I live just south of Tiananmen Square, on one of the city’s hutong, or narrow lanes, in a decrepit courtyard house shared by several families. Since 2005, I’ve volunteered at the neighborhood’s elementary school. On the first day, I found blackboards decorated with chalked Olympic mascots, the five-colored rings and verses in Chinese:
The Olympics will be held in 2008
Our civic virtue must be great!
Spitting everywhere is really terrible
Littering trash is also unbearable
To get a “thumbs up” from foreign guests
Beijing’s environment depends on us!
After standing for the national anthem each morning, students were supposed to update the number of days until the start of the games. Only one class kept the correct count. Time had stopped completely in Grade 4, Class 2, where there were always 996 days until the Olympics.