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One world and many dreams

Like many migrants to the Olympics host, Lian had no time to buy one of the seven million tickets sold for the Games, nor could she afford a grey market ticket, writes Reshma Patil.

world Updated: Aug 21, 2008 23:48 IST
Reshma Patil

Sarah alias Lian Jun (23) has not yet heard of the word ‘career’. The English graduate teaches ‘baby’ English to rich Chinese aged 3 to 17 in Beijing.

Like many migrants to the Olympics host, Lian had no time to buy one of the seven million tickets sold for the Games, nor could she afford a grey market ticket.

As the world’s spotlight beamed on Beijing this month, two sets of migrants who realised China’s dream were in the shadows. They were the construction crew who built the Olympics infrastructure at record speed and the graduates who came to Beijing to teach ABC.

In southern Jiangxi, a 24-hour train journey away, Sarah’s life is a world apart from China’s new international image. She moved to Beijing four years ago, chasing prospects in teaching English during the Olympian makeover.

“In Jiangxi, I could ride my bike to go home for lunch and a two-hour siesta during work,’’ recalled Sarah. “Beijing is very different.’’

In 2001, when Beijing won the Olympics bid, officials promised to teach one-third of the population basic English. By official count, 5.5 million Beijingers know basic English, and the Chinese often ask expat Indians the reason for their English fluency.

“I learnt English because of the Olympics. But life went on as usual during the Games,’’ Sarah told HT at the suburban Neworld Baby training centre. Inside a class, three to seven-year-olds practised saying ‘department store’.

Demand post-Olympics is also high, so the Shanghai-based center is aiming for 10 Beijing branches next year, from three today.

Urbanisation spurs demand, as six out of 10 Chinese will live in cities in 20 years.

Sarah said that many Chinese think that foreigners take up high-paying jobs that could go to locals if they spoke English. “Parents tell us they want their children to be able to communicate with foreigners,’’ said Sarah.

Grandpa Yang Xueyi, who came to pick up his granddaughters, cannot speak English. But he emphasised, ‘without English, China cannot develop’.

Sarah dreams of a stint in any English-speaking country. “If you return to China from abroad, with a good accent, you have more chances of a good position.’’

She will watch Sunday’s closing ceremony on television in a rented apartment she cannot afford despite sharing it with ex-classmates from her hometown. For her, the most significant date is the one-week spring festival vacation next year, for a brief return to the old life with millions of Olympics migrants.