Every post, every piste a winner
Like an athlete shooting to instant fame after defeating much more fancied rivals, the impoverished county of Chongli, northwest of Beijing, continues to revel in sharing first place in an Olympic Games competition.
That competition was for the right to host the Winter Olympics in 2022, won by Beijing and Zhangjiakou city, but Chongli can bask in the reflected light of that goldmedal performance because it will be the main venue for snow competition events of the Games.
And just as gold medals can deliver financial windfalls to athletes, those who live in Chongli county, particularly homeowners and real estate agents, are already toting up the financial gains the Games will bring them. In Chongli, population 125,000, the price of residential properties has risen to an average of 17,000 yuan ($2,670) a square meter, double what they were a year ago.
Of course, there are downsides to this, too.
“In recent weeks the cost of a steamed bun has risen by half a yuan (about 50 percent), and pork has risen four to six yuan a kilogram (about 30 percent), and the prices of many other everyday items have risen, too,” says Yan Shibin, a taxi driver.
However, the good news for Yan, who says he has been driving taxis for five years, is that since November 2013, when Beijing announced it was putting in a bid for the Winter Olympics, business has been increasingly better in Chongli, and over the past summer, particularly after the announcement of the winning bid was made, it went through the roof, he says.
Chongli county, about 220 kilometers northwest of Beijing, lies on a long, narrow strip of land between mountain ranges. On the eastern side of the Donggou River, which divides the county, is an old district, parts of whose streets are occupied by vendors and lined with rundown houses and shops straddling roads that are in a poor state of repair.
On the other side of the river is a much more salubrious district, a lot of it built over the past two years, with dwellings and shops that look almost European, and there are modern buildings that line a spick-and-span street filled with cars bearing number plates indicating that they are from Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province.
Over the past year more than two dozen restaurants have opened up, and the county now even has a coffee shop.
Zhao Qiong, marketing d i r e c tor of Genting Resort Secret Garden, a winter resort located where Games events will be held, says that since Beijing announced its bid for the Olympics about two years ago, the resort has received 20,000 tourists, many of whom have said curiosity about the Games bid had drawn them there.
Observers say the mood of government officials, businesses and tourists seems to have become decidedly more upbeat this summer, in and around town.
Although Chongli is not that far from Beijing, it has long been one of the poorest counties in China. The staple crops of local farmers are potatoes and cabbages.
However, last year the county finally managed to lift itself off the national list of impoverished counties, thanks mainly to winter industries such as resorts and snow sports.
The skiing industry started a little less than 20 years ago, with the first big skiing area opening in 2003. Last winter, more than 2 million visitors, 16 times the population, traveled to the area to ski. About one-sixth of the population is employed in the skiing industry.
However, Chongli’s infrastructure and services seem to be well short of what the booming tourism and skiing industries require, and Yan cites the fact that the county has only about 60 taxis, many of them very run down and shabby.
Zhao of Genting Resort Secret Garden says: “I think the influence that the Olympics will have on Chongli has just begun to manifest itself, and this place is going to boom. Over the next few years there are going to be huge changes.” the population