Olympics 2008: China prepares to welcome the world

For China, a successful staging of the Olympics is a question of good grace, manners and proper etiquette. All round the country, young men and women are being trained to put China's best face forward when 500,000 foreigners and two million visitors from within China arrive for the 29th Olympiad, which begins in the city of Beijing on 8 August.

These teenagers are among 1,400 aviation students who are learning how to walk, how to talk and how to dress for their work as stewards during the Games. They are an élite squad among the 70,000 volunteers who will work at the Olympics and 30,000 who will work at the Paralympics. More than one million people applied.

They will serve in a city that has been re-invented for the Olympics. Many of the old districts have been torn down and replaced with gleaming new Olympic sites. Officially, China is spending about £20bn on the Games, building stadiums, a subway system, a new airport, a new road network, even a new sewage system.

The volunteers will meet and greet in some of the capital's signature projects designed by the world's brightest and boldest avant-garde architects, including Rem Koolhaas, Norman Foster and Paul Andreu. Many will be stewards at the fantastic Bird's Nest stadium designed by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron.

The stewards will need to keep that poise about them in the face of complaints about pollution, or international criticism of China's crackdown on protests in Tibet, and try not to let their anger over the reception afforded the Olympic torch relay through many cities sour their smiles as they welcome the visitors.

And security has become a big part of the training. The volunteers will work closely with thousands of special recruits from the military and police academies. Just to make sure that balance is maintained.

Copyright © 2008 The Independent

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