Cai Lianhong says the Water Cube is like his own child.
From his small apartment in northern Beijing, Cai witnessed how the cornfield and wasteland in his community were turned into the bubbly National Aquatics Center.
His fourth-floor windows offer ideal views of the Olympic heartland: the Water Cube and Bird's Nest from the dining room window, the Main Press Center and Fencing Hall from his daughter's room and a full view of the Cube from the balcony of his own bedroom.
He has turned down several realtors' offers to buy his 14-year-old apartment for 2 to 3 million yuan (285,000 to 428,000 U.S. dollars) -- not because he is rich.
Cai, 52, makes 1,600 yuan a month by keeping an eye on the bicycles parked near a supermarket 40 minutes' bike ride from his home. The amount is below Beijing's average monthly income of about 2,000 yuan.
"I enjoy sitting here, drinking liquor and watching the sightseeing crowds," he said, the first time ever to talk to a journalist. Sixteen potted flowers are in full bloom on his balcony.
Cai's family moved into the apartment in 1994, after their old home was demolished to make way for new development projects. "The area was largely undeveloped and was surrounded by corn fields and wild grass. We heard crickets and fought with mosquitoes on summer nights."
Shortly after Beijing won the bid in 2001 to host the 2008 Olympic Games, Cai and his neighbors learned theirs would be turned into the Olympic community.
"In the beginning, we feared the construction would be too noisy," he said. "But honestly, it was not as bad as we had expected -- I guess the equipment they used was superb and reduced the decibel."
Some construction workers later joined the community, renting one-bedroom apartments for 1,000 yuan a month. "They were very polite and we went along well. Nearly all of them were migrants from other provinces. Many were unable to go home for holidays because they had to meet the deadlines."
Throughout the years, Cai habitually checked the Cube construction progress from his balcony every night. "I saw how the bubbles were put together piece by piece. It took at least six months."
His home was packed with visitors when the Water Cube tested lighting for the first time. "All our relatives came, so did my daughter's colleagues. It was a big family party. The lights were just amazing."
Cai has never entered the Cube himself. When the Good Luck Beijing test events were held there early this year, he spent 100 yuan to buy tickets for his wife and daughter.
A frugal man who keeps a tight budget on everything, Cai donated 3,000 yuan to the earthquake-hit Sichuan Province in southwestern China. He had planned to spend the money decorating his home but decided that could still wait.
"My home is not beautiful, but it's clean and neat enough even if foreign visitors drop in."
A week before the Games open, Cai dyed his gray hair dark, bought a scarlet T-shirt and joined the merrymaking crowd to dance "yangge", a folk opera featuring traditional music, drums and gongs.
His wife Zhang Xiuying, a volunteer in the community, wears a red armband and patrols the neighborhood before and during the Games.
The couple shine in the reflected glory of the bubbly Cube, and cherish the happiness to be so close to the Games.