It’s been a while since I’ve written, but here’s something that’s been bothering me for a while now: the Beijing Olympic Volunteers.
So there are several levels of volunteers that I’m aware of.
The lowest level is made up of middle and high school students who are wearing the China Mobile shirts and have to stand in the sun all day. They have a couple water bottles attached to their fanny packs and they’re all bored out of their minds. There aren’t too many foreigners walking around the streets of Beijing quite yet so they spend most of their days just sweating. With that said, they might be pretty useful when the pale hordes descend upon Beijing. I wanted to test their English and direction-giving ability so I asked one of them how to get to get to a subway station. They were a little taken aback at first since I’m Chinese-looking, but it seems like their training paid off as they recovered quickly and gave me dead on directions to the subway stop.
The second from the bottom would probably be the college students who are given jobs at various Olympic venues who do language assistance and things like that. The lucky ones get to stay indoors with the AC at full blast, but all of them get a full authentic Adidas outfit (including some pretty sweet running shoes).
The highest level of the volunteers actually get paid. I don’t know what they do, but it apparently required a long term commitment starting from a year ago or something.
Now I like the idea of volunteering. I had a friend back in college who always worked in soup kitchens helping homeless people and stuff like that. I even helped gather donations one time for this non-profit organization since I needed to fulfill my community service requirements for a triple homicide that I might or might not have been a part of. It’s something you do that makes you feel good about yourself. However, the best thing about volunteering is that your boss gotta treat you nice since you’re working for free and can quit if you can no longer bear the work.
The Beijing Olympic Volunteers were volunteers in the beginning. They chose to do this work for no pay because they wanted to serve their country, help foreigners feel welcome during the Olympics, or were hoping to be able to watch Liu Xiang win the gold medal for free. I guess they weren’t really told what they signed up for until much later though.
It’s boring work. I used to work at a movie theatre as the guy that checked tickets. I stood there for like 8 hours a day. On a weekday, there would maybe be like ten people who came to watch movies in total. Time moves so slowly that you begin to feel happy since you think you’ll be getting a big fat paycheck for all the hours you put in. The vast majority of the volunteers, especially the lowest and the middle tier ones, will be doing similar things. Sitting or standing at some location and waiting. It wouldn’t be so bad if you could surf the net or play with your cell phone to waste time, but alas that’s not really allowed (though obviously you can do it if no one’s watching). And some of these shifts are twelve hours long. And some of those twelve hour shifts are night shifts from 8pm to 8am.
And you can’t back out of it. If you do, it makes the school and all those bureaucrats from that school look bad. I mean imagine if you’re a fat Chinese official for Peking University and 90% of your recruits drop out while Tsinghua students only had a 20% dropout rate. That would make you look awful. So while there is officially an option for students to stop being volunteers, there are severe punishments for those who choose to give up (punishments mentioned by a Peking University supervisor listed things like withholding vital documents, delayed graduation, and promising that the school would no longer support the student with any issue).
So what I’m basically saying is that if you do go to Beijing and you do meet some volunteers who seem to be a little out of it, take it easy on them. If you were on your feet for twelve hours and is treated like shit by your supervisor for no pay, it’d be a little difficult for you to smile at a foreigner asking where they can find a McDonalds for the 100th time.