From Beijing to Vancouver: A Very Different Olympics

Travel Blog  •  Eva Holland  •  02.22.10 | 2:22 PM ET

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.

Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.

4 Comments for From Beijing to Vancouver: A Very Different Olympics

JoAnna 02.22.10 | 6:39 PM ET

Based on what I’ve heard from people who have made even a day trip up to the Vancouver games, the vibe is very positive, vibrant and organic. Even though the weather’s been a bit uncooperative, I think the Vancouver games overall have been a great facelift for the Olympics.

Techno Music 02.23.10 | 10:22 PM ET

I love to see the olympic spirit burn so bright.

Office Chair Traveller 02.25.10 | 5:09 AM ET

I think the events also reflect the differences betwen what would be a Canadian and a Chinese party. The latter is nearly always quite reserved, and is all about the host making a good impression on the guests.

In Beijing in 2008 there was a joke going around that the government would distribute sleeping pills to the general population. Waking up after two weeks the people ask “Did we put on a good show? Were the foreigners impressed?” to which the government answered “yes” and all the people were delighted and happy to be able to get on with their lives again.

Ed 03.19.10 | 12:15 AM ET

It’s true, much of Beijing (where I currently live) definitely has a staid atmosphere and a lack of street life. Every once in a while, however, things are completely different. Like during Chinese New
Year; friends had told me to expect a lot of fireworks and noise, but I was still completely unprepared for what happens.

During the two-week celebration of Chinese New Year in Beijing, anyone can set off fireworks whenever and wherever they like. People set them off from their rooftops, on the side of the road, in front of their apartment complexes. They start in the morning and by 10 or 11 at night, the streets are strewn with cardboard debris. It sounds like a battle zone. It’s a bit unsettling, definitely unsafe, but also a lot of fun.

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