Beijing, a year later

Editor’s Note: You all remember Shawna Xu, the Renmin University student who helped out the group from the University of Missouri last summer while we fumbled our way around Beijing. Her translation skills saved us countless times.

In an e-mail, she reminded me that it’s been a year since we experienced Beijing and the Olympics. And she wrote a memory.

“Give some feedback or comments and I can revise it if needed. I want it to be perfect for the one-year anniversary, ” she wrote.

I decided to add it to the MojoBeijing blog as she sent it.

(If any of you have one-year-later thoughts, let me know and I’ll add them too.)

-Greg Bowers

Been there, done that

Another summer has come; another Olympic time.

One year ago at this time, all of us were too excited for the big night—the opening ceremony night on Aug 8th 2008. Greg, Larry, some MU journalist students and I watched the opening ceremony in the hotel on Renmin campus. We were giving random guess about how the Olympic flame would be lit, and how the games would be going.

The Bird's Nest stadium is now used for concerts. Photo by Shawna Xu.

The Bird's Nest stadium is now used for concerts. Photo by Shawna Xu.

When we witnessed (on TV) the scrolls came out from the floor in the Birds’ Nest, and the fireworks surrounding the Olympic Green, and the whole “Chinese history told in the world’s language” which was truly spectacular, we were all shocked. As the only Chinese among the American audience, I felt proud, excited, and just like everybody else, I was truly impressed by the Olympic spirit out there.

A young girl rollerblades on the Olympic Green in the summer of 2009. Photo by Shawna Xu.

A young girl rollerblades on the Olympic Green in the summer of 2009. Photo by Shawna Xu.

For the two months of the Olympic summer, I worked as a volunteer from Renmin University of China, and my job was to help the journalist volunteers from University of Missouri, who were living on my campus. For most of the Mizzou journalists it was the first time to be in China; for me it was the first time to work for an American group; and for all of us, it was the first time that we were so close to the Olympic Games!

We did have some “lost in translation” problems. Greg spent a lot of time to figure out my accent speaking English, and I spent a million more time to understand what he was trying to express in Chinese. After a language battle of one summer, we finally came to the mutual understanding that, language is power!

And of course, we occasionally encountered cultural shocks. I had never expected Larry would ask me whether the sign “the grass need your protection” on the lawn on campus meant “stay away from the grass”. From my previous experience it was quite normal that we just write down “the grass is growing”, “the grass is sleeping”, or the like, to imply a warning of “don’t step on the grass”.

But it was amazing that, despite of all the language and cultural differences behind us, we found lots of things in common. We gave similar comments on movies; we shared the same love for particular food; we tried to enjoy certain bad jokes; we all enjoyed those cultural shocks which were sometimes refreshing; and most importantly, we all knew we were embracing the same passion for the 2008 Olympic Games.

The Mizzou group certainly made it a great summer with wonderful memories, even though it went too fast. We shared the same highlight in those two months, which could compete with the greatest months on our life’s scale. The games, the people, the journalism, the volunteering, the fun, the excitement, the shocks, the Olympics—when everything comes fresh out of memory, it’s just like yesterday once more.

I miss the 2008 Olympic Games, and I miss last summer. On the streets those Olympic posters once everywhere were gone; those Olympic volunteers in blue uniform were no longer around the subway; and when trying to enter the Olympic Green you don’t need to go through the tough securities any more. People are starting to get used to this post Olympic time.

However, you can always smell a bit of the euphoria from last summer. You can still watch those old Olympics and Paralympics games on the subway TV, for instance. I know this sounds crazy, but I’m pretty confident to give out the forecast that next time you come here, those videos would probably still be there!

The subway lines are not as busy this summer. Photo by Shawna Xu.

The subway lines are not as busy this summer. Photo by Shawna Xu.

Nothing has changed that much in Beijing. But, it seems that everything here has been different. We’ve been there, and we’ve done that. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

We’ll always have Beijing. We’ll always have the Olympics.


– Shawna Xu


Six-thousand hits!

A bamboo "patch" at Renmin University.

A panda-free bamboo "patch" at Renmin University

Six-thousand hits?
Who would’ve thought that when we started this blog just three weeks ago that we’d get over 6,000 hits?
By all accounts, it’s been a popular thing on both ends. We enjoyed sharing our experiences. We watched the counter number grow and hoped that folks enjoyed reading our posts and personal blogs.

I’ve been trying to describe my life in China for the past month in e-mail to friends and family members back in the United States.
Most of the time, I come down to one sentence: “It’s been rich,” I say, then hope that’s satisfying enough.
Each day comes with a new adventure, something that we’d never done or experienced before.
Unfortunately, our everyday lives are often not as rich.

A brass elephant at the Forbidden City.

A brass elephant at the Forbidden City.

We’re leaving China Thursday. Seven Missouri students are staying for a couple more weeks to volunteer for the Paralympic Games in Beijing, but the bulk of us are headed back to Missouri.
We’ve been in China long enough (The trip started at the end of June for most of our group) that, in many ways, our Beijing lives have become our lives.
Don’t misunderstand. We miss our lives in the United States and we’re excited to get back to friends and loved ones. But as I chat with the students in the hotel elevator, in the lobby, in the campus canteens, it’s clear that we’ll miss our lives in Beijing as well.

Last night, our hosts at Renmin threw a lavish dinner party in our honor with speeches and songs and dancing.

They toasted us.

