By Kathy Kemper (from the Olympics in Beijing)
Published August, 2008
Rancho SantaFe Review
The sun finally took a break and allowed some rain, but the games carried on and Olympians could be found sightseeing around the rich, vibrant and mammoth capital city of Beijing.
Beijing in a snapshot: The subways are clean, high-tech, easy, cheap, and smiling volunteers rescue you in a moment to assist. They are eager to help and it thrills them to do it. What a wonderful attitude the volunteers have. Many teams could be seen bicycling around to the sites and were so cheerful to wave and say hello and “Ni hao!
I took a break from watching the events and joined hundreds of Olympians who visited the Great Wall, Mao’s tomb and the Forbidden City. I saw Olympians sightseeing with their families, coaches, and trainers. How amazing is it to see Kobe Bryant trekking up the Great Wall, sweating in the Chinese sun with his USA gear on? He is like every other tourist, taking photos, looking in awe, asking guides questions and having the time of his life at the Olympics.
Or, to observe the Jamaica track team, standing beside the Russian swim team, all watching older Chinese people singing songs about Mao and dancing, playing Chinese checkers, relaxing in the park of The Imperial Palace. The Forbidden City had Michael Phelps reading Lonely Planet Guide books, enjoying history and architecture. A few steps away I saw the Hungary and Sweden teams taking in the sights.
It’s easy to spot the Olympians roaming around: they exude fitness, height, strength, confidence, and pride, and they look bright-eyed and alert.
I am not sure what to stare at: the athletes, with their friends and family, wondering what kind of person had the make-up to be forever an Olympian or to see the traditional sights. But they really are not as compelling as the athletes to me. Sightseeing with Olympians is almost as cool as shooting baskets with Kobe or swimming a lap beside Michael.
With the world’s highest population and fastest-growing economy, China had a lot of expectations to live up to, and it hasn’t disappointed.
These games have set the gold standard. The competition, on the whole, has been dignified, not ugly. The Chinese are fine sportsmen. They clap for excellence no matter the country. They have learned the wave (they call it the Mexican wave) and to see 90,000 strong laugh and cheer in a successful completion of the wave is any world citizen’s highlight. As The Book of Rites, from The Ming Dynasty, states, “When we handle matters properly and harmoniously without leaning to either side, all things on earth will flourish.”
Kathy Kemper, who lives in Rancho Santa Fe and Washington DC, is founder and CEO of the Institute for Education, a nonprofit foundation that recognizes and promotes leadership and civility locally, nationally and in the world community.