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August 19, 2008 11:27 PM

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Olympic Spirit Lifts as Close Draws Near

Entertainment in between volleyball matches. As the smog and humidity hanging over Beijing lifted last weekend into beautiful blue skies, so too did the Olympic mood.The second week of the 2008 Summer Games began with a markedly more cheerful...


Entertainment in between volleyball matches.
As the smog and humidity hanging over Beijing lifted last weekend into beautiful blue skies, so too did the Olympic mood.

The second week of the 2008 Summer Games began with a markedly more cheerful tone, in no small part due to large doses of pure sunshine and relaxed security -- with officials seemingly less worried about attacks and political protests.




On Friday, before taking in a China versus Cuba session of women's beach volleyball, I toured the Temple of Heaven with two friends. We were excited to find a half dozen South American athletes in one pavilion teaching hip-hop dance moves to middle-aged Chinese ladies, with Janet Jackson providing the soundtrack from a boom box. Further down the walkway were scores of older men blaring karaoke and traditional opera. This was the international Olympic spirit I had hoped for when Beijing got the Games.

Outside the Temple of Heaven.

From the Olympic green to the center of Beijing, smiling volunteers and avid sports fans have trickled out into the glum, tightly controlled capital we saw during the opening ceremonies on Aug. 8. Though tourist numbers are still far below what the city and businesses hoped, Olympic tourists, journalists, athletes and family members -- easy to spot because most wear their large lanyards everywhere -- have crept into most corners of the city.

My favorite Beijing Olympic moment came late Saturday night after leaving a tennis match: Across the street from the athlete's housing stands a Chinese residential quarter blocked off from the Olympic venues by a five-foot tall white road barricade. The locals, ever pragmatic, saw the barricade as an opportunity and had turned into a makeshift net across which they played badminton and shuttlecock under the nearly full moon.

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