Winter Olympics shines light on obscure county
Snowboarding skiers take rest aside one of the 35 ready-made ski trails at the Genting Resort Secret Garden in Chongli county, Hebei province.
A small county resting by the Great Wall and snow-capped mountain ridges in winter time, Chongli is suddenly under the global spotlight.
The quiet locale that has been luring a growing number of ski-loving urbanites from Beijing 240 km away erupted with cries and tears of joy on Friday night when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced Beijing as the host city for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Seven years after hosting what then IOC president Jacques Rogge called an "exceptional" Summer Olympics, Beijing won the bid to host the winter version with its neighboring city Zhangjiakou. Chongli, a county under the jurisdiction of Zhangjiakou City, will host some of the skiing events.
The once tenuous connection between residents in the obscure county and the world's top sporting event has suddenly grown more tangible.
On Friday afternoon, thousands of Chongli residents gathered at a square often used for award ceremonies to see if the IOC would bring the games to their mountainous county. All eyes were on a giant screen streaming live the IOC meeting being held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Shi Fu, a 62-year-old local, said he was proud to be part of a "once-in-a-lifetime victory."
Zhang Linhai, who runs a tire workshop in Chongli, said the Olympics would bring him "more friends that share a passion for skiing."
"I am too old for skiing," 62-year-old Chang Shiyuan said, "but I think the Olympic spirit will make me spend less time at the mahjong table and more on exercise."
Wu Yong, a 40-year-old farmer, hopes skiing can become more affordable.
"I have never skied, but with the Winter Olympics coming, I really want to go with my son. I just hope the ski resort can charge less. The money my husband and I make in the slack farming season can hardly stretch to lessons," She said.
The local government is hoping the Winter Olympics can drive economic growth in Chongli, which was only removed from a list of China's poorest counties last year.
A transition is already taking place. Chongli has been mining its mineral reserves for income. Many of these mines are now closing and the miners finding work in tourism.
Liu Chunzhi, from a town affiliated with the county, has converted her courtyard to a restaurant and guesthouse for tourists that escape the heat in summer and come to ski in winter.
"I make 100,000 yuan each year and my son, working as a ski tutor, earns 40,000. The Olympics will bring more business to us," Liu predicted.
For now, Chongli is bathed in the joy of bringing home the world's top sporting event, but as the initial euphoria fades, the local government faces a daunting task of measuring up to Beijing's 2008 success.
"We have never received so much attention before. There is so much to do and we have so much to learn," said a village official.
CHINA NATIONAL TOURIST OFFICE(LONDON UK, Ireland & Nordic Countries)