■ 23:11 (UTC+0800), 13 JAN 2016 | CHN CHAOYANGMEN, BEIJING
I do admit I left China at a time when it was pretty much in its doldrums. Late 2012 and early 2013 saw a leadership change, and the new regime adopting such major policy changes meant it took the rest of the country a fair bit of time just to get the hint of it all.
This was why 2014 was a somewhat slow year. Smog wasn’t getting any better, and earlier that year, me being stuck in smog in very bad traffic was pretty much it to me. It would be nearly 7 years since I was last in London, so I imagined development had really picked up there. I took the Metropolitan line to the city terminus at Aldgate twice — once in November 2014, and again in summer 2015. It was highly disappointing: there was just about no change there in the City. In the meantime, Beijing had engaged Magnet Mode again: just about everything from the Winter Olympics and the G20 meeting to international gardening and relaxation summits headed its way into the Middle Kingdom in a chain series of events starting from summer 2015. It also counted two other magnetised elements known as David Feng and wife Tracy, and we will settle back in Beijing for good starting in July 2016.
With this return trip to Beijing in late 2015 and early 2016, the absolutely amazing pace of development just completely took my breath away. I took the Beijing Subway the day I landed to see how fast things were picking up in the CBD, after seeing pics on the Web that there must have been at least one new skyscraper in the making. The entire city took my breath away. Even more breathtaking was Hebei, especially that part which would host the world in 2022.
Having being part of an editing committee (aka sorta-authoring) of a book related to the 2022 Winter Olympics, I wasn’t exactly a 100% outsider in this any more. Still, I made this journey entirely unannounced — even my wife only got to know this within minutes of me leaving the Beijing home, headed to Zhangjiakou and Chongli. This was probably the best, as I could see exactly how things went. (And I wasn’t disappointed!)
Heading out to Hebei, I first went through a new part of the G95 Capital Ringway which was just absolutely stunning.
Zhangjiakou was once known for Awkwardglish, and whilst a few still remained (XINHUA LARGEBUILDING was still there), the new signage was incredibly “rightglish”.
The new bit of the G95 ringway also went to Chongli, where much of the skiing would take place. It was already a fair while since the last blizzard, but at least on the motorway, it was still quite impressive.
Even more impressive were the hills and mountains once you got through. OK, it’s a given here Almaty has a fair bit more powdery white stuff than this picture might show…
…but I’m quite sure Almaty’s advantages pretty much ended here. (It wasn’t too different from an Apple versus the erstwhile PowerComputing ads, for those of you still in the know!) Chongli itself was incredibly ready for the Games way ahead of time: accommodation was everywhere (it seemed), the city was all spruced-up way ahead of time, and on a drive through town, this was obviously no Potemkin village in the making.
But there was bigger still fireworks just a couple dozen miles further southwest, in Zhangjiakou (which the “now flying over” in-flight screens of the Swissair of yesteryear introduced to me as Kalgan), the “main city” that co-bid along with Beijing. You could obviously tell this city was doing very well: almost 11 years after my first visit in September 2005, this city showed no sign of slowing down.
New shopping centres were absolutely everywhere, city jams did actually start to bite (always a sign of a “healthily” growing city), and there were parts of town that looked incredibly like Beijing. Most of the development took place along the main southern arterial thruway, Jiefang (Liberation) Road,
On my quick trip through the centre of the city, I spotted a Pizza Hut — basically all the city needed to “make it big”, as Chinese cities would go, are a Starbucks and a Costa. (If they’ve Pizza Hut, they’re pretty much halfway through, internationalisation-wise.)
I left Zhangjiakou and Chongli fully sold that Beijing and Zhangjiakou won the Games with their might and commitment to real, tangible results — rather than putting down opponents (sorry, Almaty, but there was nothing real about serious competition — maybe apart from snow). The IOC knew whom to vote for, and if 2008 was anything, we’re well on our way to making the Games of 2022 more than shine. ■ ■ ■