As the Olympics Draw Closer, I Drift Farther Away

picture-4 Amid all the official media buzz about the excitement of the Olympics enthusiasts, there have been increasing complaints and criticisms about the Olympics preparations from Chinese netizens. The most telling indicator of such criticism is that now “Olympics disturbing people” (奥运扰民) has already become the latest “sensitive phrase” in the Chinese search engine Baidu. The following post was written by a blogger with the online name “Speaking out when there is injustice” (不平则鸣),translated by CDT from Sohu blog:

“Most people have made a mistake. The Olympic year, after all, is not a year for business. We now only hope it’s over sooner,” a friend from Weihai in Shandong Province couldn’t stop complaining about his losses. A boss whose products are made 90% for exporting, his overseas clients used to come once every month to make inspections on quality but are now having a problem getting their visas. And he had to ask his more than 200 workers to pack home for a long holiday. “The plant is suffering a huge loss, and the workers and their families are no less painful.”

Well, this friend’s pain is minor compared to others across the country. I told him that hundreds or thousands of factories in five provinces and two municipalities have all gotten an order to “stop” production. In Tangshan alone, 267 companies pulled the plug. In export-heavy provinces like Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Guangdong, many big-name commodities markets haven’t seen much of a crowd since June. With an earthquake and a riot in Tibet, tourism has also taken a hit in southwest China. Also in Beijing and Shanghai, the numbers of tourists in the first five months of this year dropped 15-20% from the same period last year. The visa restrictions have made foreign businessmen and women and tourists either cancel or postpone their trips. They can hardly get their visas without an admissions ticket to the Games.

Of course, only ordinary foreign citizens have such visa problems. Other than athletes and journalists, those heads of states, celebrities and other noble guests around the world will be also treated to the most up-scale, elaborate and comprehensive hospitality. For one thing, those 80 state leaders and their presence seem to give so much glory to the Chinese government, as if this gigantic party will really wash away a century-old humiliation. For such a purpose, of course the Olympics is being given the most important political mission, the largest “image project,” to be achieved through national mobilization at all costs. The economic loss and sacrifice of common people’s interests are nothing compare with such a goal.

As the “eldest son” of 1.3 billion Chinese, Beijing has been the biggest beneficiary in this game, with a average expenditure of 200 million yuan per day, ever since it won the bid in 2001. At over 500 billion, the price tag for this year’s Olympics beat that of all previous ones combined. How have such huge expenditures actually been used? We have not seen any public information about it, only the downfall of a vice mayor and a deputy director of the Organizing Committee.

Spending without answering the people’s questions is our country’s characteristic. The execution of all those processes is the decision of one or a few individuals. And once the business is elevated to a “political height,” then there’s absolutely no tolerance for any doubt by any individual or organization. If a Chinese has some doubt, then he/she will be trashed as a “dissident” who runs tremendous political risk; if a foreigner has questions, then he/she will be labeled as part of “anti-China conspiracy group,” ready to be grilled by flaming “nationalist sentiments.”

I am a Chinese and I did feel proud of “winning the bid.” But seven or eight years onward, I feel more and more distanced from the Olympics. The investment has indeed fast forwarded Beijing’s infrastructure by 20 years, with roads being paved one route after another, building facades repainted over and over and everywhere covered with flower pots. I happened to live in a neighborhood only one block from the Olympic Park. Each time I walked out of my house, flowers were everywhere. But I cannot help but think: why does every road in this neighborhood have to repaved 2-3 times? Why do the tiles on those sidewalks needs to be paved again and again? Why do the green plantings between the streets needs to be changed and changed again? Isn’t the money from our taxpayers’ pockets?

I was once a “foreign visitor” to the Games in Atlanta and Sydney. But no other country has put up such an effort to outspend anyone else. The United States and Australia are so much richer than we are and we can hardly catch up to them in 20 years. Does such an extravagant Games necessarily demonstrate our country’s strength and prosperity? Fearful at heart, I think the so-called “century-old dream” isn’t the people’s dream, and the so-called “best Olympics” is nothing more than the “most costly Games.”

The Olympics is approaching, in terms of time; but I myself am ever more distanced from it, consciously. And I rejected a request by Beijing TV station for an Olympics talk show, feeling that I cannot face the audience. Since it’s not “one dream,” why should I put up a smiley face to advocate the “daydream?”