I had been to Beijing before, as my family is Chinese and we try to visit our relatives every couple of summers, so on this particular trip, I had no interest in the usual tourist attractions, but was mainly curious to see how Beijing had changed since it was announced that Beijing would be hosting the 2008 Olympics. So how much had Beijing changed? During the first few days after arriving in Beijing, while my family and I were still recuperating from the 13-hour time difference, the apparent answer was…not much. At least, from what I could tell by the area surrounding my grandparents’ apartment, not much had changed.
The same small, cramped shops and restaurants were still squeezed on the untidy streets. The typical fruit and vegetable and newspaper stands lined the road next to weather-beaten bus stop signs. People still mainly walked or rode bicycles.
It was all exactly how I remembered it, except worse, because now the streets were constantly dust-covered and the never-ending sound of drills filled the air. This was all a part of the construction and renovation plan for the Olympics, I knew, but during those first few days, I couldn’t see any progress. Back in America, people were saying, ‘Learn Chinese! China’s the next big thing!’ I had never really believed it, and, I admit, in those first few days, more than once did I look outside the window of my grandparents’ apartment, down at the dusty streets below and wonder where ‘this next big thing’ was.
Surely the next big thing would be hard to miss. I recall my thoughts all changed when we took the bus into the inner city limits and being surprised on how sharply it contrasted with the scenes I was used to seeing by my grandparents’ apartment. This was the modern Beijing, the ‘city’ Beijing, the part of Beijing I can’t believe I hadn’t remembered.
Of course, some of it I couldn’t remember because it was newly built. Tall, modern buildings served as a backdrop for the busy intersection. Cars, bicycles, and pedestrians moved past large ads featuring the new Motorola RAZR and Chocolate phone.
This was much different than those dusty, cramped streets around where we stayed, and, over the next few weeks, Beijing would continue to amaze me with its resourceful mix of the old and new. One thing that made a big impression on me this trip was how hard China’s people worked. The constant construction and renovation was only one area where this was apparent.
I remember seeing shelves and shelves of books on esoteric branches of engineering at the Beijing Bookstore and seeing people browse through them. I remember street cleaners patiently sweeping trash from sidewalks. Perhaps the most memorable of these instances was the sunny afternoon I asked my adult cousin, one of the millions of young workaholics, where all the kids my age were.
‘They’re in school,’ he said. ‘Now?’ It turns out the Chinese students take extra classes in order to excel. As I saw more of Beijing, I saw how the industrious and hard-working nature of the people showed.
I’ve never been to another country that has hosted the Olympics, but I can pretty much guarantee that no other country has ever put so much effort towards the Olympics. But then, I realized, it wasn’t just for the Olympics that Beijing was renovating itself — “it was for the future. Everywhere, on ads, on TV, on large billboards lining construction sites, the Olympics is not just the Olympics but ‘the dream of the nation.’ It was then I understood why China was the next big thing and it was then I understood why the young people worked so hard and what all those posters meant. China is a nation of ambitions, dreams, and growth. It is a nation striving for the same things that the United States is: prosperity and international cooperation — “and Beijing is waiting for the 2008 Olympics to showcase that to the world.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.