Beijing's Centenarian Olympic Volunteer Proud to See Games

If the Beijing Olympic Games have left a mark on Fu Yiquan, it is his weak hearing.

When Beijing won its bid to host the 2008 Games in 2001, Fu was on his routine patrol along his street near the Temple of Heaven in downtown Beijing. "Suddenly the celebrating fireworks broke behind my ears just like a thunder, and my ears felt numb right away," the 103-year-old recalls.

Fu never fully recovered, but he doesn't grumble. "Whoever set out the fireworks behind me, they didn't mean to hurt me, they just wanted to celebrate Beijing's winning of the right to host the Olympics."

Forgiving as he is, Fu, born in 1905 is quite strict about his work - patrolling his neighborhood as a volunteer, a job he's been doing for 30 years.

Fu was born to a poor family in Shandong, east China, when China was still in the period of the Qing Dynasty. When he was seven years old, he went to school for one year. Then he followed his carpenter father as an apprentice to make a living.

Dressed in a white T-shirt, grey pants and black cloth shoes, Fu looks no different from other elderly people in the street. But the "capital security volunteer" red armband tells his mission. Now the oldest of Beijing's 400,000 Olympic volunteers, Fu makes three patrols every day, checking that doors are locked and the trash cleaned up.

"This is what I can do for the Olympics. I can't go to the stadiums to work, but I can make sure our community is safe and in order," says Fu, smiling. "Hosting the Olympic Games shows that our country has grown stronger. I feel so proud."

His patrol route starts from his traditional style hutong house at the east end of Xicaoshi Street and runs to the western end, a distance of about 500 meters. The street, which used to be a typical hutong (alley) with houses on both sides, now has only one side with homes.

The other side, now replaced by bulletin boards and a large area of greenland with carefully placed flowers that echo with the slogans on the board "New Beijing, Great Olympics".

"Beijing has changed so much, especially after we won the bid to host the Olympics. I see a new Beijing every day," Fu says.

Across the street from the bulletin boards used to be the department store Fu worked as a salesman till his retirement. It has been replaced by a row of small shops.

Fu sits in front of the grass area and watch cars come and go. "There are so many cars in Beijing now. Before I just watched people and gave them directions."

Fu has lived on the street since he moved to Beijing in 1940s to escape the hard life caused by the Japanese invasion. A few years after his arrival, Beijing was liberated by the Communist Party of China. During his 60 odd years in the city, he has developed a large network of neighbors and friends.

"He is a very amiable man and loves to talk to people," says neighbor Sun Guirong, 65, who has lived on the same street as Fu since she was born. "When he's on his patrol, he always says hello to the neighbors."

Sun admits that residents don't really expect Fu to catch any criminals in this relatively safe neighborhood. "But his appearance brings harmony among us."

Fu's most recent achievement was to help a 72-year old man who fell on the ground. "He saw the man on his patrol and got people to help the man back home," says Chen Xi, director of the Xicaoshi residents committee.

"A 103 old man helping a 72-year-old, it would be hard to imagine if I hadn't seen it," said Chen.

With thin grey hair, sunken cheeks and slightly hunch, wiry Fu is in good health. "He has no heart disease or high blood pressure like many other old people," says Cheng Guixiang, his daughter-in-law. "Except for his weak hearing, he is in perfect health."

Cheng has been in charge of Fu's meals since she moved into the house 20 years ago. "There's really no secret to his longevity," Cheng says. "He likes to eat food made from flour and vegetables because he only has six or seven teeth left." Other than that, the old man has no special eating habits. He doesn't smoke or drink and he rarely eats meat.

His major sport is walking. Sometimes he puts up his legs and stretches them. "The most important thing (to a long life) is to stay happy," Fu says, always smiling.

His greatest happiness comes in visits by his great-grandchildren. His oldest son is already 81 years old. Fu's oldest great-grandson has graduated from college.

He loves to read the news. His favorite newspaper is the Cankao Xiaoxi, a newspaper of translations of foreign reports on China and the rest of the world.

"He is very interested in the passing of the Olympic torch," says Fu Shangying, Fu's youngest son, who cares for all his daily needs together with his wife Cheng.

One year in school was too little for a literate education, but Fu has taught himself over the years. "Even now, when he sees a new word, he will look it up in the dictionary," says his son.

Fu has declined an official invitation to the opening ceremony on August 8. "I don't want to be any trouble to anyone. I would rather stay home and watch the live broadcast than bother people to take care of me."

Fu said he will do his routine night patrol after dinner on Aug. 8. "Then I will go back and watch the ceremony on TV," Fu said.

"I was so happy to see Beijing won the bid to host the Olympics. But I never thought I would live to see the Games. This is my happiest moment," he said.

(Xinhua News Agency August 6, 2008)

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