A volunteer (C) reads colorful notes bearing wishes of citizens on a message board at a volunteer station in Beijing, capital of China, July 30, 2008. About 400,000 city volunteers provide tourist services at 550 volunteer stations in Beijing from July 1 to October 8. (Xinhua/Jiao Wei)
by Xinhua sportswriters Zhou Yan and Lou Chen
BEIJING, Aug. 14 (Xinhua) -- As China's 600-strong
Olympic team fight for medals on the home soil, a separate team nearly 3,000
times its size are trying to snatch another gold for their country -- with
Of the host city's 1.7 million volunteers, about
100,000 are working at the Games sites -- mainly the competition venues and the
Olympic villages -- or on the bus fleet shuttling between these sites.
host city actually looks younger with these smiling young men and women, mostly
in their early 20s and all wearing blue "Beijing 2008" T-shirts.
"Visitors to the Olympics can be forgiven for
thinking that China is a land of unnatural youthfulness where nobody is older
than 30," said New York Times reporter Charles McGrath.
Close as they are to the Games, few of these
volunteers can sit back and enjoy the competition. Even the lucky ones working
at the competition venues may not witness all the historic moments.
Pan Xingyu, 21, works at the National Aquatics
Center, or the Water Cube, but has never caught a glimpse of her idol Michael
Phelps. "He always competes in the morning but I always work afternoon or night
She also missed the excitement of the diving
competitions -- in which China has won all the four golds offered so far,
because she was either on duty at the entrance or maintaining order at the
"I had a peep or two when the audience roared in
excitement. But it's better to watch TV later on," she said.
Khalid Malik (L), United Nations Resident Coordinator in China, gives out the certificate of honor to Olympic volunteer Liang Su at a ceremony held in Beijing, Aug. 7, 2008. A celebration, co-hosted by UN's China offices and Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the 29th Olympiad, was held on Thursday to encourage and show gratitude to volunteers devoting to Beijing Olympics and China's social development. (Xinhua/ Wang Fang)
At the end of a noisy, tiring day, Pan and her
colleagues are always eager to get back for some rest, but their team leaders
sometimes call them together to play games, hoping to help them relax and
enhance cohesion of the group.
An engineering major at the prestigious Tsinghua
University, Pan admitted her excitement at the job is subsiding. "It is very
tiring and stressful. Sometimes you need to deal with tough issues and people
would complain if you're not doing well enough," said the soft-spoken junior
student. "But when I graduate from school, I guess I won't be afraid of any
tough job (with this experience)."
For Pan and her peers, some of whom stand for several
hours in the scorching sun to point the way for the Olympic visitors, all their
hard work pays off when they are given a heartfelt "thank you" and compliments
Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, who attended the
Beijing Olympics opening on Aug. 8, said he was "especially moved" by the
volunteers because of their enthusiasm and good manners. "Chinese young people
have dreams...They deserve our expectation and admiration," he said in an
interview earlier this week.
A senior official with the International Olympic
Committee (IOC) also paid tribute to the Beijing Games' volunteers at a press
conference on Wednesday. "All the volunteers are dedicated... we have to say
they are doing a fantastic job," said IOC's Olympic Games executive director
These volunteers, many of whom are trained to be
engineers, journalists or doctors, are doing a wide variety of temporary jobs
created by the Games: running errands and distributing games results, conducting
security checks, driving golf carts, housekeeping at athletes and media
villages, or simply standing there and greeting everyone.
Frankly speaking, not everyone speaks good English
and many, particularly the freshman students, lack the adequate problem solving
skills their jobs demand. But they are certainly doing their best to help, and
are hoping this hard-won opportunity will help prove their capability and enrich
their experience, which might be a positive element in their future
Xu Zhou, 19, has one of the "boring" jobs that is
totally irrelevant to what she is trained to be -- a communication engineer.
She travels at least 20 times a day on a media bus
commuting between the Main Press Center and the North Star Media Village, a
20-minute ride, to provide language assistance for foreign reporters aboard and
answer their questions.
Most of the days, Xu, as well as 2,000 other
volunteers who work for the media bus fleet, can only catch a glimpse of the
ongoing competitions on TV during their breaks. But Monday was a red-letter day
for the bespectacled sophomore from Beijing Communications University: she had a
day off and she got a ticket to the Olympic Green Tennis Center through a lucky
draw on campus.
To fully exploit the hard-won chance, she arrived at
5 a.m. and didn't leave until midnight, watching as many games as possible as
the ticket was valid for all 65 matches played in the day.
"It was exciting to see Roger Federer and Rafael
Nadal play," said Xu, adding that she was happy to be among a home crowd that
cheered Lu Yen-hsun from Chinese Taipei on to a hard victory against British
Starting her service on July 25, Xu said she would
stick to her position until the assignment is over by Aug. 25. "My job here
might be a trivial detail in the running of the whole Games, but details matter
in the Games' final success," she said.
Besides the 100,000 volunteers directly serving the
Olympians and journalists, the other 1.6-million-strong volunteers in the
Chinese capital have seldom come under the spotlight.
Among them are pensioners -- the oldest one already
103 years old -- that patrol streets and communities, students that answer
tourists' questions at roadside information kiosks, skilled taxi drivers who
have been handpicked to access the locked Olympic area in northern Beijing, and
chefs selected from renowned Beijing hotels to help cook the Olympic dishes.
But a set of snapshots, showing a young female
volunteer holding a foreigner, who fainted shortly in the street probably for a
slight sunstroke, in her arms and feeding him water, spread quickly in China's
vast Internet community, and stirred up a great sensation.
"You look so beautiful when you extend your helping
hands. You are the embodiment of the traditional virtues of the Chinese --
hospitable and caring," read an online comment seen on qq.com.
At 103, Beijing resident Fu Yiquan still patrols the
street near the Temple of Heaven in downtown Beijing as a "security volunteer,"
a job he has been doing for 30 years.
The perseverance of Fu and tens of thousands of other
pensioners in Beijing impressed David Tool, a former colonel of the U.S. Army
who now teaches at a Beijing university and hunts awkward translations in his
"These pensioners are doing a great job. The Beijing
Games are a grand occasion. I, too, want to share the excitement," said
During the Games, he is serving as a volunteer at an
information kiosk close to the Sanlitun bar street, one of the areas most
frequented by foreigners in eastern Beijing.
"No matter who wins the most medals at the Games, one
thing is clear -- these volunteers will win the hearts and minds of visitors to
Beijing," Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment
Programme, said on the eve of the Beijing Games.