Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Village People: A look inside China's Olympic housing wonderland

A final post from Colin Hanna '11, who is in Beijing for the Olympics:

It is my last day in Beijing, and this will likely be my last post. I'm writing this from the USA House, which is a hospitality house set up in Beijing for US Olympic athletes, sponsors, and other guests. There are free drinks, burgers and dogs, and US Olympic athletes frequently come in for different events and photo ops. This is also the spot to get official USOC gear, which is all very neat. And yet, I can't say this is the coolest place I've eaten free food in the last two days. Yesterday, Doug Lennox was able to get me into the Olympic village! The best way to describe the village is like a college campus.

There are blocks of 5-story apartments that house Beijing's 16,000 Olympians, but there is also a gargantuan dining hall, a fitness center, a store, and a myriad of other facilities. Running through the buildings there are streams and benches where athletes can relax and socialize. The coolest part about the Village is the sheer diversity of the place. I'd contest that even if it only exists a couple weeks every four years, the Olympic village is the most diverse place on earth. When else do you get a gathering of such excited, outgoing people from every corner of the world and pack them densely into an area the size of a few city blocks? The array of languages, facial expressions, outfits, and mannerisms that surround you there really make you realize how secluded we are in our respective walks of life.

I've continued seeing tons of Olympic events, even now that swimming is over. I've gone to see a few soccer games, including the women's semifinal match pitting USA against Japan and the men's semifinal where Argentina played Brazil. Both games were blowouts, with the USA and Argentina dominating their opponents. But the level of soccer and the players on the field (Ronadinho, Messi) were truly astounding. The Chinese fans are all very fond of the wave, which the announcers and scoreboard consistently prompt the crowd to perform.

Also, now that many athletes are done competing, the party has truly started. The night life here has been a lot of fun and it gets taken to another level when you realize that across the bar there's a world record holder or that out on the dance floor is a gold medalist. There are a few athletes I've been asked to get autographs from and as a spectator it's very hard to do so. Luckily, I've run into a few of them while they're out and was able to not only get an autograph and a picture but also talk to them about their sport, their training, their upbringing. What's best is that there are only a handful of athletes who really have to worry about getting swamped while they're out. The rest, however accomplished or famous they may be in their respective spheres, are approachable and friendly, happy to share a drink or maybe just a story.