Wednesday, August 27, 2008

O is for Olympics

Jeanette White is a freelance writer and editor living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She and her husband are homeschooling two daughters who are adopted from China.

My first glimpse of a Beijing Olympics souvenir caught me off-guard. My husband and I were walking through Tiananmen Square on a pre-adoption tour six years ago when we met the men selling Olympic ball caps.

“Wow, these guys plan ahead,” I thought, distracted by more pressing matters like whether I’d packed enough formula and what my soon-to-be daughter might be doing at that very instant.

A few weeks ago, I watched the opening ceremonies with Jie-Jie and realized China had been planning for that moment her entire life. She beamed when I told her China was named host country the same year she was born – two special moments forever connected. In an instant, the ceremonies became more than a chance to stay up past bedtime.

For families with kids adopted from China, the Beijing Olympics have been a great springboard to exploring the country where their own story begins. Soon we were huddled around our desk globe, finding Beijing and seeing how far it is from the provinces where they were born.

We reread One Year in Beijing, a picture book I bought when Jie-Jie turned 6. We’re big fans of illustrator Grace Lin, and this book shows us China’s capital city through the eyes of an 8-year-old girl my kids can relate to.

Later we reached for C is for China, a book we like mostly for Sungwan So’s photos of day-to-day life in China. But we didn’t get past “A is for …” when Jie-Jie jumped up to grab the wooden abacus a friend from Hong Kong gave us. I couldn’t resist sneaking in some playful math, but we eventually made it to “Z is for Zen.”

While we continued our reading frenzy, another home-school friend with kids born in China stretched a strip of masking tape across their living room carpet so the three girls could do gymnastics like the Olympic athletes. They somersaulted, tumbled and walked the “balance beam.” Inspired by trampoline competitions, they bounced on a smaller model meant for exercise. (Their mom drew the line when the budding Olympians dipped into a box of powdered sugar to chalk their hands.)

When they spotted athletes from cities the family had visited on their adoption trips, the connection helped bring China to life for kids who don’t remember their time there. Other friends are recording the flurry of China-related TV specials to watch later with their kids, learning about the Chinese flag, and talking about things invented in China. Think fireworks!

Jie-Jie and her little sister were especially enchanted with the drummers and dancers at the opening ceremonies, so I pulled out our copy of Color & Learn: China and they colored pictures of ornamental fans and dancers wearing traditional costumes. (As a mom, I appreciate the educational paragraphs under each picture.) We added their creations to the three-ring binders holding their favorite art, handwriting worksheets and activity pages related to China.

It’s been fun to watch my daughters splash in their grandmother’s swimming pool, more determined than ever to learn to swim. I have to think Michael Phelps had something to do with that. And the Olympics definitely boosted their enthusiasm about the gymnastics classes that will be part of their P.E. this fall.

Now, some of our China-theme books are back on the shelves for awhile, and the powdered sugar is tucked safely away in the pantry. One adventure ends, and we’re left with room for another. As I think back to that day in Tiananmen Square, I can hardly believe the long-anticipated Beijing Olympics are ending and the baby daughter I hadn’t yet met is starting first grade.

Two big moments, forever connected.

Read-Aloud of the Week:
The First Olympic Games: A Gruesome Greek Myth with a Happy Ending retold by Jean Richards

Quote of the Week:
“If you break a law, do they have to fix it?” - Mei-Mei, 5.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Goodnight Beijing - Olympics 2008

This is the final video segment of a joint project with the Asia Society and ChinaSprout. Click here to learn more about the Asia Society Channel on YouTube.

Beijingers party for the Olympics closing ceremonies...find out why getting gold was so important, their beef with Western media, and what the Olympics legacy will be for them.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Beijing Olympics Closing Ceremony


China Youth Speak Out-Olympics 2008

This video segment is part of a joint project with the Asia Society and ChinaSprout. Click here to learn more about the Asia Society Channel on YouTube.

