|1194 days to go! Me in Beijing, May 2005|
When I first moved to China in early 2005, I was struck by how excited Chinese people were about the Olympics. There were "Beijing 2008" signs (and countdowns, see photo) in Beijing, sure, but I remember seeing advertisements everywhere I traveled in China, as far south as Guilin. Being from the US, the Olympics are certainly popular, but hosting them isn't cause for much excitement; in fact, it often creates a lot of grumbling. As costs for hosting rise, the appeal to host has become less and less enticing for some countries, such as my own. But that's certainly not the case for China or Asia (which will be hosting three Olympic Games in a row--Pyeong Chang 2018, Tokyo 2020, and Beijing 2022).
|Beijing Paralympics, Sept 2008|
I lived in Beijing during the run up to the Olympics and watched the city transform. When I first arrived, Beijing had only three subway lines, but beginning in 2007, a new line seemed to open every few months (and this trend continues today). Ramshackle restaurants soon began to disappear, as did much street food. A small part of me mourned such developments, though I had to concede most changes were probably for the best. Citizens were coached on how to treat foreign guests, with tips posted in various places throughout the city (perhaps the whole country) and red banners urging people to "act civilized." Volunteer attendants strictly guarded bus stops and subway platforms, yelling at anyone who pushed or rushed an opening door. Locals spit less and stood in line more. The feeling of excitement and pride was palpable. It was also contagious. I couldn't help but feel happy for Beijingers and China as 2007 came to a close. I also felt sad to be leaving the country at such a momentous time.
|view of the Water Cube from inside the Nest|
It turned out to be a brilliant plan. Tickets were relatively easy to obtain by simply purchasing them online. I opted for some basic seats to watch track and field which was held in the famed Bird's Nest stadium--the total for two tickets wasn't much more than 100 rmb. Once our tickets were secured, we had no trouble finding cheap accommodation. On the day of the event, we left our hostel early, but getting to the Nest was pretty time-consuming. I'd rather not imagine what it would have been like during the summer games. The Olympic subway line was packed and we had to wait a considerable amount of time just to board a train. Once we were finally in the stadium's vicinity we stood gobsmacked at the snaking line for security. We decided to take out time outside, as we were already late for the start of the event anyways. We snapped some pictures and eventually made it through the long line.
|Ming and I outside the Nest, 2008|
The actual event was awesome. The stadium was completely packed with onlookers, which surprised me. But what was truly amazing was the athletes themselves. Though all participants were disabled, most of them physically, though I believe some of them mentally, they were capable of achieving things I couldn't even imagine. I was deeply moved by their ability not only to overcome their disabilities, but also to achieve such difficult feats athletically. Sure, attending the Olympics must be great and something I hope to do at some point in my life, but I think the Paralympics are very special in their own right. I'm really glad I had the chance to experience them, especially in a city I had briefly called my home, Beijing.
Have you ever attended the Olympic Games? Has your country ever hosted them?