BEIJING, Aug. 15 --As the Beijing Games continues to draw the attention of billions of sports fans worldwide, so the Olympex has been a carnival for philatelists and collectors of Olympic mini-souvenirs.
Themed Lighting the Passion, Sharing the Dream, the event encompasses hundreds of philatelic, numismatic and athletic art companies. It also houses temporary national postal offices from about 20 countries and the top sponsors of the Games. Also present are exhibits about future Olympic cities, Vancouver and London.
The Olympic cultural event provides "an opportunity for visitors to acquire knowledge and experience of the rich Olympic culture", said IOC president Jacques Rogge at the opening ceremony.
IOC collections are on display, highlighted by a huge postage stamp collection of former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch. The first Olympic stamps issued in Greece back on March 25, 1896 are also presented as well as special Olympic-themed stamps from the China Stamp Museum, including three 120-year-old large dragon stamps issued during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
Also being showcased are Olympic-themed coins from the China Coin Museum, special Olympic-themed stamps belonging to international collectors, international Olympic memorabilia collections, and some 20 prize-winning paintings, sculptures and collages created by international artists eulogizing the Olympic spirit.
Since its opening on August 8 at the Beijing Exhibition Center, the expo has reportedly attracted over 40,000 visitors from home and abroad.
"I ordered the ticket for the expo in late June. Then I counted the days, looking forward to its arrival. Now, here I am," said Zuo Changquan, 65, a retired railway technician from Changchun, Jilin province.
At a hotel near the exhibition center, he rose at 5 am, so he could spend the entire day roaming the various booths. Zuo managed to fill his cloth bag filled with many delightful booties, including stamps, first day covers and several other special issues of philatelic products such as gold and silver coins symbolizing Beijing's Olympic bid, overseas torch relay and its eventual opening.
"We sold several thousands of first day covers for the opening of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. And many spent money buying sets of Olympic souvenirs which include stamps, first day covers, postcards, and commemorative coins, banknotes and pins," said Wang Yi, a saleswoman busy working at a booth for China National Philatelic Corp.
Over 300 university students from Beijing Post and Telecommunications University and Beijing Academy of Architecture and Engineering are working for the expo as volunteers, offering information and assistance to visitors from home and abroad, according to Xiao Wenyan with the expo's organizing committee.
"It is a really eye-opening experience for me," said Wang Jianmei, a sophomore.
Wang and her fellow students have received small gifts such as commemorative pins from some of foreign visitors expressing gratitude for their volunteer service.
Apart from purchasing Olympic memorabilia, visitors can also partake in a number of activities. Each ticket-holder receives a commemorative postal passport, which can be used to get postmarks at the booths in Exhibition Hall No 7.
At a corner in the hall, visitors are lured over by a loud coin-making machine pumping out commemorative silver coins of the Beijing Games under the supervision of Albert Michael Beck, president of the organizing committee for the Berlin International Coins Expo.
"The Beijing Olympic Expo is really phenomenal," said Beck. "I am deeply impressed by the enthusiasm of the Chinese visitors."
Visitors also queue in a long line to have their photos taken while holding a real Beijing Olympic torch covered in lucky cloud patterns at the Exhibition Hall No 9.
Meanwhile Exhibition Hall No 4 is designated as the place for eager philatelic and souvenir aficionados to come and swap pins and other Olympic souvenirs.
Visitors can travel through time at the spiral exhibition pavilion, designed to resemble the Acropolis of Athens. Precious artifacts from the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland and gold medals, torches and posters of all previous Olympics are on display.
And with the help of an interactive digital camera, sports fans can have their photos taken donning the colorful uniforms of athletes participating in the opening ceremony on August 8.
At Exhibition Hall No 6, visitors can order a batch of personalized postage stamps bearing their own images with the dancing Beijing Olympic logo for 225 yuan ($33).
The stamps, each with a face value of 0.80 yuan ($0.12), are a favorite among both Chinese and foreign visitors, said Hong Xiangrong, a saleswoman at the service counter. She adds that about 100 sets of them are sold daily.
Upon the closure of the expo, organizers say about 300 Olympic items will be up for grabs at a special Games-themed auction. The most coveted items include Olympic relay torches, host city mascots, autographed soccer balls and basketballs, pins, stamps, commemorative coins and vintage photos. About 100 oil paintings will also be auctioned off, including portraits of Chinese gold medalists Xu Haifeng, Li Ning and Lang Ping as well as top Olympic officials Juan Antonio Samaranch and Jacques Rogge.
The expo runs from 9:30-16:30 daily until August 18. Admission tickets, 60 yuan/ticket, can be bought from the post offices near the Beijing Exhibition Center.