Thursday, May 1, 2008

It's official: 100 days until the Olympics!

Message from the President of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge For the special edition of "Beijing Daily" for the 100-day countdown to the 2008 Games

In 100 days, we will celebrate the opening of the Olympic Games in China, where one fifth of the world's population is longing for them.

The world is watching China and Beijing with great expectations. The athletes also have great expectations and they are all looking forward to competing in the breath-taking Beijing venues.

The Beijing Games will be not only a moment of sporting excellence. There will be the opportunity to discover other cultures and share the passion that only an even like the Olympic Games can bring to life.

I would like to thank the Beijing Olympic Organising Committee, and in particular its President Liu Qi, the Chinese government and the Chinese people, for all their tremendous efforts and dedication to making the Beijing Games an unique and exceptional celebration.

See you in 100 days in Beijing!

"The opportunity to discover other cultures" should definitely be viewed as a plus, but my experience with ethnocentrists -- these include elected officers, mind you... we won't name names, Tancredo -- tells me it's hard to be optimistic about how China will be viewed. Most Westerners -- certainly most liberals, which marks possibly the first time I've been on the other side of the fence on a liberal cause -- probably consider China in the wrong on all the hot-button issues of the day, from Tibet to free press, and see the country as a rising giant to be dealt with (or, more bluntly, a threat). They're the sort of folks who are good-natured and good liberals -- you know, they send money to Obama, join Facebook groups called "Lights Out for Earth Day," play Ultimate Frisbee -- but who also think what's good for the U.S., i.e. what works in the U.S., is good and will work everywhere else. It's a bit naive. They'll also make fun of people who flash the peace sign while posing for pictures (wait a minute... that's me) or cultural music, and that can get a little tiresome.

But I digress -- a special sort of digression where I digress from a point I haven't even started to make, which is this:

The Chinese can't wait for the Olympics.

They simply cannot wait. Take, for instance, the scene around Tiananmen Square last night. I won't go into too much detail explaining -- it was tempting to wrap an essay on nationalism around this night, but I'll save that topic for another time. Just look at these pictures:

The people with the painted faces and Chinese and Olympic flags are from a local college, and once they started posing for pictures, the attention they received would have made even Siobhan Parekh blush.

Now watch these videos, and take note if you can of the metallic echo of the voices counting down. If you can't hear it, rest assured when I tell you it was spine-tingling.

In the second video, the crowd sings the Chinese national anthem, which I've always thought was one of the better anthems out there. It formed out of wartime -- the most brutal war in Chinese history, against the Japanese -- so the lyrics are, understandably, warlike, trying to rouse a form of patriotism that only war can elicit. Of course, China hasn't been involved in a war since the 50s, and they haven't perpetrated any acts of aggression on foreign countries in... well, I'm not sure when they ever have. So maybe this anthem combines the best of two worlds: the nationalism of countries at war and the pride of countries in peace. Oh the trumpets!

Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves.
With our very flesh and blood
Let us build our new Great Wall.
The People of China are in
The most critical time.
Everybody must roar his defiance.
Arise! Arise! Arise!
Millions of hearts with one mind,
Brave the enemy's gunfire, march on!
Brave the enemy's gunfire,
March on! March on! March on, on!

POSTSCRIPT: That train wreck I mentioned a few days back... I got word the next day that Zhang Peng, my really cool cousin I'm staying with, had been thinking about attending a wedding in Tsingtao, and if he had taken a train, he very well might have been on the train that crashed. Anyway. Not the sort of thing you want to mull over. He's in Zhangjiako now, a city to the south of Beijing where his parents live and where he was born. He'll be gone till Sunday.

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