Beijing college students discuss internet freedom, Olympics pride, cultural differences with the West and how they're different from their parents. A frank dinner discussion with Chinese youth and Asia Society, recorded 8/20/08.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Beijing Olympics and Beyond

As the Beijing Olympics wind down, Beijing and its people feel sad that the games are over, athletes are leaving, and the closing ceremony is tonight. TV moderators keep saying they wish the games would continue, and people on the streets wish they could see more live coverage of the games. Before I came to Beijing in July, friends told me everyone in Beijing couldn’t wait until the Beijing Olympics ended. Now the same friends tell me how much they enjoy the games and how they're impressed with everything from the Bird's Nest to the Water Cube to each game they have watched. They worry they'll never enjoy such a big festival in Beijing again!

I also met some American athletes at the U.S. House and chatted with them about their experiences in Beijing. Shaun Jordan, a member of the U.S. relay teams in the 1988 and 1992 USA Olympic Swim Teams, told me he's been to all the summer Olympics since 1988 except the Sydney 2000 games, and he thinks the Beijing Olympics are the most impressive. When I asked him why, he said, “Your people are the most friendly people I have ever met." I was almost in tears when I heard that and asked him why he thought so. He said that wherever he goes, people are so nice, helpful, and open to him. He even sat down with an old Chinese lady at a Siheyuan (traditional square yard in Beijing) and had tea and chatted with her. Shaun is also very impressed with the architecture in Beijing. He said he'd never seen a city with such ancient architecture like the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven on one side and contemporary architecture like the Bird's Nest, Water Cube, and CCTV on the other side. He also appreciated the organization of the games, which created a smooth experience for athletes and spectators alike. Shaun loves Beijing so much that he extended his stay for two days.

Tiffany Scott, a figure skater who competed at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, came to Beijing on a study program during the Olympics. She loved Beijing so much when she came to compete and always wanted to come back. She and her classmates have been in Beijing for about a month to learn about Chinese culture and Chinese sports, particularly women athletes. While studying at the university, they also attended various games and toured Beijing. Tiffany said she loves Chinese culture and has learned lots about it this time. She enjoyed all the sightseeing and great shopping in Beijing! I also met a few more athletes who told me how much they and their families enjoy Beijing. They all wish they could stay longer or come back soon!

I just read an article about the Beijing Olympics at the New York Times. While the author mentioned the same friendliness and good organization, there are (as expected) words criticizing the Chinese government and people. Maybe the author has not seen Chinese’ spontaneous celebrations, but it doesn’t mean that the government controls people's celebrating or that Chinese don’t want to celebrate. In the stadiums, you do see all Chinese cheering for athletes--not only Chinese athletes, to whom they do shout louder, but all athletes. They wave different national flags, and stand up when people wave just like in any American stadium. At the beach volleyball games, many Chinese sing and dance just like the spectators from Brazil! Chinese may not always shout as loud or celebrate as spontaneously as some foreign visitors, but this simply reflects the Chinese mentality. We are just not the kind of people who shout and celebrate spontaneously as Westerners do! Hope you can respect this just like we respect your manner of celebrating!

I don't know if you've read about Beijing's skies lately, but today Beijing has sunny blue skies since August 15th. The closing ceremony will be held on a beautiful day that will make the Bird's Nest even more beautiful and impressive. We are sad that we have to say goodbye to the Beijing Olympics and see the Olympic flame go down, but the Olympic spirit and Beijing Olympics will be in our memory forever.


Chinese Kindergarten-Olympics 2008

This video segment is part of a joint project with the Asia Society and ChinaSprout. Click here to learn more about the Asia Society Channel on YouTube.

An American 7 year-old visits a Beijing kindergarten - and finds out what kids in China think about the Olympics, learning English, and more..."the world is getting smaller and smaller." Asia Society visits "Chris International Kindergarten" 8/21/08


Thank you, China!

This is from today's cover page of the Beijing Youth Daily, a very popular newspaper in Beijing:


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Beijing Rock - Asia Society at the Olympics

This video segment is part of a joint project with the Asia Society and ChinaSprout. Click here to learn more about the Asia Society Channel on YouTube. Click here to see ChinaSprout's contemporary music selection.

