Tight security as China marks 70th anniversary of the end of WW2 with huge military parade
A city on lockdown. No subway, no cars, roads closed and communication down - but there are plenty of flowers.
In my 18 months of living in Beijing never has security been so tight and so frustrating, as the city stages the first military parade under President Xi Jingping, since he took power in 2012.
I live in one of Beijing’s hutongs, the traditional narrow alleyways where each small home centres around a courtyard. The majority of my neighbours have no bathrooms and use public facilities to go to the toilet and wash, but over the past month, their homes and the walls surrounding the area have been completely altered.
One morning last week, I woke to find two workers applying cement and bricks to my existing wall. By the time I had returned home from work, I had completely new brickwork that I neither asked or paid for - the government did.
The block of flats adjacent to my street that - admittedly - is a little unsightly also has a new, ornate, brick wall that now conceals the building, and all of the alleyways have been lined with plants and flowers. Some of the 2.8 million flower pots that now exist around the city in readiness for this event.
The authorities have even kindly planted bamboo and palm trees at the side of my house. All this, so even the more traditional, untidy parts of the city look attractive as the capital prepares to show off to the world. This, I learned, was only the beginning of a temporary transformation.
For more than a week, the software called VPN that is used by Westerners, journalists and savvy Chinese to circumnavigate the Chinese Firewall has been limited, virtually unusable, especially on smartphones.
VPN works in a virtual way by locating you somewhere else in the world other than China so you can access Western media; the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Google and Gmail. It is an essential tool for me operating here.
Supposedly, only 1% of people living in China use the VPN system so the Chinese authorities ordinarily let us do so. We’re less of a threat because foreigners are unlikely to post their thoughts on Chinese social media. Therefore, they are less likely to cause trouble or provoke unrest.
But this week the authorities are taking no chances, demonstrating that they always have the ability to completely shut down such facilities. It may be naivety on my part, but the level of control in China never fails to surprise and alarm me.
China has held 14 military parades since the Communists came to power in 1949. Today's is expected to be the grandest and most extravagant.
The last one in 2009 cost more than £1 billion. Yes, today's is to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the end of WWII in the Pacific, but it is also to showcase the People’s Liberation Army’s rapidly growing capabilities at a time when Beijing is asserting territorial claims in the South and East China Seas.
It also comes as China battles to stabilize a faltering economy. This is its chance to show strength to the world, albeit through theatre.
As much as the preparation for this parade is intense, so too is the security around Beijing.
Roads leading up to Tiananmen Square have been resurfaced with anti-explosion material for fear of terrorism attack.
Military checkpoints and nuclear car scanners patrol the approach roads to the capital.
Sales of drones and flying equipment have been blocked since August, and all post coming into the city is being scanned.
I have only been allowed to use my car every other day since mid-August, and 185 factories have been closed in the area to guarantee good air quality, minimal pollution and blue skies for the day.
The authorities are even closing Beijing’s two airports for three hours for the duration of the parade.
Some 12,000 troops will be involved in this display, 200 aircraft will take to the skies, and 500 pieces of equipment will be showcased.
It will be a spectacular display of military force by a country vying to be a world superpower of that we can be sure.
But whether this drive to stoke patriotism and place China top of the table of international diplomacy comes with it, is doubtful. But one out of two won't be bad.