In front of a studio audience and cameras, 11-year-old Liu Yuxin began to cry. The young girl failed to guess the English word "credit card", a banking concept a child her age wouldn't know. As a result Liu was eliminated among the 12 final contestants who were competing at the "I am the hero - Olympic English TV contest" taped by Beijing TV last Friday.
The other contestants tried to console her by comfort her, while the audience applauded her efforts. Ren Tianmin, a middle-aged contestant tried to soothe her before his own test, but he also lost when he couldn't think of the word "yoga".
This contest is part of the English learning campaign Beijing citizens are undertaking to prepare for the 2008 Olympic Games. They hope this event will encourage people to become more comfortable speaking English regardless of their age, occupation and education.
And the caliber of their English, from the contestants to the audience was impressive.
An elderly gentleman was directing his cheering group in the audience. They all wore T-shirts that said "Olympic Volunteers" and I approached them. Although I greeted him in Chinese, he insisted on speaking to me in English when he heard I was from China Daily. "I can speak English!" he exclaimed with excited eyes.
Xia Fengzhi, a retiree living in Tuan Jiehu residential area in Beijing's Chaoyang District is keeping busy as the head of the community's English Association for the Olympics.
Xia Fengzhi talk to chinadaily.com.cn after the contest.
"All of us here can speak English because we are all registered Olympic city volunteers," he said as he introduced his peers sitting in the audience.
They are some of the 400,000 city volunteers the Organizing Committee for the Beijing Olympic Games (BCCOG) needs for non-Games services outside venues around Beijing before and during Games next year.
He said the community had more than 100 members participating in the English learning class and they learned English from a self-educated volunteer English teacher for four years.
"How many English courses do you have every week?" I asked.
Xia thought for a moment. "Uh¡how many students¡." He didn't understand the word "course" and a middle-aged woman nearby helped him: "She asked you how many English 'lessons' do you have every week."
The lady was none other than the group's volunteer teacher - Zhao Jingrong, also a retiree. She was awarded as the "special contributor to the Olympic English learning campaign" that night because of her work volunteering to teach English to ordinary citizens and armed police in the city.
I was still amazed by this energetic group of English-speaking seniors when the TV host explained Ren motivated his family to learn English.
"I will never regret taking part in the contest though I lost," he said in his farewell speech. "I have my wife and daughter here, supporting me with their hard efforts to learn English." His daughter praised her father as a hero.
Meanwhile, at the end of the contest, the first place was indisputably given to an English major policeman, who had spent one year in Britain. Yin Ning, a police officer from Beijing Public Security Bureau staged a flashy presentation, talking about his experience in London when the bombings happened two years ago.
"I passed King's Cross station just 10 minutes before the bombing happened in July of 2005," Yin told chinadaily.com.cn after the contest. "After the bombing I exchanged opinions with the London Metropolitan police and we both learnt a lot from each other."
As a police officer serving at Tian'anmen Square, Yin deals with both security and foreign affairs. "All the foreigners come to us when they have problems at Tiananmen Square. All the police officers from the Bureau are looking forward to the Games and we will try our best to make it more successful."
The runner-up was English major sophomore Lin Jiao from Beijing Sports University. Her presentation was about her work as a translator for the university's boxing team. She looks after foreign visitors and will be working as a venue volunteer in next year's Olympics.
Lin Jiao (second left) performs with her tow schoolmates boxing and the judge of the contest as the acting boxing judge during the contest.
I was interviewing Lin and sitting quietly near us was an elderly woman.
The student introduced me to her. "She is my close friend, Aunt Chen Peizhi. She used to be one of the contestants and today she is here to cheer me on," she said.
Lin explained the two of them met during a previous contest as partners in the English drama event. "The dress I wore for today's drama was from Aunt Chen," the student said.
In a slight English accent, Chen explained, "I am a retired army woman and I taught myself English. "I felt I became younger after I spent so many days with these young people learning English together."
With the impressive performance of these contestants, I hope other Beijingers will be inspired by them and practice their English before the Games begin in less than a year.
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