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Beijing, China

Staff writer Susan Spano wrote a yearlong series of stories about China in a run-up to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. She describes her first visit to Beijing, in part: I suppose I should not wonder when people ask me about poverty, traffic, pollution, xenophobia, strange food and a host of other unflattering clichés born of previous encounters with the city. I must be patient when they grieve for the old hutong neighborhoods supposedly swept away by development, when they marvel at my ability to get around without a guide and when they ask whether my cellphone was tapped. The truth is this: There was the polluted, awkward, unfriendly Beijing I visited 10 years ago, and there is Beijing now, physically and psychologically transformed. Photo: A bicycle rider in Beijing whizzes past a mural of a Nike ad starring Kobe Bryant. Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times