Snowfalls bring a city windfall

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 January, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 January, 2000, 12:00am

It may be called the Northern Capital but a week of winter snow has its citizens furious as they struggle to reach work and other parts of the country.

'It takes me two hours to get to work, the buses are crawling along so slowly,' says grumbling Mrs He, an officer worker who relies on public transport to cross the city each day.

'Watching from the bus, I saw five or six cyclists skid and fall down in the space of just 10 minutes. It's so dangerous and icy,' she adds.

Most Beijingers still get on six million bicycles a day to travel to work and when there is so much snow, many abandon their bikes and crowd into the packed buses and underground trains.

Many wait long hours in the cold for the buses which travel in bunches, one behind the other.

The Beijing government, which has been trying to fulfil its 1988 pledges to improve life in the city in a hundred ways, has kept silent about how many of the determined cyclists have been injured.

It says hospitals have spent more than one million yuan (about HK$930,000) treating patients, especially the elderly who have come in with sprained ankles and broken arms. One hospital alone has treated more than 200 such patients this week.

'My mother-in-law hasn't left the house in a week, she is so scared of falling over,' says Mrs Ma, a cleaner.

The public parks have been deserted by the usual crowd of elderly qi gong practitioners, dancers and others taking their exercise.

'The good thing is that the air is cleaner and healthier. When it's not so dry there are fewer colds,' says Zhao Wei, who gets up at 6am to go through his exercise routine in Ritan Park.

The unusually deep snowfalls have delighted small children who have relished the opportunity to cultivate their showman-building skills but have surprised older residents.

The city's propaganda machine has been working hard to convince a sceptical public that it was not taken unawares by the snow which its own weather experts had helped induce to solve the perennial drought.

Yet nothing has been done after the first snowfall and a week later, after three more days of snow, most of the city's roads are still far from clear.

Eight major highways including two motorways have been closed and many flights have had to be cancelled.

'Why don't they spend more money on salting the roads?' asks one cyclist, getting up after a fall.

'They spend enough on all these celebrations.' Temperatures have plunged to minus 20 degrees Celsius, a freeze not experienced in 10 years.

Fresh snow has covered the ice, making paths doubly treacherous.

It has all prompted some to speculate that the unusual weather is due to the launch of China's first space vehicle, the Shenzhou.

The second big snowfall in midweek found the authorities more prepared and one day, as many as 600,000 were mobilised to sweep the snow.

Outside the diplomatic districts, squads of soldiers have been out shovelling snow off the pavements.

All other work units are legally obliged to clear the snow in front of the buildings under the city's three 'contracts'.

Householders and work units including shops and restaurants are responsible for cleaning and sanitation.

Beijing mobilised thousands of inspectors to patrol their efforts, fining the guilty as much as 1,000 yuan.

In fact, so many have been fined that the city has boasted gathering record revenue of 100,000 yuan.




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