Beijing's hot bands - Xie Tianxiao's Cold-Blooded Animal, and Jiang Xin's Super Monkey. Join us for Day 2 of our week in the life of Beijing during the Olympics as pop culture and music industry maven Scarlett Li shows what's new and exciting in China's music scene.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

An Olympics Visit to Google Greater China

This video segment is part of a joint project with the Asia Society and ChinaSprout. Click here to learn more about the Asia Society Channel on YouTube.

Mixing the best of East and West at Google Greater China...see what may be the best and most fun jobs to be had in China, and how the Google culture is being adapted, to Chinese tradition. Hear the secret of the Google philosophy from Kai-Fu Lee, VP Google Inc and President, Google Greater China - interviewed 8/18/08 for Asia Society's special series on A Week in the Life of Beijing During the Olympics.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Michael Phelps and The Other Side of The Story (Continued)

When I posted a blog entry in June titled The Other Side of The Story, I never expected to be posting a continuation of that message during the Beijing Olympics. At the time, I'd witnessed differing press coverage in China and the U.S. about the Sichuan earthquake, and I hoped my message could bring a different perspective for people who can't see the other side of the story.

Now, I'm seeing gaps between the two sides again. I thought Olympics coverage would focus only on sports and was surprised when the reports included politics and continual criticism of China's achievements. Right after the Opening Ceremony, I wanted to know what the New York Times wrote about it, and I was surprised to read all the between-the-lines criticism when it tried to say it was a spectacular performance. I started to write about it in my last blog entry on the Opening Ceremony, but then I thought maybe this would be the only article in such a mood. So I didn't mention it. But now, after reading this article about how Chinese think of Michael Phelps, I feel compelled to write about it.

The author says Chinese don’t know much about Phelps because he isn't like NBA stars or Chinese athletes such as Yao Ming or Liu Xiang. The author says few Chinese know about him because “there are empty seats in the Water Cube aquatics center for his races, state-run Chinese newspapers are providing muted coverage…” I'm surprised the author didn’t know those empty seats are all from multinational sponsors (maybe also Phelps’ sponsor) who hold onto tickets for their clients who don’t pay for the tickets and didn’t show up. The swimming tickets are the most in-demand tickets, even more than track and field. Chinese buy them online or in front of the gate for 5 to 10 times the original price. All Olympic tickets were completely sold out in China in July, after all rounds since April 2007. So if you see empty seats at any game, don’t be surprised. Those were tickets that sponsors or their clients didn’t use.

About the “state-run Chinese newspapers” coverage of Phelps, I don’t know which paper the author meant, maybe one I don’t read and few other Chinese read. I read the two most popular newspapers in Beijing, Beijing Youth Daily and Beijing Evening News. Since Phelps arrived in Beijing before the Opening Ceremony, those papers reported on his arrival at the airport, his first visit to the spectacular Water Cube, and his medals in Athens and beyond. Of course, once the competitions began, these papers reported on him with long articles and color photos. I learned lots about Phelps, everything from why his body is superior as a swimmer to how much he eats and sleeps, how his mother raised him, and what he does in the Olympic village. If “a concern about inflaming Chinese nationalism might be at work in the restrained coverage of Phelps” as said by Susan Brownell, a Fulbright scholar at Beijing Sport University, how could all these reports come from “state-run” newspapers. And you can see some of them here:

I hope you can now see the other side of the story. By the way, have you read any articles about Beijing’s sky, blue and sunny since last Friday?


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Watching the Beijing Olympics

It is about ten days after the Opening Ceremony; about half of the competitions have been completed and nearly 400 medals have been given to the greatest athletes. The Beijing Olympics is the only topic the media covers, and people talk it about all over Beijing. Lucky ones see the events in person, but people don’t complain when they can watch live coverage on TV at home, in the office, or on the street. There are five TV stations showing live coverage of different events simultaneously.

When I shopped at the antique market, I saw big screens in different areas in the market. Buyers and sellers watched the games while doing business. In another shopping district, hundreds of people watched live coverage on a gigantic screen. When I went to the bank, people were watching live TV coverage in front of the clerk's counter. Of course, people can also watch TV on subway platforms or on buses. People such as taxi drivers, who don’t have access to TV, listen to live coverage on the radio. They haven't missed any important games even though they can't watch live coverage on TV.

