This Olympics is being called China’s coming out party. After a 45 billion (yes, billion, with a b), one would expect that things might be a little tidy but the Bejing we’re experiencing has had a bit more than a face lift. The layers and infrastructure is too deep to have been changed just for the Olympics. Beijing is a beautiful and modern city, with little to no resemblance to the drab communist state that we Westerners tend to visualize. Luckily, we had an avenue to find some answers about what’s been going on.
room with a view
Jon’s high school buddy, Michael, has been living in China since 1990. He owns and operates a production company here and has seen the country’s transformation first hand. When he arrived, it was still in all its red China dreariness glory. Michael was working on location in Shanghai when we arrived and flew in for a day just to show us around.
jon and micheal
Michael became interested in China’s history and culture, came for a visit, and never left. Now he’s well established, has a family, and was more than happy to brief us on the Chinese evolution. His Gung-Ho Films office is in a historic part of the city that’s funky, cool, and reminded me of an Asian version of any hip city in the West, with better Kung Pao.
where can we find a good kung pao?
“When I got here,” he told us in front of a small restaurant with cheap metal tables sat on a chipped tile floor, “every restaurant looked like this.” Now the place looked more like a homage to the days of old in the middle of a trendy neighborhood. We then walked to an area on a lake that dissected the center of Beijing. The quay was littered with bars, restaurants, and shops that oozed character. It was not what either Jon or I had expected to see in Beijing. It was exactly like the kind of place you try and find when you travel—an area frequented by educated locals and savvy tourists.
We’ve been told by the US media that all this change is a façade for the Olympics. According to Mike, however, that’s not what’s happened at all. Things have been steadily changing since he got there, which is the primary reason that the Chinese wanted the Olympics so badly.
in search of street smarts
Later that night, we ended up on the street, kickin’ it with some locals. We chatted about China, how it’s changed, and what its future might hold. Like everywhere in the world these days, there was plenty of bad along with the good. With 1.3 billion people, China’s got more than its share of problems. But it’s hardly a world apart from what’s happening in the west, or anywhere else on our planet. The world has become a very small place. What happens on one continent directly affects what happens on the others. The Beijing 2008 slogan of “One World. One Dream,” may not have much to do with sport. But it definitely has a lot to do with the future of our planet.