I know I promised to write some post-Games thoughts. I’ve definitely procrasitinated, partly out of the maddening internet connections (some sites, like WordPress, are blocked by the Great Firewall), partly out of laziness and partly out of the inability to add much to my wrap-up piece I wrote for msnbc.com.
The article pretty much summarizes how I feel about the Olympics in general. It was a extraordinary event with extraordinary athletes, but for me, the extradinary were the ordinary people I met along the way. Nearly every one was so gracious, so helpful, so eager. Years from now, I will remember those people more than any other performance.
But I’ll also remember the negatives. The smog that greeted me two weeks before the Opening Ceremony. It was nothing I had seen before. Now, after seeing the same haze over Shanghai and Hangzhou, I’m used to it.
I’ll remember how I was hassled and followed at the basketball park. All because I was a journalist who wanted to ask some players some innocent questions. I could only imagine how the journalists who were going into the small villages or mining towns trying to root out corruption and human rights abuses were being treated. It was unnerving, even though I was at the park for only an hour.
I’ll also remember how some Chinese people would not speak to me or my interpreter because we were part of the press. You could see the fear in their eyes — a look I’d never seen before — over talking to reporters. They would usually give us one last dirty look before hurriedly walking away. And all our questions were so innocuous. What did they think about the Fuwa? About Liu Xiang? About China’s performance? It’s sad when that fear of the press and speaking out is so palpable.
I also know that the Beijing I experienced was a sanitized version. It was cleaned up, the seedier side of life pushed off to the sides and underground. Visitors who were there during the Olympics (and now the Paralympics) caught only a glimpse of what life in China is like. I’m getting a fuller picture now that I’ve travelled more in the country.
For most of the country, they’ve moved on from the Olympics, although CCTV keeps replaying events and is now showing the Paralympics 24/7. Life goes on. My life also goes on, as my articles on msnbc.com are dumped into the archives bin.
But I hope to be back in Beijing, especially in four years or so (perhaps when the world turns its attention to the London Games) to see what kind of legacy the Games will have on the city and the country. I believe that’s the real story of the Games of the XXIX Olympiad.