As the time for the Beijing Olympics approaches, I begin to wonder what people will see when they come to China. It is likely that most people will experience excellent hotels, restaurants and even do some sightseeing, not to mention attending the games themselves. All of this will be prepared when people arrive. The Chinese Government is working hard to be an excellent host. It is certain that the main tourist attractions are preparing for an influx of foreigners from all over the world, especially in the coastal cities.
Where I work in southwestern China is very different than the cities of Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong. It is a vast region of farmland where rural communities are more firmly rooted in the traditions associated with agrarian society. I only want to remind people that there is more to China than Beijing.
When people arrive at the Beijing Olympics what will they do? Will they see the games and go home, or will they spend some time soaking up the culture of this immense country? If they travel, will they leave the coast and venture inland to see all China has to offer? If people are so bold they will learn more about China than those who remain in big cities. If they stretch themselves beyond the northwest corner, beyond the Great Wall, and into the heart of China they may be the first foreigner a child has ever seen in a rural village of Sichuan Province. People will find a better way to dig into China’s past: with their eyes. It’s likely that these travelers will see some things they never expected.
When I see Beijing on television it looks like a different world. This enormous city seems so out of the ordinary and so new. My view of this other place, this other world, is a striking reminder of how so many people in Beijing may feel about the communities in which the Peace Corps Volunteers work throughout Sichuan, Chongqing, Gansu and Guizhou Provinces. I’m excited about the opportunities people will have to see China this summer. I hope people who have the time and money will venture inland in order to, perhaps, better understand China. Although I am sure Beijing has many wonderful sights and sounds, this massive country has much more to offer than a single, bustling city.