too fragile to afford any more senseless policies.

If it is not too embarrassing for this "international metropolis," I suggest officials in Beijing learn something from their peers in Diqing.

(China Daily 10/08/2004 page6)


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