Wang Zhifu gives directions yesterday to a woman tourist at Xidan Cultural Square. [Huo Yan]
Grey-haired Chang Zhifu stands out from the young volunteers working as guides in Xidan Culture Square, one of the capital city's booming business districts.
"Welcome to Beijing. I am an Olympic volunteer," Chang said on Tuesday to Carhen Winston, a tourist from Washington DC.
"It's amazing to hear a 66-year-old Chinese lady who can speak good English," Winston said.
In order to become a volunteer in Beijing for the Olympics, Chang began to study English and sign language from scratch a year ago.
"There is an old Chinese saying that says however old you are, a person should continue to learn, and what I have to do is to put in more effort," Chang said.
Every day she carries two booklets, one for English and the other for sign language. The time she spends on the bus is "always good for revising".
Chang is often invited to teach sign language to young volunteers. "Go, China!" is always the first sign she teaches.
"Granny Chang is a minor celebrity here, because of her hard work and Olympic spirit. We just want her to have a short break." Wang Hao, the leader of the volunteer team said.
Ever since Beijing won its bid for the Games in 2001, Olympic fever has been a part of Chang's life.
Every morning, her first job is to water the flowers in order to "clear the air for the green Olympics".
"You will never know what questions tourists will ask. There is never too much preparation, once you wear the volunteer polo shirt of blue and white resplendent with a smiley face badge." Chang said.
An old man asked her, "What does the word zhanyun mean on the decorated archway?"
When the other volunteers did not know what to say, Chang said: "It means looking toward the clouds."
Chang has done a lot of homework on the cultural background of the service sites.
"There are 38 service sites in Xicheng district, all of which have their own history. I have read a lot of material on most of them." Chang said.
"We should learn from Granny Chang, because of her serious attitude." Wang, the team leader said.
"They are the best volunteers I have ever seen, and their smiles make me feel comfortable," Peter Gorsa, an athlete from Croatia, said.
There are 1.7 million volunteers in Beijing for the Olympics, 70 percent of whom are aged below 35.
"Everyone can be a volunteer, even without the uniform and card, as long as you have a heart for serving people," Chang said.
(China Daily August 22, 2008)