No time for editing and composing — here’s what it feels like to be
in Beijing now:
THERE’S SO MUCH ENERGY IN THIS CITY.
I am writing this at 12:45:07 am because it’s the second time in two
weeks I’ve been home before 1 a.m., fueled less by caffeine than by
pure adrenaline, the pace of the Olympics.
Here’s the thing: for so long, so long, I’ve been thinking about the
Beijing Olympics as the BEIJING Olympics — this platform, this stage
for the world to get to know China.
But now that it’s here, it’s clear that this is just as much about the
OLYMPICS as it is about Beijing. Now every day is riddled with
spectating Games in person, or listening to friends recount their
tales of Games they’ve seen, or meeting athletes on bars and in the
street and online, and hearing stories of people, these real live
people, and their families, that came here, to experience this week —
not China really — but this MOMENT IN TIME, to watch the flags of the
world collide in potpourri, a galaxy born out of cheering and
jiayou-ing and friendly rivalry, to feel the temperature drop in the
stadium as people go home after the first match of a double header
ends at 10:30 pm, to feel the heat and humidity of the Opening
Ceremony, to breathe in the welcome aroma of fresh cut grass and
blooming flowers under a blue sky, to feel out of step but secretly
glad at the emptiness of car-cleared streets, and welcomed by teams of
super friendly Olympic volunteers, and adorable Fuwa mascots. These
weeks, the Beijing I write about has taken a back seat, and some sort
of international netherspace has arrived, a ground where people are
happy, and competitive, and excellent, and friendly, and curious, and
driven, and carefree, all in one. So much fun!!!
And then, if this unparalleled atmosphere weren’t enough, think about
this, kids: If someone were to ask you, who’s the best thinker in the
world, the best school teacher, the best writer, the best politician,
the best business person, the best actor, the best looking guy/gal,
you couldn’t answer those questions — there are too many ways to
slice that question, to define the rules of the game. But here, here
in these Olympics, the rules are so purely defined. There are caveats
of course, but watching USA men’s basketball and Cuba women’s
volleyball in person the other day, I was overcome by an awareness
that I was watching perfection: the best people in the world at this
one particular thing doing that very thing they are the best at doing.
When in your life do you really get to see that, something so easy
and straight-forward to admire? When do you get to buy a $10 ticket,
jump on your bike, and see the most perfect human beings, in essence,
currently alive on this planet?
That athleticism gotten to us, we mere mortal spectators, we loony
people with various flag stickers on our faces and 3 RMB flags in our
hands (that launch off their straw-like stick when waved too
enthusiastically). Exhibit A: The other night at an ordinary dance
bar I’ve been to a zillion times, people started crowd surfing,
something never seen before. Exhibit B: later that night, next door,
random revellers were climbing poles and doing Cirque-du-Soleil-esque
stunts off them. When we are so close to the action, the pantheon of
athletes comes down to us, and we rise to them; here in Beijing, we
all feel like Olympians.
If this email is all over the place, that’s what these weeks have
been: events that range in intensity and timbre from the mano-a-mano
of technical boxing to the emotion-dense volleyball matches and the
pure man-as-machine sports of running and weight lifting and swimming.
And I haven’t even touched on the underlying tectonic shifts in the
Beijing population, which is masked by the visitors and family popping
in for the Games: old friends are getting ready to go when the
Closing Ceremony’s curtain falls, and a new tide of Beijingren are
starting to arrive.
Enough for now. It’s already 1:20:08 am and I am clearly not going to
medal in speed writing.