They gave us gifts.
They invited us to return and thanked us for helping to make the Beijing Olympics a rousing success.
For our part, we felt satisfied. We felt like maybe we had done an important thing.
And we thanked the folks in Beijing for the opportunity to feel that way.

– Greg Bowers

Chros McDougall: A mystery storm

Well that was weird.

It was 4 a.m., two hours after I fell asleep, when a relentless thunderstorm woke me up last night. We keep the curtain closed so we’re not blinded in the morning, but the light was still getting through. This wasn’t normal thunder — it was more like a boulder rolling down a long mountain. This wasn’t normal lightning — it was like somebody was welding outside my ninth-floor window.

My first instinct waking up at 4 a.m. is, of course, to send a text message. Maybe that’ll help? When I realized

The view from our rooms at Renmin University

The view from our rooms at Renmin University

I was awake and alert and still a little freaked out I decided to go check it out.

The view from my window looked as it always would at that time of the night: an empty street below lined with a row of high-rise residence halls. But one thing was missing: rain.

Somewhere off in the distance — down south, from the sound of it — there was an epic storm going on. I had never heard such a constant stream of thunder and lightning, and in my 4 a.m. state of mind I realized: This is it, there is an air raid on Beijing and my hotel will have crumbled to the ground by morning.

My fears weren’t put to rest when the reading said Beijing’s state would best be described as “fair.” I started typing in any reliable source I could think of: New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The Guardian; I even broke my own rules and checked

There was no air raid.

My roommate Eric Durban, who was eying me last night, claimed to have not heard a thing. Neither did a guy down the hall. I asked Alex Monnig though, and he too was woken up by the storm. It was something bizarre, we decided, and we couldn’t quite figure it out. If there was a lot of thunder, a lot of lightning, no rain and a fair weather forecast, something had to be up.

Our best guess is that we were awoken by the notorious Beijing weather rockets shot into the sky to control the rain. It makes sense in that today is the Closing Ceremonies and nobody wants it to rain on David Beckham — ceremoniously receiving the Olympic flame for London 2012. That doesn’t really explain the lightning though. I also feel like I would have heard them before, as an article posted I read a few weeks ago said something like 2,000 rockets were sent up before the Opening Ceremonies, and I’m sure they’ve been used since.

There was something weird going on last night.

– Chros McDougall

Pin trading, revisited

It didn’t take long till Larry and Shawna had the act down.
Shawna Xu, a Chinese student at Renmin University who’s been acting as our guide/translator during our stay in Beijing would act like she was trying to get Larry Powell to trade some of his pins – Olympic pins and Missouri Centennial pins.
They’d flail their arms a little, pretending to have an agitated conversation and, before long, a crowd would gather.

Shawna and Larry at work on the green.

Shawna and Larry at work on the green.

And pins would go flying back and forth.
This all happened down on the Olympic Green Saturday night. The Beijing Olympics were drawing to a close and thousands of people were flocking to the Olympic Green, headed to the Bird’s Nest for the track and field finals, or just lining up to get into the sponsors’ pavilions.
Or trading pins.

Pin trading is a hard thing to explain unless you’re at the Olympics, it really is.
No money changes hands. Just little metal and ceramic pins with sponsors logos or Olympic sports symbols. There are thousands of them.

They have no inherent value.
They are collectibles of the highest order.
Larry and Shawna were mobbed.
“No,” Larry wasn’t going to trade his Nike pin. “No,” he wouldn’t trade his Sports Illustrated pin from Sydney 2004.
“Yes,” he’d trade his Missouri J-School pins.
It got crazy.
At one point, he traded for a complete set of kitchsy Chairman Mao coins. Another time, he got a set of wrist bracelets in the colors of the Olympic rings.
He only stopped when I finally yelled, “Let’s get some food.”
At one point, we ran into two of our students who admitted that they kept their pins hidden to avoid the mob.
It was crazy. But Larry and Shawna were smiling.

They had the act down.
The Olympics are almost over.

– Greg Bowers

Trinity Nelson: The torch relay

The torch relay. Photo by Trinity Nelson.

The Olympic torch relay. Photo by Trinity Nelson.

Is our stay coming to an end?

The gift from Renmin

The gift from Renmin University of China

Our China trip must be coming to an end.

The Olympics end with Sunday night’s closing ceremonies. We have a farewell dinner with our Remnin hosts on Monday. And then, most of us head back to Missouri on Thursday.

Seven students will stay on to volunteer for the Paralympic Games, which begin in Beijing immediately after the Olympics end. But what started almost two months ago is coming to its end.

The other day, when we returned from breakfast, Remnin left a surprise token gift in our rooms. There was a message in both Chinese and English. We were touched.

The message said:


2008 Beijing Olympic Games will be to the end, all your volunteers will return to your own country. Thanks for all of your contributions to Beijing Olympic Games.

It is our honor and proud that you can stay in Renmin University of China HuiXian Building. Thanks for your understanding and support to our work, at the same time, all of you let us feel friendly and enthusiasm of the United States’ students and people. At the departure time, we send a small gift to you. We welcome you can come to China, come to Renmin University again in the future, and hope you become the culture messenger of China-USA.

Renmin University of China”

Sarah Orscheln: Beijing photos

Photos by Sara Orscheln

Photos by Sarah Orscheln

Photos by Sara Orscheln

Photos by Sarah Orscheln

On a Beijing subway. Photos by Sara Orscheln

On a Beijing subway. Photos by Sarah Orscheln