Friday, July 31, 2015

Beijing 2022

1194 days to go! Me in Beijing, May 2005
I am super excited about the Olympic committee's decision today. Beijing narrowly beat out Almaty in its bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics, becoming the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics. 加油北京!Go Beijing!

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
But due to unforeseen events, Ming and I returned to China in early 2008. The price of rent in Beijing had, by then, skyrocketed. For example, our one bedroom apartment near the student district of Wudaokou had increased from 1700 rmb/month (US$220 at the time) to 2500 rmb. There was really no reason for us to return to the capital, so we decided to settle in Ming's hometown instead. I had my heart set on going to the games, but scoring tickets seemed like a sport in and of itself. From what I remember, it involved signing up on a Chinese website as soon as a certain set of tickets became available. Tickets often sold out quickly, some within minutes. The purchased tickets later had to be picked up at a designated time and place. The whole process seemed beyond my ability or patience level. Moreover, finding a hotel would be impossible or cause bankruptcy. I soon turned to plan B. We'd skip the hassle of the Summer Olympics and attend the Beijing Paralympics in fall.

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?


Anonymous said...

Back in the day I was actually training to make it into the Beijing 08 team for Finland however Injuries during military service stopped that dream. I never attended any Olympic Games so I think that in 2022 we might fly to China to watch the games and for 2024 I have high hopes that Hamburg will host the summer games :)

Autumn said...

It's great that someone who actually wanted to host the games won them. I have heard nothing but grumbling from my Boston friends when it looked like Boston might host, and nothing but cheering since Boston dropped its bid.

rosieinbj said...

@CrazyChineseFamily, the '08 Olympics were really hard to attend, particularly if you were are foreigner outside of China. They made getting a visa a total nightmare! I'm hoping things will be better for '22. I had no idea Hamburg was bidding for the Summer Games. That's exciting!

@Autumn, I totally agree. It seems like most cities in the US aren't getting much local support. I think Chicago was going to bid or lost a bid for the games, but I forgot which.

Anonymous said...

I was also in the Paralympics in the Bird's Nest!! It was so exciting, right? I had never attended a big sports event before and when the 90,000 people stood up and sang the Chinese anthem I was about to cry, hahaha. There must be a name for that, collective emotion or something...