The Olympics have mercifully ended and they were in China. And we are proud to welcome back our Deadspin Beijing Bureau, our own trio of correspondents living in China and reporting on everything they see, Olympics related and otherwise. They are winding down their coverage, obviously. The day after the Olympics officially ended, the Bureau found ourselves at Silk Street Market off of Jianguomen Wai in Beijing’s CBD. Silk Street is a massive 6-floor market filled with stalls of hawkers selling everything from baby clothes to fake Panerai watches to tailored suits. We figured it would be a fun place to visit today; there were many people leaving the city, and they must need souvenirs, we thought. We were right. We saw Brazilian tourists haggling for teacups, Belarusian Rhythmic Gymnasts buying pearls; we got our picture taken with the women’s head basketball coach of Mali, of all places. In fact, we saw people from just about every country, from Croatia to Eritrea, all bemusedly bargaining for their last minute gifts at Silk Street. Because nothing says “Beijing: 2008” like a fake Paul Smith button-down.
We thought the scene going on inside Silk Street was a cool microcosm of an integral aspect of China’s relationship with the world: Foreigners from every continent colliding here to haggle for and buy cheap (often fake) goods. But yeah, the Olympics are over. The ubiquitous, yellow accreditation-clad visitors begin their sweaty shuffle home, returning with new suits and stuffed Fuwas, all with stories to tell about how wonderfully exotic the last three weeks were. Soon, migrant workers and prostitutes will begin to poke their heads out of their suburban hiding spots and slowly return to the city center. Maggie’s will probably re-open. Our DVD store will restock (pirated) new releases; for some reason the only DVD’s available during the Olympics - in tourist areas, at least - were pre-1960 classics like Greta Garbo flicks, "Poseidon Adventure" and "Killer’s Kiss." We expect the normal pollution to return, like a warm, poisonous blanket you just can’t get to sleep without. Hopefully Beijing takes down the temporary walls it erected to (partially) conceal the city’s “grittier” neighborhoods.
We’re interested to see what happens to Beijing over the next few months. There are no more stadiums being built or anything, but skyscrapers and super-malls are still going up all over the place. Beijing, as opposed to, say, Athens or Sydney, is actually going to grow into the shell it’s built for itself during the Olympics. (Over the next four years, they’ll finish building four more subway lines.) The city will probably continue to have a use for the Bird’s Nest, Wukesong Arena, & the Water Cube (supposedly being turned into a mall) and that mysterious plaza of buildings near the Olympic Green. And by the time the Olympics roll around in 2016 (when the statute of limitations runs out on He Kexin, by the way), it’s not much of a stretch to think Beijing will have 25 million residents. In a NY Times article about the handing over of the torch to London mayor Boris Johnson, we can begin to see the more relaxed approach to the next Olympics:
“Guo and Rogge were thin, erect and serious, encased in creased dark suits. Johnson shambled out, his middle button undone, a hand in his pocket. He waved, pointed, pumped his fist and grinned: a naughty schoolboy out with the grown-ups.”
We had a great time, but we’re ready to settle back into our normal, China-hued lives. And we’ll be happy to watch the next Games’ as outsiders, to see an Olympics that won’t take itself too seriously. One that won’t be a, gulp, “coming out party” but just… a party. On the next post from the Deadspin Beijing Bureau: the Bureau searches for a new job as the Paralympics roll into town.