It’s here! Munchkin’s school sent notice home yesterday that it was closing at 2:00 PM today because of traffic disruption caused by the Olympic Torch. This was the first time it occurred to me that this symbol would be coming within miles of my home! In my mind, it’s always been something very distant and "somewhere else".
If you’ve never experienced crowds in China, then you’ve never experienced crowds. If anything, protests by the rest of the world have inspired national people here to come out and support their Olympics and their athletes. I’d frankly love to see the torch, but I’m not sure if we’d even be able to get close enough for a peek!
To get a notion of the crowds, take a peek at this video, filmed at 7:45 AM this morning:
Well, yesterday, I needed to go out to Beijing Lu to shop for an item. Beijing Lu is a pedestrian walking street in one of the oldest parts of the city. There is a dugout section with archaeology excavation showing the old city wall dating at least to 900 AD. When I got there, the street was lined on both sides with Olympic flags. There was a girl selling pairs of little flags — one red, China flag and one Olympic flag — for 3 RMB per set. I looked at it, and decided it didn’t look like 3 RMB material to me, so I passed.
As I looked at the flags on the street, I suddenly realized why they were there — that it was being readied for arrival of the torch! The street seemed cleaner and quieter than usual. I wish I had taken a picture of the flags! I had my camera, but I was in such a hurry that I didn’t take time to do it! I noticed that there was a heavier than normal presence of traffic police, there were fewer people than usual asking me if I wanted to buy "copy watch," and the glass covering the archaeology exhibit was freshly washed. (I did take time to try and photograph the ancient street, because it was the cleanest I’ve ever seen the glass covering and hence the best visibility ever, but there was too much glare from the glass to get a good shot.)
As we left to go home, I decided to buy Munchkin a flag. At the other end of the street, where we had ended up, there was a line of young people waiting to buy from one seller. I asked him "how much," and he replied 2 RMB per set. Sixty six percent of the other price. I thought about it, and gave him 6 RMB. I was thinking, three daughters, three sets. He gave me back two sets. Was I mistaken? Another boy came up and asked him how much, and he told that boy 2 RMB in Cantonese. So I told him in Cantonese that I wanted three sets. "Oh," he replied, and handed me another one. At Beijing Lu there are a lot of foreigners who come and don’t speak any of the language and I guess kind of throw their money around. You have to be really careful shopping there not to get the foreigner ripoff prices!
As soon as Munchkin had the two flags in her hands, she became an object of lots of approving interest. I speculated that people really like to see a foreigner supporting the Olympics here. I speculate that to an ordinary Chinese person, they feel that they just want the Olympics to be about sports. They want to put on a good face to show the world that they are a good place, and they want the world to be happy and supportive. I speculate that all this protesting is a bit baffling — does it mean that the protesters don’t support China as it tries to modernize and improve the lives of its people? And Munchkin was a happy contrast to that. A happy little foreign girl waving the Chinese and Olympic Flags and very happy to be supportive of China and its Olympics. So, she met with a lot of smiles and approval, lots of people telling her how cute she was and wanting to touch her. It brought back memories of when we first came here and she was just very little, blonde "ai wa wa," the height of cuteness. We had a lot of challenges then with unwanted attention and touching, but that has diminished as she’s now much older and not such a "cute cute baby" anymore. Nowadays, nobody tries to touch her or asks anymore to have their photo taken with her. But that was different yesterday. Everybody wanted to touch her. They really loved to see her waving those flags!
Well, it was the beginning of 5:00 traffic as we exited the pedestrian portion of the street and there were few taxis. I figured that with a small child hanging on my arm there was no way I was going to be able to compete in the shuffle for a taxi, so Munchkin and I decided to walk to the bus stop. As we were walking, our bus passed by. We waited at the bus stop for a long, long time, maybe half an hour, and still no bus. Lots of other buses passed, though, and they were full to the brim with people headed home from work. I was dreading standing on a crowded bus carrying a guitar in one hand and trying to hold on to Munchkin with the other, and somehow trying to keep my balance. Additionally, this bus doesn’t go straight to our house but drops us off a few blocks away.
As I was thinking about this, somebody got out of a taxi right where we were. We ran to it and got in. Just as the driver was pulling off to take us home, our bus arrived and there was hardly anyone in it. I asked the driver if he knew the route of the flag scheduled for today. He said he didn’t, but I could find it out from watching the TV. I did ask a Chinese friend and she got the route for me. It will be coming near our house late this afternoon. I don’t know if I’m brave enough to face the crowds, but I may.
In a very personal sense, I agree with the Chinese bystanders who line the streets to see the torch. For them, this isn’t about world politics, it’s about their people celebrating, a people who have suffered much in the last hundred years. I see the point of the protesters. I think things ought to be different at high political levels. I was so disappointed to hear word on the street that the current talks with DL are intended as a sham and occurring only because the government has been instructed that it "has" to have talks "or else". But I don’t think that fighting over the torch is the right venue. At this moment, at this place in the world where I sit, what it feels like to me subjectively is that the torch relay represents support for the sport and the games, and support for the Chinese people in their joyous celebration of that.