Opening extravaganza brings city to standstill

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 August, 2008, 12:00am

Beijing was eerily quiet yesterday as people in the capital, many of them granted a special holiday, heeded government appeals to stay at home and watch the opening ceremony on television.

The city government allowed all central departments, government agencies and social organisations to take the day off, and many private organisations and businesses followed suit. Even many foreign companies, which do not usually follow the local holiday schedule, either took the day off or closed early.

The government had been urging the public, through the media, to enjoy a 'stay-in celebration at home' in an attempt to 'reduce traffic pressure and ensure a safe Olympics'.

Nokia sales manager Zhou Zhan , whose company gave staff a holiday, spent the day with his wife shopping and taking pictures on the streets before going home to watch TV. 'The city has changed over the past few days, with more colourful flags flying and more foreign guests arriving, but it's a pity that I can't go to watch any games at the venues,' said Mr Zhou, who failed to obtain any tickets.

Only banks, hospitals and other public services were open yesterday, although many bank branches were closed because they were in security zones or affected by traffic controls on the torch route.

Cinemas, gyms and shops, which would normally stay open during holidays such as the Lunar New Year, also closed for the day or shut early.

Only a handful of cinemas were open, but those that were had closed by 6pm so that staff could get home to watch the opening ceremony.

Almost all shopping malls and supermarkets brought their closing times forward by several hours to 7pm, and wet-market vendors all finished business as quickly as possible in the morning.

In Shenzhen and Guangzhou, a half-day holiday was given to tens of thousands of workers in private companies, factories and department stores. Migrant workers said such leave was usually granted only at Lunar New Year.

Televisions were installed in public areas and in hospitals to allow the public and staff to watch last night's ceremony.

Commuters were not left out, with TV screens on the subways, trains and buses showing the opening ceremony. However, transport companies said bus drivers were not allowed to stop their vehicles to watch the event.