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October 1, 2009

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Foreigners get 'once in a lifetime' opportunity

FOR 181 foreigners living in Beijing, October 1, 2009 will be a "once in a lifetime" experience as they join New China's 60th National Day celebration, which will feature a foreign formation for the first time since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

"It was a big surprise to me when I was invited to participate in the parade. I was really excited and honored because this is the first time that China will have foreigners in the parade," said David Tool, 67, an American who has lived in Beijing since 2001.

He was also a torch bearer for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Tool, a university professor, was a Beijing Top-Ten Volunteer in 2006 after volunteering to help correct translation errors at cultural relics and tourist sites and teaching elderly people English.

"I was very happy also because (participating in the parade) means Chinese people value my contribution," Tool said.

The foreigners come from 53 countries. Twenty-six will wear Chinese-style dress or their national costumes on the float themed "One World," and 155 will wear T-shirts that read "I love China."

Of the marchers, 97 are students and the remaining 58 are mainly foreign experts and representatives of foreign companies. The 26 foreigners on the float are mainly winners of the Friendship Award and Great Wall Friendship Award, and some volunteered at the Beijing Olympics.

"When foreigners learned there was an opportunity to be in the parade for the National Day, they were eager to attend," said Li Honghai, deputy director general of the Foreign Affairs Office of the Beijing municipal government.

Some foreigners living abroad even wrote to the office that they wanted to take part, saying they would cover their own transportation and accommodation costs, he said.

The oldest foreign participant is 70-year-old Frenchman Francis Wacquant, and the youngest are eight-year-old twins from Italy.

The foreigners have prepared for today's parade, attending two rehearsals, which required walking about 7 kilometers each time.

"The rehearsal was hard. We spent 12 hours on that on September 18 which ended at 3am," Michael Crook, a Briton who was born in China and runs an international school in Beijing, said in fluent Chinese.

"I suggested to other foreigners on the float during rehearsal that we sing 'Happy birthday, dear China' when passing Tian'anmen Square."

Australian Emily Cross, 63, who has lived in Beijing for six years, said she was so excited at being part of the "spectacular" celebration.


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