Saturday, October 14, 2006

Blue Jeans and Gym Shoes

I can feel an electricity in the air, a sense of anticipation, readiness, and excitement-the entire city focused on one goal, Beijing 2008. It has given the city momentum and purpose, a driving force that is behind every crane and bulldozer. From the everyday cab driver learning to speak English, the shiny new cabs on the road, to the English signs that finally make sense. Practicing, getting ready, cleaning house, polishing manners etc, all for their big debut. Will they be ready? I am convinced that yes, they will. Strangely,watching this process, I am proud to be Chinese, if only to be associated slimly by blood, facial features or my black hair. I hope for their success and the proud emergence of this debutante into a world that still has images of mao jackets and little red books.

As I walk the streets of Beijing, the smells and sounds of the city stir up memories from 2 decades ago. I see the bright neon lights and remember the darkness of the city as we flew in at night time. I see the panorama of skyscrapers and remember the newly built 2 story concrete structures with crooked doorframes. I see women with perms and delicate skin and remember the boxy hair cuts and black penetrating eyes. I see blue jeans and gym shoes and remember blue jackets and cloth shoes. I see Samsung Lcd screens on street corners and remember busts of Mao in the friendship store. How far this nation has come! The gap between me and the millions that look like me has narrowed to a mere crack. More and more, it has become a place where I am comfortable.

It is interesting to see this place from the perspective of someone like Tom, raised in Chicago Chinatown, his first visit to China. Tom notices every last detail, and his observations have been amusing. "Isn't it amazing how many blacks are in China?" he announces, to which May and I look at each other with puzzled looks. Oddly enough, on the next 2 street corners, we see 2 Black men dressed in suits. "May, you are one of the tallest women and I am one of the shortest men around." What totally amazes them both, in the end, is the $17 North Face Jacket we negotiate at Silk Alley.

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