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Streets of London are paved with kindness

Updated: 2013-10-08 18:18
By Cecily Liu in London ( chinadaily.com.cn)

Running my first half marathon in London opened my eyes to the amazing integration that a sporting event can bring to a city, and especially one which is a fast-paced business hub often criticized as individualistic.

For the five years I have lived in London, I admit that I never experienced such close bonding to society as when I treaded on the footpath over the 21 kilometers of the Royal Parks Half Marathon on Sunday.

Such a feeling is perhaps understandable considering nearly 16,000 people took part in the event. Hence, to run in a crowd of like-minded participants made me feel a part of a team with a common goal.

But what touched me more was the effort of the volunteers.

All the way along the route stood volunteers with microphones cheering us on, shouting, "You can do it!" "I'm so proud of you!" "You are nearly there!" and many other encouraging messages.

At each water point groups of volunteers stood in a row with water bottles in hand, smiling at the runners and telling them "well done" as they handed over the water.

The parks were also filled with those who came to cheer for their friends and families. Some held banners with the name of their friends, some shouted and some waved pom poms in the air, creating a scene of accelerating excitement.

Some small children stood in the crowd, shouting "go mummy" or "go daddy", and "go everyone", clapping their little hands in the air.

Some brought along big sponge hands to hold in the air, so that runners passing the side of the road could touch the sponge hands as a way of accepting support.

Running amidst all this excitement, support and heightened emotions made me almost forget my own presence. I felt I was watching a game, as well as being a part of it.

At times I almost had tears in my eyes when I heard the cheering and sweet messages, but other times I just wanted to laugh especially when I saw the costumes of some cheering figures – for there was a pig, a goat and a duck.

When I crossed the finish line, a volunteer hung a wooden medal on my neck. I could hardly control myself when I saw the message "Your piece of the parks" on the maple leaf shaped medal.

Five years ago when I first left home to come to London I saw myself as a foreigner, envisaging that if I, one day, decided to leave, the city will be no different than if I had never arrived.

But now owning my "piece of the parks" made me feel different. It made me feel so close to the parks as if they were mine.

Perhaps events like the Royal Parks Half Marathon is the way London magically keeps its diverse population together and gives them a common identity.

Perhaps such an event is the opportunity for such a fast-paced city to slow down once and give love and support to those whom one never met before, and will not see again.

When I traveled on the Underground with my running number attached to my T-shirt, a South African lady started a conversation with me, explaining she is going to the parks to cheer for her friends.

Our conversation quickly moved from running to charity and then to the history of how we came to London, and after 20 minutes we became good friends, although it was the first time I spoke to a stranger on the Underground.

When I went to a restaurant for lunch after the run, several people wearing the maple leaf medal at the table opposite gently smiled at me.

I felt trust and support in a city where I was told by parents and teachers to trust no strangers and become independent in life. But now I know that kindness can be everywhere if one looks out for it.

As Monday begins, I don't think the hustle and bustle of London will change, as I still expect to get up in the morning finding myself crowding the Underground to get to work amongst men and women in business suits with nothing to say to each other.

But my memory of the half marathon will be forever sweet, as I think Londoners can be individualistic but also supportive in each other's time of need, as these two sides of the city exist harmoniously. Perhaps thus is the way this society lives.

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