The Comfort Pursuit

“Whose games?” China (and Brazil) post-Olympics

At Lincoln University, where I currently work and study, there is a large number of Asian students, especially Chinese. It has been a revealing experience to get to know more about their country. While living in Brazil the main impression that I had was that Asia was an extremely different culture. Landscape, people, food, habits, all unimaginably different. Mind you I come from a reasonably small city in the south of Brazil where is not common to get to know people from other countries other than Uruguay and Argentina. Tutoring here in New Zealand I noticed that despite all our differences some students were feeling very comfortable to talk to me, probably because I also had English as my second language and therefore had a lot of patience in that way… I myself also needed a lot of patience after all! At that stage my ‘knowledge’ of that cultural chasm between us started to turn into an interrogation point. There was something more complex than what I always knew. Further along the way, during the last year and a half while I did my research field work my impressions about our ‘massive’ differences definitely changed.

My research is focused on how different cultures adapt to their local climate and how that adaption capacity is incorporated in people’s lifestyle in a way that it should inform strategies for urban landscape design. In my proposal I would interview local people in Christchurch or people that made the city their home, so they had to be living here for at least three years. This is where things started to get interesting. I interviewed some immigrants from Portugal, Bahrain, Austria, Brazil, Australia and (of course!) China. In these interviews I found myself saying “oh yes, in Brazil is also like that” many times. So frequent that it didn’t seem right and didn’t fit that cultural chasm ‘I knew’ for such a long time… There was something else.

While locals, Australians and Europeans seemed to have a high level of connection with their environment, Brazilians and Chinese seemed to be much more focused on people. I will explain. It starts with the fact that we both – Brazilians and Chinese – are quiet people when alone, and very loud when in a group. When looking for entertainment, we all look for people, busy places and urban environments. We see more poetry on the grey concrete than on the green and untouched nature… Or at least we can handle the noise and pollution for longer than we can handle the damp smell of the bush. Both Brazil and China are developing countries, currently two of the fastest developing economies in the world. We both have societies based upon social classes, what makes us much more dependent (or ‘needy’ as I heard somebody saying here in New Zealand) than cultures where people learn since early ages to get things done, help at home and be independent.

We also have that need to prove that ‘we can’ (don’t ask me what!) and so we spend truck loads of money on jeans, shoes and bags that cost hundreds (each!), not to talk about the cars! It might sound strange if you are from Europe, Australia, New Zealand, US or other developed country, but that was the type of society I knew before moving to New Zealand. Of course I am generalizing what is not general. Of course there are different levels of cultural expressions, but these are all meanings attached to things that represent a social class. So although we are very different in the essence of our cultures, religion, and so many other things, in some ways we Brazilians are very similar to Chinese people.

What made it even more interesting today was that I came across a very interesting paper entitled “Whose games? The costs of being ‘Olympic citizens’ in Beijing” (Shin & Li, 2013). The paper “argues that the Beijing Summer Olympiad produced an uneven, often exclusionary, Games experience for a certain segment of the urban population.”

While we in Brazil still live the dream and promote the upcoming Football 2014 WorldCup and 2016 Olympics, China tries to recover from the hangover left behind by the 2008 Olympics. It sounded a bit familiar when I read that

Having failed earlier in competition with Sydney in the bid for the 2000 Olympic Games, Beijing’s chance to host the 2008 Games was an opportunity to prove to the world that China had finally integrated with the world economy (…)

Of course we Brazilians also want to show to the world we are an emerging economy, but on what expense?!

In this paper the authors discuss the uncertainty that people living in marginal areas or those considered aesthetically inappropriate can face in these situations. The methods applied were based on “post-Games fieldwork qualitative interviews with migrant workers as well as village landlords of formerly rural origin.”

The paper also discusses how the organization of the event emphasized the patriotic feel to increase the support of Chinese people.

Patriotism was heavily emphasized during preparations and neighbourhoods were decorated with slogans and placards that delivered pro-Olympic, patriotic messages

Considering that in Brazil we seem to be educated to think we live in wonderland, it is worth the reflection. The article is a great example of the risks we are facing in our country. What differentiates this source from so many others we have been speculating and discussing in the last few months is that it is grounded on evidence. The interviews with locals highlighted the post-Olympics impact. This piece of research should be read by everyone that care about our forthcoming challenges… We are not that different from China, after all!

Reference:

Shin, H. B., & Li, B. (2013). Whose games? The costs of being “Olympic citizens” in Beijing. Environment and Urbanization, 25(2).

2 thoughts on ““Whose games?” China (and Brazil) post-Olympics”

  1. Hi Silvia! I liked your text and all the reflections you tried to develop along the paragraphs very much. I visited China and had the same impressions concerning the focus on people, the social classified society etc. Furthermore, as a Brazilian, It was clear to me the impacts of the post-Olympics experience (the hangover left and so forth) and all the challenges we’ve been facing since our Olympic “pilgrimage” started.
    Regards,
    Bernardo

    1. Thanks for your comment Bernardo! I have not been to China yet (unfortunately!), but from what I have seen here in New Zealand – where the immigrants come in large numbers from from China – is not that dissimilar, especially regarding their complaints, worries and aftermath. Hopefully we will be more prepared and maybe even more lucky. I don’t like to be seen as the Brazilian that now lives overseas and points out our people’s mistakes, but I do believe it would be a bit different if we Brazilians payed more attention to what other nations – especially the ones that are more similar to us in some respects – have learned. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time. Cheers!

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