English lessons help pave road to Olympics
The Xibahe Dongli community centre tucked away near Sanyuanqiao on Beijing's third ring road is where Hao Jing makes her regular contribution to the Olympic preparations.
During weekdays she is an executive assistant for a telecommunications company, but for the past year the 26-year-old Hebei province native has given over weekends to teaching senior citizens English.
'Old people are retired but they still need help. The oldest is an 82-year-old, and he has not missed one lesson,' Ms Hao said.
The English community centre classes for pensioners started this year following an encounter between a pensioner and a foreigner on the street. The westerner was seeking the exhibition centre but knew no Chinese, while the older gentleman spoke no English and felt unequipped to help.
Frustrated, he later asked the community centre to start English lessons. The centre is just one of many in Beijing that are providing English language training to the retired, all to aid the biggest influx of foreign arrivals in the Chinese capital next year.
Hao Jing, a mathematics graduate, is part of the generation for whom English was a standard part of the school and university curriculum. During her teenage years, her love and talent for the language landed her the second prize in an Olympics English competition in her home city of Shijiazhuang.
However, most of her language understanding came through devouring Hollywood movies, especially ones featuring Hugh Grant. 'But he's too much of a playboy,' complained Ms Hao.
English has subsequently been central to her employment prospects since graduating from Hebei Normal University. A stint as a translator for a study abroad website was followed by a marketing role which involved phoning foreign potential clients for personal banking services.
Her work now involves using her bilingual fluency on a daily basis.
Work at the community centre is not without its trials. One is getting elder students to retain taught material. 'They are old people, so their memories are not very good,' she said. 'They have to repeat, repeat and repeat, and they hardly have any chance to practise. They can only remember what they learned during class. After they get home, they forget. I am thinking of making tapes ... they don't have MP3s.'
Ms Hao, through teaching English, has a role in Beijing's increasing internationalism and future development. At the same time her commitment represents old school Chinese values of support for the community. Such traditions are important to her. She grew up in a hutong in a 200-metre long street that was closely-knit because all the inhabitants were related. 'In our village when the harvest was not good, farmers asked us for food. All the people helped. Maybe if you live in a city, you can't feel like that.'
After moving to Beijing in 2004 it took Hao about six months to adapt to capital city residents.
'Beijingers are proud to be a Beijinger, so when they meet someone from elsewhere they are not very kind to them. But if you spend a lot of time with them they are quite nice.'
Ms Hao also hopes that increasing environmental awareness and social responsibility will be key hallmarks of China as it advances economically. Long after the Olympics, Hao will continue teaching English using her traditional values.