Last Wednesday was a big day here in Beijing. It marked the "T Minus One Year (or 365 days) and Counting" date until the start of the 2008 Olympic Games. The number 8 is a very auspicious number in traditional Chinese thinking, it is not by chance that the Games will open on 8-8-08. At 8 pm, of course. To celebrate the rounding of the home stretch, the city conducted more ceremonies than you can shake a chopstick at. The biggest, of course was in Tiananmen Square, the closest thing that this atheist nation has to a sacred space.
Along with the ceremony and hoopla was much official blabber about all things Olympian. Most of it was sweetness and light ("everything is right on schedule for a successful games), but one of the topics that everyone wanted to avoid but couldn’t was the pollution. Right up until that T-minus day the city was enveloped in one of its periodic toxic fogs. The smog was so thick you could hardly see across the street. Occasionally a thunderstorm would burst on the scene, sending torrents of acid fog down on us Beijingers, flooding the streets and laying a blanket of mud over everything. The weather and pollution the first week of August were straight out of the organizing committees worst nightmare.
This prompted the government to issue daily pronouncements on measures that they were taking to clear the smog, and on measures that they were taking to ensure good weather for the Olympic Games next year.
Then the oddest thing happened. The toxic fog lifted, and the sun came out, and we are now in our 6th straight day here in Beijing of sunshine and blue skies. It’s really quite beautiful—and a bit freaky. What really scared me the other day was realizing the effects of living in a system where the leadership claims that they can control the weather—when the weather suddenly does get very very nice, how easy it is to think, "well, by jiggers, they did it!" Which is, of course absolutely wrong! They do not control the weather.
I’m willing to give credit to the leadership here for many many accomplishments, but controlling the weather is not one of them.