from the San Francisco Chronicle
Here is a look at the poverty that you won't see during the olympics. - Kale
It is hard to see what the modernization of Beijing and the glitz and glamour of China's Olympic coming-out party are doing for the residents of the city's Suo Jia area.
People who don't live in the neighborhood next to the Laiguangying Bridge call it the "countryside," but it isn't in the country. In fact, it is a quicker cab ride from the Olympic Village to Suo Jia (about 20 minutes) than it is to the Forbidden City (about 30).
Suo Jia, with its narrow streets, frolicking children, dirt and poverty, is the real forbidden city. It is what much of Beijing used to be when being modern wasn't important. It is the old city, filled with rickshaws and bicycles, pedal carts full of goods, bustling street-side industry and tiny ramshackle brick-and-mortar homes.
The people who live in Suo Jia are enthusiastic about the Olympic Games and the image of China they will give to the world.
"The money and good things are not important. It is the good impression and the good memories that are important," said Zhao Long Hai, 44, who was riding a pedal cart full of goods through town. "I like it that many countries are coming here and will enjoy the country together."
But Suo Jia isn't part of that image, and not many visitors will see it if the authorities get their way.
If they did come, they would see people cooking lunch in the street, women washing dishes in outdoor sinks and clothes hanging on lines between trees. They would smell paint in the air, like on Tuesday, when a mother and daughter in a workshop put the finishing touches on clay figures of bowing men.
The region is, in fact, known for its many artists' studios and workshops. Dozens of sculptures sit inside one locked gate amid overgrown weeds. Flying goddesses, dragons and nymph-like characters peek out of the brush.
Zhao stopped his cart in the street Tuesday to check on his slightly chubby son playing a card game called Doudizhu on the dirty sidewalk with three friends.
"He's a little fat because now the lifestyle is high, and we eat well," joked Zhao to a friend.
But, in reality, very little of the Olympic high life made it to Suo Jia, where the residents live in tiny concrete and brick apartments along narrow roads. Numerous bedrolls line the concrete floors of cluttered one-room flats.
Cobblestone courtyards with laundry hanging over parked bicycles can be glimpsed in the narrow gaps between buildings. Dirty water flows into the streets from many of the dwellings, and the channeled creek that runs through town is choked with garbage, rotting food and chunks of what smells like sewage.
This is what fashionable Beijingers find embarrassing, why Chinese authorities would prefer that Westerners stay away.
The uncouth village quality could be why a woman in a blue top and black skirt showed up and tried to escort two American journalists out of the neighborhood. Or perhaps she was there to keep them away from a man who pointed out scars on his wrists and shoulder and pulled some apparently important papers written in neat Mandarin print from a manila envelope.
Whatever the case, this gritty heart of Beijing, where one can still hear the loud high-pitched hum made by the flapping wings of the zhiliao, an insect that lives in the bamboo-like foliage of Lik Shu trees, is probably not long for this world.
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