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Scott Taylor, Deseret Morning News
Construction is under way in the Olympic Green outside the National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest. The nearly finished 91,000-seat stadium will be the centerpiece of the Summer Games.

BEIJING — In an annual springtime transformation, color is returning to Beijing — with the brown and gray landscape in city parks, open areas and surrounding mountains slowly being replaced by a wide spectrum of greens, yellows, pinks and whites as trees and plants begin to bud and flower.

Augmenting the natural hues are the noticeable addition of five bold colors — the red, yellow, green, blue and black from the five interlocking rings of the world-recognized Olympic logo — as the capital city of the People's Republic of China prepares to host the 2008 Summer Games.

The five colors are cropping up everywhere in displays and signage; they're also casting a figurative tint across the city of nearly 18 million residents.

Red and yellow — also the colors of China's national flag — are used predominantly for most Beijing Games advertising and marketing, since they simultaneously convey both nationalism and the Olympics.

Green and blue could suggest the environmental concerns and efforts in Beijing. And black might best describe the cloud of protests and controversies collecting in advance of the Games.

Today marks four months out from the Aug. 8 opening ceremonies at National Stadium, with massive Olympic countdown-clock markers — such as the one along the Fourth Ring Road near the Olympic Green in northern Beijing — digitally ticking away the days to China's biggest-ever event.

Thanks to a table tennis exhibition less than four decades ago, the People's Republic of China opened up to the United States and the rest of the Western world. What started as so-called "ping-pong" diplomacy then has now led to Beijing serving as the world's stage for an estimated 10,500 international athletes competing in 302 events from 28 sports — yes, that does include table tennis.

And with the '08 Games come the good, the bad and the scrutiny of an estimated 20,000 foreign journalists unleashed in one of the final frontiers of the civilized world, with the Chinese government professing free and open access to the visiting media but possessing a history of media sensitivity, wariness, restrictions and control.

The people of Beijing and China are curious as to how their hometown and home country will be received when they welcome the world later this summer — much like Salt Lake City and Utah residents leading up to the 2002 Winter Olympics and those in Atlanta prior to the '96 Summer Games.

The Chinese ask what initial impressions Americans have of Beijing and China leading up to the Summer Games. They speak proudly of their top international athletes — basketball superstar Yao Ming and hurdler Liu Xiang, both of whom were on hand to welcome the Olympic torch to Tiananmen Square last week. They routinely cite the Beijing Olympics theme of "One World, One Dream."

The questions then become more serious — questions that suggest that oneness may be just a dream.

The Chinese wonder why protests in Tibet and around the world have to detract from the Olympic prelude. They hope for quick and peaceful resolutions. They question why the United States Olympic Committee eschews the offered Chinese food services for athletes and will instead import its entire food supply. They don't understand the USOC's worries of a possible steroid-tainted meat supply and the comforts to an athlete of a regulated, routine diet.

The human-rights concerns and other controversies accompanying Olympic headlines outside of China differ from the attention given inside China to another Western worry — environmental concerns, particularly the area's notoriously poor air quality.

China's government has made efforts of late — planting massive tree breaks in northwestern Beijing to help diminish the sand-filled summer winds coming in from desert areas, decreasing the number of 2008 construction projects, limiting taxi and public transportation traffic and planning similar restrictions on the driving of private cars later this summer in hopes of cutting down air pollution.

But it may not be enough — especially when an estimated 50 percent of the city's air pollution is projected to come from neighboring provinces.

Still, Beijing's air-quality efforts are all part of the "Green Olympics" movement — a host city that boasts of environmentally friendly efforts ranging from "green" hotels trying to conserve energy and water resources to "green" organic food supplies.

To help move the huge influx of Olympic visitors, Beijing has more than doubled its subway system and late last month opened the dragon-shaped Terminal 3 at Peking Capital International Airport, with the new international terminal to handle some 60 percent of the airport's passengers, including the bulk of international visitors.

The city still has plenty of Olympic-venue and Olympic-support projects to complete in the coming months before August's Games. The high-profile Olympic Green area still seems to be more than four months away from completion.

But a nation whose history claims building and rebuilding the 4,000-mile-long Great Wall certainly seems like it would possess the manpower and willpower to complete major construction projects in timely fashion.

2008 Beijing Summer Olympics

Awarded: July 13, 2001

Opening Ceremonies: Aug. 8

Events: 302 in 28 sports

Athletes estimate: 10,500

Foreign journalists estimate: 20,000

Closing Ceremonies: Aug. 24

Trivia: Because the number 8 is considered lucky in Chinese culture, opening ceremonies are set for 8:08 p.m. on 8/8/08.

E-mail: taylor@desnews.com