Me, my habib, as well as countless others, had very high expectations. So, in the end, what did these Olympic Games bring to us?
WHAT I THANK THE OLYMPIC GAMES FOR:
WHAT I THANK THE OLYMPIC GAMES FOR:
- THE OPENING UP OF TV AND INTERNET: Before this year's riots in Tibet, every time you watched CNN, BBC or TV5 (the 3 foreign news channels we have access to at home) in Beijing, the moment they dared say the words "China", "Dalai Lama", "Tibet" or "human rights" the screen would go blank. No images, no sound, nothing, until the "sensitive" news piece was over (and something less "dangerous", like how butterflies need sunshine, was on). During the riots, the CNN and BBC started reporting, for the whole world to know, on the censorship of their newscasts by the Chinese government. And lo and behold, thanks to that (and the sheer magnitude of the riots), FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 3 years, thanks to that pressure, we had the chance to watch TV news about China from non-Chinese sources! And as the Olympics grew closer, and the foreign media were relentlessly and ruthlessly reporting on Chinese TV and internet censorship, more and more "dangerous" sites were becoming available! Wikipedia! the BBC website! Blogger! (remember, before, I could only EDIT my posts, but the published posts themselves wouldn't open) the BBC's Chinese website! WOW. OK, if you type some sensitive words, your browser will stop working for a few seconds, but this opening up is unprecedented!
- THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SUMMER I'VE HAD IN CHINA: I endured 3 summers as a student in Beijing, and I had endured (yes, that's the word, ENDURED) another 3 as part of my present job here. Beijing summers, for me, were abominable periods of sweltering heat, unbearable humidity, gray skies bearing heavy on you like another slab of cement mirroring the one you were standing on. I totally despised them, and even days before they started I was already looking forward to the arrival of autumn. Well, this, my 7th Beijing summer, was BEAUTIFUL: it was warm, occasionally hot, but never unbearable; it wasn't dry, but you didn't find yourself covered in sweat just because; and we had the bluest summer skies ever. There were days, at work, when I'd walk past a window and stand, staring in disbelief at the beautiful blue sky over the treetops, mesmerised. I don't know how many factories had to be closed down in the provinces surrounding Beijing, and half the cars had to be taken out of circulation on alternating days but, for the first time. I ENJOYED Summer here.
- A MORE LIVABLE CITY: Subway lines MULTIPLIED (and we've taken good advantage of that), people spit in public way less than before (thanks to campaign after campaign from the government), and there's an amazing new airport that really is up to international standards, among other things.
- All the opening up of the internet and TV led, funnily, to us being exposed to a number of news and reports on not so pleasant aspects of China which the local press would never dare expose. We saw horribly embarrassing interviews of government officials (I'll never forget one that explained that the Chinese were free to watch foreign media, and that all they had to do was rent a room at a hotel with international cable!). We saw how Uyghurs (who comprise over 7 million people, some 45% of the population of Xinjiang Province) could not bring themselves to talk freely with reporters, how you could read fear and mistrust on their faces, and how government officials sprung up and watched carefully over anyone foreign reporters tried to approach; how government appointed translators to news teams asked the families of victims of the Sichuan earthquake not to say anything against the country, against the government, against the people responsible for building shoddy schools that came tumbling down. We saw news on elderly people being sent to reeducation camps for asking permission to stage a protest at the officially appointed parks for the Olympics.
- We saw a kind of nationalism which left us unnerved: during the Olympics, on national TV, the main focus was on the Chinese athletes; countless times they didn't bother to mention who'd been 2nd or 3rd when a Chinese had got a gold medal; when showing competitions that hadn't been shown live, you were shown mostly Chinese athletes, even if they hadn't got a medal, with foreign gold-medalists getting barely a passing mention. No, it wasn't like that all the time, and yes, I can understand a country being proud of its athletes, but then it didn't feel like you were watching an international event, but a Chinese one (I can see criticisms coming this way; this issue is too complex and a powder keg, but I'll stand by what I wrote).
- The theatricality of it all: the city was beautiful, clean, with nice mannered middle class families, as the workers that were here illegally building all the venues, the new subway lines, the oh-s and ah-s for the world to see were sent back home (they were illegal residents, after all, right?). Did we like the venues? Sure did! Were we thankful they were completed on time? Sure! Did we think about the workers? About how they can be paid next to nothing, worked ultra-long shifts and fired with no explanation because they're illegal and they'll accept abuse because they're better off here than back in their provinces? Hmmm, so, it all does have a price, isn't it. The blue skies, the clean air, thanks to extraordinary measures taken right before the games (not extraordinary measures taken 4 years before). The goodwill towards all visitors, while thousands of foreigners had been refused renewal of their visas before the games and had to emigrate en masse (I remember an Israeli guy pleading, begging at the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok to renew his Chinese visa, 'cause he had a Chinese wife, a child, and a job in China; I remember because I was there, pleading, begging, for a renewal of my habib's visa, by the way). The obsession with presenting a show was made the more obvious when we found out the cute Chinese girl that sang at the inauguration ceremony was chosen to cover up for the REAL singer, who the Chinese considered "aesthetically unfit" (I mean, a child! a little girl with such a voice! would any of us have cared a iota!!??).