There are only 500 days until August 8th, 2008 and the beginning of the Beijing Olympics. While a number of concerns exist with the running of the games, wholly separate of the Western human rights concerns, so far Beijing is far ahead of previous host, Athens, with building venues and getting ready for the Games. Whereas a year or two ago, official souveniers were hard to come by, nowadays there are stores aplenty, selling anything and everything you could imagine.
My first trip back to Beijing was in 98, so I missed the disappointment that occurred when the city lost the 2000 Olympics to Sydney under very dubious circumstances. However, I was in the city on that faitful Friday the 13th in 2001. While that date is considered very unlucky in the US, in China its considered just another day. But 2001/07/13 wasn't going to be like any other day. Much like a fan of a sports team that leads the pack, but fails in the end, there was the constant feeling of competing emotions, as anticipation and confidence did battle with dread and pessimissm. The announcement wasn't to come until around 11 pm local Beijing time, but there didn't seem to be much of a buildup. After a dinner at a Qianmen restaurant that wasn't THAT Qianmen duck restaurant (or maybe it was), me and some friends headed to nearby Tiananmen Square to find...nothing! It was an absolute shocker that on this day, such an important one, nobody but a few tourists and your usual assortment of plainclothes PSB would be found in the Square. All day long it was if the city of Beijing suddenly was a person with very palpable emotions and the number one emotion was anticipation, yet in the heart of the city there was no people?
Already after 9 pm and yet there was nothing going on in Tiananmen, we made the very regrettable mistake of hopping on the subway at Tiananmen West to check out the festivities at ShiJi Tan, the huge needle point/sundial monument thing that was put up in Beijing leading into the year 2000. For "security" reasons (I can't imagine what those would be), the Military Museum (located right next to ShiJi Tan) subway stop was closed down so we got off at GongZhu Fen and headed toward ShiJi Tan, only to find the road blocked off and a line of police about a block away from ShiJi Tan. We were surronded by a large crowd of regular Beijingers, a cross section of the city, parents with young kids, couples holding hands, old men in their tank tops, shorts, and fans waving. Mixed in with that was the odd foreigner and a number of reporters clutching their notepads and tape recorders.
While a huge swarm of people suddenly appeared in Tiananmen Square, including many performers, we were standing around, listening to music, catching some of the dancers in the distance, and getting updates on the situation from a nearby cop. Then suddenly he made the annoucement, Beijing had won! Moments later, a scream went up at ShiJi Tan, accompanied by music, it was official, the Games were coming to Beijing, they were coming to China. Fireworks started to dot the nights sky, an unbelievable show that never seemed to end.
The end of it, though, is what I will probably remember more than anything. The night's party was starting to wind down, but there were so many people on the streets that getting a cab was impossible. Not that it mattered, because the roads were so backed up that nobody was moving. I don't think I've ever experienced anything like that before. Everyone was suddenly best friends, everyone was being nice, people were hanging out of car windows and sun roofs, and everywhere, everywhere, the Chinese flag was waving proudly, often alongside flags with the beautiful Candidate City logo (here I lament its disappearance). It was a little like the Bulls first NBA Championship victory or IU's victory to get into the Final Four, times 100.
While I hope to be in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics and I'm sure it is going to be an amazing time, I will never forget the events of 7/13, such a unique and wild night, now I can only hope for a similar experience for my "other" hometown, Chicago (what an amazing logo!).
There is more I can write about this and make it literary and great, but as usual, its at this point that I'll give up and wait patiently for feedback, and wait, and wait...I went back to my old blog to see what I said about 7/13 in years past and found very little. What I did find was that my blog was truly soccer obsessed, it was highly influenced by hip hop, and The Wire is truly the best, most realistic show on tv (need proof: go here, here, here and here Shieeeeeeeeet!)