Growing up in Matthews, N.C., I thought the only kind of dumpling that existed was a ball of dough served with chicken.
My perspective completely changed upon my arrival in Shanghai, China in September as a coverage coordinator for Special Olympics International. The 2007 World Summer Games were held in this city of more than 13 million residents, and I was assigned to lead teams of Chinese college students in professionally videotaping each of the events for broadcast on the Web.
The term “culture shock” is an understatement for the abundance of smells, sights and tastes of Shanghai. In one block, one can choose from a myriad of foods sold by street vendors, witness countless bikes being repaired by edge-of-the-sidewalk repairmen and hear the endless communication between the horns of taxi drivers. Hoards of people shove their way down the street as cars weave among scooters, bicycles and pedestrians. The chaos of it all made me wonder how a city of this size could possibly host an international event of such magnitude as the Special Olympics World Games.
My answer came in the form of volunteers – waves of them. According to Special Olympics International, the Shanghai games drew an estimated 40,000 volunteers from around the globe. Our Special Olympics Web casting project alone had 240 Chinese volunteers, plus 15 UNC-Chapel Hill alumni, five UNC professors and seven journalism professionals.
The volunteers made this event happen. From guiding spectators and athletes to each venue to translating between obscure languages and Mandarin, the volunteers kept the games flowing and the focus on the athletes.
Our volunteers split up with the mission of covering every heat of every event during the games. We videotaped and edited for 12 to 14 hours a day for 10 days, even facing Typhoon Krosa, getting ourselves and our equipment soaked. Our policy was: if the teams are playing in it, we’re shooting in it. This meant that when Botswana continued to play Sweden despite the downpour, our volunteers were out in the torrential rain trying to keep their cameras dry and their eyes on the ball.
Working with an organization that can peacefully bring so many nations together was completely rewarding. I chatted with members of France’s soccer team, congratulated Finnish kayakers and screamed along with Ireland’s crowd at a basketball game. I patted Aussies on the back and learned how to properly cheer for Turkey (it’s pronounced Tur-kee-yay).
But perhaps most enduring are the friendships I made with several of the Chinese students with which I was working. Despite the language barrier, we communicated well through a combination of their imperfect English and my dramatic charades. Even during grueling hours of video editing, we found common ground to joke about. My students worked incredibly hard and the result reflects that effort. The Web site, www.specialolympicslive.org, boasts a Web page for each Special Olympic athlete and videos of the competition.
By the end of my two-month stay in Shanghai, the idea of dumplings stuffed with pork wasn’t so strange and I could wend my way through the crowded streets with ease. I had learned to properly eat rice with chopsticks, to count to ten in Mandarin and that tofu is actually delicious. Above all, I left China with a deeper appreciation for the variety of the cultures of the world and the capability of these cultures to blend happily.