'Like Singapore' - residents wake up to a new city

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 November, 2010, 12:00am

It was anything but an ordinary working Friday for Guangzhou residents yesterday as the build-up to the Asian Games opening ceremony turned their hometown into a different city.

It is the first time since the founding of the People's Republic that Guangzhou has hosted such a big international event.

And preparations for the Games have changed the city and its people's lives over the past six years.

'This is the first time in my life that I've felt I was in a foreign city, not Guangzhou,' said Wang Jiequn , who lives several blocks away from the site of last night's opening ceremony.

Wang said she did not usually like walking in Guangzhou because it was always too crowded and dirty, with occasionally appalling air quality.

But as she strode the streets around her home for about 40 minutes yesterday morning to check out the traffic restrictions and security precautions, she found she was in a different world.

'Compared with other days, there were far fewer people and cars and more flowers. It felt like Singapore,' said Wang. 'What we want most is that Guangzhou can look this way in the future, even after the games.'

To guarantee smoother traffic flow and less pollution, about half of Guangzhou's vehicles have been removed from its roads each day since early this month.

Yesterday was also declared a public holiday for residents. And some of Wang's neighbours decided to make the most of it by heading off on weekend breaks, helping to make the city's streets look half empty.

The strictest security precautions were put in place around Wang's Pearl River New City residential community. The whole area, of more than six square kilometres, was sealed off from the afternoon until midnight, with only those with special passes proving they were residents allowed to enter.

All 24-hour convenience stores, coffee shops, restaurants, banks, spas and real estate agencies were shut.

A Mexican business consultant who lives in the area said the security measures had gone too far. 'It is a little too much,' he said, carrying food from shops further afield.

Many residents said they felt proud of the city. But not all residents were so impressed.

A taxi driver said officials were interested in such projects only because the bigger they were, the more money the government would pour in and the more opportunities there would be for them to rake off some of it off for themselves.

'The road construction and traffic restrictions have given me a lot of trouble in the past few years,' he said.