Hundreds of thousands of lucky people watched the Olympics in person, and I was one of them! Last year I tried to reserve tickets on the official Beijing Olympics website and the U.S. site. But after bidding on more than 20 games, I didn’t win anything. I thought I'd never get a chance to watch anything live. Luckily, one of my friend’s companies has some tickets as a sponsor, and the official U.S. site opened up to sell tickets again. Don’t ask me why those tickets suddenly became available. I went to see a volleyball game, a gymnastics competition, and a track and field event in the past few days. Wherever I go, I see hundreds of people in front of entrances selling and buying tickets; some tickets go from 80 rmb ($11) to 5,000 rmb ($724). I don’t know if anyone really paid that price, but I did see some people pay 1,800 rmb ($260) for a ticket that doesn’t have face value in the suite area (free ticket for the VIPs).

Inside the stadiums, the atmosphere was just unbelievable. Everyone was cheering (if not shouting), clapping, and waving, especially for the Chinese teams. Many spectators have China's flag tattooed on their faces and hold national flags, small or big. They were continually shouting “Zhong Guo Jia You” (China, go, go!). They were so loud I worried they'd disturb the athletes’ concentration, and I had a terrible headache the morning after a volleyball game. Of course, they had reason to shout, because it was China versus Cuba, the two best women's volleyball teams in the world. The last three rounds were so close that each team beat point by point, and even went to 32 to 30 (usually the game ends at 25) in the fourth round. Finally, China lost to Cuba, 15 to 13. I thought people would complain about China's team, but instead, they all said it was a good game and cheered for Cuba’s victory.

Watching the Beijing Olympics is definitely a life experience. Now I want to go to competitions I wasn't interested in before, because just being in that atmosphere is an absolutely worthy experience. For those of you who can't see the Olympics in person or watch live TV coverage, visit these websites. You'll see the live coverage on your computer:


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Behind the Scenes: Opening Ceremony

The day after the Olympics opening ceremony, everyone in China talked about the performances and behind-the-scenes activities: Who were those drummers? How could those character holders make characters and waves in such clean sequences? Is that really a Chinese painting scroll? How could performers dance on that huge ball? Who were those two sweet girls who sang the song and played piano with Lang Lang? Why was the Olympic flame lit that way? Endless questions, endless guesses. The media reported as much as they knew about all things behind-the-scenes.

The 2,008 drummers and nearly 1,000 character performers are soldiers by profession, but ever since they were chosen by the directors of the ceremony nearly a year ago, they practiced daily in a secret place near Beijing, in the cold winter and hot summer. Since it's difficult to train all those performers at once, dozens of leaders were trained first, then those dozens trains hundreds, and the hundreds trained thousands. To make sure each performer knew his or her exact position during the performance, each one wore an earphone to listen to directions.

The big Chinese painting scroll is 147 meters long and 27 meters wide. It isn't a real scroll but a computer-controlled LED screen. But it has a special paper in the middle where dancers, opera performers, and children created the painting.

On the huge ball representing earth, there were 60 performers, along with 2,008 Tai-Chi performers from the same martial arts school near Shao Lin Temple in Henan province. They practiced for over a year. The people on bottom had the toughest challenge, because they had to perform upside down. Many had headaches and vomited during practice. The smiling faces of 2,008 children were collected around the world after the Beijing Olympic Committee asked for submissions of photos worldwide.

The girl who sang the song about the national flag (a song every Chinese knows) was a 9-year-old girl in Beijing who loves singing and dancing. The girl who played with Lang Lang was a 5-year-old Beijing kindergartener when she was selected to be interviewed this April. Director Zhang Yimou knew immediately she was the girl who would play with Lang Lang. But the Committee informed her only in June and she began practicing then. She and Lang Lang got a chance to practice together only in late July when Lang Lang came to Beijing.

Director Zhang Yimou said in a press conference that the thing he worried about most during the performance was lighting the Olympic flame. He worried so much whether the running and lighting could be completed without an accident. It's very hard to run when when hung in that way. Li Ning secretly practiced over 6 months; he practiced only late at night in a secret location and didn’t tell anyone, even his relatives and close friends. Every time, the 2.59-minute run was so exhausting that he couldn’t do anything else afterwards. Why did he run around the Bird's Nest to light the flame? It comes from the Chinese saying of Tian Ren Yi He – Heaven and People are Harmony Together, so he ran to the heavens to light the flame! Now the 31-meter torch with an 8-meter fire is seen from a distance. The Olympic flame and spirit are showing the theme of this historic performance – He (Peace)!

