Nonprofit Narrates Olympics For The Blind

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Volunteers describe the Olympics to blind people at Mind's Eye cinema in Beijing. i

Volunteers describe the Olympics to blind people at Mind's Eye Cinema in Beijing. Xiao Kaijing for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Xiao Kaijing for NPR
Volunteers describe the Olympics to blind people at Mind's Eye cinema in Beijing.

Volunteers describe the Olympics to blind people at Mind's Eye Cinema in Beijing.

Xiao Kaijing for NPR
The audience cheers. i

The audience simulates weightlifting. Xiao Kaijing for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Xiao Kaijing for NPR
The audience cheers.

The audience simulates weightlifting.

Xiao Kaijing for NPR

At Beijing's Mind's Eye Cinema, blind people gather to hear their favorite films narrated by volunteers. This weekend, the Olympics are on the program.

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

In Beijing, the Olympics has become a city-wide obsession. NPR's Anthony Kuhn wandered into one gathering, a series of Olympic-watching parties for blind people. It's sponsored by the Mind's Eye Cinema, a non-profit that usually narrates movies to the blind.

ANTHONY KUHN: In a courtyard near Beijing's Drum Tower, a dozen blind people are seated in a room with plates of peanuts and watermelon. The shelves on the walls are lined with DVDs, including "Analyze This" and "Stalag 17."

The audience's brows are knit in concentration as they listen intently. Announcers are describing Friday night's opening ceremony in the National Stadium.

Unidentified Man: (Speaking in foreign language) (Through translator) There appear to be lots of people flying through the air above the five Olympic rings. They're mythic, Chinese flying nymphs in a rainbow of colors, their bodies covered in lights. The five rings were lying on the stadium floor, but now they've floated upright.

KUHN: Eighteen-year-old Li Lu Yau(ph) steps out into the heat of the courtyard. She lost her sight during a botched operation three years ago. She speaks about her impressions of the ceremony.

Ms. LI LU YAU (Blind Resident, Beijing, China): (Speaking in foreign language).

KUHN: The Olympic rings had a big impact on me, she says. I don't know if it was because of the narrator's description or just my inner feelings, but when I heard that the rings had become upright, I felt it represented the Chinese people standing up.

Life's not easy for the 70,000 blind residents of Beijing. Many of them can only find work as masseurs or piano tuners. Cinema regular Jong Chi(ph) says going to the cinema is better than listening to the radio at home because it gives him a rare feeling of inclusion and participation.

Mr. JONG CHI (Blind Resident, Beijing, China): (Through translator) I have a feeling of being at home here. My life isn't separable from this place. Listening to these narrations is just like being in a movie theater. It's as if we can see all the scenes and characters in our mind's eye.

KUHN: The cinema's success has been hard-won. Chinese officials sometimes treat non-government organizations with suspicion, but cinema founder Jung Shao Tia(ph) says that the climate for Chinese NGOs has improved in recent years.

Ms. JUNG SHAO TIA (Founder, Mind's Eye Cinema, Beijing, China): (Speaking foreign language).

KUHN: I've lived through the cultural revolution and the reform period, she says, and I've worked for years in NGOs. You could say I've been through a lot of suffering. I felt very excited watching the opening ceremony. I felt that China's current generation of leaders has given us hope.

This morning, 30 blind people and a dozen volunteers crowd into the cinema. They're here to watch women's weightlifting, where China has a good shot at its first medal of the games.

A volunteer announcer describes the scene as petite, 105-pound Chen Xiexia attempts to lift a barbell twice her weight.

Unidentified Woman: (Speaking in foreign language) (Through translator) She shouts to psych herself up. She approaches the barbell. She yells come on. She puts both hands on the bar and slowly squats down. She pushes up, it's good.

(Soundbite of applause)

KUHN: The audience members spring to their feet, grinning and clutching their white canes and jars of green tea. Blind or not, everyone in the room is seeing the same color: gold.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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