After the Olympics

At 6am we heard a knock at the door of the Mansion and Mike went in his boxers to see what the ruckus was. Ana and Dale, with bottles in hand, were just coming back from the bars. The sun was peeping over the trees behind them and they covered their eyes from the light. We all went to sleep and at noon, we were all on the couch again laughing, hydrating and looking for tickets on craigslist. Luckily the mansion had a cleaning lady who showed up shortly after we all awoke and began collecting bottles and sweeping up chips.

Train travel

Train travel

Personally, I think having a cleaning lady is morally and ethically awkward. Another human being comes to clean up after you—I find it hard to digest. In China a cleaning lady is called an Ai’yi. Ai is the same sound as the word for ‘love’ in Chinese, and many expats living in China do indeed love their ai’yis, and would hardly survive without them. The mansion was just such a place, and the ai’yi looked at home amid the boy’s jokes and half nude greetings of hello.

Dale had to prepare for a party he was throwing that evening, so Ana, Mike and I set off to see what had changed in the past two years in Beijing. This turned out to be a far bigger project than we could manage in one day. First we went to eat lunch at a small side-street café. It could just as well have been Pairs for all its charm. Afterward we went to see the now famous CCTV building, which is shaped like a moibus strip.

Construction was not yet finished, but we took pictures and walked around marveling at the rate of development in the area. We headed off towards Tienanmen Square after the CCTV tower, eager to revisit all of our very first hostel in China—the Far Eastern Hostel near the square. A great place, which I highly recommend. However, the area around the hostel (though not the street itself) had been completely leveled and rebuilt in the past two years! People were everywhere, the street looked like a movie set where the buildings are only real on one side. Mike was visably distraught while Ana got extremely quiet and contemplative, musing at the intricate yet plastic light posts meant to resemble the Qing dynasty.

At a small tourist-trap stall Ana spotted children’s T-shirts for RMB10, or about a dollar. She tried it on and it barely fit. We both purchased them and went to a nearby bar and requested three beers and a pair of scissors. We cut the necks lower, the waists higher and the sleeves off, and then we put the shirts in our purses and headed for the subway—the athletics final would begin in less than an hour.

The Beijing subway has been greatly improved in the past two years, however, it still leaves a bit to be desired in that an exit from one line may be a good half mile underground from the connecting line. Meaning, we were extremely late getting to the Bird’s Nest. We popped out of the Olympic metro rail into the Olympic park, a massive cement field with flashing colored lights, statues and a massive walkway that truly was, dare I say—Olympian. We rushed towards the stadium, completely in awe of its glowing red design. Finding our sector we climbed a massive set of steps to the third tier and found our seats. I remember very vividly the very first glimpse I had in the Nest, we were walking up the steps to the entry way and I heard a roar so loud my feet trembled. I looked up and saw thousands of people, it looked like a vermin-infested bird’s nest alright, only humans were the vermin. I was shocked to see so many people in one place. Ana and I pulled on our modified kids T shirts, which read across the chest, “I Love China.” We pulled out American flags and sat them on our lap, and pulled out our cameras and poised them for the first spectacle.

Looking down on the field, it felt too close, like we could spit and hit a world class athlete. We all sat silently in our seats for a few moments before bursting into screams the moment our first relay began. Ana and Mike were jumping and screaming, I was half crouched under their waving arms, urging our runner to pick up the pace. This continued for a half an hour before the first beer run. Beer, as I may have mentioned, was less than a dollar a glass at the Olympics, and truly a gift from the government. When Ana got back we all sipped our beers and watched a new Olympic record in javelin. Afterward we saw several men sprint 12 laps, an Ethiopian runner took first and looked excited but not the least bit tired as he sprinted across the finish.

The night wore on amid pictures, races, throws and more pictures. Anthems were sung, medals were given, and beer was accidentally kicked all over the back of my I Love China T-shirt.

-posted by Lauren.

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