Want to Find the Best Restaurants? Check Your Blood Pressure? Ask an Olympic Volunteer

One striking aspect of the Beijing Olympics is the ubiquitous smiling volunteer. Armed with facts and figures about 5,000 years of Chinese history, Olympic trivia, subway schedules, and first aid, they are stationed on practically every corner of Beijing.

In some high-traffic areas you need only call out something like, "Hello," and you would immediately find yourself surrounded by a gaggle of them, eager to help.

It took Beijing three years to recruit, select and train these volunteers from a pool of more than 2 million applicants.

There are 100,000 volunteers assigned to sports venues; these men and women work as ushers, carry athlete's gear, and run security checks. Another 400,000 are stationed elsewhere in the city.

Those in teal blue shirts, mostly college students or other 20-somethings, are assigned to streetside booths, in subways or at venues. Volunteers in white-on-red, mostly elderly people, are assigned to neighborhood watch roles. Dark green is reserved for those at the media center outside the Olympic Village.

On Saturday, our news assistant Crissie Ding and wandered around the city talking to some of those volunteers and getting their thoughts about the past few weeks.

One volunteer stand was located close to an area of shops between Drum Tower, a popular tourist spot, and the Houhai bar area. The team leader, Wang Xuebo, 23, was a teacher. The rest were students. Each worked a four-hour shift each day and no one was getting paid.

They said their main job was to direct lost tourists or suggest places for them to eat and shop, they were also available in case of an emergency or to help translate. They also offere to take our blood pressure or put air in our car's tires (we didn't have one). If we had come a few days ago, they could have weighed us, they said, but their scale broke.

It was almost easy to forget that they also doubled as security lookouts.

Hear Wang talk about why he's honored to work as a volunteer for the Beijing Olympics.

--Ariana Eunjung Cha

August 24, 2008; 1:00 AM ET  | Category:  Postmark Beijing
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