This grand fountain near the office belies the less polished English translation on the sign.
Four years ago I was snug on my couch with two friends on the north side of Chicago. We had snacks. We were united in purpose. We had come together to witness China host its first Olympics.
By then I had become a full-blown Sinophile, studying Mandarin on Saturdays and plowing through books on China.
My friend Lisa was already fluent in Mandarin, having spent several years in Taiwan. My friend Jesus was wildly enthusiastic about sport, competition and the art of presentation.
For each of us that night, Beijing symbolized something similar and something different. For me, it fed my desire to get to Asia and work and live there.
It is four years later now. The 2,008 drummers—that glorious display of discipline and grandeur—are iconic. And I made it. I live in Hong Kong.
So how did the 2012 Ceremonies compare?
I don’t know. I was living a different Beijing.
That night, while the world watched to see what London would do, I was at the Beijing airport, my flight delayed. Waters from the worst flood in 60 years—a disaster that killed 77 people—were still receding. Flights were backed up. More storms lurked south of the city.
Two hours passed. Then we boarded.
But we didn’t move. Instead, the pilot made spirited announcements. The flight attendant brought us small cups of water. The ground crew showed up under pretense of letting us off the plane. Eventually the pilot left the cockpit door open. An old man wandered up the aisle and peered inside. Air China, the United of the Orient. No food. One miniature screen broadcasting the same Chinese movie for all. Four hours at the gate.
Meanwhile, London exceeded expectations during its re-branding exercise, by all accounts moving, funny, quirky, quaint, sweeping, edgy, and historical. I eventually arrived home at 4AM.
There is television and there is life. And only sometimes do they resemble each other. But it is fascinating to see how a nation shows itself to the world. How did you react to London 2012?
And a book Recommendation! If you like good travel writing you’ll enjoy this 1st person account of the Beijing Olympics by Shannon Young, The Olympics Beat, at Amazon.