Being Chinese Canadian at the Beijing 2022 Olympics

I went through daily security checks to enter the Beijing 2022 Olympic Village. It was a standard airport-type screening, with an X-ray for your bags, a metal detector and a pat-down. I’d greet the volunteers doing the checks.

早安!/Good morning!

I’d get some stares. I was decked out from head to toe in Team Canada gear — my mask left only my eyes and hair visible. I was in Beijing with the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), coordinating Team Canada’s vehicle fleet and guiding drivers and passengers.

Every day volunteers asked me the same question.

您是中国人吗?/Are you Chinese?

I was never sure how to answer. I would reply that I was Canadian, born to Chinese parents, but that didn’t seem entirely accurate. Nor was that I was just Canadian or just Chinese.

What did being Chinese Canadian mean to me?

My parents immigrated to Canada eight years before I was born. My mother was originally from Beijing, and my father from Fujian. They picked up their lives to move from one side of the world to the other in search of a different future for our family.

My grandparents joined them soon after and stayed with us in Canada until 2016. Outside of their love and attention, the single greatest gift my grandparents gave me was the Mandarin language. They raised me to speak, write and even read a little.

I didn’t understand the importance of it then. I’ve never had the chance to thank them for it.

Making friends with the many volunteers.
Making friends with the many volunteers. Courtesy Mike Liu / The Ubyssey

The spark

I was seven years old during the Beijing 2008 Olympics. At the time, we had a Chinese cable network, and my grandparents had it locked on the Olympics. It was the first time I remember seeing athletes who looked like me on TV. My grandparents encouraged me to cheer for them, and I did. But I was curious why they wore red and gold. Weren’t the colours of Canada red and white?

By chance, the women’s wrestling final was on the TV when I walked into the living room one day. I saw Canada’s first gold of the games, won by Carol Huynh. I couldn’t take my eyes off her — an Asian representing Canada, celebrating in front of a cheering crowd with our flag aloft.

Something about that image stuck with me. Sport became more present in my life.

During the Vancouver 2010 Games, I would skip recess outdoors to watch the livestreams of snowboard cross on Cypress Mountain. It sparked a love for sports that would snowball into so much more.

I played basketball, hockey, volleyball, tennis, whatever I could get my hands on. Playing sports was the purest moment, where I could forget about everything and focus on the game.

The Canadian game

As I grew, things began to fit less and less. Coming from a predominantly Asian suburb in Vancouver, sports was the first aspect of life where I felt like a minority. Why would a place where I found so much joy also be a place where I felt like an outsider?

I was pushed toward sports perceived as Asian-dominated, like badminton and table tennis. When I told my parents I wanted to play hockey, they signed me up for taekwondo. “To build muscle,” they said.

My dream to play hockey sputtered out before it could even begin.

On TV and in training, I was surrounded by images that didn’t reflect how I envisioned sports. I had no role models. Those that looked the way I do represented a country halfway around the world. At home, the majority of the superstars were white.

It’s still something I struggle with to this day. In sports journalism, there are times when I feel I’m not taken seriously at all. In a realm where most of the reporters are white, I feel like my voice isn’t valid about the Canadian game.

It got to the point where I did my best to ‘whitewash’ myself. I tried to separate the Chinese from the Canadian. By doing so, I thought I would be more like the people on TV, like the heroes I saw standing atop the podium or lifting the Stanley Cup.

Instead, I just felt emptier. Stubbornly, I tried to make it work, become someone I wasn’t. All because I equated sports with being as Canadian as possible and Chinese the least.

Finding representation at UBC

My internal struggle continued as I entered UBC. I chose to study kinesiology because it seemed like the perfect meshing of my passion for sport and the stereotypical dream profession for an Asian kid, medicine. Yet, I still didn’t know what being Chinese Canadian meant to me.

Slowly, my first three years at university helped me solve some of these issues. With my time at The Ubyssey covering U SPORTS, I began to see stories of student-athletes up close, ones that reflected my own experiences growing up in Canada.

It’s why I love writing about the people in sports.

BIPOC representation was also growing in elite Canadian sports. Maggie Mac Neil. Damian Warner. Cynthia Appiah. Step by step, I could see more minorities representing Canada on the world stage and winning.

As I grew more into being Chinese while being Canadian, I applied to volunteer at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in my first year. A goal of mine had always been to work for Team Canada. I got the position and immediately booked my tickets. It would be my first time in Asia, and maybe I could visit China.

The pandemic stopped all of this. Due to the many restrictions in place for Tokyo 2020+1, they axed my volunteer position. Heartbreaking, but certainly not the end of the world. Not when it felt like the world had already ended.

A look at life outside of the Olympic bubble.
A look at life outside of the Olympic bubble. Mike Liu / The Ubyssey

Beijing 2022

When I was younger, I read the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, an old Chinese novel. A particular saying came back years later in my life.

万事具备, 只欠东风./All is ready, except for the opportunity.

I was surprised by the email I got. I was more surprised that the COC chose me, a third-year kinesiology student, to go to the Beijing 2022 Olympics as a transportation officer.

My experience at the Winter Olympics was the first time that being Chinese Canadian clicked into place. I found that it was because I was Chinese Canadian that I was as effective as I was. It was because of my own experiences as a Chinese Canadian that allowed me to succeed in the Games like no other. I contributed to the success of Team Canada because I was Chinese Canadian.

I connected on a deeper level with the drivers, volunteers and workers at Beijing 2022. I spoke their language and knew the culture. I would not have been able to make the friends I made and meet the people I met if I wasn’t who I was. It was the first time I celebrated Chinese New Year without my family. But yet, I celebrated it at home.

My entire extended family is in China. My grandparents, who had moved back to Beijing, lived merely 15 minutes away from where I stayed. I couldn’t leave the closed loop to visit them, but I knew they were there with me every step of the way. They were there in my words, my heart, my understanding.

Wearing the maple leaf in the country of my cultural heritage encapsulated who I was. Maybe I wasn’t like Carol Huynh, waving the flag after winning a gold medal. But my victory came in understanding what it meant to the Chinese Canadian. I was someone who, in sport, was able to bridge a cultural barrier between two sides that seemingly couldn’t co-exist.

The Yanqing Village lead told me that everyone who worked in sports was passionate. The long gruelling days of the Olympics were something that I was able to do not for money or fame, but because I cared. I realized that everyone I have had the honour of meeting through sport is passionate about their work.

This shared passion is something I hope that I embody going forth. As representation in sports grows, I hope to be part of it. And now, I know being Chinese Canadian is something I should be proud of as I continue along this path. It makes me unique, a perspective that I bring that can stand out.

So maybe when I replied to that volunteer, I should’ve said something like this.

对,我是中国人./Yes, I’m Chinese.

我也是加拿大人./I am also Canadian.

Views from the top of mountains reminded me a little of home.
Views from the top of mountains reminded me a little of home. Mike Liu / The Ubyssey