The 2008 Summer Olympics will punctuate three decades of development and test China's global legitimacy. They've already transformed the way millions of people think and live. Seattleite and Fulbright researcher Daniel Beekman brings you Beijing.
August 6, 2008 5:35 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Three months ago, the booted parking attendants and stilettoed saleswomen of Beijing's Modern Plaza (Dangdai Shangcheng) off North 3rd Ring Road played to a crowd of 100 domestic and international reporters.
An official 'Olympic mall,' Modern Plaza boasts staffers competent in French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, English. As for the reporters, "neither language nor physical obstacles stood in the way of their interviews."
So read a report released by BOCOG - Beijing's Olympic organizing committee - the same outfit responsible for May's event.
Modern Plaza, a five-story jewel of a mall where grannies bring toddlers to play in an outdoor fountain and angular beauties bring husbands to visit Cartier, expects to see a spike in foreign shoppers during this month's Games.
"Some foreign customers visit our mall normally, but not too many," admitted one Modern Plaza manager. "Maybe less than five percent of our shoppers are from abroad.
"In August there will be more, because of the Olympics. We are located near Beijing's Friendship Hotel - a famous place to stay. Plus, our mall is outstanding. We have been evaluated as such in terms of English service."
Boasting high-end retailers like Cartier, Beijing's Modern Plaza is an official 'Olympic mall.'
Every morning, Modern Plaza's parking lot doubles as a dance floor.
Modern Plaza's salespeople began attending English-language trainings in 2004.
"The Olympics are for giving foreigners a look at China," said a smartly dressed Samsonite Luggage saleswoman, hired a year ago. "I've studied English. I've participated in our Modern Plaza team activities.
"Learning English isn't difficult. It's basically the same as Chinese pinyin. Anyway, the English I know is simple. 'Welcome,' 'thank you for coming' - that kind of stuff."
Two young saleswomen bent over a small counter out front of Modern Plaza's Hush Puppies store.
"Actually, we're studying English right now," one laughed, pulling out a laminated phrase-sheet - '30 Essential Sentences.' "We're all studying English and Olympic history in our spare time. It's about improving our suzhi ('quality') and serving our foreign friends."
One of the sentences on her sheet was 'Made in Italy.' Another, 'Please take your belongings with you.'
"Business has been up in our store since 2007," said the Samsonite saleswoman. "We're selling more and more of the most expensive luggage."
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