By Austin Shiner
BEIJING, China, 12:30 p.m. — The Olympic Green Archery Field was somewhere in North Beijing — that I knew. The hundreds of blue and white-shirted Olympic volunteers swarming the subway entrance would know precisely where and would speak English. That I knew too. I whipped out my ticket (high quality card stock, very nice and anti-counterfeit). “Archery?” I queried while shooting a pretend arrow. “Yes, um, take the No. 1 Olympic bus. Go straight and turn right to bus stop,” replied my smiling helper. Superb! No language barrier and clear directions — I was on my way. Until I got lost.
100,000 Olympic volunteers, selected from a pool of 1 million, have been translating for, directing, and encouraging helpless Olympic-going foreigners (and confused locals) for five days. My first experience with the immensely complicated Beijing Olympic apparatus was surprisingly unintuitive — I’d imagined arriving at my first event, archery, without inconvenience. It turned out, sadly, that my Olympic volunteer had been mistaken — the bus stop was straight ahead, so I mistakenly hoofed it towards the National Stadium and back again in vain. Half an hour later I found the bus. Fortunately my excitement overwhelmed any annoyance caused by my delay. Security: it’s Beijing’s biggest concern. I was duly impressed by the highly efficient and thorough security check at the archery gate. Despite a comprehensive pat down for each spectator the line moved very quickly. Most importantly, the security didn’t feel overbearing – there were no soldiers and no guns (at least not in the open).The Chinese national Olympic cheer is intimidating by design. I experienced it first hand when I found my seat, only five minutes late, surrounded by amped-up Chinese fans (their Korean rivals occupied the other end of the bleachers). This coordinated fanfare is continually advertised on TV as the ideal way to display Olympic enthusiasm. As a traditionally inward-looking and reserved culture, China needed a catchy chant, à la “U! S! A!”, to raise the roof (so to speak). The winning cheer: “China adds gas” or “zhong guo jia you”. The archery crowd rippled with national pride as the cheerleader blew his whistle and the throngs of supporters let loose a cacophonous “zhong guo jia you!”. This process is endlessly repeated and thoroughly drowns out any “U! S! A!” chant I’ve participated in. My eardrums might melt when Liu Xiang runs the 110-meter hurdles in the National Stadium.