One World, One Dream
It seemed the world had been waiting for it for ages. And now it seems that it was ages ago. The eighth day of the eighth month of the year 2008 – the day of the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games – and a day that was considered lucky since eight means wealth or fortune in Chinese. The whole world had been waiting for it – athletes had prepared for it and everyone was talking about it. More than anyone else it was the Chinese people who waited anxiously for the countdown clock to strike ‘0’. I was in Beijing to observe the changes that the city went through in the months before the big day. In June even, not everything was ready. The air was still polluted badly – but the government was trying to do something about it – workers were finalizing works at the stadiums and many last details were being arranged around the city. Restaurants got new and cleaner facades, the subway got a new ticketing system, and many other facilities were getting ready to be able to serve a large number of people… who finally arrived to observe the 29th Olympiad.
While the big burning footsteps ‘marched’ in the sky above the Bird’s Nest Stadium, I was sitting in front of a large TV screen some 6000 kilometres away – in Moscow. The opening ceremony began with a nine to one countdown, and Confucius quote – “Friends have come from far, how happy we are.” In the two hours that followed the thousands (14 000) performers gave a tour of Chinese culture, both modern and ancient, to show that they are building a nation that can live in harmony with its past and everyone today. The colourful performances and dances across the stadium-length scroll of paper that created a painting in the end all led to what the billions around the world were waiting for – the torch. The ending of the ceremony was impressive. Chinese gymnast Li Ning was hoisted high into the air to ‘run’ along the roof’s edge on a virtual carpet that opened before each step he made to finally light the big Olympic flame.
I observed, as the TV program showed the area around the stadium, that the city was totally devoid of cars and people at that exact moment – one could barely see people walking or riding through the streets that surrounded the Bird’s Nest. It was security measures that made it that way, I found out later on.
The ceremony finished long ago by now – but the excitement, the joy and enthusiasm is still present in the athletes and everyone supporting the games, also the ones watching it from in front of their television sets. The medal table has never looked like it does now – with China leading, only to be followed by the countries which used to lead in the past: USA, Great Britain and Russia. The media in Russia have been discussing this event a lot, and some believe Chinese ancient medicine knowledge is helping the Chinese performing so well. It is as if they are all taking something that cannot be detected as doping, but it actually is. In any case, even if there is something like that, no one will find out in the near future.
China has set the standard by now on how the games are to be happening. There have not been any major problems. And if there have, they were kept inside Beijing. But it is not just the Games that made China gear up to be ready for the world. China is striding towards a future as a global superpower – and Beijing wants to show the world the enthusiasm it has to become this superpower. Yet some of Beijing’s history is still present through the changes – bicycles still rule over cars, and hutongs are preserved and restored.
Let us see how the Chinese dream of One World, One Dream will gain the hearts of the entire world.
Beijing quiet after Olympics
The Olympics have completely come to an end now. By the time this is published the Paralympics will also be over, and Beijing will go back to its previous, yet somehow different life. But now, the atmosphere in Beijing is still that of a city receiving many guests. Restaurants are full and prices are higher than usual as well. It is remarkable though to see how well prepared China is to receive the Paralympics teams. The amount of volunteers around the city did not decrease at all, and car usage regulations are still in place. These athletes – these people, to me, have so much more courage, and it is just amazing to see them do things that seem impossible. So much courage, willpower, and spirit – it is fantastic to have such a crowd around you in the city.
This city, which will soon say goodbye to these athletes as well. And it will be then that Beijing can be added to the list of post-Olympic cities. Its name will soon be seen and heard next to Barcelona, Seoul, Sydney, Atlanta, Moscow, Mexico and the many others. And the Olympic flame is already preparing for its London performance.
People’s ways of life are now much more quiet in Beijing. Many international visitors are leaving the city, having completed their Olympic assignments and the new internationals are not with as many. Although, the visa/residence office is full – people are queuing for two hours at least.
As life progresses, as days pass and at night the moon gets fuller and fuller – the Chinese move on and are getting ready to celebrate the Autumn Festival. And as I bike around the broad and loud Beijing avenues, and the smaller hutong streets, I realize that being in Beijing is just great. Life is just so much easier here for some reason. Everybody is much more relaxed, not so much stress around and that just makes me wonder – is it because my money is worth more here? A better lifestyle? Is it the people surrounding me, who are just more polite and have more respect for others? Or is it just me not seeing the problems? I don’t think it is the last option.
Beijing is a city that one always wants to go back to, no matter how much one can dislike the smelly restaurants, the spitting locals, or any other little thing. Overall- this is the Beijing the majority falls in love with. A fun Beijing. A home – Beijing. A melting pot of cultures – that’s Beijing.