UPDATE: ChinaSprout now carries the DVD of these jaw-dropping performances at the opening ceremony. This is a wonderful keepsake.


Saturday, August 09, 2008

China's Dream Comes True

Finally the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games began on 08.08.08! It was the day Chinese have been eagerly anticipating since 2001. The countdown went from years, months and days to hours and seconds. That day in Beijing, all offices were closed, stores closed at 3 p.m., and all flights were grounded since noon. Newspapers, radio, TV and all media were focused on the opening ceremonies, how an audience of 160,000 was prepared to attend, what the weather would look like that evening, and who would be the person to light the Olympic flames. Everyone was so excited to be celebrating what was essentially the biggest festival in history.

I went to my father's home near the Bird's Nest to watch the ceremony around 6 p.m. (Even I couldn't see the live performance.) On the way, I realized the city streets were empty. The taxi driver said even Chinese New Year's Eve was busier. He told me over and over how lucky I was to see the fireworks near the Bird's Nest. We could miss the Chinese New Year Eve’s performance, he said, because we would see it next year. But we can't miss the Olympics opening ceremonies, because this wouldn't happen again in 100 years. This is our dream of 100 years, and we should not let it slip by!

While I was surprised the taxi could take me right in front of the building as usual, I did see hundreds of policeman, soldiers and Olympic volunteers in the area. They just stood there to make sure people and cars wouldn't go through the area even closer to the Bird's Nest. Hundreds of people were on the streets to see the live fireworks, too!

Finally the ceremony started at 8 p.m., with 2,008 drummers performing on ancient Chinese drums. The one-hour performance with 20,000 performers showed 5,000 years of Chinese history, ancient inventions, culture, and modern advances. Each performance was as exciting, astonishing, surprising and spectacular as the next. I was totally moved, and so were my friends who watched with me. The 29-foot fireworks along the Beijing ancient city represented the 29th Olympic games. All the fireworks were beautiful and exciting.

Finally, we found out the person who lit the Olympic flame was Li Ning. For the last few days, everyone was guessing who'd get this honor. When we finally saw Li Ning, we all got so excited! Really, no one would've been a better choice than Li Ning. Li won 3 Olympic gold medals in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games and after he retired, he started a sporting goods company that has become one of the most well-known brands in China. ChinaSprout also carries his company’s Olympic collections, such as the Olympic Mascot Thermoses, Beijing Olympics Jingjing Mascot T-shirt for boys, Beijing Olympics Jingjing Mascot T-shirt for girls, and more.

When the ceremony ended, people were still celebrating in the streets. The next day, all the media talked about the opening ceremonies and what happened behind the scenes. My friends and relatives talked about how proud they were to see the once-in-a-lifetime performance that shared so much Chinese history and culture with the world. One taxi driver told me he liked the performance, but felt it should have been more powerful. It seemed all Chinese were so proud to see our hundred-year dream come true!


The River on the Porch

Jeanette White is a freelance writer and editor living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She and her husband are home-schooling two daughters who are adopted from China.

My 5 year old was chattering about the Nile River when her uncle tossed a pop quiz her way: “Where is the Nile River?”

Mei-Mei didn’t hesitate. “On the porch.”

And she was right. You can’t get to our front door without passing the foil-lined river carved through potting soil in the kids’ old sand table. We’ve been having fun with it for a couple of weeks. We planted grass seed, flooded the river and watched the “crops” grow. We floated boats made from dried weeds, added toy pyramids, and read books with names like Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile and Croco’Nile.

The river model and a few other optional activities in our history book prompted me to start history lessons in July instead of September. Autumn always zips by too fast, and I didn’t want to end up skipping the best outdoor projects to save time or meet a work deadline.

