BEIJING - The Olympics are here! The Olympics are here! Yay! On behalf of all us long-term foreign residents in the capital, welcome to Beijing! As hundreds of thousands of tourists, athletes and basically anyone who has anything to do with the Olympics pour into town, Zhongnanhai would like to take this opportunity to help you travelers get the most out of your stay before, during and after the big ‘O’. So, we present to you several tips and friendly reminders to help you optimize your time in the Chinese capital:

 

  • Sidewalks are not parking lots, unless you drive in Beijing.
  • Designated bicycle lanes are not parking lots, unless you drive in Beijing (see above).
  • If you are staying in a hotel with limited access to English channels, chances are you will only be able to watch the state-run, English language CCTV International. To avoid frustration and disappointment, it is helpful to remember that just because their programming is called CCTV ‘NEWS’, that doesn’t mean there actually is any news.
  • Speaking of TV, if you happen to get the movie channel Cinemax on your hotel TV set, don’t be dismayed to find that it airs no less than three Jean-Claude Van Damme movies a day – every day. Despite numerous inquiries by the Chinese Ministry of Culture, this stubborn programming practice persists.
  • If you are working in some capacity for the Olympics, and you are given an official Olympic pass to wear around your neck, please remove it once you are outside said venue. Walking around town with one of these magazine-sized passes dangling around your neck impresses no one, and it certainly won’t get you a better deal at the silk market.
  • In Beijing, “Olympic Fever” really is a fever… well, more like heat stroke actually.
  • Don’t complain about the cleanliness of the toilets. This is the cleanest they have ever been, this is the cleanest they will ever be.
  • Speaking of toilets, that aroma you smell 30 meters before you actually get to the public toilet actually has a function. In case of sudden power outages in the city, the bouquet acts a guide to get you safely to the toilet even when there are no lights. Try closing your eyes next time you need to go. Works like a charm every time!
  • When sight-seeing, don’t be misled by shiny new buildings that appear to be finished. In Beijing, the Chinese characters for ‘construction finished’ actually mean ‘beginning of long, drawn-out repair phase’.
  • When meeting the locals, please remember that showing off one’s belly by rolling up one’s shirt on a hot summer day is an age-old custom to welcome visitors. The next time you see a local doing this, feel free to go up and rub his paunch. It’s good luck!
  • Want to have some fun? Approach any of the tens of thousands of Olympic volunteers on the street and ask for directions to the Olympic shuffleboard venue. The ensuing befuddlement is guaranteed to generate some memorable snapshots.
  • Remember: It’s not smog - it’s ‘haze’. Despite the fact you may feel as though ten shot put competitors are standing on your chest at the same time, in Beijing, simply renaming something actually makes it so. In the case of smog, simply re-designating it ‘haze’ is said to actually change the chemical composition of the air. Don’t ask me how this works.
  • What you think is actually security overkill is just the government looking out for your personal safety during the Games. Rest assured, the tens of thousands of spy cameras hastily installed on every street corner in Beijing will be promptly be taken down after the games.
  • The five cuddly looking Olympic mascots you see everywhere are called ‘Fuwas’ in Chinese. Think of them as the dwarfs from Snow White. The panda is the stupid one.
  • If you want to see the ‘real’ China, no need to leave town for the countryside. A trip to Gate A of the Dawanglu subway station should do the trick.
  • Yes, you can drink the tap water. The local authorities insist it’s safe. Just ignore that crusty stuff on your shower head.
  • Who says walking is healthier than taking public transportation? After just one trip on Beijing’s ventilated (not necessarily air conditioned) subway, many visitors are amazed at the amount of weight they sweat off. Who’s got time for the gym anyway?
  • Finally, when your vacation to this wondrous city is over, please leave. Once the thousand of carcinogenic factories dotted throughout our city are turned back on and all those parked vehicles are unleashed once again, we long-term Beijing residents would like to get back to enjoying the usual traffic gridlock and, of course, the haze. Let the Games continue!