Monday, August 4, 2008

Beijing and the Olympics

What follows is another weekly report from one of my grandsons who is studying in Beijing:

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Beijing, China

People say that Beijing has been radically transformed in the last 10 years by its rapidly developing economy. To that I cannot attest, but I can tell you that in the last two weeks Beijing has been transformed from a preparing-to-be Olympic city to a full fledged Olympic host town. The metamorphosis has been sudden and drastic; the amount of money spent must be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Every public park has sculptures of the Olympic mascots, giant signs showing the Olympic rings, or other ostentatious displays. Every public monument is decorated with 'Beijing 2008' signs and kiosks filled with smiling Olympic volunteers clad in the official Adidas blue-and-white volunteer garb. It is impossible to go outside without seeing signs of the world stage being set, street sweepers are out, police are stationed at every intersection, and the city workers have had their wardrobe subsidized to all wear matching Olympics clothes. Prices have started to inflate, water that used to cost 2.5 kuai now is 3, other prices are sure to rise soon. All of the news headlines, billboards and fliers are advertising Olympic venues. Companies have started plastering buildings with photos of superstars in hopes to open the Chinese market to foreign goods, and Chinese companies are busy trying to get their name out to foreign markets. Journalists everywhere are toting their cameras and microphones and trying to capture the sights before the city is overrun by the 500,000 expected to show up for the games. The weather is still overcast and a thick haze still hangs over the city, draping Olympic venues with a blanket that prohibits their viewing except in close proximity. Over the last few days we have seen heavy rains, some of which were government created. The government says that construction is mostly stopped, but the consensus is that all of the big construction sights in the city, such as the government pet-project for CCTV (Television service) are still happening. Fewer cars are on the road, but after 20 years of polluting, is two weeks of strict control going to make much of a difference?

I too have been exceedingly busy trying to balance Chinese, sightseeing, and my internship. With only one more week of class, the end is near enough to taste. It won't last though, as soon as my class ends my internship starts. Fortunately it is going to be interesting: I will basically be sightseeing on someone else's dollar. Every day I will be paired up and sent out to one of 26 sections of the city where I have to look for Olympacentric advertisements, take pictures of them and then write a report. My company bought me a ticket to the Women's 30m diving on the 20th, and I also have tickets to the Men's singles and Women's doubles tennis finals on the 17th, both of which I am extremely excited for. Watch for me on TV! (Any suggestions of crazy things to do so you can pick me out from the crowd are appreciated, remember, anything too crazy might get me arrested.)


Since the last time I wrote I have:

-Gone to the silk market (the largest tourist trap on earth, Sarlacci don't count)

-Visited the Temple of Heaven (the parks here are all starting to seem the same: grass you can't walk on, people playing out-of-tune instruments, and impressive temples that all seem to look the same)

-Listened to the Beijing Opera live (impressive even though my eardrums felt as though they had been rubbed with sandpaper).

-Mastered crossing the street and no longer need the crutch of crossing alongside a Chinese person. Still though, at each attempted cross I feel like Pharaoh at the red sea—

Not sure if my time has come. So far I am unscathed, although for those of you that have been close enough to city buses to touch them as they whiz pass know why the Chinese people have such grey hair.

-Have managed to spill an entire takeout tray of noodles with hot-sauce on my lap while traveling in a taxi. I am still not sure which was more awkward, explaining to the cab driver what the saucy smear on his seat was, or explaining to my roommate why my shorts smelled of hot sauce.

-Watched paint in the kitchen fall into my roommate's pot of boiling soup from the peeling ceiling, and him just pull it out and continue. My money is on lead poisoning.

-Have gained confidence in my Chinese. That's why I'm here, right?

The next week promises to be just as eventful. This weekend we have a kungfu play, and a China night where each class has prepared a skit to show off our improvement, I also plan on doing some last minute sight-seeing before I get too busy. Monday we have a formal debate in class, Wednesday our final oral test and Friday the written test. I will have to say goodbye to my friends here, as most of them leave next weekend.

Watching the Olympics will give you a whole different view of China I'm sure, feel free to send me questions and let me know how the States portrayal of the Games is.

Open minded and ended,

Jeff Vredenburg

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