Some home-school parents admit an aversion to crafts and hands-on projects. I totally understand. By nature, I’m much more inclined to read about a river than recreate one. But the things I remember best from my own elementary years didn’t happen at a desk. So, we kicked off The Story of the World: Ancient Times with something I knew my daughters would love—an archaeological dig. In the vegetable garden.

Where I once planted spaghetti squash, I buried “artifacts” from the kitchen, toy box and garage. Using small spades, a scoop cut from a milk jug, and sifting screens, the girls excavated a couple dozen items. They cleaned their finds with old toothbrushes and shouted “Eureka!” with each discovery. (They borrowed that word from a character in Archaeologists Dig for Clues.)

When we studied nomads, the girls used thick brushes to paint simple animal designs on cave walls that strangely resembled crumpled, inside-out grocery bags taped to the door. Soon they’ll try their hand at stenciled hieroglyphs on homemade scrolls. And when we study ancient China, we can make poster-paint pictograms and clay Ming bowls. Wondering where we'll put all this stuff? That’s what cameras are for.

I found a welcome time-saver in The Story of the World’s companion activity guide, packed with coloring pages, maps, projects, review questions and lists of good books to round out each chapter. The guide quickly became the main source for the colorful history binders my daughters are creating. I’ll tell you more about those educational keepsakes later.

Looking ahead, I know I want to delve deeper into ancient China than this particular book will take us. Please post any ideas you want to share! (The history lessons were originally meant for my daughter starting first grade, but her 5-year-old sister is intent on playing along.)

So, along with a little reading, writing and music lessons, that’s our summer school. The vast majority of their time is spent playing pretend, riding bikes and catching bugs. In the end, Mei-Mei and Jie-Jie may not remember which Egyptian god had a hawk’s head or who cracked the hieroglyphic code. That’s all right. They’ll cycle through ancient history twice more before finishing high school. For now, we’re laying a foundation and learning that ancient civilizations are absolutely fascinating.

Still, I do think there’s a good chance they’ll remember digging up coins in the garden and dodging the world's longest river to get to the front door.

This Week’s Favorite Read: Casting the Gods Adrift by Geraldine McCaughrean

Favorite quote: “Mommy, should Jie-Jie be playing in the Nile?” – Mei-Mei, 5


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Countdown to Beijing Olympic Games

Only one day left until Beijing 2008 Olympic Games’ opening ceremony starts on August 8th, 8:08:08 p.m. Wherever I go, all I see, hear, and read is about the countdown date: ONE day left until this exciting day. It seems everyone is ready in Beijing. I don’t hear people complain about the inconveniences like I did a few days ago. (I don’t complain anymore, even though our shipment couldn’t leave because the torch rally in Tianjin blocked all streets to the port; it finally left this week with increased shipping.) You hear “Beijing Welcomes You” or “One World, One Dream” wherever you go and you hear people singing along with it! Yes, Beijing is ready. We are ready! By the way, if you want to enjoy all these songs, get this official album of the Olympics for Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

The torch rally started yesterday for its three-day travel around the city. The torch runners include Yao Ming, Zhang Yimo, Lang Lang, and more than 700 famous and ordinary citizens ages 14 to 85. Each person runs only about 40 meters. It started at the Forbidden City, traveled along the ancient city and ended at the Temple of Heaven yesterday. Today the torch started at the Great Wall and will end at the Temple of Earth. Tomorrow, it will be at the Bird Nest at 8 p.m. and everyone’s still guessing who will be the last person carrying the torch to light the Olympic flame. You can see the torch rally live here or at

Everyone worries about the weather, and unfortunately, everything was gray and hazy the last few days with daily temperatures of over 90 degrees and 70% humidity. It will be the same August 8th, and it may rain, too. But don’t worry, if it rains before the opening ceremony, special rockets will be used to disperse any rain clouds. Let’s see what will happen tomorrow night.

Along with the excitement of the Beijing Olymics on August 8th, the U.S. Embassy will open its new complex in Beijing at 8 a.m. the same day, and President Bush will attend its opening ceremony! I’ve also been to the USOC’s official celebration site, the USA House in Beijing. The Olympians and U.S. officials will come here to celebrate the Games and their victories. It’s located on a beautiful lakeside with multiple floors and a roof deck. Large TV screens, huge photos of the U.S. Olympians, shops and restaurants together make it a great place to celebrate!

