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Foreigner's holiday reflections
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-10-01 14:32

As China's National Day approaches, what does it mean to a foreigner like me?

While Chinese prepare to mark the event, I have been reflecting on my own national identity and whether it could match the enthusiasm being shown across Beijing as the capital city wears its colours of national pride.

Identity crisis

Readers of my contributions will guess by now I have spent most of my life in Australia.

But I was born and raised in New Zealand, and as the years go by, I still have a strong affinity with that country, its green hills, clean air and sparkling seas.

Perhaps those first gasps of air which give life outside our mother's womb, contain the seeds that grow and bind us to what Chinese call "the motherland" no matter where we choose to live.

In Australia, debate continues over whether the country should cut the last remaining "apron strings" to its former mother England, and become a Republic.

Even in New Zealand, which has previously shown less inclination to break the same ties, the scissors are being sharpened.

If and when the cut is made remains open to debate, and in Australia the first referendum has already been defeated.

While opponents and supporters battle on with words, Aussies and Kiwis share an identity crisis that comes down to a basic issue in which Chinese take greatest pride - their national flag.

That crisis has been noticed even by the youngest people in this country. A former colleague at China Radio International (CRI) recently introduced me to his 8-year-old son.

When his father explained that I was originally from New Zealand and Australia, the boy responded with what sounded like a long question.

When his dad translated for me, I was amazed to hear what had been asked: "He wants to know why Australia and New Zealand have the same flag." I tried to explain the small difference in the stars, admitting that with Britain's Union Jack in the top left-hand corner, they were virtually identical.

While a large proportion of people in both countries are adamant the present flags should be retained, I cannot imagine a crowd of the most loyal citizens flocking to a central point to see them being raised.

They would be more excited going to Tian'anmen Square to see China's flag being hoisted at sunrise on October 1.

Maybe that will change if Australians and New Zealanders eventually take the plunge and unfurl their own unique flags.

National pride comes in various forms. Like the Chinese, Australians and New Zealanders feel it deeply when remembering those who paid the supreme sacrifice in times of armed conflict. We display it in language, music and literature.

And while past events will always replay in our hearts and minds, today's national pride is reflected more than ever in the sporting arena as displayed so recently in Athens where new heroes emerged.

When the Olympic Games open in Beijing in 2008, a new wave of national pride will sweep this country like never before.

Fast-changing city

And that wave is already building. Last week I was privileged to attend the unveiling of the foundation stone for the new CCTV headquarters, a landmark that will change the face of Beijing's eastern Chaoyang District, and indeed the whole city.

Biased as my view may be as an employee of the company, I think this, more than any other building, will be the most spectacular as the skyline is transformed over the next four years.

Earlier this month I attended an amazing exhibition which visitors should see to get an overview of Bejing now, and how it will look in 2008.

Staged at the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall near the Old Beijing Railway Station, it includes an entire level taken up with streetscape models of the city, laid out on the floor.

As visitors walk around this area, the models are perfectly integrated with clear glass tiles under which aerial photographs reveal the city as it is today.

In the same building a movie shows Beijing from its beginnings more than 1,000 years ago.

Projected onto a mighty screen with English subtitles, the computer-generated images are incredible.

People going back to the earliest dynasty give a life-like portrayal of how they went about their business. Even Beijing's changed waterways resembled the roads of today, clogged with vessels of all shapes and sizes.

Describing Beijing as a city on the move is an understatement, and if anyone asked me which are the best tourist spots to see, I would be struggling to finish the list. In my six months working at CRI last year, I did not waste a weekend to search and see all I could, unsure if I would ever be back.

Another six months have passed since I returned to work at CCTV and I am still finding places I did not even know existed. I search them out from books and sometimes stumble upon them just by chance.

One thing is certain: To see all of Beijing is impossible because it keeps changing so quickly, construction sites never idle day or night.

While that pace accelerates in the lead-up to the Olympics, the main attractions which visitors have on their must-see lists will always draw the crowds.

Nothing can change the magnetism of Tian'anmen Square and the Imperial Palace, where everyone coming here has to go.

But as the city spurts in all directions, I wonder if its image would be enhanced with a slogan that gives meaning to this expansion as buildings go up, subways go down, and ring roads spread like a spider's web.

As I write, an idea is coming to mind. Hopefully by the end, I can share it with you.

It would be easy to join the list of other world cities with labels such as "Garden City" (Melbourne), "City of Light" (Paris), or "City of Love" (Rome).

And as everyone knows, Beijing already has its own "Forbidden City."

No, something different yet simple, absorbing the human as well as material elements has come to mind. Here is my suggestion: "Beijing - Reaching Out."

Enough reflection for one week - happy national holiday.

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