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 13, 2008 5:36 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
The balls were flying at Beijing's Capital Gymnasium volleyball venue Sunday night. The Germans clapping. The Poles spiking.
That's when Ms. Zhu, one of several thousand yellow-clad grandmas and grandpas - members of the 'Beijing Civilized Workers Cheering Squad' - turned to me and asked..."Are you an American? Are you a basketball fan? China is playing your Dream Team tonight."
Ms. Zhu then rattled off the U.S.'s starting lineup: Zhan Musi (Lebron James), Ke Bi (Kobe Bryant), Ji De (Jason Kidd), Huo Huade (Dwight Howard) and Kameiluo Andongni (Carmelo Anthony).
We'd just watched a lanky, fiery men's volleyball squad from Bulgaria dismantle China. Now Poland's giants went to work on Germany. Chinese flag folded neatly in her lap, Ms. Zhu relaxed. She began to pepper me with questions about basketball in the U.S.
"This has been fun," remarked Ms. Zhu, referring to men's volleyball at the Capital Gymnasium. "But I wish we were watching Wei De (Dywane Wade) and Yao Ming. They're great."
Olympic volleyball in Beijing - China vs. Bulgaria & Poland vs. Germany
Photos by Andy Ramdular
Anxiously patriotic during China's loss to Bulgaria, delighted by Poland's raucous fans and gaga for the NBA, Ms. Zhu reminded me why I wanted to attend these Olympic Games.
Security here is suffocating: police everywhere, no beer-gardens, wet markets and nightclubs shut down. Foreign reporters have dubbed the 2008 Olympics China's 'No Fun Games.'
Truthfully, Beijing lacks an Olympic carnival atmosphere. But here in the city of Mongol emperors and politico-engineers, people are having fun. Strangers are exchanging smiles. Athletes are performing miracles.
Ms. Zhu's quirky questions Sunday night didn't grant China's domestic press freedom. A spectacular parade of nations at Beijing's National Stadium last week didn't dampen human rights and Darfur-related fears.
Still, we're learning about China this Olympic month - as we never would have otherwise. We're learning what's wrong with Beijing, what's right and what we're willing to fight for. We're learning to respect another country. And judging by her NBA fervor, Ms. Zhu is too.
The World Cup is fun. So is the World Series. The Olympics can be fun too. But mutual respect and sporting excellence are the characteristics which make every Olympic Games special.
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