BEIJING, China - There's something strange these days over Beijing, something many of us here have not seen for a very long time. As I look up, there's this strange blue-looking color - at first I thought the officials may have been dying the pollution blue, or maybe I had lived here so long that I had forgotten what a sky should looked like.
I've lived in Beijing for a little less than three years, but one of our local office workers made the remark that she had never seen such beautiful, white fluffy clouds, so I knew something had changed. Don't get me wrong, this place is still polluted, but since the Beijing Olympics it seems the number of adversely polluted days is about the same as the number of really good days we had last year, in other words, not a lot.
And it might just be making the people who live here a little happier, as well. In the parks, on the streets, many Beijingers seem to be smiling a little more, perhaps a bit more relaxed.
So how did this happen? The government has been trying to clean up this city for years - building subway lines, converting buses and taxis to natural gas, and stopping cars from driving one day a week (a watered-down continuation of the tough traffic controls in place during the Olympics). Some major polluters, too, have been closed down and relocated - notably Beijing Capital Iron and Steel, the biggest single contributor to the city's air pollution problem. Now that the Olympics are over there's been a massive drop in construction, and so dust particles have been reduced. But also playing its part is the global economic slump; many of the factories which were meant to close temporarily for the Olympics have never re-opened.
An old joke was never check the stock market or government statistics to know the state of China's economy, just look to the sky. When those gray skies are blue, the economists would say, start to worry. Well, the sky has been blue a lot this year, but in a bizarre coincidence, as economic growth here started to head toward 8 percent, we seem to be getting more polluted days. I'll let you know what happens of the GDP numbers hit double digits.
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