Sunday, August 10, 2008

“中国加油”Cheer: 8 years in 8 hours

Every morning on the way to IUP I bike past a neighborhood park equipped for elderly ballroom dancing sessions, pick-pong matches and young late-night forbidden kisses. The red countdown board stands at the entrance informing everyone how much time is left before the opening ceremonies down to the second. I feel a surge of excitement reading "0000 days, 3 hours, 9 minutes and 53 seconds" - finally I'll see the fruit of years of preparation by China's Olympics Committee. However, the polluted sky suggests rain - where are the silver iodides that were supposed to rend Beijing's sky clear?

Jason and I take a taxi to Hardy's hutong near Yonghegong and Nanlouguxiang. Through narrow cobbleways and past stained windows we find a traditional siheyuan (four-corner roof hutong). We walk to the entrance with a row of empty imported beer bottles lined outside a window. The ambiance inside is beautiful, but I see no air conditioning machines. Two electrical fans swing its heads back and forth, weak breezes cooling sweat beads on everyone's noses. Hardy brings out a few cold beers.
"How much do you pay a month for this place?" I ask.
"1500," he replies.

As more people arrive and crowd the hutong, I escape outside for fresh air. An old man with a towel swung over his neck watches me as he cools himself with a paper fan. Untrimmed shrubs, two yellow parakeets and four red-eyed turtles surround him.
"Old man (courteously said), how long have you lived here?" I ask.
"About six months." he says.
"Only six months? You look like you've lived here much longer than that."
"Oh yes, I used to live north of here where that big building now stands. The government razed my hutong."
"Did the government give you enough compensation?"
"Meh," he chuckles, "it'll do, I suppose."
His wife brings out a bowl of green beans to snack on.

The group finally starts walking towards Ditan Gongyuan, a park about fifteen minutes away from the hutong. As we walk across an overpass, I notice the highway below is completely empty. Red and blue lights on top of police cars blink along the highway every fifty meters. I rest my water bottle and umbrella on the stone fence and prepare my camera, but a guard in full military regalia approaches me and tells me to take my belongings off the fence. "I'm just taking a picture," I say.
"Please remove it, or we will fine you." he warns. "And please don't take a picture."
"But when will I ever see Beijing's highways empty like this during rush hour?" I complain.
After staring at me for a couple seconds, he says, "Take it when there are no cars in the highway then," he instructs.
As he watches me carefully, I hold my water bottle between my legs and snap a photo. "Why are you guys here anyways? Why is this highway empty?" I ask.
"Government officials are passing through here. The officials from Austria just passed by. We cannot allow anyone to take pictures of these officials. Anyone taking photos of officials will be suspected as a terrorist."
"Did the officials from the United States pass by?"
"Yes."
While musing the thought of President Bush passing under my feet, we continue to walk to Ditan Gongyuan. Under the park gate, we see lit-up Fuwa mascots on a roller coaster made of flowers. Hardy and a few guys buy pizza and champagne from a local restaurant for everyone for dinner. After a few bites and gulps, we hurry through the park to the big TV screens. The gate to the closed TV area is already packed with people. Onlookers begin to cheer as the red countdown board next to the screen reads "5 minutes." Everyone quickly squeezes through and finds patches of grass to sit on. The TV darkens as the stadium lights go out. The drum countdown show excites everyone to yell in mixed unison, "Ten, nine, ba, qi, liu, five, si, three, er, yi..."

After Zhang YiMou's 80,000 cast show, portions of the crowd break into modest to crazy applause for various international athlete delegations. When Taiwan comes on as "China Taipei," the park breaks into cheers and claps. As soon as the camera pans to Chairman Hu, the claps die down to smatterings. When the American athletes come out, the audience goes nuts as some people swing American flags and shirts over their heads on top of fences and platforms. When the screen shows President Bush, the audience splits into claps and boos. Finally, when China's 1,600 delegation enters the stadium, the watchers all stand and roar for Yao Ming and the athletes donned in red and yellow suits (tomatoes and eggs, as my Chinese teacher calls them). As soon as Li Ning lights the scroll torch, everyone cheers as they runs toward the gate. I hear some people complain in pain about cramped legs and tired eyes. My friends invite me to a bar in Chaoyang - I refuse. Four hours of looking at a 10 by 12 TV has drained me.

On the subway back to Wudaokou, we share plans for the upcoming weeks.
"Are you going to see any of the events?" Anjli asks.
"No, I don't want to go to them," I say.
"What?? What are you going to do after your program ends?"
"I don't want to be in Beijing...I think I'll head south toward Sichuan or Tibet."
"Can you get into those areas? With the protests and disasters, will you be allowed to travel there?"
"Meh, better now than before the cultures there are China-fied."


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1 Comment:

Lucky said...

I'm back in the states now :)
Miss ya. Hope you can see my comment while in China and that you stay reasonably safe while in Tibet/Sichuan.

So how do you call someone old sir politely? “老先(生)"?and kudos for talking back to an official.

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