It is all about the people you meet – something I realized long ago! But it is a statement that is proven right time and again – like a scientific law. Daily life, new trips, new countries and cities, nights out or just simple brunches and dinners where groups of people mingle; these are the occasions that make me forget about annoying other things like the city and some of its local residents. Beijing definitely has little things that could come to bother one. But then again – these things are there to stay, and it is not up to an expat to change ‘local society laws’. Rather, it is up to us to change our perception of them.
My bike was stolen yesterday night. I was sad, maybe mad, certainly disappointed, angry, and blaming every single Chinese person that I came across – trust me, they were many! My shiny, almost brand-new (it was a birthday present!), blue, comfy, and very handy bicycle was gone! And there was nothing I could do about it. If I had gone to the police, I would have experienced a monologue by the Chinese police officer on duty and they would have just laughed at me – like they would do in The Netherlands. I guess in these countries bikes just come and go. No point in looking for it around my apartment compound either! Is there a point in switching my mind on to the next subject? Yes! And that’s what I did. My international group, my ‘Jing’ friends, laugh about looking for the bike at the Dutch, Turkish or Polish embassies, about taking somebody else’s bike, and coming to the conclusion that in Beijing one can still take a taxi without even thinking about its fares: A single euro, and you are home! That’s even cheaper than trams in Rotterdam!
The people I meet in Beijing, for some reason, I think of them as all having bigger dreams – they all came from so far away, all have big aims, big aspirations – and they all love Beijing! The real Beijing! Its lifestyle, its never-sleeping rhythm, its cute little hutongs, and the Western touch that the city got in the last couple of months. And to all these people Beijing is a city where they want to stay or come back to; where they want to study, work or just hang around; where they want to have their breath taken away by the energizing atmosphere. But most importantly, it is the city where they want to meet new people – because after all it is about who you have around you. It’s all about the people you meet!
Do I believe in horoscopes?
Do I believe in horoscopes? “A heavy workload on October 6 and 7 will create a bit of stress and frustration. The first impulse will be irritation, but if you take the time to listen and respond appropriately, you’ll have rewarding interactions.” As I read those sentences, just for fun at the beginning of October, I wondered who writes these, imposing a certain mood on the lives of those who believe it all.
I am not a horoscope believer; at least I wasn’t at the beginning of October. But the Chinese visa problems that took me by surprise started on exactly those dates, and created feelings of ‘irritation’, ‘stress’ and ‘frustration’. Apparently, during Chinese holidays, only ‘public places’ are closed. This does not mean – ‘We don’t discount holiday days from your visa validity date’, as it usually happens in Europe. My visa was overdue because of the holidays, because the university didn’t give me a bar-coded application form, because the Health Bureau took more time than expected, because the police have not approved my arrival on time.
The process very much reminded me of my never-ending fight with the Dutch IND, and made me wonder how much more bureaucratic all public security bureaus can be. So much paper work – blood tests, radiography (which means being under an unhealthy laser), filling out papers, more papers, and more forms. How I wish we had an IP – and I am not referring to an iPod, an Internet Protocol or Intellectual Property. No, how great it would be to have an International Passport! And when that thought came to me, my October 8 horoscope said that ‘all the problems you had, will take a different turn’ – and they did.
The whole problem started solving itself, domino effect-like. And my “lethal weapon” was a smile, an extra kind word, more time taken for explanations and just being polite. The problem has been solved now. I can surely say that China is a country with many specific rules, laws and regulations, all which are adhered to – but it also has people with a real face and good hearts, who will listen to you and do their best to understand and try to help. Facing real people makes a huge difference as opposed to facing letters in a language you don’t understand. ‘Respond appropriately’ my horoscope said. I did. It worked. So now, I ask you – Do you believe in horoscopes?
A village within a city
Beijing is a huge city. Its approximately 18 million inhabitants make it a city that never sleeps; a city where on every corner, hutong, main, side or back street something happens at all times. Part of this mega city is the Olympic Village. The Village opened its doors to this city as of last August. During the months before the Olympics this place was a mystery to everyone. Now however, The Village has become a second home to many – especially those who identify themselves with the international community. It looks very cosmopolitan and it is a place to visit to go shopping, eating out, to go watch a movie, to just walk around or to enjoy the Apple store genius bar. It is one of those places where it is hard to believe you are in China. It is also one of those places where you see familiar faces all around, which makes the expat community a village within a big city.
In Beijing’s expat community the theory of ‘six degrees of separation’ is definitely true; and it can probably be narrowed down to three degrees of separation. Most of the times I love living in this huge city while having the feeling of being in a village where I know all ‘the internationals’. At times, though, you realize that you already know the person you are meeting for the first time in reality – from stories told by others. It is a small village where you can be seen with someone and before you even know it, your closest friends found out what you have been up to before you tell them.
