BEIJING, Sept. 30 (Xinhua) - For 181 foreigners living in Beijing, Oct. 1, 2009 will be a "once in a lifetime" experience as they join New China's 60th National Day celebration, which will feature a foreign formation for the first time since the founding of New China in 1949.
"It was a big surprise to me when I was invited to participate in the parade. I was really excited and honored because this was the first time that China had foreign paraders," said David Tool, 67, an U.S. national who has lived in Beijing since 2001.
Beijingers are familiar with Tool as a torchbearer for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. He is a university professor and was a Beijing Top-Ten Volunteer in 2006, after volunteering to help correct translation errors at cultural relics and tourist sites and taught elderly people English.
"I was very happy also because (participating in the parade) meant Chinese people value my contribution," Tool said.
The foreigners come from 53 countries. Twenty-six will wear Chinese-style dress or their national costumes on the float themed "One World" and 155 will march in T-shirts with "I love China" on them and waving China's national flag.
Of the marchers, 97 are students and the remaining 58 are mainly foreign experts and representatives of foreign companies. The 26 foreigners on the float are mainly winners of the Friendship Award and Great Wall Friendship Award, and volunteers in Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
"When foreigners knew there was an opportunity to be in the parade for the National Day, they were eager to attend the event," Li Honghai, deputy director general of the Foreign Affair Office of the Beijing Municipal government, said.
Some foreigners living abroad even wrote to the office that they wanted to take part, saying they would cover their own costs, including transport and accommodation, he said.
The oldest foreign participant is 70-year-old Frenchman Francis Wacquant, and the youngest are 8-year-old twins from Italy.
TIRED BUT HAPPY
The foreigners have been preparing for the official parade on Oct. 1, attending the rehearsals twice, gathering hours in advance before the rehearsal started and walking about 7 kilometers in the rehearsal.
"The rehearsal was hard. We spent 12 hours on that on Sept. 18 which ended at 3 a.m.," Michael Crook, a Briton who was born in China and runs an international school in Beijing, said in fluent Chinese.
"I suggested to other foreigners on the float during rehearsal that we should sing 'Happy birthday, dear China' when passing Tian'anmen Square."
Australian Emily Cross, 63, who has lived in Beijing for six years, said she was so excited at being part of the "spectacular" celebration that she got up at 4 a.m. to get ready for rehearsals.
"I was extremely pleased not only for myself, but also because I can represent my country," she said.
David Tool, who will be on the float with Crook and Cross, said his arms ached from waving in rehearsals. "When the float passed Tian'anmen Square, all efforts were worth it," he said.
Crook recalled earlier celebrations. "I was on the review stand with my parents during the National Day celebrations in the 1950s,and the performance in the Tian'anmen Square was amazing.
"On one National Day in the 1960s, we met Premier Zhou Enlai when we were in the Zhongshan Park (to the west of the Tian'anmen Rostrum). He kindly talked with my family, which is my warmest memory of China's National Day," he said.
He said he had witnessed many of China's National Day celebrations as a stander-by, now he had the chance to be part of it in person and parade with many other foreigners. He said his dream of integrating into the Chinese society finally came true.
David Tool, dressed in "tangzhuang," a general name for traditional Chinese attire, which follows the Manchu fashion style of the late Qing Dynasty, fell in love with the Chinese culture when he started to study Chinese Geography in the United States in the 1960s.
He said he had told his family in the United States that he would live in China forever.
Many foreigners chose to stay longer in China, attracted by the Chinese culture and Chinese people.
"I told my friends that I must have been a Chinese in my previous life," said Italian Pierluigi Cecchi, 65, adding he would stay longer in China to study the eastern mentality.
Indian Manish Chopra, 39, who works for a foreign company in Beijing, said he loved Chinese people and Chinese food. He gave his 8-year-old son the Chinese name "Wang Fujing," after Beijing's main shopping area and a popular tourist attraction.
Special Report: 60th Anniversary of Founding of PRC