The streets had been swept immaculate by midnight cleaners, the red flags unfurled. It was quiet outside, with few cars on the road. (Many Beijingers had the day off.) Yet the sky was blanketed in grey haze. Whether from weather or smog, the effect was the same. You could see strain on the faces of passersby. This was the big day. And yet, something was amiss, anxious. It didn't feel like the big day. The government had promised to bring blue skies--with new traffic regulations, factory closures, and machines to seed the clouds with mercury and ward off rain.
The point isn't really about the air quality. It's about expectations. On most days, Beijingers have contented themselves to live with a veil of smog, as the price of rapid development that has made many lives far more comfortable. But today was supposed to be different.
The Opening Ceremony kicked off tonight after the sun had set, the day's grey skies hidden. Perhaps a new rain, or sudden wind, will clear the air before tomorrow comes.
This moment, this half-deflated feeling, won't define the Games. There will be many other memories. But indeed it is a moment.
(Photo Credits: Christina Larson)