Wild and wacky ways to welcome the Olympics

August 3rd, 2008 - 9:21 am ICT by IANS  

By Cindy Sui
Beijing, Aug 3 (DPA) An acupuncturist tried to stick 2,008 needles in his head. Another man offered to give passers-by money if they brought him dead flies. And several others in various parts of the country are walking or riding their tricycles thousands of kilometres to Beijing - all to show support for the first Olympic Games to be held in China. As the countdown to the Aug 8-24 Games reaches its final days, excitement over Beijing hosting the games is spurring some people in China to do the unusual and extraordinary, with local media in recent weeks reporting several cases of extreme Olympic support.

Once a largely conformist society, where standing out in terms of dress and behaviour was potentially dangerous, especially during the politically chaotic period of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), Chinese society now is increasingly accepting of expressions of individuality.

“These people are acting on their own. They are not encouraged by anyone,” said Xia Xueruan, a retired social studies professor at the prestigious Beijing University. “This reflects people’s enthusiasm to participate in the Olympics.”

Shi Changlin, a 50-year-old convenience store owner, quit his business, spent 7,000 yuan ($1,044) - not a small sum especially in a developing country like China - to modify his tricycle into a colourful wagon covered with flags of different countries and rode it for 3,600 km from his hometown of Kunming in southwestern China’s Yunnan province across the country to Beijing.

During his two-month journey, he even painstakingly taught himself the English phrase “One world, one dream. Welcome to Beijing” so he can use it to greet foreigners coming here for the games.

“It took me a long time to learn to say that,” the China News Service quoted Shi as saying.

Another man did something similar, but started from his hometown in east China’s Zhejiang, which is closer to Beijing. Still, Sun Dingguo, a 20-year-old sports fan, spent 11 months on the road.

The young man even had his hair shaved in the shapes of the five Olympic rings and the Chinese words for Beijing. He has to go to the hairstylist once a month to maintain his hairdo.

Along the way, he gained permission from local governments to gather 10,000 signatures for an Olympic support petition, which he wants to submit to the International Olympic Committee.

Other such “niu ren,” or stubborn people, as the public and media have nicknamed them, are still on their way to the capital, including a veteran from east China’s Shandong province, who is walking.

Two college students from Nanchang city in east China’s Jiangxi province jogged to the capital, covering more than 10 km a day before arriving in Beijing in early July after their month-long journey.

One Beijing dog owner even had the white fur shaved off one side of her pet poodle so that she could dye the five-coloured Olympic rings onto the remaining hair.

The man who paid people for dead flies was apparently trying to clean up Beijing to give the estimated half a million athletes, dignitaries, journalists, tourists and others a good impression of the city.

Most of the enthusiasts sustained their ambitions on their own expenses or the generosity of others, sleeping or eating cheaply, while some tried to make money from their antics.

Beijing’s organizing committee, BOCOG, said it recognizes supporters’ efforts, but does not encourage them.

In more down-to-earth methods, more than 15,000 couples in Beijing have signed up to get married on Aug 8, the first day of the Olympics, according to the Beijing Daily Friday.

If all of them are able to be legally wed that day, it would set a record for the capital, the report quoted the city’s Civil Affairs Bureau as saying.

Other cities were also reporting high numbers of couples wanting to tie the knot on that day, which is also considered lucky because it has three eights, 08/08/08. Eight rhymes with the Chinese word for “getting rich”.

Joseph Cheng, a political science professor and long-time China analyst from City University of Hong Kong, said public support in China for the Olympics is strong, in contrast to overseas calls to boycott the Olympics after China’s crackdown against Tibetan protestors and ongoing criticisms that China has not lived up to its promises to improve human rights when it bid for the games.

“Everyone shares the leaders’ enthusiasm. They see this as an opportunity to showcase the best of China,” said Cheng, adding that partly due to China’s history of being invaded and occupied as well as isolated following the communist takeover in 1949, Chinese people have a strong sense of wanting to be accepted and recognised by the world and to show that it has stood up.

“But there’s a twist. There’s another objective (the government sees with the Olympics) - to mobilize Chinese people’s patriotism, nationalism and national spirit,” Cheng said.

In a reflection of such support, more than 1 million people have signed up to be volunteers, according to BOCOG, although some were recruited by the government from state-owned or other large companies.

But while many Beijingers flooded the streets of Beijing in 2001, honking horns, cheering and waving flags after the city won the bid to host the Olympics, there are few signs of the party atmosphere in Beijing and until this week few flags hung from windows or doors.

Xia, the sociologist, however, said that was due to the rain in recent days.

“You will see a lot of flags when the Olympic Games begin,” he said.

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