Here come the loogie police
Pre-Olympic weirdness in the People’s Republic
Beijing winter inflates. The wind that comes in from the Gobi this time of year is a malfunctioning ventilation system. The sky goes brown while the sun strains through air that actually was below toxic pollutant levels 240 days in 2005.
Oh, and the spit consultants burrow out of their offices. Get this: In an effort to curb public spitting before the 2008 Olympics, Beijing has deployed an army of public-service spit consultants, wearing orange vests with the Chinese character for “mucus” emblazoned on the back, to approach sidewalk hockers with a one-two-three behavioral-adjustment punch.
Jab: A lecture about the SARS-spreading dangers of phlegm.
Hook: A demonstration on how to spit into a handkerchief and deposit it in the nearest waste-disposal receptacle, which in China happens to be the ground.
Uppercut: A 40-yuan fine.
Booyah. Lucky contestants also walk away with a pocket full of handkerchief-stand-in plastic spit bags—each with the word “mucus” on them. I must have one.
While this might seem like a ridiculous waste of money to outsiders, it takes a true Beijinger to realize exactly how pointless the program promises to be. My old Chinese literature professor assures me there’s a demon in every one of us, exorcisable only in loogie form. And, judging by the veritable airport of globules that is Beijing airspace, he’s not the only one with objections to holding it in.
The citywide anti-spit campaign proves to be merely the tip of a face-saving iceberg. The announcement of Beijing’s successful 2008 Olympic bid has given rise to a whole slew of social-reconstruction programs geared toward showcasing China’s astounding economic development. China also may have its eye on squashing the many human-rights concerns voiced by the international community. But despite the hundreds of millions sunk into betterment activities, it’s unclear whether such projects as “rain-seeding” will obscure global outcry over the harvesting of prisoners’ organs for sale on the black market, or China’s forced repatriation of North Korean refugees.
In a move that widely was heralded as “totally weird,” even for a country whose potato chips come in crispy-duck-piquancy flavor, China already has begun the rural roundup, presenting newly enlisted farmers with anti-aircraft guns loaded with silver-oxide missiles. The target? Pregnant rain clouds. In hopes of ensuring a rain-free Olympics, the government has stationed 37,000 yeomen on the outskirts of Beijing with orders to blast approaching nimbus clouds with a chemical formerly used to induce torrents during drought conditions. Rain-seeding has been used successfully in the People’s Republic of China since 1958 to enhance crop yields and lessen the effects of yearly spring sandstorms, the result of topsoil destruction along the border of the Gobi desert. But this may be the first time the technique has been employed so theatrically.
Other plans may include employing squads of 3-year-olds in magical telekinetic-unicorn rocket suits to mentally neigh at anyone sporting a frownie-wownie face out of doors.
China’s Olympic-related polishing even extends as far as its lavatories. Tired of receiving the No. 1 spot in myriad guidebooks’ World’s Worst Pisser lists, the Chinese Communist Party is giving Beijing squatters the makeover of a lifetime. In 2004, China’s capital played host to the annual World Toilet Summit, a multinational gathering of the bog industry’s movers and shakers. The summit, which was widely attended by bog-industry reps from every corner of the urinating globe, was convened by the World Toilet Organization (that would be the other WTO) to discuss such issues as toilet provision and sanitation in China. Also before the attendees was the decision of how to allocate the $200 million toilet-reconstruction budget set aside by the government and private companies in anticipation of the Olympic hordes.
The Olympics as an impetus for the government to focus greater attention on quality-of-life issues is hardly detrimental. But word on the phlegm-spattered street hints at other, less positive appearance-boosting schemes under consideration. Rumors are flying about future plans to forcibly remove Beijing’s transient and migrant-worker population (an estimated 1 million strong) from the city, en masse, for the duration of the games. Media reports indicate that the mentally ill also may be slated for involuntary institutionalization in psychiatric wards in the summer months of 2008, and political dissidents fear another round of crackdowns and temporary imprisonments, like those conducted yearly on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Repeat after me: reform, good; whitewashing, bad.
Look, I was in Los Angeles when the city hosted the Olympics for the second time. People dedicated whole sentences of their conversations to whether or not caffeine consumption ever would be accepted as a national sport. There were sporadic mentions of Natasher-what’s-’er-face, that Russian chick, and using the non-smoking symbol as a potential Olympic mascot. Twenty years later, I have trouble distinguishing all those flag-pumping, six-ringed newsreels from your average Wendy’s commercial, and so do you. I don’t recall anything about tax dollars being funneled into gas-station-bathroom renovations or a federally mandated bum exodus. My dad, a marketing man, tuned in to the event to watch the advertisements, thus cementing my belief that the only way to titillate American Olympic interest to this level of obsession would be the resurrection of legendary Coroebus and his naked 200-meter dash. The Chinese, on the other hand, look on their successful bid as tangible proof of economic ascension.
Which is, of course, bollocks. The only valid proof of a developed economy is a constant influx of people trying to blow you up. Oh, and access to fresh bagels. The cranberry kind.