Editor's Note: Associate editor David Biello is reporting from China during a 17-day stay. We'll be posting stories from him regularly. In his first installment, we present a slide show of the construction transforming Beijing.

The new construction begins at the airport—and doesn't stop as you travel from through the suburbs ringing Beijing to the heart of downtown. Even the Forbidden City of the emperors is getting a face-lift. All told, China is spending $40 billion on construction in its capital, according to official estimates, both for the upcoming Olympics in August and as part of an ongoing building boom in both commercial edifices and residences for its nearly 18 million inhabitants. All this construction has led to the displacement of at least 25,000 people and the destruction of many centuries-old villages and hutongs—neighborhoods traversed by narrow, winding alleys.

That's why many joke that the national bird of China has become the construction crane—and why Beijing's air pollution remains so bad that it can be difficult to see more than three blocks through the dull gray haze that irritates the eyes and provokes the nose and throat. All that cement-making and other industry, the construction site dust, winds blowing off the Gobi Desert, the white fluff released by poplar and willow trees in May, and the growing traffic in both cars and jets adds up. "It is bitter air that you can feel," says Timothy Hui, a longtime resident of Beijing who works at the local office of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a U.S.-based environmental group. "People hate it. They complain."

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