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Tourists dispel myths about China
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After setting foot inside the Olympic city for the first time just weeks ago, it didn't take long for Ravindra Sharma to notice a very different China from the one he had imagined back home in India.

The bearded 50-year-old and his 43-year-old friend Rakesh Chahar never thought China would be so developed.

"We are very impressed," says Sharma, sipping on his drink at a caf next to the Yashow clothing market. "We had a very wrong impression about China."

"We thought it would be rigid, strict and very military," he adds. "But, we've found it to be very friendly and liberal."

"We had this mindset; we know it's becoming a superpower, but we thought it's all just a show, that inside, it's not as strong," says Chahar, pointedly. "But, it is strong."

The pair was among the 400,000 tourists who came to the Chinese capital to experience the Beijing Games. Tourists lingering around the city before heading home also say their trip was eye-opening.

"I didn't know much about China before," says 20-year-old Brooke Lees. "I just thought it was a Communist country, but it's a very nice place. I've really enjoyed it."

The blonde Aussie was among three other Australian students who came to Beijing to volunteer during the Games.

Pippa Haughton, 20, was amazed by the efficiency of the city's public transportation system. "I found the subways really good," says Haughton. "We also took the buses to work everyday, and it was great."

Twenty-year-old student Abbey Wright admitted she thought she would see a poorer city.

"I was expecting more poverty," she says. "But, I haven't really seen much poverty here."

Wright also commented on the warm reception she received during her time in Beijing.

"They city's done a lot to make us feel welcome," she adds. "The people here have been so great and welcoming."

For schoolmate Maree Hancock, 20, the city's many Western influences came as a surprise, particularly its large and modern buildings. But moreover, the petite brunette said her time in Beijing helped her gain "total acceptance and understanding of a culture so far removed from back home".

First-time visitor Dan Collis, who was astounded by Olympic venues like the Bird's Nest and Water Cube, said the Chinese capital was a far cry from how the country is often depicted back home through American media.

"It's different here from what was portrayed," says the 47-year-old Boston-native, adding he had "no problems" obtaining a visa despite media reports claiming difficulties for tourists. "Everything was above and beyond what I expected."

His American buddy Gary Coupal also praised China for its strong organization of the Games.

"I was really proud of China because they really came through despite the Western media's continuance bashing of the Olympics," says the 52-year-old. "I think they (Western media) kept more people away than any fear of the Chinese government."

"China pulled it off and did a great job," he adds with a grin.

Returning visitors were also amazed by the Beijing Games and marveled at the magnitude of the city's transformation.

After leaving Beijing two years ago, Jana Bresenden decided to come back to the Chinese capital to watch the Games.

"I think they did an incredible job," says the 35-year-old. "The order, cleanliness and welcoming attitude of the people were great; I'm really proud of the city and how much it has changed."

"If I hadn't been here before, I wouldn't have known how significant the changes are," adds Bresenden, who now resides in San Diego, California. "Even seeing a group of people in the queue is new. You didn't see this two years ago."

French woman Hannelore Dagunet has been to Beijing several times before with her husband. But revisiting the city this time around has made her realize France has a wrong impression about China.

"I will go home and try to convince everyone they are too negative," she adds, her warm eyes beaming. "The Games were very well organized, and China will be strengthened by this experience."

(China Daily September 1, 2008)

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