Makeover for Beijing's tranquil back garden

Makeover for Beijing's tranquil back garden
Fangezhuang village, about 1km from Yanqi Lake, got a thorough facelift, turning the village into a mini-attraction for tourists.

Once known as the tranquil back garden of Beijing, the mountainous north-eastern district of Huairou will be well-known by the time the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit meeting concludes next week.

There has been a frenzy of construction activity in and around the area over the past year, since the picturesque Yanqi Lake in the district was picked to host the Apec events.

The once-quiet district has acquired a new buzz, with a redefined skyline that boasts a stunning convention centre built in traditional Chinese architectural style, and a 21-storey scallop-shaped hotel.

Hundreds of "low-end shops" along a main road have also been shuttered and replaced with shops selling local products, in a bid to standardise the look of the area.

And as China is famously known to do at global events that touch on national pride, it has spared no expense to ensure a successful summit, right down to the minutest details.

The village of Fangezhuang, about 1km from the lake, has also got a thorough facelift. Stone pavements have replaced dank and dusty alleyways, while miniature landscapes featuring bridges and running water give the pedestrian street an ancient feel. Sculptures and carvings detailing Chinese folklore also line the street.

"It's a complete change," resident Zhang Huilin, 65, told The Straits Times. "It's not just the public areas that have seen improvements. We now use gas for heating and cooking rather than coal. A new sanitation system has also been built."

This sprucing up has even turned the village into a mini-attraction, with crowds of Beijingers and tourists from other parts of China visiting on weekends.

Huairou's residents are also benefiting in other ways, with Beijing likely to be one of the top spenders among Apec hosts.

While the total budget has not been revealed, some 480 million yuan (S$100 million) has been spent on greening and landscaping the district, about 50km away from the city centre, to rid Beijing of its dreary and grey reputation.

This dwarfs the 300 million yuan Shanghai spent when it hosted the 2001 Apec Summit. Shanghai already had most of its physical infrastructure in place, so a big part of the budget went to improving the communications network.

However, Beijing's Apec budget almost certainly falls short of the more than US$40 billion (S$51 billion) China spent to host the Olympic Games in 2008.

Businesses are already anticipating a boost in takings.

The developer of Spring Legend, a European-inspired residential and retail complex, said it started finding shop tenants earlier than originally planned so that the shops can open in time for the Apec meetings.

But not all are happy at the upheaval the summit has brought to their lives.

Almost 800 families were resettled in high-rise apartments after their houses were demolished for the venues to be built. Some residents complained they were not given a choice, according to media reports.

Some shop owners say business has not been as good as expected. Ms Xu Lianlan, 52, who opened a cafe two months ago in Fangezhuang village, said she sees fewer than 10 customers a day on average.

"We're hoping that there will be more publicity once Apec happens," she said.

Others are worried about having to pay more.

Fangezhuang resident Zhang Xiaojing, 59, said there has been talk that heating may cost up to 10,000 yuan per household during the winter months.

"This is the first year we'll be using gas for heating so it'll definitely cost more. Hopefully, there will be subsidies as we won't be able to afford it otherwise."

Beijing rolls out welcome carpet

From constructing architecturally stunning buildings to shutting down factories to ensure clear blue skies, China has spared no expense to ensure the success of the Apec Summit in Beijing. ST looks at how the city has readied itself for the meetings that kick off on Wednesday. BEIJING is pulling out all the stops to make sure that Apec leaders get a taste and feel of China's rich culture, from serving its famous Peking duck to outfitting the leaders in traditional Chinese jackets.

With just a few days before the first meetings start on Wednesday, Beijing is ready to impress.

Media reports say traditional Chinese-style jackets, or tang zhuang, have been designed for the more than 20 leaders who, in keeping with Apec tradition, typically pose for a group photo at the beginning or end of the meetings.

While similar silk jackets were worn at the 2001 Apec summit in Shanghai, this year's outfits are expected to have "new meaning and style", Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po reported.

A sumptuous menu featuring Chinese and Beijing delicacies is also waiting to be served. It includes spring rolls, sugar-coated hawthorn or tanghulu, pork dumpings and Peking duck, said the People's Daily.

Other measures that Beijing has taken:

Security

Some 1,000 surveillance cameras have been installed in Beijing's Huairou district, where the meetings will be held.

These digital high-definition cameras are capable of zooming in to a resolution that can distinguish faces up to 30m away and monitor movements 500m away.

Beijing police launched an antiterror drill last week to test the responsiveness and coordination of the police force, with different police departments handling simulated terror incidents at two of the venues.

Pollution control

To ensure blue skies for the Apec meetings, Beijing will launch a traffic control system that allows cars to be used on alternate days, based on whether the licence plate numbers are odd or even.

The system, similar to the one Beijing introduced during the 2008 Olympic Games, takes effect todayand will last until next Wednesday. It aims to cut total traffic by 35 per cent.

In August, the government announced plans requiring cities and provinces surrounding Beijing to suspend production at heavy polluters and cut production capacity by 30 per cent at other factories. Construction and demolition work will also be halted.

Congestion

Apart from taking cars off the roads, about 530,000 public-sector employees in the capital will be given a six-day break from Nov 7 to 12 to reduce the capital city's notorious congestion.

Major makeover

The government is replacing 450,000 of the 750,000 flower pots in downtown Beijing. The new blooms will feature Apec themes.

The city has also repaired major roads, renovated old buildings and whitewashed exteriors of buildings along major streets.

esthert@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on November 3, 2014.
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