Beijing Notebook: After the circus leaves town...

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The Independent Online

There is lots of Olympic legacy stuff doing the rounds on TV, and headlines saying "The Games are over, the Games go on", but it's back to business as usual in Beijing, with almost unseemly haste and the kind of pragmatism for which the Chinese are famous.

The smoke from a rolling barrage of fireworks had barely cleared around Tiananmen Square when President Hu Jintao boarded a plane for Seoul to meet his counterpart Lee Myung-bak, while one of the top news stories examined the possibility of a bridge between the mainland and self-ruled Taiwan, China's prodigal son, an island it considers a rogue province to be taken back by force if necessary. Exactly the kind of stories we had before Olympic fever transformed the city.

There are, of course, subtle changes in this city of 17 million. The air is still clear, and will remain so until the Paralympics end in mid-September. Same with the cars – yesterday was an odd number plate day, so no even numbers in sight, and traffic was accordingly light. People are wandering through the cleaner, leaner metropolis looking shell-shocked, suffering withdrawal symptoms from the greatest adrenalin rush Beijing has seen since the Qing dynasty was run out of town a century ago, or since Chairman Mao entered the city 60 years ago. There is a sense that people aren't entirely sure what to do now, so perhaps that explains why they've dived back into their work so quickly. Plus, for a lot of people, the Olympics meant suspending the kind of frenetic capitalism on which China's rise has been built, so they've been keen to get back to normal. Or maybe everyone's just sleeping it off?

The earth moves

There have been other signs of normality, too. In Sichuan province, where at least 70,000 died in the 12 May earthquake, 19 giant panda cubs have been born in captivity since the quake, according to Zhang Zhihe, head of the Giant Panda Breeding Technology Commission. "Normality" is relative when discussing panda breeding habits – they are famously averse to mating, and it's taken novel measures such as

advanced IVF technology and panda porn to get them moving on the family front.

Height of success

As if 51 gold medals wasn't enough, Bao Xishun from Inner Mongolia has been declared the world's tallest man – again. Bao, a herdsman, who is 7 ft 8.95 ins, lost the title in 2006 to the Ukrainian Leonid Stadnyk, who is 8 ft 5.5 ins tall. Stadnyk didn't want the publicity, whereas Bao, pictured with his wife, even sold sponsorship rights to his wedding last year.