Destination: Canada

From Beijing to Vancouver: A Very Different Olympics

From Beijing to Vancouver: A Very Different Olympics REUTERS/Shaun Best
Fans cheer on the Canadian hockey team at the Vancouver Olympics. (REUTERS/Shaun Best)

It’s been nearly two years since I blogged from the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, and—as I thought I might—I now find myself on the Olympic travel trail again, in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Games. I’ll be honest: The two host cities couldn’t feel more different.

I stepped off the train from the airport and surfaced in downtown Vancouver this weekend, expecting, perhaps, to feel some uniquely Olympic vibe in the air, familiar to me from my brief time in Beijing. But the scene on Vancouver’s streets has almost nothing in common with the one I encountered two years ago. My memories of Beijing are all broad boulevards, empty except for uniformed Chinese volunteers offering directions to clusters of wandering foreigners, and subdued subway cars full of commuters. Vancouver, in contrast, is a non-stop maple-leaf-painted street party—flag-draped young people careen through the streets, impromptu break dancing circles pop up on corners, and buskers work the crowds. The brightly-dressed foreigners that I remember from Beijing are here, too, but they’re wildly outnumbered by the revelers in red and white.

I suppose there are plenty of economic reasons for the contrast. The 2008 Games probably weren’t as accessible to the average Chinese citizen as these Games are to most Vancouverites, while the expense and difficulty of visiting China could explain why the many young Olympics visitors here were absent in Beijing. (The local high school students I rode the bus home with last night, for instance, weren’t likely to make a transcontinental Olympic trek.) But economics aside, I still feel like there’s a fundamental difference at work: Beijing’s Games, to me, were clearly aimed outward, at the world, while Vancouver’s, so far, feel more like an essentially Canadian party to which everyone else has also been invited.


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