Although seeing the events was great, it’s the many people I met who made my Olympic trip worthwhile — the Olympic volunteers, the hotel staff, the spectators I sat next to and numerous others.
My most amazing encounter, however, took place my last day at the Olympics near the lion’s den.
A suspicious Chinese man was gazing at me, moving closer to where I was standing.
“My teacher,” he finally said, “do you remember me?”
It took me a few seconds to recognize this person.
It was “Robin” Tang, my adult English language student from Nanchang, the capital city of Jiangxi Province. Nanchang was where I’d spent my first years teaching English in China. That was 17 years ago. Here was Robin, age 52, once again at my side as he’d been in my classroom so long ago.
It was an emotional moment for both of us. I disregarded all Chinese “no-touch” etiquette and gave him a big hug, much to his embarrassment. Robin’s wife was nearby, a lovely slender woman. She was an English teacher at a junior high school in their small town. Robin had completed his studies after our Nanchang language course to gain his teaching certificate for high school.
The two had flown to Beijing for a 3-day trip to see the Olympics, like me. Due to money constraints, they’d be returning home by train the next day.
Because they’re Chinese, they’d fared much better as far as price for their accommodations.
“We’re at an underground hotel,” Robin whispered to me, meaning a hotel that is has no official city permits. “Very cheap. Only 50 yuan ($7.25) a night.”
I didn’t dare tell him I was paying $125 for mine.
After a photo session and exchanging contact information, it was time for us to part.
Robin and his wife were still trying to get tickets to see at least one event before they went home. Teachers’ salaries in China are very low, especially in countryside areas where he and his wife lived. I expected they were getting 1,500 yuan ($217) per month. This trip to Beijing must have cost them 3 months’ salary. Even a “cheap”venue ticket such as mine would be out of their price range.
My last image of these two was as they began their search along the scalpers’ rows. It made me feel a little angry. The Olympics shouldn’t be about the rich, but about everyone, money or no money, sharing together in the spirit of the games.
Well, then again, I guess that’s what TV and the Internet are for, right?