Friday, July 11, 2008

Harbin celebrates the Olympic torch's arrival

At 8am Beijing time, the Olympic Torch relay will officially commence in Harbin.

I personally have a lot of connection to the Olympics. I took my first steps during the 1984 Olympics in LA. During the 1988 one, my mom was preparing to study in the US and begin our journey to becoming Chinese Americans. 20 years later, I am living in China with several tickets to various events during the 2008 Olympics.

I first saw the torch when I was 13 in Columbus, Ohio during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. My family and family friends camped out on the route, hyped about the upcoming games. We waited on the route for about an hour - in the scarcely populated route without that many people watching. After a couple of false-alarms where I hastily ran after the support vans and vehicles that go prior to the actual runner, we were finally greeted by the moment we were all waiting for.

A thunderous applause and cheers from the people, albeit only a few were there, roared closer to us. Finally the moment of truth, a young women - about 26 years old carried the torch, jogging while waving to the light crowd. She was followed by 2 support members who followed close behind jogging while a van led the way. They ran for what it seemed as forever. Even though the experience was quick, it still left a lasting memory in my mind.

Fast forward to 2008 and the Beijing Olympics, I will witness the torch for the first time in this Olympic cycle. Compare this to the 2004 Olympics relay in which I saw the torch when it was in New York City, Beijing and Shanghai. I missed it when it arrived in Shenzhen a couple of months back because I was in the US at the time. My friends and colleagues saw it, cought in the hordes of people and heat near Diwang Building while losing a camera and a wallet at the same time. They said it was a lot of fun.

Due to the Sichuan earthquake, the Tibeten issue and the sensitivity of it all, this year's torch route has had a lot of changes from the past. The torch route has been changed at the last minute to bypass prostesters and "high-risk" areas in semi-unfriendly cities. The torch relay length has been reduced to a maximum of 14km. Dates for the relay has also been changed due to scheduling conflicts.

Yesterday during dinner with family friends, I was told that it was going to be incredibly difficult for normal Harbin citizens to see the flame in person. Supposedly specific danweis, working units, schools and companies are invited to participate in its viewing. It would be incredibly difficult for everyone else to get close enough to sneak a peak.

However, the most interesting part of the relay is that in the 14km route, more than 200 people will be part of the relay. If we do some basic math, that would mean about a total run of about 70 meters per person. That is a definite change from what I first saw during 1996. This event is more of a face-thing, China partiotism-thing, personal enjoyment-thing than something just about sport. That is very Chinese. Something small, or relatively small becomes something really big, really different and done with face involved.

It's going to be an awesome relay. If i'm happy, ill give a live blog of the relay from watching on TV.

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