July 13, 2001, the day Beijing won the rights to host the Olympic Games, some 200,000 people converged on Tiananmen Square, celebrating with song and chant deep into the early morning. Already dissent was brewing from other parts of the world, but the revelers couldn’t be bothered with questions of Tibet, censorship and human rights. This was, at last, China’s chance to show off its 5,000-year-old culture and history and enter the global community’s inner circle, and they were determined to do it with flourish.
Seven years later, the sentiment’s still there, but you have to dig a little to find it. The ubiquitous Olympic logos and Fuwa mascots have blended into the cityscape, as indiscrete these days as the sight of construction cranes and traffic jams. You can walk the city streets for a week and not overhear a murmur of the Olympics, so no, contrary to popular conception, the Chinese are not incanting messianically that the Olympics are coming, the Olympics are coming. And TV stations may not lack for Olympics updates, but that doesn’t mean the country’s glued to the screen – just like after Fox airs its hundredth promo of Prison Break during the baseball playoffs, after a while the phrase “Olympic dream” can lose its pathos as well.
Point is, somewhere along the way, the people here have taken the Olympics’ coming as a fact. And yes, they can believe it, even as their surroundings change in manners simultaneously grand, mundane and bizarre, from the still-glistening subway system that’s being expanded as we speak to the ordinance laws on smoking and spitting to restrictions on marriage licenses and guidelines on how to cheer. It may take an outside perspective to make sense of it all.
That’s where we come in.
In the 52 days left until the Opening Ceremonies, we’ll provide an update every Monday on the week that was in Beijing. We can’t promise it’ll be comprehensive, but hopefully it’ll reflect a slice of life in this country: the wacky and unique, the cool, the poignant and heartbreaking.
If that’s not reason enough for a blog, well… all the cool kids are doing it. And we’re cool… right?
[Links and more unnecessary wordiness follow]