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Page last updated at 16:27 GMT, Monday, 28 July 2008 17:27 UK

'The Olympics changed my Beijing'

After Beijing won the 2008 Olympic bid, a frenzy of rebuilding and investment planted expressways and skyscrapers in the place of crowded hutongs.

Beijing-based blogger David Feng describes how the laid-back city he was born in has been transformed into a futuristic icon.


David Feng

I was born in Beijing in 1982. When I was born, Beijing looked quite different to the city of today.

Back in those days, streets were not stockpiled with traffic jams. Back in those days bus rides were really, really cheap - nearly free!

People were really warm-hearted. I find people are still pretty friendly but Beijing is moving on and becoming a world city. Where the rhythm was slow before, it is now as fast as a door smashing closed on the subway.

Beijingers move fast now. You're on the subway, in the office or on the internet. Life feels like a race against the clock.

I lived outside Beijing for years, although I often visited and returned to live here after the city won the Olympic bid.

I'm both an insider and an outsider and I see how the city has transformed.

TRANSPORT GLITZ

Picture: David Feng
Visitors to Beijing this summer will discover subway stations even glitzier than those you find in the west.

In the 1980s the fares may have been much cheaper but the trains were old and clackety. The older stations felt like antiques, particularly the ones built in the 1960s and 1980s.

They don't really have a Maoist style - it's more like Soviet chic. We looked towards Russia for inspiration back then.

The new lines are snazzy and super-dynamic with glass architecture, they really get people thinking. It makes my life easy and smooth.

BREATHING EASY?

Picture: David Feng - A road on the outskirts of Beijing in the winter

Pollution is relatively new. In early November it gets colder and the air takes on a special quality. As a result, you get really, really bad pollution days.

Sometimes they even close freeways because you can't see further than 50 or 60m.

I get a bit grumpy when I see the grey and so I shy away from the outside world. I remember 2002 when the sand storms came in from Mongolia - we looked out the window and all was orange.

Grey day after grey day. It gets a bit creepy.

But the government is cleaning up its act and I have seen this in action. Winter days in Beijing with the north wind coming in leave the skies pristine and blue. The whole city looks beautiful.

The government has decreed that cars with specific license plate suffixes can only travel on certain days. The Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Most Chinese don't want to mess it up - so they are happy to comply. I will also walk, cycle or take the subway.

OLYMPIC-BRANDED BEIJING

Picture: David Feng

Olympic-branded Beijing has been here since 1999, when we were bidding for the Olympics.

Television had been going mad about the bid and was getting Beijingers really excited. That was seven years before the whole thing!

Beijing has had Olympic fever for the best part of seven years. The mascots are everywhere. Commercial advertising has been ditched in favour of Olympic branding.

I'm happy to see the Olympic branding. Obviously behind the Olympic logo there are issues like people unable to drive a car every day. But I've been watching the great change driven by the Olympics.

Beijing is being built at an accelerated pace and it's the kind of pace you hope never stops.

BEIJING'S HIDDEN UNDERBELLY

Picture: David Feng
The quieter side of Beijing has given way to a frenzy of rebuilding
Parts of Beijing have undergone massive change - and not necessarily very peacefully.

Every time something new is built, something else gives and generally these are buildings in the old city. The official viewpoint is that these old buildings are poorly built, derelict and lack what a modern building should have.

It's true that some of these hutongs were less than ideal. But people got upset at the elimination of villages and townships within the city.

There was one township close to me. The high street was poor and rundown, a lot of bikes, cars, sometimes horse carts and lots of pedestrians. It was rundown, too old.

The authorities suddenly got rid of them. They didn't want the average rural village in the centre of Beijing.

People who were moved out got better homes. But they got moved to the suburbs - they were displaced. I think that the authorities shouldn't knock down any more of them.

It is true to an extent that Beijing may have lost some of its old character. But I suppose to be like an international world city, it has to shed some of its past.




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