Beijing Olympics, The “No-Fun” Games?

Will the Beijing Olympics become known as the “No-Fun Games”?

That is the question on the lips of many of the city’s expatriates and locals, amid dire warnings from the government of terrorist attacks, ramped up security checks and a clampdown on nightlife ahead of next month’s Games.

Add tighter visa procedures and inflated hotel prices that have kept tourists away, as well as restrictions on car travel, and some are wondering if
Beijing will be able to recreate the party atmosphere of Sydney and Athens.

“A lot of people aren’t satisfied with the Olympics. In 2001, when Beijing got the Games, everyone was so happy, me included,” said one Chinese musician, who declined to be named.

“But progressively, it has all become so inconvenient for us.”

Popular bars and restaurants deemed too close to some of the Olympic venues, such as the Workers’ Stadium in downtown Beijing, are having to close down for security reasons.

Those that are still in business have been told to search people’s bags and to avoid ‘crowds’, according to one Western bar owner, who declined to be named for fear of further police attention on his venue.

Meanwhile, parts of the city’s burgeoning live music scene has been told to keep quiet.

For example, the Stone Boat, a picturesque bar in the middle of Ritan Park in central Beijing, has had to cancel its live music until the end of the Games, as most of its concerts take place outside.

Bar owners realised they were in for a tougher time when China’s largest outdoor rock festival, the Midi Music Festival, was abruptly cancelled in May with just a few days’ notice.

This came amid a particularly sensitive time for China after its March crackdown on violence in Tibet, which erupted after four days of peaceful protests against Chinese rule, drew international condemnation.

Looming restrictions on cars, when vehicles with even and odd number plates will have to run on alternate days, are also worrying some Beijingers who will have to use an already crowded public transport if they want to go anywhere.

Weekend trips into the countryside are no longer possible, they complain, because they can not use their cars for two consecutive days.

In addition, all people in the city now have to carry their ID cards or passports with them at all times for random security checks.

Even Peking University, a popular place for locals and foreign tourists to wander through, has been placed out-of-bounds to visitors.

Some, however, say the complaints of ‘no fun’ at the Games are overstated.

“The August fun calendar is looking pretty full,” said Mike Wester, managing director of True Run Media, which produces the Beijinger, a guide to entertainment in Beijing.

“Some fun places have been closed, but there are plenty of other venues in Beijing. Most Olympic people won’t even notice the difference.”

Critics have said China’s rulers are desperate to avoid being embarrassed during the Olympics in the form of protests, whether they be by Tibetan activists, local dissidents or foreign human rights critics.

But authorities in Beijing have warned of an unprecedented terror threat to the Olympics, particularly from its Muslim Xinjiang region, and have made no apologies for putting security of athletes and tourists as their top priority.

“We have been trying to take measures to ensure safety and security and we have been trying to balance the need for a major sports celebration,” said Sun
Weide, a spokesman for the Beijing Olympic organisers.

A weekend commentary in the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, also derided Western press reports warning of a “cold and cheerless Olympics” as it warned of the security threat from Xinjiang anf Tibet.

“The Beijing Olympics is facing a terrorist threat unsurpassed in Olympic history,” it said.

– AFP/yb

Channel News Asia

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