Chinese Renovate Toilets and Mannerisms for Olympics

Beijing wants to put its best face forward during next months Olympic Games -- only tall, slim and pretty women need apply to become Olympic hostesses.

The women have learned atypical skills, such as how to apply makeup, how to walk with perfect poise and hand out bottled water with the utmost grace.

And citizens have been instructed on the proper way to cheer at sporting events so as not to offend discerning foreign fans.

China's preparations for the 2008 Olympic Games, which are set to begin Aug. 8, include initiatives to remove the buildup of algae on the Qingdao coastline and to restrict traffic to combat air pollution. In an attempt to present a perfect image as China hits the world stage, however, the focus has turned to citizens' mannerisms.


There are a whole bunch of new "no-no's" -- new, at least, for many Chinese.

Spitting on the streets, which is practically a national pastime, is punishable by a $7 fine. Smoking, also popular, has become more regulated. And restaurants, mainly those that cater to foreigners, are required to offer nonsmoking sections, which is not easy to enforce.

Unlike the conventional police who fight crime, new politeness police bark orders to line up at bus stops. The idea of a queue is very foreign in China.

On the packed Chinese subways, there is typically an inordinate amount of pushing and shoving, even more than by New York City standards. The concept of letting people get off the subway, before getting on, is relatively new.

Zheng Mojie, the deputy director of the Beijing Civilization Office, who has become the "Miss Manners" of Beijing, said the focus on politeness and order is essential.

"When you have a visitor, you need to clean your house," Mojie said.

The Chinese have embarked on a major housekeeping project, investing $57 million in renovation projects and the construction of more than 5,000 public restrooms -- once the bane of foreign tourists.

"It used to be you'd find the nearest public toilet simply by the smell," Mojie said. "Now you actually need a sign."

Ma Kangping, who oversaw the toilet upgrades, is "flush" with pride over the end result of shining stalls.

Besides being new and clean, the bathrooms themselves are infused with Chinese character and stunning architectural touches. The renovated toilets near the Forbidden City and other historical sites are among the top-rated in Beijing.

But while the renovations have been successful, they are far from perfect. "Squatty potties," as they are called by locals, are still abundant. Even washrooms with Western-style toilets don't always offer an important accompaniment: toilet paper.

Cynthia Serrells, an American living in China, offered some advice for foreign tourists visiting for the Games. "Well, it's kind of like going in the woods, but you are in the bathroom," she said. "So just take paper -- always take paper with you."

The makeover does not stop with the toilets. The government is pushing citizens of Beijing to learn at least a little bit of English. From cabdrivers to waitresses, in the service industry, everyone is practicing "Welcome to Beijing."

Thousands of Olympic volunteers are taking classes to learn English. In one class, they enact everyday conversations and ask questions like "Where are you from?" to Chinese ladies, dressed up as foreigners in red wigs and sunglasses.

In addition to these largely cosmetic preparations, a 100,000-strong, anti-terrorism force has been trained to guard the Games. Its members practice using automatic weapons, learn how to combat hijacking scenarios and how to break down doors and detain perpetrators.

Surface-to-air missiles are stationed near the Olympic stadium. Aggressive air pollution controls include shutting down hundreds of area factories and drastically limiting the number of vehicles on the road. During the Olympics, cars with even-numbered license plates will drive on one day, and those with odd plates will drive on the next.

And if need be, government will control the weather. Using a method called "cloud seeding," which uses rockets to shoot chemicals at clouds, officials can manipulate the weather to make rain to clear out smog.

In China's pursuit to host the best Olympics in history, the sky is literally the limit.