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All smiles and niceties as Beijing set to open Games

Even stone-faced officers manage to grin under the huge signboards of “Smiling Beijing Traffic Police” recently erupted on Beijing’s streets. With only five days to go before the Olympics open, Beijing is all smiles and niceties to worldwide athletes, coaches, journalists and other Olympic visitors in town.

Liu Zhiqiang, 21, smiles a hearty smile every time a tourist poses for a photo next to him. From where he stands guard on the Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing, one captures an ideal angle of the huge Olympic countdown clock, the square and a corner of the blue sky.

“I’m really proud of my job,” said Liu. “My old pals all envy me.” When Liu became a soldier with the Armed Police Force, the Games were at least 1,300 days away. Now he said he heard the footsteps of the Games. Smiles and greetings surround Olympic journalists at the North Star media village and Huiyuan media village, about 15 minutes and nine minutes respectively from the Main Press Center by bus.

More than 8,900 people are serving accredited Olympic journalists in the 10.2-hectare media village with 6,000 rooms, the largest in Olympic history.

From TV programs and hot water temperature to the height of toilets, all facilities in the rooms have been fine-tuned to be convenient and comfortable.

“What can I do for you?” smiling volunteers would come up at the villagers’ briefest sign of hesitation. At the two media villages, restaurant managers in suit and tie strike up friendly little chats with diners to check on the quality of food and take note of their advice. Among the immediate results of these chats is the inclusion of some spicy dishes in the buffet, at some Chinese journalists’ suggestion.

In the largest athletes’ village ever in Olympic history, a team of international hotel management professionals and multilingual volunteers greet the guests from smiles and hospitality. Even IOC President Jacques Rogge praised the athletes’ village as the “best ever”.

“I’ve never seen a village like this,” said Rogge, who competed in three Olympics in sailing and stays in the village during the Games. Photos with the smiling faces of volunteers are posted on a wall at the journalists’ working area in the Huiyuan media village.

“We hope these smiling faces would make the journalists feel at home at the end of a tiring day,” said Qi Lulu, an English major at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

Qi, who will be a sophomore in September, was one of the volunteers who proposed the wall of smiling faces in the media village. A native of Nanjing in east China’s Jiangsu Province, Qi said she was often touched by the “magic of a friendly smile” herself.

“When I took a crowded bus to school after work the other day, a smiling lady in her 40s insisted that I take her seat. She said I must have worked hard and need a good rest.” Qi, in her blue and white T-shirt for all volunteers, is not so noticeable in the crowds of her peers at the media village but certainly stands out on a bus. “The lady said she, too, had applied to be a volunteer but somehow failed.”

Some 100,000 taxi drivers changed into smart new yellow shirts and striped ties on Saturday, in one of Beijing’s latest efforts to spruce up the city’s looks for the Olympics.

The uniforms, which cost about 500 yuan (75 U.S. dollars), are believed to be partly subsidized by the government.

In the run-up to the Games, Beijing’s taxi drivers have also learned English, been banned from smoking in the cars and kept car seats untainted to make Olympic visitors feel at home. An additional 7,000 automobiles are serving the Games, including about 900 media buses shuttling between the two media villages, 42 media hotels, more than 30 competition venues in Beijing and the MPC and IBC near the Olympic Village.

“A group of British journalists told me the other night our services were ‘very impressive’ and better than other Olympic cities they had been to,” said Shang Zhiquan, deputy coordination manager for media transport with the Beijing Games organizers.

BEIJING, Monday, Xinhua

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