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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2008-09-04

Olympic Moments: Jeff Swinger
'What amazed me was amid the hustle of a huge city and the tall fancy buildings was this ancient community of families and friends.'

By Jeff Swinger, Cincinnati Enquirer

Photo by Jeff Swinger / USA TODAY

Photo by Jeff Swinger / USA TODAY

Beijing's Hutong neighborhoods were once for the wealthy and are now for all social classes and a disappearing tradition. This street worker takes a smoke break.
On my 14-hour flight to Beijing, China I had plenty of time to think about the adventure I was about to undertake during my first Olympic experience. I was excited and couldn't wait till my first event, but also eager to take in some of the sights and sounds of Beijing. I found an elaborate, ultra modern Beijing with sophisticated, modern architecture, like the National Aquatic Center, nicknamed the "Water Cube" and the National Stadium nicknamed the Bird's Nest' as well as high-rises with giant screen televisions attached. The city was impressive, just what the Chinese were showcasing.

One of my first assignments was not a sporting event, but rather a story on the vanishing tradition of the Chinese Hutong villages. I'd never heard of a hutong before receiving this assignment in Beijing. I met up with USA TODAY reporter Kevin Johnson and a local professor and walked into history, a 13th century neighborhood. The Hutongs are a series of alleys connected by lines of traditional courtyard homes. This area lies just outside the Forbidden City, an ancient landmark.

According to our guide, Professor Mao Xiang, 40 per cent of these neighborhoods have been destroyed by the furious pace of preparing for the Olympic games. What amazed me was amid the hustle of a huge city and the tall fancy buildings was this ancient community of families and friends who want to maintain their way of life despite their government's eagerness to expand and modernize.

There are bakeries, food delivery services and proud owners displaying their pet birds in the park. Mostly smiling faces greeted us as we made our way through the alleys taking pictures and talking with locals. Maybe my morning excursion was no more then a sightseeing trip through history, but to me this felt more like China despite the Western influences seen throughout the area including Starbucks, McDonald's and Budweiser.

Shooting the Olympics was a dream come true. I had an opportunity to work with some of the most talented photographers and editors in the business. I witnessed some exciting moments in sports, great medal presentations and some of the most elaborate opening and closing ceremonies ever. I had the time of my life and wanted to share the story of the hutongs, as this is one of my most memorable moments in Beijing.

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