The Walrus Blog

The Games Are Over. Now What?

The Hudson Bay Company presents its tasteful range of Olympic wear.

BEIJING—It’s just after 7:30 am on the day of the closing ceremonies and we’re counting down the hours at the CBC studio. The Games are almost over, and thank the good Lord for that. It’s not that I’m happy for the Olympics to end (rather glum, actually), only that I want to sleep past sunrise again. The folks here are almost giddy for things to wrap up. “I’m getting drunk tonight,” is a common refrain. Hear, hear.

It’s been a good ride for me (although I think I’ll always harbour a grudge against the CBC for the early wake-ups), and above all a learning experience. Here are some tidbits I picked up over the last sixteen days:

— Since China made its Olympics debut in 1932, the names of practically all of its athletes have been pronounced incorrectly. This year was no different. For future reference, Wang is pronounced “Wong“, “Zh” is a J sound, and Liu Xiang is not “Lu Jang.” You’d think networks would have given their on air people a few lessons in pinyin since the games were being held in, you know, China, but I guess that wasn’t in the budget. (For the record, I thought most of CBC’s talent, particularly the hosts, did well in this regard. I have no reason to lie — CBC isn’t hosting the next two Games, and it would take a miracle to get me to work another Olympics anyway).

— Canada continues to be one of the worst dressed teams at the Olympics. Following in the tradition of those wacky Roots “Poor Boy” hats of the Ross Rebagliati era (Nagano ’98), the torch was passed to HBC to outfit our Olympians in clown suits. What’s with the Zubaz pants? (Check them out here. Only $65!)

— Beach volleyball is by far the best spectator sport at the Olympics. The old Chinese guy sitting beside me, bobbing his head to Chubby Checkers while checking out the dancing Beach Babies, seemed to agree.

— McDonald’s McCafe = pretty good. The coffee at Ling Long Pagoda was bile (if I never drink Highland Signature 100% Colombian Coffee again in my life, I’ll die a happy man). The McCafe lattés in the press centre saved me on many an early morn.

And now, as the Games shut down and the city quiets, the analysis begins. Sporting types will debate about whether Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympian ever, and if another human being will ever match Usain Bolt’s sprinting dominance. They’ll wonder if the U.S. men’s basketball team tops the 1992 Dream Team, and they’ll examine how China’s medal machine reflects the superpower’s emergence on the world stage.

Others are already wondering about the legacy of these Games. Will Beijing chill out after the crowds leave? Will China’s communist rulers tighten their grip? Will world leaders speak louder about China’s human rights abuses now that the show is over?

Personally, I’m most interested in the debate about what Beijing itself will be like after the Games. As an expat, the city has been a fantastic place to live for the last year and a half. Watching the build-up to the Games was likely the most memorable experience of my life up until now. I think many expats living here would agree, it felt like being a part of history. It’s sad to let that go.

Like many Olympic cities, Beijing is bound to experience the “Monday morning blues,” as the New York Times‘ Goerge Vecsey puts it. China is not a country with many spectator sports, so the mammoth Olympic venues will sit empty as reminders of the good times (I wrote about the “White Elephant” effect for a Beijing magazine recently). Many expats are leaving, and I’m worried about the atmosphere here on those cool fall days and bleak winter months. Beijing without the Olympics—it’s just hard to picture.

Then again, China is still booming and it will continue to fascinate. The story, I think, is still in Asia.

Anyway, those questions are best left until Monday. Tonight, I get drunk.

Posted in Letter from China  • 

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