Sunday 10 August 2008

Teaching a nation how to wave (part 1)

Friday was a national holiday, declared only days in advance in recognition of the Olympic opening ceremonies. My poorly judged trip to Tiananmen Square that day revealed more people than I have ever seen in one place in China. Flags, stickers, and headbands were being sold, purchased, and worn everywhere I looked. The Olympic excitement seemed to have finally hit.

Trying to get home, I eventually give up on taking the subway after finding stations closed and streets blocked off at every turn. With the heat finally getting to me, I fall into a taxi (the best 30 quai I ever spent!) and head for home. All of a sudden, the driver is trying to talk to me. We manage to communicate that I come from Canada and he from Beijing. He pats my leg and says jianada a few times with a big grin on his face. I try out jianada yo shan yo shui (Canada is beautiful, literally: there are mountains and there is water), messing up the pronunciation but earning a smiling correction from him instead of a disinterested grunt. Finally, he rests his hand on my arm, rubbing my arm hair between his index finger and thumb. As I'm beginning to find this creepy, he starts miming shaving his face. Now I get the joke! I mime back that it may be stinking hot in China but in Canada I need this fuzzy layer.

Heading to a bar to watch the opening ceremonies, I carefully write out the chinese address, copying it character by character from a book. I hop in a taxi and the driver studiously examines my scrawled lines, picking out the characters he recognizes and piecing it together. Finally, he gets it. He turns to me and mimes, "Did you write this?" Yes, I laugh. Hen hao, he smiles (very good) and gives me a thumbs up.

It seems the city is suddenly filled with high spirits and friendly good will. The drive to the bar is the quickest I've ever experienced, despite two of the four lanes being set aside for Olympic vehicles; apparently residents were asked to keep off the roads. The street is lined with police officers and vehicles and, at every intersection, bus stop, on-ramp, off-ramp, and pedestrian overpass, a soldier in dress uniform stands at careful attention. Beijing is about to throw a party and everything seems to be ready.

(to be continued)