Urban Jungle

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 August, 2008, 12:00am

This week: One World, One Dream

It's odd when I watch the Olympic Games on television or at the equestrian course in the New Territories: I feel sort of schizophrenic, with my allegiances torn. Having been born in Hong Kong, and having a life-long close relationship with my ancestral home in Punyu, Guangdong province, and having lived, worked and loved here in Hong Kong for the past 12 years, I am filled with Chinese patriotism when watching the Games.

At the same time, much of my schooling has been in Melbourne, Australia, where I was brought up on a healthy dose of sports. I would spend my whole summer holiday either playing sports or sitting at home in front of the TV watching sports, and I remember how disappointed I was when Melbourne's bid for the Olympic Games was lost to Atlanta, and how proud and patriotic I was when Sydney won the honour four years later.

I know the slogan is 'One World, One Dream' and nationalism shouldn't play a big part, but it is certainly more fun when you cheer for the country that had the biggest social impact on your life. As a connoisseur in sports of all types I definitely still get excited by performances of other countries' athletes. In fact, the most memorable sporting moment for me was when East Germany's Katarina Witt figure-skated her way immortally into my heart when she won gold at the 1984 Sarajevo and 1988 Calgary Winter Olympic Games. It was just dazzling and the competition was intense.

Having lived in two countries that have hosted an Olympics in the span of just a few years has allowed me a unique perspective as a spectator and a citizen. First and foremost is the competition itself; both countries have successfully shrugged off any nationalist sentiments and political controversy in the heat of competition itself - with crowds cheering equally for the home team as well as the visitors.

When the starting gun goes off the Olympic flame burns most brightly and the Olympic spirit is revived. I have read some rather unfair news articles comparing the Beijing Games to those hosted by the Nazis in Berlin, but nothing could be further from the truth. The opening ceremony at the Beijing Games is a testament to China's attempt to shake off its nationalistic communist past and embrace its culture and history, and most importantly its impressive cultural diversity. The opening ceremony steered the audience away from the stereotypes and directed them to what really defines China and the Chinese. Having been there for the Sydney Olympics, I have to say Beijing did a better job at highlighting its immense cultural history. Probably not a fair comparison, given China's 6,000 years of history compared to Australia's 250 years.

It is also amazing how short people's memories are when it comes to politicising the Games. The media had a field day with China but I clearly remember quite similar human rights issues in Australia also, with the Aboriginals protesting about the treatment of their previous generations and their squalid living conditions today. There was the issue of uranium mining and export. It certainly wasn't controversy-free. In the next scheduled summer Olympics in London it won't be any better. I will be interested to see if London can free itself of its lacklustre human rights history and controversial immigration polices.

It is always funny to see the hypocrisy of the world at a major event like this. I find it laughable when I see another country criticise the air pollution in Beijing and the algal growths in Qingdao when it is the same in their country. In Australia, the pollution from runoff from agricultural practices along the Murray-Darling causes algal blooms in these rivers that kill off fish from a huge area pushing some species to the edge of extinction.

It is during a major world event like this when we as citizens of planet Earth should look long and hard at ourselves before mouthing off at others.

We are all to blame for the world's pollution problems; we are all involved in nationalistic sentiments that lead to wars; we are all decadent while there are people starving somewhere unseen; we are all selfish while others living just nearby are living below the poverty line. So wake up and smell the stench of the corporate coffee served while others are slaving under the sun for the berries that made that mug of coffee.

Unlike Sydney, I think China, and especially Beijing, will see improved tourism as the Games have reinforced an already increased interest in the Orient. I hope China will ride this wave of goodwill and that Beijing will establish itself firmly as a world city that has its sights on the future, an ecologically sustainable future and with roots planted in the positive aspects of its cultural past, while not forgetting its past sins. Lest we forget.