Sunday, August 31, 2008

What was I expecting?

I have been profoundly disappointed in my experience of the Beijing Olympics. It was an event I had been looking forward to ever since I arrived in this country six years ago. It was a large part of the reason for my coming here in the first place. Yes, I feel dejected, deflated, and a little lost.

Some people have asked me: Well, what were you expecting?

I think the answer to that was implicit in my post of complaints about the Olympics over on The Barstool the other day; but I will try to define a little more closely what I had hoped for or imagined for these Olympics.

I had wanted to be able to enjoy it with all my friends. (Many of them had got kicked out of the country, or decided they didn't want to stay here in August.)

I was hoping to make some new friends. (I had naively envisaged huge numbers of foreign tourists; in fact, we got considerably fewer than in a normal August.)

I had expected crowds in the streets almost everywhere, certainly around any of the main foreigner-targeted bar-and-restaurant areas. (There were hardly any crowds anywhere; foreigners were usually only spotted in twos and threes [and almost invariably wearing Olympic badges; it became a contest to find a foreign visitor who wasn't part of the Olympic set-up; most people without badges in fact proved to be Olympic workers who were being discreet about the fact, or resident expats like myself], not in tens and hundreds, exuberantly conga-ing down the road.)

I had been hoping some overseas friends might visit. (Few expressed any interest; none could get visas.)

I had been looking forward to introducing visitors to the Beijing I know and love, to its street life. (Nearly all Beijing's street food vendors and a fair few small restaurants were closed down. No-one was allowed to put chairs and tables out on the sidewalk.)

I had been expecting that we would be able to watch the Games outside. (That was how we'd enjoyed the Football World Cup two years ago. Every bar bought extra television sets, and many of them were set up outside. And there was a huge projection screen erected in the circular altar enclosure at the centre of Ritan Park, accompanied by numerous food & drink concession stands; that was a great place to watch the sport. There was nothing like that for the Games this month).

I was expecting that we'd be able to watch coherent coverage of the Games, with English commentary. (In fact, most of the sports bars were unable to find satellite channels covering the Games, and we had to make do with the terrestrial Chinese coverage - which was just godawful.)

I was expecting much more vibrancy from the local people. (Apart from a handful of popular events like basketball and ping-pong, most Chinese appeared massively indifferent to the Games.)

I was expecting the city to be packed. (It often felt semi-deserted.)

I was expecting the city to be buzzing with excitement about every little piece of Olympic news. (Apart from noting the relentless daily increase in China's enormous haul of gold medals, no-one really seemed all that interested in the details.)

I had expected almost every bar to be busy, all night, every night. (In fact, with only a handful of exceptions, the bar scene was very, very quiet this month.)

I had been hoping for a fortnight-long PARTY, a carnival atmosphere. (I guess the Chinese just aren't carnival people. Or their government doesn't allow them to be.)

Perhaps I was foolish ever to envision any of this. But that's why my sense of disillusionment has been so profound. Almost all of my hopes for these Olympics - hopes that I'd been building up for 6 years - were entirely disappointed.

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