Giant on the move
The earthquake and the Olympics
What had been a building crescendo of celebration and national pride turned into an outpouring of grief and support for the earthquake-hit province of Sichuan.
Wall-to-wall television coverage of the torch relay, a blissful affair once on Chinese soil, gave way to heart-rending reports from the devastated epicentre and uplifting scenes of a nation pulling together to confront disaster.
And though the declared three-day period of national mourning has ended, China will carry its grief into the Olympics.
But if there were any questions about whether Beijing would, bit by bit, shift itself back into gear for the Games, these were put to rest for me the other night on the subway.
Two dozen high-school boys were running round and round in tight circles through the turnstiles. They were testing the resilience of a new ticketing system. With magnetic swipe cards in hand, they ran, one after the other, through the automatic turnstiles non-stop for nearly half an hour.
The system performed perfectly – and so did the students. Apart from some laughter and joking on the sidelines, the turnstile runners took to their task with determination and earnestness. It was a striking juxtaposition with the thousands of Chinese who have gone to Sichuan to lend a hand to the earthquake relief efforts.
I asked one of the students in the subway station if he was getting paid. “Of course not! We’re volunteers,” he said. “Everybody has to do their part for the Olympics and for China.”
Picture of Olympic countdown board in Beichuan by REUTERS/Bo Bor, Beijing subway map by REUTERS/Jason Lee