As you read to this final diary report from Beijing I am making my way across China after an exhausting but exhilarating Olympic experience.
These Games have become more than just another gathering place for top athletes to prove their worthiness to represent their countries. They have given the rest of the world a rare look behind the wall, that up until a few years ago, would not have been possible.
For those that were lucky enough to be here and witness it firsthand, it has forever erased what we thought we knew about this country and its people.
I tried to stay up with the view from the rest of world online each day and was worried that while major western media was focused: on lip-synching little girls, computer generated fireworks, air quality and the age of Chinese gymnasts, the bigger story was being missed here, that this country and its government had opened its doors and hearts to the rest of the world like never before.
That the progress made since the Games were awarded to China seven years ago might be overlooked. Expanding freedoms and shared land to benefit the individual and the collective. Billions of dollars spent on infrastructure and beautification to enhance the lives of its citizens. Major investments [were made] in cleaner forms of energy and transportation, moving breathable air quality back to world health standards and a booming economy with double-digit growth year after year.
A Harvard professor specializing in China says never before in the history of Earth has a country moved so many people out of poverty is such a short period of time. In the next decade it’s expected that over 60 percent of the population will live in metropolitan areas.
As for the notion that most Chinese would pack their bags and move to the U.S. today if given the chance; I didn’t find a one. Love for their country and optimism for their future has them firmly planted here at home. A Pew Research study conducted here showed nearly 90 percent of those polled were thrilled with their countries direction and optimistic about its future. Compare some of those same numbers in the U.S. these days.
I said before coming here, and still believe, that the Salt Lake Games in 2002, because of its people, were the best winter Games ever, and I expected that the these Games would be the best ever summer Games for the same reason.
The Chinese are without a doubt some of the most loving, caring people I’ve been around and welcome strangers into their hearts and homes easily.
I wish that more of you could see China the way I have been able to with almost two months of working side by side with their next generation.
It’s always a delicate subject when talking about China to bring up politics, but hopefully we can put politics aside. And rather than stage protests for one cause or another, which have never proven to change anything except the headlines for a day or two, let these Olympic Games turn that great wall into a great bridge; a bridge that will continue to move this country at light speed into the future for the good of its people and the rest of the world.
When you see what has been accomplished in the last decade, who knows what the future may bring?
Most international Olympic fans will tell you that they follow the Games around the world to feel the unity of nations and enjoy the sport. But make no mistake about it, a close second on the list is the chance to shop, especially in China! But you’d better come prepared for a physical, marathon-like experience.
All of the travel guides will tell you that haggling the price is a way of life here and that whatever the introductory price happens to be, counter with an offer of about a third. But beware, showing any interest or even slowing your walking pace will get you pulled in, literally.
Everything in every color imaginable. A carved piece of ivory-looking oxbone started at over 700 Yuan caught my eye, and the game was on.
The whole exchange lasted more than 10 minutes, and I walked away without a purchase, but the point is that what started out at about $100 us ended up around $20 and would have been a great souvenir!
Giant flea market-like shopping areas, like the Silk Street market, are huge draws for visitors. This one has five floors of everything from silk to jewelry, handicrafts to toys.
But if you go, be prepared to stay a while, and don’t be surprised if you’re totally exhausted after the experience!
The same geographical influences we talked about yesterday focusing on Beijing cuisine are also felt in a melting pot of world culture that provide a feast all its own on almost every street corner, park, tourism site and Olympic venue.
The Olympic Cultural Festival coincides with sport competition. Twenty-four live sites have performing groups from every continent singing, dancing and displaying their native costumes.
What’s most amazing, however, is that China, with all of its shared border neighbors, actually could keep all of the live sites and venues entertained all by themselves.
In one location, 30 small cabins have been set up to showcase the cultural heritage of of each province and region. From imperial settings of the Qing Dynasty Palace to Peking Opera, acrobats and, of course, martial arts and China’s great art and folk handicraft.
Calligraphy, ink paintings and woodblock prints are as coveted for keepsakes as Olympic souvenirs from these games. There are even inpromptu Chinese language lessons to learn basic communication while in Beijing. Which reminds me, I’m late for mine! Zai jian (good-bye) for now!
