On August 8, I went with a friend to an Irish bar to watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. I always find the Olympics an impressive event, but it is very common for me to miss most of it. I realize they are going on about the time they are wrapping up. But this time, I found myself in the host country where the excitement had been building for over eight years. No one could escape the Olympics (or that ridiculously long them song, Beijing Huan Ying Ni or in other words, Beijing Welcomes You, or in other words, Sarah's Mind is About to Explode). Billboards, commercials, and public advisories suggesting people stay on the curb, help wheelchair-bound folks across streets, and refrain from littering, were everywhere.
There were plenty of people who were over "Olympic fever." These were the same people who had no intention of going to see the games live and in person. We contemplated it briefly, but it just seemed insane to join millions of other people flooding into Beijing. Plus we've never been there, so we didn't know the best way to go about it, even in normal circumstances. David and I were satisfied with seeing a semi-final men's soccer match in Shanghai, the only event taking place in our city.
We were new enough here that the hype surrounding the games had not gotten to us, so I was looking forward to watching the opening ceremonies in China. The last time I saw the start of the Olympics, I think Muhammad Ali carried the torch. So I showed up, a little after the ceremonies kicked off and found myself walking into a courtyard full of people, many of which who were Chinese, just as the Chinese National Anthem was starting. This may not sound like a big deal, but I have never been in a foreign country when its citizens were singing their own anthem. I was struck most by the swelling sense of pride in the air. These people were singing their hearts out. China had been looking forward to hosting the Games for a long time, even before they won the honor back in 2001. I was witnesses a people in one of their most anticipated moments of national pride. It was amazing.
It's a big year for America, too. Being on the other side of the world during a historical event like our elections this year is almost as strange as being in China for the 2008 Olympics. Although I could never claim to miss the presence of constant political ads and news coverage (especially when you live in swing state), it still felt weird not to be stateside during the actual election. So last Tuesday, I did the next best thing and went to a bar at 8 o'clock in the morning. It was strange to be in a place with so many Americans in one spot, as most times when out with other expats, there are plenty of other nationalities in the mix. But here we were, all gathered to watch the historic election results come in. We ate a very American breakfast and kept an eye on the TVs. By the time noon rolled around, I had once again experienced a moment of national pride. This time it was Americans abroad in China, hugging each other and cheering for an amazing moment in our nation's time line.
These two moments, involving two very different countries and two very different sources for celebration, were so strikingly similar to me. I couldn't stop comparing them. Essentially, they felt the same. The excitement, the pride, the purity of it...it all felt so amazingly wonderful and positive. People at their best in a somewhat rare moment that brings them together.
The more I learn and witness, the more I'm convinced of our overwhelming similarities, rather than our differences. It's a small world after all.