The Village has contributed big time to making the expat circle smaller – just because we get to see familiar faces more often. And, actually, it is great; it gives a feeling of being more at home. Of living in a small big village.
What’s your dream?
‘One World, One Dream’. These were the words that so many heard, said and on Beijing’s streets. The Olympics were a dream for many. Some saw their dream fulfilled – but what about those still living in Beijing?
Wu Pei Pei is an eighteen year-old boy I meet pretty much every day when buying fruit and vegetables from the little store downstairs. Wu Pei Pei works there full time. He helps his uncle and aunt. He does not speak English, but I manage to communicate with him with the little ‘shopping sentences’ I know in Chinese. He always has a big smile, and bright shiny eyes that seem like they dream of so much!
Not long ago I went to the small shop with my Chinese classmate, and we had a chat with Pei Pei – a chat that made me sad, impressed and realize how much we, (all of you reading this at the moment), are given in life to be happy about.
Pei Pei comes from Henan province. He finished school and at sixteen went to work at a factory in Guangdong Province. Yes – that is what one would call child labor in the West, but for him it was simply the only way to have a life. His father lives in Henan and takes care of Pei Pei’s grandmother. His mother passed away when he was just two years old. While telling us all this, his eyes filled with tears. It was so hard to continue talking to him, but for him it was important that we did. He told us that if he could make one unconditional wish it would be for everything around to be nice and full of magic. We then asked him what his dream was and the answer made me have tears in my eyes. “I can’t think of any. I am not well-educated, I don’t have money. I have nothing. All I want is that my family gets together. I don’t have much. I am all by myself. I cannot ask for anything else. I am satisfied with what I have. I can’t ask for more. And I don’t think I have the right to think about a dream, only the love from my aunt and uncle. And if I really could change things then it would be for my family to get together again.”
The world of so many kids in China today is probably very different from the ‘one world’ the Olympic committee had in mind. Their one dream is also a different one. They dream of going back to their provinces, of seeing childhood friends and family, of being educated, and of spending Chinese New Years with the people they love – not working in a store thousands of kilometers away from home.
That’s their dream – What’s your dream?
Check here the story of Wu Pei Pei.
2008 flew by
Another year has just passed by. It flew by in fact. Just like any other year, 2008 was full of sadness and happiness all over the world. The continued Iraqi war, presidential elections in Russia and the USA, Tibet riots, the earthquake in Sichuan that touched millions of hearts around the globe, M&As and bankruptcies, new environmental policies for CO2 emission reductions, the war in Georgia, the Chinese spacewalk, the Olympic Games, terrorism in Mumbai, riots in Bangkok, the world financial crisis, numerous economic stimulus packages, world unemployment, etcetera, etcetera.
Did the world change? It has for sure. Did it become a better place? That’s a hard question to answer, but it is something worth thinking about. In just a matter of two weeks newspaper stands around the world will be full of magazines with headlines and covers like “2008 in Review” and images from all these respective events. The sad thing that comes to mind is that most of these images and stories will be sad ones, with the exception of the happy Olympic winners and the happy face of the presidents elect.
We keep on hearing speeches from state leaders to take action, to change things, to stay positive and optimistic about what’s to come, to continue living happy lives wherever and whenever we are. And in the meantime all world political and economic issues keep surprising us in a negative way. That is if we care to be interested in what is happening.
Maybe it is better to just play dumb. Watch only comedy shows and movies, turn on the E-Entertainment Television channel and live the life so well portrayed in the glossy fashion magazines. Maybe that will then fulfill what politicians call ‘a happy and satisfied citizen’.
In most cases, however, this is not what human nature is like. Once we get an education we want to be part of society. We want to see it grow and change for the better. We want to improve. But then the question arises why we cannot we think like that on a global scale? Why can’t our tabloids be full of joyful pictures like the ones from the Games? Is there a point to kill? Michael Bowen and John Lenon promoted the “make love, not war” slogan for years, and it is this one that should continue to inspire us.
Yes – war, terrorist attacks and riots can be looked at as a business. Someone always profits from those. But wouldn’t it be better to just live in harmony? The UN has advocated that for decades. But there is always someone with a malicious plan. It is true that the history of humanity is one of wars, but with the advance of globalization, can’t this change?
The financial crisis might actually be an event in history that could bring people together for a common economic reason. So – let us all make the right choices, hope for the best and stay optimistic!
2008 – It’s time to say goodbye. Now, welcome 2009!