So Beijing is ready. We are ready! Let’s hope the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games are a great success.


Friday, August 01, 2008

Things Beijing Olympics

Having been in Beijing a few days, I’ve experienced many things expected and unexpected. Before I left the U.S., I read lots of articles about all that’s happening in Beijing. I also spoke with friends here and learned about a few things not covered by the U.S. media. But now that I’m here, I realize whatever you read and watch in the media tells just one side of the story. (See my post called The Other Side of the Story for more on this.)

We've all read about how Beijing has tried very hard to improve the climate. Manufacturing in the city and surrounding cities has stopped, trucks aren’t allowed to drive in the city, and drivers are assigned to drive on only odd or even numbered dates. One thing I didn’t know is that construction, even renovations for residents, isn't allowed! Even so, when I arrived in the afternoon, the sky was totally gray and muggy—a typical hot summer day in Beijing. I instantly wondered what all the athletes and foreign visitors would think. I worried the western media will have lots more to say about Beijing’s climate. Such weather lasted a few days; until today, I haven’t seen sunshine! And it rained for three nights straight, even during the opening ceremony rehearsal nights (2 nights already, and there’ll be another one Tuesday). Then I began to worry about what will happen August 8th. Will it be another gray muggy day? Will it rain? (That’s what everyone is talking about now.) What do people around the world think of Beijing when they see such weather on TV? I’m anxious yet hopeful the weather we can’t control will be on Beijingers’ side.

Although the weather can’t be controlled, everything else in Beijing can be managed. The streets are extremely clean and flowers are blooming on all major streets, even spelling out words like “Welcome to Beijing,” “Beijing 2008,” or “One World, One Dream.” All major streets—really almost all, not just one or two—hang the Olympic flags and Beijing Olympic logo. The flowers and flags make the city look so colorful and appealing in contrast to the gray sky! Beijing also opened all subway lines. Until April, there were just three, and now eight lines are open. The last line opened July 31st. It's just amazing to see all these modern and convenient new subway lines! A 1.5-hour taxi ride takes just 25 minutes on the subway. I wish we’d had it long time ago. Before I came back, I heard about the subway randomly checking people’s bags. Guess what? Now it’s not random but mandatory. Everyone carrying bags must go through the security check in each subway entrance across all stations. You think there’d be a long wait? No, there isn't a line. I haven’t waited more than a minute to go through. Amazingly, no one complains about going through such a hassle just to carry a bag. Think about what New Yorkers would say if they had to deal with such checks in each subway station!

ID checks are another inconvenience people encounter daily. Although I haven’t been stopped or seen such checks, I've heard stories about people from another city who had to leave Beijing because they don’t have residential permits. Some of my suppliers’ workers left for the same reason, and now we can’t source certain products because those factories are closed. I also saw residents in my father’s building check people walking in and out and ask strangers to register. Maybe that’s because their building is very close to the National Stadium – Bird Nest, which can be seen from many residents’ windows. Many streets, even up to 2 kilometers away, will be closed August 8th.

Media is also managed well. Now everything you read, listen to, and watch concerns all things Olympics. “We Are Ready,” a popular Olympic theme song, describes just how ready Beijing is. There are live reports from the Olympic village and airports about arriving teams, press conferences of President Hu Jingtao (so different from western press conferences!), rehearsal preparations and the soon-to-be-open Olympic park, volunteers around the city, ordinary residents preparing for the Games by learning English or hosting Olympic visitors. Everything seems great if not perfect. Everyone seems so happy and proud to be Beijing residents! Ten days before the Games, CCTV hosted an evening all-star entertainment show. The atmosphere was amazing. All the songs, dances and plays showed how proud Beijing’s people are to host the Olympic Games. As I watched, I wondered what the performers think about all the daily inconveniences. In light of all those hassles, how could they be so happy and proud?

But after just a few days here, I’m already used to it and realize why we have to experience the inconveniences. All I wish—and I believe all Beijingers wish it, too—is that the Olympics Games are a big success and show the world what China and Beijing stand for.