Ms. Marquis' Trip: CHINA

Ms. Marquis

           I am a travel junkie. I suppose there are worse things to be. But I just canít seem to get enough of awe-inspiring landscapes, architecture steeped in history and of the culture, food and tradition of people outside my borders. I spend the days and nights between each school break dreaming of and planning my next big adventure. Perhaps itís my early days living in the Caribbean, perhaps it stems from my year backpacking around the globe. Itís an expensive habitÖ but such a satisfying one. It has expanded my understanding of the world I live in, the achievements, suffering and beauty of our planetís many peoples. But more importantly, it has given me insight into the person that I am as well. Naturally, when I was offered the chance to attend this yearís Olympic Games in Beijing, I was happy to oblige. 

            It still seems a bit of a dream. China was incredible. I had hoped to someday experience China, but never did I expect that it would happen so soon, and certainly not at such a historic Olympic Games. See, this wasnít any Games. This was Chinaís Ďcoming out party,í an introduction to the world. 

            I was able to attend just four short days of the Games including the closing ceremony. Like the rest of the world, I was awe-struck watching the theatrical, moving opening ceremonies on television.  Leading up to the Games, I also followed the mediaís coverage of protests during the torch relays and conflicts with militants in Chinaís northern regions. I guess in many ways China is still steeped in cultural and political mystery to many of us in the western world, and I wondered what it would be like to be there and if I would see the control that Chinaís government reputedly has over its country.

            Beijing is a massive city. In the area in which I stayed there were tall glass skyscrapers, hotels, and elegant diplomatic embassies surrounded by parks and canals.  Clear blue skies reigned overhead, and although hot, the air was clean. Flower beds and ordered landscaping lined every major autoroute leading to the Olympic Green.  Sculpture was erected to celebrate the Olympic Spirit. The roads were uncongested, the sidewalks swept meticulously clean. Not what I had expected at all, especially for a major urban center. 

            At every turn, friendly Olympic volunteers, mostly young people who spoke my language, were there to assist me. Every aspect of visiting the country, from our reception and entry into the country at the airport, to ticket taking at the sporting events I attended (Soccer, canoe/kayaking, and a day of track-and-field) was met with efficient and courteous execution. The Birdís Nest and the Water Cube, and dozens of other high-tech looking buildings made me gasp at their beauty and engineering feats. Pinch me! Was I really seeing this with my own eyes?

            But what impressed me most about my visit to the Olympics was not just the dressed up city and the logistics of running such a complex world event; it was the ordinary Chinese people themselves. I was overwhelmed by the pride and enthusiasm that my hosts had for their countryís achievements, its history and for being the nation that literally wowed the world. One afternoon, while I was touring in Beijingís Forbidden City, I met a young Chinese family, tourists in their own country, who were also there to celebrate the Games. There were two little children, a girl and a smaller boy, perhaps four years old.  They were all tarted up in their best clothes and clutched Olympic and Chinese flags as they walked the historic buildings of the City. The little boy was a bit shy, and turned his face into his motherís skirts for protection. But what was revealed was so adorable. Mom had shaved the Olympic rings and Ď2008Ē into his hair. This was not an edict handed down by officials up high. This was not a staged experience choreographed by the Beijing Olympic Committee. This was pride and love of country - the same kind of enthusiasm that prompts sporting fans to wear foam fingers and North Toronto students to paint themselves red and grey. It was really lovely, honest, and indelibly memorable. This vignette and many others witnessed in the faces of the fans from all over the world cheering on their countryís athletes and sharing in the spirit of competition overshadowed any media hype or negativity that brewed in speculation over China as a country.

            Now thatís what I love about travel - those little moments that reveal so much about us as human beings. We really are one race, and this is a great big planet with so much to teach us about how to live together with tolerance and respect. Yup, Iím a travel junkieÖ and I canít wait for my next fix.