Inside China: Beijing changes its spitting image

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The Independent Online

There are just 33 days to go before it all kicks off, and all Beijing needs is a bit of spit and polish. Well, perhaps not quite so much spit. That's something which the Chinese government is trying hard to eradicate. It's an old Chinese custom to clear the throat lustily and let fly with the sputum but, conscious of the sensitivity of visiting westerners – not to mention hygiene issues – a campaign to put a stop to public expectoration seems to be working. As for the polish, well there's barely a venue remaining that needs more than a final lick of paint before what is certain to be the most lavish and spectacular of Olympic Games begins. But not all is plain sailing. A frantic clean-up operation is going on out at sea in Qingdao, where Britain's yachties are expected to win a fistful of medals. The competition is threatened by an invasion of green algae. And while the lattice-like Bird's Nest Stadium is ready for the opening ceremony, the atmosphere around it remains suspiciously smog-like, despite intense efforts to clear the pollution. Will we be asking if this is what they mean by Bird's Nest soup?

Chinese open up but how long will it last?

Sympathetic reaction to the Szechuan earthquake and its aftermath muted much of the criticism over the Free Tibet and human rights issues which have dominated the build-up to Beijing. China has shown an openness which, the International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge says, would not have happened but for the Games. Will it last? The evidence of the Torch Relay here is that security, with 100,000 police and troops on high alert, will be oppressive and visitors' movements restricted. The Chinese are not so much inscrutable as inflexible.

Good spot for Daley to do homework

No need for schoolboy Tom Daley – who has been dubbed Phenomo-Tom by his mate and mentor Leon Taylor, the Olympic silver medallist – to miss out on his homework when he comes to China. Before the Games he'll be based with the British diving squad in Xi'an, once the ancient capital, 800 miles from Beijing and one of the birthplaces of Chinese civilisation. There's a 6,000-year history lesson on tap for the 14-year-old Daley – a period spanning 13 dynasties and 73 emperors – and a visit to the famously excavated Terracotta Army is surely worth an essay. Xi'an also happens to be the diving capital of China. Daley (pictured) may be our Phenomo-Tom but the Chinese reckon they have half a dozen water-babes like him waiting in the wings.

Coming clean over the doping question

Beijing has spent more than £7.6 billion in an attempt to clean up the city but just as significant is China coming clean over drugs-taking among its competitors. Positive tests on two swimmers and a triathlete have not only eliminated three potential Olympic medal-winners but given the world another example of their new openness. Hitherto the suspicion had been that drug abuse was widespread but conveniently covered up. Now with the IOC's new anytime, anywhere testing laws in place, the Chinese are desperate to avoid the sort of pre-Olympics scandal that blighted the Athens Games for the Greeks.

Oh deer! Not only Viagra gives a lift

The IOC need to move swiftly if they are to ban Viagra, now claimed to stiffen the winning urge among athletes, for it is readily available across the counter in China. One herbalist just outside the Olympic Village recommends another product which he says also aids performance and rapid recovery from injury: dessicated deer's penis.