Out with a Bang

We Beijingers have now survived our second day without the Games.  I must say that there is a big sense of relief in the air.  The event was not only safe, but Beijing simply did a great job in hosting this massive sporting event.  Zhuhe!  Zhuhe! Congratulations! Congratulations!

As it opened, the Games ended with a bang on Sunday night.  Like everyone else in town I plopped myself in front of the TV to watch the closing ceremonies wondering how in the world the opening ceremonies might be topped.  Not to worry, it wasn't.  In fact, I found myself scratching my head through most of the show, wondering if someone had kidnapped Zhang Yimou and given the director's job to a CCTV hack instead.  It was as cheesy and tedious as the annual Chinese New Year Gala Extravaganza broadcast on CCTV.  Cloned 5 year olds with painted on smiles.  Lots of women in prom dresses.  Lights attached to everyone!  And what was that pulsating pagoda all about? I did get a chuckle out of the men in suits who couldn't figure out how to wave the flags.  Mercifully, it did not last long. 

I will say that there was one part of the show I loved — the fireworks, especially the ones shot off from the building itself.  I think there was enough fire-power attached to the Bird's Nest to send it and the 91,000 people inside into lower orbit. 

Now that would have been something to watch!

Break-dancing Fuwa

I was at the finals for women’s basketball last night–watched the Russians defeat China for the bronze medal, and the US defeat Australia for gold. Both were great games, but the activities during the time-outs and half-time were particularly entertaining. IMy personal favorite was the break-dancing Fuwa. What’s not to like about that?

Early Morning Lightning

It's almost 2AM here in Beijing, and I just got home from attending the medal matches of women's basketball at the Wukesong Arena, not too far from where I live.  Russia played China for bronze and the US played Australia for gold. I won't comment on the outcomes in case you're reading this before it's been broadcast in the US. 

My friend and I took one of the special bus lines home—there's one line that had a stop near my house, then went on to stop near her house.  We ended up on a bus with a couple dozen volunteers who were all in a cheerful mood, and got everyone on the bus singing Chinese folk songs.  When we got to my stop, I waved my American flag and shouted Meiguo Jiayou (Go USA) and everyone cheered back, then waved at me as the bus pulled away.  I think maybe that was a bit of the Olympic spirit that I keep reading about. 

Once I got off the bus, I still had a 10 minute walk home, during which I was reminded of one of the best things about this city—I felt perfectly safe walking home at 1:00 by myself.  Compared to the daytime, the streets seemed deserted, but of course they weren't.  Along the way I spotted a group of soldiers marching, a lone guard standing on the bridge over the canal (never know when someone might try to unfurl an unharmonious banner), a couple sitting by the canal talking, the neighborhood recyling collector sleeping on a cot on the sidewalk, and a group of people sitting outside a small restaurant drinking beer and watching TV. 

But the best part of my walk home was the thunderstorm–not on top of me, but off in the distance.  As I crossed the bridge over the canal, the sky to the north lit up.  I just stood and watched for a few minutes.  Beats any fireworks display that they can shoot off from the Bird's Nest, that's for sure.

Now it's after 2AM, and definitely past my bedtime.

Please, No More Songs

There are numerous things that fall under the category of ubiquitous for these Games. Sports-related commercials; security guards; national flags; crying Chinese athletes and journalists; medals tallies (Chinese are reveling in the fact that they have won more gold medals than the US); TV monitors broadcasting all the action — on trains, buses, subways, restaurants, parks — they are everywhere.

And then there's the song –  "Beijing Huanying Ni (Beijing Welcomes You). It's almost 7 minutes in length and features the singing of many of China's stop music stars singing in front of the photogenic places in Beijing.  In the weeks prior to the Games it was adopted as the theme song–and it seems as though the government propaganda department has ordered that it be broadcast on radio or TV nearly non-stop.  It was clever and interesting the first time, but now, with the final days of the Games upon us, it has borrowed its way into my brain like some kind of nasty worm — or worse a Barry Manilow song. 

I was watching the news awhile ago and saw a report that a new song is about to be released, titled "It's Hard to Say Good-bye."  Actually, it won't be.  They've been fun, but enough is enough. And please, please, please….no more songs!

Plotting Supper

Tonight I and some friends will be heading to the Bird's Nest for the evening's track and field competitions. We had been excited at the prospects of seeing local hero Liu Xiang run for gold in the 110m hurdles, but alas, that will not happen. Because this will be our first time at a venue actually inside the Olympic Green, we're planning to go around 5pm for our 7pm event. This will give us a couple of hours to explore the area. But we're already starting to worry about food. If we get there at 5, and the events don't end until near midnight, what will we eat? I've heard that there are a couple of MacDonald's within the Green, but that they are super crowded.  Otherwise it may just be snickers and potato chips.  But wait….maybe there's another option.

The reporting team at the Wall Street Journal has discovered the existence of self-heating lunch boxes within the green.  They bought one, took it back to their office, and produced a video clip about it, titled "Exploding Lunch Boxes."   Follow the link.  It's quite funny.

If you don't hear from my again, I've most likely been taken out by one of these.

Little Wheel Bike Race

I had tickets for this morning's BMX bike race out at the Laoshan Bike Venue.  BMX biking is translated into Chinese as "little wheel bike," which is pretty much what it is.  Unfortunately the competition got rained out, and has been postponed until tomorrow.  Even more unfortunately I didn't find that out until I had gotten there.  Oh well, I got to scout out the area and plot my return tomorrow morning. I will bike with the big wheels to the subway and go from there.  Should be pretty easy.

A Traumatic Memory

As part of my attempt to get into the Olympic spirit tonight, I went to the gym. I think I've gotten inspired from a week of watching so many people run, jump, and chase balls. I walked on the treadmill. Talk about boring. To help relieve the tedium, the gym has installed tv monitors on the wall above the treamills. Guess what was on? Olympics! (is there anything else?) In particular, the station was tuned to a field hockey match between China and some European country. 
I spent my elementary and junior high years in Karachi, Pakistan, where field hockey is a popular sport.   My sister and I attended the Karachi American School, and field hockey was part of the physical education curriculum.  I hated it, mostly because PE class was at 2 in the afternoon, when temps were ALWAYS above 110 (f), and our PE teacher, Miss DeSa, would simply never consider NOT making us round around the field with those weapons called bats, chasing that stupid ball.  Try as I might, I just can't bring myself to watch field hockey—it brings back too many traumatic memories.

Time to go watch some volleyball.  Miss DeSa used to make us play that as well, but at least it was in the gym, where the temps were only above 90.

No Joy in Mudville

China has been on a eupohric high since the grand opening ceremonies of these Games, and the subsequent medal haul of the Chinese athletes. Something was bound to give somewhere sometime. It happened this afternoon in the Bird's Nest, where China's favorite Olympic star, Liu Xiang was set to run a trial heat that would set him up to run for gold in the 110m hurdles on Thursday night–in front of the home crowd. The hopes and dreams of a nation and 1.3 billion individuals have been riding on his shoulders for years. But it will not be.  A leg injury flared up at the start of the race, and he was forced to pull out, stunning a crowd of 90,000 in the stadium, and a nation watching on TV into silence and tears.  Unbelievable.  There is no joy in Beijing this day.

Time
Magazine's Hannah Beech has an excellent article about it here.