On the eve of the Olympics (II) - Let the Games begin!

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ImageOn the eve of the Olympics, there is a collective holding of breath amongst Beijing office colleagues.  Will everything go smoothly?  Will it rain tomorrow?  Who will light the flame?  How will the flame be lit (will the phoenix come home to roost in the bird’s nest or will the sleeping dragon finally awake)?

Having the Olympics come to town – OUR town – is pretty amazing.  The last few frenzied weeks have seen The Great Polishing of Beijing taking place.  The newspaper reported that there are a million flowers in Tiananmen Square – I wonder who counted them?  Everything that could be decorated has been – banners and flowers and bright, shiny billboards are everywhere.  The Capital Museum is staging the greatest exhibition of China’s cultural relics ever seen – many priceless relics normally stored in the vaults of China’s Forbidden City are on public display.  My colleague Chunxiang Zhang’s 16 year old niece was so enthralled by the exhibition that she stayed for 8 hours.  Even my seven year old is getting into the spirit, working on an Olympic diary that requires us to think up at least one Olympic related activity for her every day so that she has something to write about.  My four year old is still a bit unclear about what the Olympics really are, but is quite happy that the five cute mascots – Fuwa –  seem to have taken over our house.

But despite all this, some of my colleagues’ excitement is tempered by the difficulty that they have experienced in being able to get tickets and the sweaty frustrations of crowded metros and closed roads.  I guess that is the reality of staging a massive event in such a hugely populated city in today’s world, but it does seem a shame that the Olympics couldn’t be one big party for all Beijingers.

When we look back on these Games I think one of the things we will remember is the volunteering spirit.  The Beijing Olympics have 100,000 volunteers at the Olympic venues and an incredible 500,000 working around the city.  A staggering 1.2 million Chinese applied.  Two of my colleagues, Lu Zeng and Xuan Peng have both volunteered – Lu Zeng as an English language interviewer of volunteer candidates and Xuan Peng as a city information volunteer at a booth near our office.  Lu Zeng told me how exciting it had been for her to feel the passion of the candidates during their volunteer interviews and she is glad she participated.   Even my colleague Xin Chen’s mother in law – a 70 year old lady – is volunteering in a booth outside their compound.  There is no mistaking the enthusiasm for the Games in this town.

I’m also volunteering at the Olympics as one of the 300 or so international volunteers at the Olympic venues.  We are only a small number compared to the total number of volunteers, but there is an amazing mix of people from every continent of the world – in fact, our only common language is Chinese.  We’ll be helping out at the venues and at the Olympic Park, answering questions and helping people find their way around.  The most rewarding thing is to be amongst the infectious enthusiasm and friendliness of the Chinese volunteers – all young, talented, and so grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the success of the Games.


Mara Warwick

World Bank Country Director for China and Mongolia, and Director for Korea

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