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Beijing's Urban Gatekeeper
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If Dongzhimen intersection is a maze, Xie Liang is the gatekeeper.


The self-appointed road guide has been helping Chinese and foreigners navigate their way out of the inner-city labyrinth for over five years, at an average rate of two 'customers' per minute.


The 77-year-old, who describes his sore throat as an occupational hazard, has a new mandate now that more foreigners are flooding the city.


"The most urgent task I have right now is continuing to brush up on my English," he said.


Caught up in the tidal wave of enthusiasm that is building ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games, Xie is aiming for official recognition by the time they get under way.


"If my health allows, I would very much like to be an Olympic volunteer in 2008."


Every day between 8:30 AM and 6:30 PM, Xie can be seen at the entrance of Dongzhimen bus station in downtown Beijing.


Dongzhimen intersection has 50 bus lines, two subway lines and crisscrossing flyovers, making it easy to get lost in.


It is also an important transportation hub. Many of the 100,000 passengers who pass through require some help untangling themselves from this urban web.


"If you get lost or need directions, please ask me, the volunteer," reads the English text on Xie's signboard. The message is written in English and Chinese.


While his services have occasionally seen Xie run afoul of profiteering road guides angered by the encroachment onto their territory, he said he has managed to win them over.


Xie, untrained and fueled purely by his enthusiasm for the job, carries a surprising air of authority and professionalism.


He even clocks the times between various destinations in order to provide more accurate travel advice.


(China Daily March 9, 2007)

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