Changing China

Giant on the move

A tale of two stadiums

May 28, 2008

Evacuated people rest at a sports stadium which was turned into a temporary shelter in MianyangThis weekend, Beijing inaugurated the new Bird’s Nest Stadium with the “Good Luck Beijing” track and field event. I attended less than 24 hours after covering the earthquake in Sichuan, and the contrast between sports and rubble was a little hard to digest.

The Bird’s Nest stadium, built for the Olympics, can seat 91,000 fans. The air flows through well, keeping it cool in the muggy Beijing summer. The seats are well-positioned, so the contestants can be seen easily. The screens are visible, the sound-system clear, the lighting strong but not harsh.

The Mianyang stadium, in Sichuan, is currently housing nearly 20,000 refugees. Every railing is covered in clothing, the floors covered in cardboard and quilts. The glassed-in second story helps shield old people and children from the rain. The screens are tuned to television coverage of the disaster and the PA system booms out the radio news.

Competitors prepare to run during the Good Luck Beijing China Athletics Open in BeijingLucky Beijing, Unlucky Sichuan.

But the two stadiums have some things in common.

A small army of young volunteers works in each. Fresh faced volunteers in Beijing answered the call to help China’s Olympics make a shining impression on the world. Masked volunteers in Mianyang answered the call to serve fellow Chinese in an hour of need.

Lines for snack food in Beijing’s stadium are polite and orderly, in line with campaigns for “cultured queuing.”

Lines for food in Mianyang are also polite and orderly, but a lot longer, as refugees show enormous patience despite hunger and grief.

People who were evacuated to a temporary shelter at a sports stadium queue to get food in MianyangTaxis pull over on the road outside the Bird’s Nest, so that people can take photos of themselves in front of the Olympic icon.

Cars pull over on the road outside the Mianyang station, to drop off donations of clothing and water.

Maybe it was my imagination, but I thought the applause of the Beijing crowd got a little warmer when the blue-suited Sichuan contestants won.

Pictures of┬áscenes from Mianyang Stadium by Jianan Yu, Bird’s Nest by David Gray

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