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Lee Capristo, editor
The Mulberry Tree
Phone: (240) 895-4795
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St. Mary's City, MD 20686

Beijing Welcomed Me

by Jessica W. Chin '97

Jessica Chin

As I set off on my journey to the Beijing Summer Games as a tourist, I really did not know what to expect. I am a second-generation American of Chinese descent, and hoped to find a connection but was fearful that my American demeanor, posture, and style—in essence, my “American-ness”—would betray my sense of belonging. In addition, having been overexposed to American media coverage, which seemed to highlight the social turmoil, political unrest, and environmental travesties befalling Beijing, I was convinced that I had purchased a direct flight to the motherland of pollution and protests.

But whatever preconceived notions I had prior to landing at Beijing International Airport were quickly dispelled as I ventured into this city of 16 million people.

Beijing is an amazing mix of centuries of history with some of the most sophisticated architecture of our time. My days were split between touring the historic highlights of Beijing and its surrounding cities, ordering in restaurants by randomly pointing to a series of Chinese characters, and—of course—enjoying the Olympic Games.

I witnessed the flag ceremony by the guards at Ti’aanamen Square, strolled through the Forbidden City, observed religious rituals at the Lama temple, survived a thunderstorm on the Great Wall, and ate candied crab apples and grapes on a stick from Wang Fu Jing Street. The Games themselves were exciting. It was hard to believe that I was sitting in the 13th row of the Bird’s Nest watching the world’s greatest track and field athletes compete. Truly, it was worth the two hours it took to get in due to the many layers of security, mobs of people, and a queuing culture quite different from anything I ever had been exposed to. I have never been pushed and shoved so much in all my years of standing in lines!

I also saw boxing, rowing, cycling, baseball, and soccer. My friend and I bargained with a scalper valiantly for tickets tothe U.S. versus Spain women’s field hockey match, but in the end still paid three times face value. Fortunately, that only amounted to $21 per ticket! Although we enjoyed our success, we were reminded of the low wages and hard work that is reality for most of China’s citizens.

What made my experience all the more personal was the common assumption that I could speak Chinese. I had taken two years of Mandarin at St. Mary’s 10 years ago, but people were shocked at my limited knowledge. They did their best to understand and be understood, but not to hide their curiosity over me, the non-Chinese-speaking Chinese, and my clearly Caucasian friend.

I am grateful to have had a chance to watch the Games, make a connection with my Chinese heritage, and, most important, be the humbled guest of a nation that went to great lengths to make this outsider welcome.

Jessica Chin, a biology and French major, is an assistant professor
in the kinesiology department at San José State University.