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Culture

As Olympics Near Their Close, Life in Beijing Goes On

Looking up at the sky tonight, I could see stars glittering. When I mentioned this to my neighbor, she remarked that the government must be thrilled, because stars are visible above Beijing about as often as the Olympics come to town. I told her that the local Chabad rabbi would probably appreciate the great weather, too. But as she had never heard of the “three stars rule” or Shabbat, I imagine it was lost in translation.

So much has happened in Beijing over these last few weeks, from records being broken to national superstars breaking hearts. Ask Chinese though to tell you about what happened in South Ossetia while their countrymen and women were winning the most gold medals, and they will probably shrug their shoulders.

It’s been all Olympics all the time. Rarely does the state media cut from a gymnast to a Russian soldier or a hungry refugee. Nobody seems to mind, because even as the glory and flags and grinning athletes have made the Chinese smile and cheer, they are too busy trying to make a living and feed their families to think much about what their media is or isn’t telling them. Speaking with locals, they are eager to know how you and their other “foreign friends” have enjoyed Beijing, what events you have seen and if it is easy for Chinese to visit your country. But few have the money to go abroad for vacation or to cheer on their athletes in Vancouver, London and beyond. For them, this is the closest they will get to the Olympic spirit, even if they couldn’t afford tickets and don’t know the flags that appear on screen.

In the Chinese press, China is listed first in the medal count, even though at the time of writing the U.S. has more medals in total. “As long as we win I am happy,” said a young Chinese journalist today over coffee. What of the possibly underage gymnasts or the media censorship following Liu Xiang’s disappearance from the Bird’s Nest earlier this week? The young journalist had an answer for that, too — one I didn’t expect to hear. “The world just can’t handle China winning,” she said. “It’s frustrating when you’re surrounded by so many sore losers.

Taking a sip of her Starbucks Green Tea Frappuccino, she added, “Luckily there are a billion Chinese, so in the end, who cares what everyone else thinks?”

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