Finally it’s over. My friend Xiao Man and roommate for a month noted in conclusion: “hospitals will sure get busy now with people submitting themselves in for over-exhaustion.” As an English tour guide during the Olympics, Xiao Man has been on the frontlines for “foreign diplomacy” in Beijing. In the span of the two weeks I’ve been here, I’d only seen her at ungodly hours. Mostly, it’s her empty room that greets me in the morning, and the same half swung door unmoved when I’m back home ready to crash. The worst of her errands included picking up a foreign guest at the airport four in the morning, but Xiao Man is always chipper, and though she complains about working so hard, she does it with a smile. It must be the ungodly optimism that everyone is infected with here. “These days, Chinese people are probably the hardest working bunch on the planet. Our white collar workers have it bad. Our farmers also have it bad.” She talked about a friend in Shanghai who pulled insane hours working in finance, who bought Gucci, Versace, and Givenchy to build a closet of “happiness.”
We were strolling through a park in the middle of Beijing. It’s the type of park that you can only find in cities —a horizontal strip of concrete incorporated modern art—with silver half spheres sprouting from the ground—as an area of benches. Young lovers talked intimately and text messaged furiously. Old lovers walked their dog—usually in the tiny, cute variety—together. Some non-lovers were sprawled out on the benches, taking a much needed nap after a long day. Every few while, there would be a gathering of old people singing and dancing. Classic Soviet folk songs faded and became Canto-love songs, Canto-love songs dipped low and become a memory. For a moment, it was hard to believe that this could be one of the hardest working country in the world, what with all the time the dancers and singers at the parks seems to have.
Okay, clearly, I need to retire here. I confessed to Xiao Man, and she laughed, and like a good tour guide that she was, pointed to the trees around us: “Beijing’s gotten so much greener in the past seven years I’ve been here,” and waved at the strip of Hutong that now housed the hippest coffee shops and bars, “this place used to be residential Beijing, you know, old Beijing, if you could have gotten coffees, they’d probably be 3 yuan, instead of the ridiculous 30 yuan foreigner prices now.”
Hey Xiao Man, I asked. What’s the toughest question foreigners ask you in China? “Tough… I don’t know. In Tiananmen Square, they would always ask about June 4th. Without fail.” What do you say? Are they critical? “Yes, of course, and I tell them, I’m not qualified to answer that. I haven’t lived it. It’s too complicated of a problem. We’re here to have fun. No need to put a damper on things with politics.” Do they press you on? “Sometimes. Then I tell them, that tank stopped in front of that kid, not run him over. Then I ask them, do you know the name of our president? No? Well… then on what grounds do we have to talk about this? That usually ends the conversation pretty well.” Xiao Man asked me about western media. How do they really portray China? Is it bad? Is it fair? I don’t know. I told her. The west tends to report on negative stuff in China, but maybe for the equilibrium of things. One CCTV might just be enough, maybe it was for best. “I’m going to go someday and find out myself. I introduce China to foreigners all the time, but I don’t know what environment they grew up in, come from. I want to know,” she said.
We paid 39 yuan (approx $5) for foot massages mostly because we wanted to catch one of the last competitions where China is competing in—the 10 meter platform diving. Only in China could I get massages without feeling guilty for my pocket. Only in China do I feel guilty for getting massages. That night China “lost” her 50th gold. We shrugged on. It’s okay. 48 medals is nice because of the auspicious eight. 50 is nice because it’s round and even and easy. Now 49, 49 you remember. 49 is 7x7. 49 is perfect. Footnote: and then a day later I find we’re at 51. Go figure. I have nothing to say for 51. Haha.