With just over two weeks left until the Beijing Olympics, the streets of China's capital are lined with flowing banners, blooming flowers and flocks of smiling, uniformed volunteers. It's impossible to step into a hotel or a hutong (small street) without seeing the ubiquitous slogan: "One World, One Dream."
But while Olympic fever has swept the entire city, there are some Beijing residents who find the games to be anything but a dream.
A Pew Global Attitudes survey released this week found that many urban Chinese are overwhelmingly optimistic about the Olympics. Seventy-nine percent of citizens indicated the games were personally important to them.
However, according to the survey, 34 percent thought the country was paying too much attention to the Games. In newspapers and the blogosphere, many seem to agree.
Put Away Your Washcloths and Bicycles
The Olympic preparations have brought a litany of rules and regulations, restricting public and private transportation, forbidding unauthorized outdoor events and silencing live music and business events.
In the Beijing News, citizens expressed annoyance at highly specific regulations that banned barbershops from drying their towels outside and shopowners from parking bicycles at their doorways.
One opinion essay agreed with newly imposed traffic restrictions that ban cars with odd-numbered license plates one day, even-numbered plates the next, in an effort to promote cleaner air. But the writer complained that regulating towels and bicycles "will only cause unnecessary inconvenience."
"Just imagine, if we go to other countries for the Games, do we care that towels are hung outside and bicycles are parked at doorways?"
When "Contraception" Means "No Olympics"
Internet users suffering from Olympic fatigue have created slang terms to express the inconvenience caused by the Beijing games.
The Chinese language is made up of tens of thousands of written characters, some of which have identical pronunciations. Word riddles are often used as jokes between friends and a way to indicate dissatisfaction or sarcasm.
In Mandarin Chinese, "bi yun" means contraception or avoiding pregnancy.
According to the popular online portal Sohu.com, "bi yun" is now being used in reference to avoiding the Olympics or escaping from Beijing to another destination during the 17-day affair. Becoming pregnant, or "shou yun," represents traveling to Beijing to watch the Olympics or experience the excitement.
The play on words is catching on fast.
Sohu posted an online poll asking its users if they will "shou yun" or "bi yun" on Aug. 8, the day of the opening ceremonies. Bloggers on major Web communities such as Tianya have employed the terminology alongside complaints about newly implemented traffic rules, security checks at subway stations, construction projects and other inconveniences to Beijingers.
Those searching for an escape from the games have signed up for tours called "avoiding Olympics packages." If misheard, the spoken Mandarin Chinese for that term, "bi yun tao," sounds like "condom."
Officials Save a Spot for Protesters
For the disgruntled who want to air their grievances in person during the Olympics, the local committee has specified areas in three public parks for protesters in Beijing, including one downtown. Director for Olympic Security Liu Shaowu said at a news conference today that Beijing will "invite demonstrators to hold their demonstrations in designated places."
Pre-determined space for protesters is standard practice for the Olympics. Athens organized similar areas for the 2004 Olympics.
China's decision comes after a period of internal debate over whether public protests might disrupt the government's attempts to use the Olympics to improve its image abroad.
With only 16 days left, Beijing is paying close attention to every last detail. Small tents of volunteers have been installed on nearly every major street corner to guide visitors, distribute maps and translate. In Wangfujing, a major shopping district east of the Forbidden City, volunteers clad in blue and white polos were primarily undergraduate students who could speak five languages between them.
In historic central Beijing, retirees who typically enjoy their mornings ambling hutong alleyways and looking after their grandchildren have volunteered to help in their neighborhoods. At the beginning of this week, the local Olympic committee distributed thousands of official red and white shirts and reusable water bottles to these volunteers.
"Doesn't it look good?" asked a 72-year-old woman in the Andingmen neighborhood. "We're usually out here enjoying the morning so it's convenient to help the Olympics too. We've been asked to give directions and just be around in case anybody has a problem."
Asked if she's excited for the Olympics to arrive in her neighborhood, the woman, who gave her last name as Zhang, paused for a moment to consider the question.
"Yes, yes I am. I'm glad I've lived long enough to see it!"
For some, the Beijing Olympics -- China's coming-out party to the world -- is an opportunity of a lifetime. For others, the party couldn't be over soon enough.