Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Steve and Desi's Excellent Paralympic Adventure

Over the past several days, metal blockades and police lines have been put in place on the street outside my office. Squeezing through and ducking under, I gave a moment's thought to them, but that was all I could offer. There is so much here that presents itself as a mystery. I really just have no mental space to devote to solving the small cases.

Then, this morning, at about 8:30, I noticed a change in the pattern of noises coming from the street below. Usually there is the constant roar of buses and the chatter of automated station announcements. All of a sudden, though, I began to hear the voices of real people, getting louder and louder. I looked out the window. Hmm...lots of police. buses. Hmm...the roads are completely deserted. Huh?

Then, of course, it hit me. What a dummy I've been. Today is the last days of the Paralympics. What is the last event of every Olympic meet? The men's marathon (in homage, I suppose, to the ancient history of the games). I bet that's what's going on. I'm at the Paralympics, and I didn't even know it!

Sure enough, the cops eventually restricted access to the bridge passing over the road outside my office. And then the "jia you" cheers started rising from the gathering crowd. And then a roar, as the first wheelchair athlete sped by. This scene repeated itself over and over again for the next hour or so. First, more wheelchair racers. Then different types of runners. The last groups passing by were all in pairs. At first, I had no idea why. Dummy again! These were the blind runners and their guides.

Wow! That was really cool!


So I'm meeting Steve around 10 am at Beida so we can run a few errands, and I'm ahead of schedule. Since I'm quote "into" walking a lot, I decide it would be a good day to walk from our apartment to Beida, to see how long it takes. It's 8:30, I'm thinking one and a half hours, so I get my sneakers and get ready to head out the door.

Phone rings. It's Steve. He's calling to tell me all about the hoopla out his window. Apparently, the Paralympic marathon is heading up Zhongguancun Lu, and he can see everything. Cool. I tell him I'm walking and I'll see him in a bit.

Great day to take a walk...

Since security is so high during the Paralympics, vehicles are restricted from the roads that host Olympic events. Around 15 minutes into my walk, I notice that all the traffic has stopped moving. Primarily buses, which would have been my normal transport mode, were stopped in their tracks because they have set routes. This route was off limits...for the next half hour!

As I walked, I thought of Chinas it once was...before all the buses, taxis, and cars. In front of me were tons of people walking and riding bikes. They seemed to be enjoying this break from the 683, the Special #6, and all the other monsters that jet up and down this road.

As I approached Beida, I heard cheering (jia you!) as the final two marathon runners (both blind) made their way up Zhongguancun Lu. Within minutes, the throngs who waited patiently behind police lines filled the street, hoping to walk unencumbered before the buses reentered the road.

I can only imagine what I would have been thinking if I had gotten on a bus this morning. Instead, I was delighted to catch a glimpse of the final Paralympic event and get a nice 45 minute walk in to boot.



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