Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Cure for A Hangover is to Go Back

It’s been exactly 1 month since I got back from my epic trip across Europe, and while I’ve been remiss in documenting it (an issue which will be remedied in short order), I find that I am just getting over something of an Olympics hangover. Or a life stage hangover. Call it whatever you want, but I’ve been in a bit of a funk these past few weeks.

I finally feel like I’ve snapped out of it, and one of the things that seemed to bring my current attitude problems into focus for me was an article that I read today (which reminded me of this piece and this one as well) about the post-games hangover that London is going through right now and how they're trying to harness all of the great energy that they generated into more great stuff in the future. After throwing an incredibly successful Olympics, and an equally impressive Paralympics, the citizens of the Olde Towne (and Great Britain in general) are scratching their heads and wondering, “Now what?

While I can’t answer that question, and before I get on to my self-indulgent, exhaustive documentation of my entire European excursion, I did want to take a few minutes to write a little love note to the people back in London.

I heard from plenty of people who said that it would be folly to head to a city like London during the Summer Games. The streets would be mobbed. Traffic would be a nightmare. Security would be overbearing and cause massive delays. Prices would be outrageous. The Tube would be jammed beyond hope of use. As we now know, none of these fears came to pass. The Olympics were pulled off smoothly with an aplomb and panache that I honestly did not think would be possible.

I never for a moment believed that anything would be able to top the organizational marvel that had been Beijing 2008. Opening and Closing ceremonies aside (which were a wash, IMHO), after seeing such precision in execution of logistical plans and unwavering enthusiasm from the population, how could crusty old London ever hope to match what the Chinese accomplished? After all, hadn’t they invested billions of dollars in new city-wide transportation and other infrastructure just for a single 16-day event? From new subway lines to a revamped fleet of taxis to the closing of factories Beijing moved heaven and earth (almost literally) to roll out a red carpet that will not soon be forgotten.

It just so happened that I arrived to start my new life in Beijing on 8/8/2008 - Opening Day of the Games. In the months before I moved here, so I’m told by those who were there, there was a mass exodus of locals who fled the city. Some were forced to leave due to a visa crackdown, while others feared the crowds and… well, I’ve never gotten a clear answer on what other things people were afraid of. There seemed to have been a nebulous sentiment that BAD THINGS COULD HAPPEN that affected people here. Not too unlike what the people of London had been feeling over the past year (though for vastly different reasons).

Of course it was all so much paranoia. Beijing in August of 2008 was a joy to behold and having been there for all of it is one of the singularly important and transformative experiences of my life.

How could London possibly compare?

I don’t think that my life will be as altered by London 2012 as it was by Beijing 2008, but that’s an issue of happenstance rather than circumstance. (I’m not in the middle of an inter-continental move or such a drastic life change right now). Experience-wise, though, I struggle to find the words to express just how good a time I had and how thankful I am to the people of the city who made it all happen.

From the moment my girlfriend and I stepped off of the train from Brussels into Kings’ Cross station, it was evident that this would be more than just another fun stop on our trip. Greeters offered us Snickers bars and bottled water while we waited to go through Immigration. Flags were hanging everywhere. People were smiling. The weather was even ideal.

Each day we experienced some form of kindness from somebody and London found a new way to make us happy. Whether it was a surprisingly cheap meal, an uncrowded tourist attraction, a free ice cream after getting off of the commuter train at Wellington station or a helpful volunteer, there was always something good happening to us. We met people who were not only willing to give a couple of hapless tourists directions, but who seemed eager to engage us in pleasant conversation, wondering if we were having a good time or offering tips on how to best experience their city.

London is an amazing metropolis. The museums are overwhelming. The subway is great. The parks are lovely islands in the ancient, scalable urban landscape. There is an abundance of great food to be had… and that’s just scratching the surface. After 10 days there I wanted more. My current employer has an office there and I have found myself glancing at the internal job postings these days, checking to see if a position is opening up in it. Beijing is most definitely my home for now, but I find myself taking flights of fancy lately and if an opportunity ever presented itself to move there I would be hard pressed to turn it down.

In the end, I think that’s the greatest testament to the job that the people of London did last month. They made me, an avowed New Englander (who is almost arrogantly proud of our Revolutionary history) and rabid sinophile, seriously consider uprooting myself to give living there a try.

Good show!

More to come…