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BEIJING -- The shirtless old man shuffled down the middle of the narrow street, teeth as brown as his socks, the decay spreading into a smile.
"People only look at the bad things in our country," Zhang Wen Bin said. "The Olympics will make them look at the good things." Under a sweltering, smoggy midday sun in this ancient neighborhood, it is difficult to find those good things.
The alleys are lined with soda bottles filled with freshly boiled water. Dirty windows open to the sound of noisy fans clattering over junk-filled rooms. A bare-bottomed child plays in a murky puddle.
Everyone, it seems, is hunched over against the sun and sweating through the heat.
But, like Zhang, it seems everyone is also smiling.
Everyone but the man in the black sweat suit who has just walked up behind me.
While Zhang chatters happily about today's Olympic opening ceremony, the man stands motionless while staring at me. And staring. And staring.
Zhang's excitement about the interview soon turns to annoyance with the questioning.
"People never have deep thoughts about China," Zhang said. "These Olympics will make them think."
Tonight's caldron lighting at the spectacular new National Stadium will indeed be accompanied by the sparking of a world's conscience.
More than any Games in recent memory, the Beijing Olympics will truly make us think.
Can we celebrate the coronation of a world power amid the suffocation of its human rights?
Can we cheer the Olympics' sacred freedom of movement while the local sheriff monitors our every step?
Can we admire the gleaming sports stadiums that are surrounded by miles of hovels and shacks?
Will the Olympics affect us the way that man in the black suit affected the retired engineer Zhang Wen Bin, turning his smiles into anger?
"People who come here looking for negative things, they are not friends of China," Zhang said bitingly, abruptly ending the interview.
So what is it going to be?
Can we be a fan of the Olympics without being a friend of China?
Can we be both?
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