Twenty-nine-year-old Liu Li and her three companions crowd under a big sun umbrella at a traffic junction near the Beijing Worker's Stadium one Saturday morning as a storm sweeps the capital, all the time keeping an eye out for pedestrians in trouble. The shelter of a Jingkelong superstore is just metres away, but Liu Li, a city volunteer for the Olympics, said they decided to stay out in the rain because they wanted people to know help was available on the streets. 'We are like soldiers guarding our barracks. This post and umbrella are the base we guard in this case,' said Ms Liu, laughing with her fellow yellow-clad volunteers. Ms Liu is one of the 400,000 city volunteers who are supposed to offer guidance and information on the streets when the Games begin in three months. As part of the on-site training and a warm-up exercise for volunteer duties, Ms Liu has to serve for four hours on Saturday mornings to get a taste of work they will do. '[The job] is kind of busy as long as you approach people aggressively. Otherwise, you would just stand here and watch,' said Ms Liu. Her group of four volunteers had helped guide people to nearby bus stations, escorted the elderly home and made phone calls for people who lost their mobile phones. Volunteers such as Ms Liu are described by the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (Bocog) as a special force that will guarantee a successful Games. Bocog data shows that more than 1.5 million have applied to work as volunteers for the Games so far. Bocog plans to select 100,000 to serve inside sport arenas and other indoor facilities, 400,000 to serve as city volunteers and about 200,000 to be cheerleaders at sports events that may not attract large crowds. Though unspecified and unverified, the preference for the first category of volunteers tended to be university students and teachers who have adequate communication skills and a clear personal history and are practised in following orders. Ms Liu believes the fact she studied overseas ruled her out. 'I applied for the arena volunteer, but was told that the only job I can get is the city volunteer. Many of my friends who studied overseas received the same response,' said Ms Liu. Bocog's volunteer division has repeatedly denied that such criteria were used, arguing that as many as 22,000 foreigners had applied to be volunteers and that many had been selected. Some of the foreign volunteers had even been assigned to serve at the 'Bird's Nest', or National Stadium, where the opening and closing ceremonies will be held. Still, many applicants felt discriminated against. Mr Hu, who preferred to give only his surname, said the police station in his community district refused to sign off on his background-check document after establishing that he had studied overseas for two years. 'They said they did not know what I did overseas and refused to sign the form,' said Mr Hu. The background check document is a compulsory form for applicants and is believed to be crucial in ascertaining one's political trustworthiness when assigned to important volunteer jobs. Mr Hu was offered a city volunteer job but turned it down because it clashed with his work schedule. Nonetheless, there are more than enough Ms Lius in Beijing who would like to serve as city volunteers, simply wanting to contribute to the event in any way they can. Large-scale volunteer training sessions were held across the city in March and April and volunteers were asked to show up and watched videotaped lectures. Ms Liu and her friends attended a class in Sanlitun Community in Chaoyang District . 'It's fun to attend classes with so many elderly people in the same class, but in the video class it's hard to keep awake. None of the information taught there was more than Olympics basic; we called it Olympics 101,' said Ms Liu. She said about 80 per cent of her class were elderly but she was deeply touched by their passion. 'A lady my grandma's age said she had learned how to say 'east, south, west and north' in English, so she could point directions for foreigners during the Olympic Games,' said Ms Liu. Another participant in the class said they were given a stern message by the community party secretary. 'He said: 'I know very well where you guys come from and if something happens we will hold you accountable.' It was more like a threat rather than a welcome speech,' said the man. Such basic information sessions would be held until late July on a regular basis and all volunteers were encouraged, but not required, to show up, participants said. Arena volunteers would go through much tougher training than watching videos. Many university volunteers had to take part in arena service rehearsals several times before they would be allowed to serve. Universities usually offered special permission for volunteer hours and allowed students to count those hours into their total school credit, some students said.