If you look at China on a world map, you’ll see that it has many neighbors: Mongolia, Korea, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, India and others that all have had an influence on this country’s people, culture and cuisine.
Within a couple of blocks of my hotel you’ll find a Japanese sushi restaurant, Mongolian barbecue, Korean grill and, of course, the Beijing favorite: hot pot. Here a boiling pot of broth stocked with various spices sits on a burner in the center of the table. On the menu you’ll find cuts of finely sliced lamb, beef and pork, shrimp and a wide variety of veggies. I passed on lamb testicles and other body parts!
It takes just a few minutes to drop each piece into the boiler. Once it’s cooked, you grab it, dip it in a delicious sauce, chase it with a few garnishments and you’ve got one of my favorite Chinese meals and a great social event as well!
One word of warning, it helps to be proficient at the use of chopsticks. One of my waiters positioned himself beside my table just to help me get the food to my plate! Otherwise you end up being dining room entertainment for the service staff and other patrons!
There may be no other city its size in the world that utilizes the public transportation system better than Beijing. Its bus and subway routes are laid out very well and are easy to navigate, even for visitors.
Most days, however, a simple cab ride will get you to your destination in better time and at a very low cost. But be prepared for the ride of your life!
The first thing that became obvious right away is that everyone has the right of way, or at least they feel entitled to it. Stop lights are observed, for the most part, at major intersections. But the secondary roads don’t even have stop signs; hence bikes, scooters, pedestrians and cars from four directions all meet in the middle, without hardly slowing down.
Lane changes are made while driving beside a car in your desired lane. Passing bicycles with a rider and passenger is done by crossing into oncoming traffic!
Pedestrians are often stuck standing between lanes of speeding cars and buses.
What’s amazing about all of this is, in all of the time I’ve been here, I’ve only seen one minor fender between two cabs. No bikes or pedestrians.
So why risk life and limb? Most cab fares are less than $2.00.
It’s not a coincidence that the Western style shopping area known as Wangfujing is just one subway stop away from Tiananmen Square, a chance to grab the attention of tourists heading to one of China’s most recognized landmarks.
Inside the mall, Dairy Queen, KFC and Starbucks make foreigners feel at home. Outside in the walking mall, giant digital screens air Central China TV broadcasts and during the Olympics have become gathering sites for Beijing residents to watch live competition.
A left turn through a traditionally decorated archway quickly reminds you, however, that you’re not in Kansas any more.
Yes, Cicadas on a stick! By the way there were also sea horses, cocoons and other various mystery meats to choose from. I’ll stick with the candied fruit on a stick for my Chinese treat.
While China is being applauded for making modern improvements around the city, it would be a shame if it ever gives up the best of its culture and traditions. After all, that’s what we come to see, although a few more western-style toilets would be nice!
When you think back to the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, it was a bit odd to see armed reserve and active military standing at important gates and venues. In China, it’s a part of everyday life, especially in the neighborhood of my hotel.
This area of Chaoyang District is where many of the foreign embassies are located: the European Union, Germany, Sweden and others. They are guarded day and night by armed military police who can be seen regularly marching in formation when there is a changing of the guard.
KSL 5 TV
Military police guarding foreign embassy.
With their barracks a block away, their morning exercises are one of the first things I hear, and their jubilant singing one of the last each night.
Seeing the general population pass with little care, in this society now on the fast track to the future, makes you realize how far this country has come and brings hope for even greater strides tomorrow.
t’s day one of competition in this country, with roots 5,000 years long and what President Hu Jintao describes as a century-long wish to host the Olympic Games.
Although empty seats are visible at most venues, the Games of 2008 have been announced as the first sold-out Olympics ever.
One of the most interesting aspects of these Games is that the general populous is being exposed to sports they’ve never seen. But that doesn’t dampen their spirits. Cheerleaders and dancers entertain on the field of play, while volunteers lead cheers in each venue seating area.
Their enthusiasm is contagious, making every athlete from every corner of the globe feel welcome.
But make no mistake, there’s one clear favorite.
Love for their athletes and pride for their country make for an amazing spectacle that’s on display for billions to see, leaving no doubt that Beijing and all of China were ready for the Games of 2008.