My First trip to Asia (Part 2)

Beijing Smog.jpg

This is not fog

Cough cough…view from my hotel window

How does an Asian feel on her first trip to Asia?

The moment my sister and I stepped into the streets of Beijing my sister said: “This smells like our childhood.” YES! All kinds of memories started to flood my mind…memories of us walking hand in hand with my Dad on the streets of Honolulu, Hawaii, shopping for Li Hing Mui (sweet & sour/salty dried plums); the smell of dried smoked squid snacks at the movies. Our heritage is South Korean, but the moment we set foot on China, it felt like home!

Your senses recall memories you don’t consciously remember. Memories that need no translation. When we landed in Asia, we didn’t use English or Spanish or Korean to remember my Dad and Hawaii. We didn’t use any language at all.


We’re going to need a bigger suitcase…

Where did I leave off in my previous post? Oh! THE SILK STREET MARKET in Beijing…sigh…what a place! If you think that 24 hours on planes and in airports, walking miles through Tiananmen Square and then the Forbidden City were going to stop us from shopping…then you clearly are not acquainted with women. Besides, we had a legitimate reason to go shopping: the airline had left our suitcases in Korea and they had no idea when we would get them back. So why did we end up buying about a dozen pashminas? That’s neither here nor there. The point is, this place is a MUST if you go to Beijing.

Negotiating. The price is shown to you on a calculator in dollars or any other currency.

Negotiating. The price is shown to you on a calculator in dollars or any other currency.

It turns out the market is actually 5 stories of market stalls that are more or less organized into sections: handbag stalls in one floor, clothing in another, jewelry, electronics, beauty products, tea…on and on. Were we overwhelmed by the enormity of the place and the crowds of locals and tourists? Heck, no! Fatigue went out the window and it was ON! 

The vendors are mostly young girls and they will not take no for an answer…in ANY language. When I asked for the price of a bag and I said “Thank you” and turned to leave, I suddenly felt a hand grab me by the arm, pulling me back and saying IN SPANISH “Amiga, amiga, precio, amigo, buen precio!” When I smiled at that and said, “I’m just going to look around,” she started speaking English, while her colleague was haggling with a couple in Russian beside us. I continued walking, dragging her along, as she tried to drag me back to her stall, all the while shouting “You are so beautiful lady, you buy bag, beautiful lady. I give you special price for beautiful lady!” My sister and I were laughing and the girls laughed too but wouldn’t let go. 

We soon realized the Silk Street Market is the Olympic level shopping experience all women must experience at least once in their lives. It’s exciting, funny, alarming, exhilarating and weird all at once!

Did we buy much? I don’t want to discuss it. That’s between me and my credit card. 

The International Shooting Sport Federation ISSF

The ISSF General Assembly during the pre-Olympic test event

The ISSF General Assembly during the pre-Olympic test event

However, the reason why my sister and I were in Beijing was our pre-Olympic test event ISSF Shooting World Cup and the ISSF General Assembly, a HUGE event where 161 National Olympic Shooting Federations from all over the world meet to vote on important matters, such as amendments to the Rules and Regulations.

We were there as translators to/from Spanish / English (you have no idea how many documents are produced during these events!), interpreters for whispered simultaneous translation during meetings and consecutive translation for speeches, copy-editors and proofreaders for press releases and more documents, and impromptu emcees during social events.

A Beautiful Sports Venue

Obviously, for athletes, national teams and ISSF staff, this was the first opportunity to visit our sport’s Olympic Venue! And the Beijing 2008 Olympic Shooting Range was gorgeous. It became a common sight to see athletes and officials taking selfies or posing beside the beautiful artwork.

It was also huge and we often had to be driven in large 16-passenger “golf carts” to get from the Rifle/Pistol ranges to the shotgun ranges, in time for finals. But who drove these carts? Who showed athletes where they could store their equipment? Who sold snacks and beverages to spectators? Young Chinese volunteers, that’s who!

Volunteers & Mascots: The hardest working people in a pre-Olympic event

Games volunteers provide support in many areas and they start working months prior to the Games at every sport’s pre-Olympic event. They are classified according to the role they play:

  • Guidance staff help spectators, athletes and officials find their way at venues, airports and hotels. Tokyo 2020 is calling for between 16,000 and 25,000 Guidance Volunteers!

  • Events staff help the operation of training and competitions.

  • Mobility Support volunteers drive vehicles to transport Games participants between venues and hotels.

  • Personal Support staff welcome the delegations of each participating nation at airports, they act as interpreters and translators at the Athletes’ Village, during competitions and media interviews.

  • Operational Support personnel distribute uniforms to volunteers, issue IDs to Games participants at venues, airports and hotels and distribute equipment to teams, media and games participants at the Athletes’ Village and media centers.

  • Technology volunteers distribute technology and communication equipment, in addition to entering data and displaying results at competition venues.

  • Ceremonies and Protocol staff are the beautiful/handsome volunteers who guide athletes to their required positions, carry medals and other commemorative items for presenters during Medal Ceremonies. Check out this volunteer’s experience here.

One day, at the Olympic Shooting Range, our interpreter and I caught each other yawning, so I asked him what time he’d gotten home the previous night and he said 2:30 am. I was surprised, considering interpreters and personal support staff can only work until midnight. I asked him how far he lived and he explained that the city of Beijing is surrounded by 6 “ring roads” (concentric circles that surround the city proper) and that he had to take a couple of buses and then transfer to a train, so it took him about 2 hours to get home. Every morning, he had to arrive at the volunteer center to check in by 8:00 am, so he had to leave his house by 5:00-5:30 am!

Those beautiful girls in green were known by most of us as the “medals girls” and their dresses were a different color in every sport. Every single Ceremonies Volunteer I saw at the Shooting competitions and other sports were absolutely lovely.

But my personal heroes and the highlight of my day were the volunteers that wore the Olympic Mascot costumes and entertained spectators before competitions and award ceremonies. Beibei, Jingjing and Huanhuan danced, encouraged the public to clap and cheer, approached spectators who wanted selfies or just to touch them. However, my favorite part was the 10 or 15 minutes before a competition, when they were given free rein to show us their moves. There were days when we had mascots that would dazzle us with their cool dance movies, while other times there would be an epic dance-off! Beijing was often muggy and hot so these volunteers must have been walking around in 100-degree sauna suits.

Oh, man…good times…