In Beijing: The Elephant in the Olympic Village

Travel Blog  •  Eva Holland  •  08.14.08 | 9:51 AM ET

imageDon’t let my previous posts fool you: there was more to my time in Beijing this past week than just some good-natured nationalism and the occasional bureaucratic annoyance. Sure, everybody at my hotel had a good time—but there was an unacknowledged tension, too, lurking just under the surface.

The unmentionable was, of course, the political situation in China, and I don’t think it was ever far from most visitors’ minds. At one point, on the shuttle bus, a man from Atlanta leaned over to me and whispered: “You know all the taxis are bugged, right? Every single one.”

Later, during a tour of the Lama Temple, we all avoided eye contact with each other as our Chinese guide gave us the official line on the hierarchy of Tibetan Buddhism: “Once, Dalai and Panchen Lamas were most important disciples. But now, there is only Panchen Lama.”

And on my last day in Beijing, I joined hundreds of other tourists in Tiananmen Square, where I couldn’t have been the only person thinking that the presence of doves, rainbows and Olympic slogans felt more than a little out of place.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen the Beijing Games referred to as “China’s coming-out party”—and its government’s efforts to make sure that nothing spoils that party are well-documented. But, ironically enough, while the Olympic Games in Beijing have certainly served to show the world some of China’s many good qualities, they have also guaranteed that the country’s troubles remain firmly in the front of people’s minds, no matter how much the government might wish otherwise.

Related on World Hum:
* In Beijing: Three Cheers for Cheers
* In Beijing: The Inescapable Games
* In Beijing: Not So ‘Sanitized’ After All?
* In Beijing: Red Tape and Roadblocks
* In Beijing: A Rainbow of Nations
* In Beijing: Olympic Travel Junkies

Photo by Eva Holland

Tags: Asia, China

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.

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