6 Degrees from a Blizzard

Earlier this week my mom, sister, and I took a trip up to the gorgeous North Shore of Lake Superior for a couple days R&R. It was typical June weather up there — cold and wet!  Yesterday it was pouring cats and dogs when we set out for the drive home.  The wind and the rain were coming straight off the lake.  When we stopped in Duluth for lunch, the temperature was 38 degrees F.  38!!!  In mid-June!!!  That means we were just six degrees away from a blizzard.  Below are some photos that I was able to get in the few hours that the clouds lifted on Tuesday.  Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock Lighthouse and The Shore. Enjoy.


A Sick Tree

It’s official.  I have now seen everything.  Truth-be-told, a person living in China these days can make that statement at least once a week, but this time it’s quite possible that it’s true–that there is nothing interesting or surprising left to see. I’m in Minnesota now, but a few weeks ago, just before I left town, I joined some colleagues for an evening at “The Bird’s Nest,” the local name for the main Olympic stadium in Beijing. It was a glorious summer evening and we were all very excited to actually get inside this structure that we have spent the last three years watching emerge from the land that used to house villages and farm fields.

Upon entering the beautifully landscaped grounds leading up to this gleaming modern stadium, I spotted a quintessential Chinese sight — peasants gathering plastic water and soda bottles to sell to recyclers.  It was an interesting juxtaposition.  As I was taking pictures of the peasants sorting bottles under a newly planted (replanted) tree, one of my friends said “hey, look what’s hanging in the tree.”  Lo and behold, there were 3 IV bottles hanging from the tree!  Stunned, we followed the tubes down the side of the tree to the base until we spotted the three attached needles sticking into the tree.  THIS TREE WAS ON AN IV DRIP!!!  No fooling. I offer the following photos as proof:

Once we recovered from our laughing fits, the questions that needed pondering in order to make sense of what we were looking at came fast and furious:
*What ailment does this tree have?
*Is the ailment terminal?
*It’s a transplanted tree (all Beijing trees are transplanted from somewhere else).  Maybe it is being rejected by this particular piece of ground.
*Is the air pollution killing it?
*Maybe it’s just starving to death in Beijing’s dry climate.
*What is in the IV bottle?  My first thought was Vitamin C, since in China the first attempted cure for just about any ailment is an IV drip of Vitamin C. Why not a tree?
*How did they decide where to insert the needles? Does the tree have a vein?
*Will this tree live long enough to see the Games in August, or will it end up as charcoal for the guy selling meatsticks on the street?

Like I said, it’s official now.  I have seen EVERYTHING.


New Olympics Funny Olympics

I’ve always said that my primary reason for wanting to be in Beijing during the Olympics this summer is that the comedy potential is unlimited.  Of things that are funny, there will be no end.  This is not in doubt, and a story coming out of China today only confirms this.  It’s being reported by one of my favorite Beijing-based blogs, Danwei, and it’s about the newly unveiled official Olympic cheer.  The link to the article and a video clip is here, but let me copy it out for you below:

The cheer is a joint product of the Party Office of Spiritual
Civilization Development and Guidance (GODPP), the Ministry of
Education, BOCOG, and CCTV. Here’s an illustrated guide, which will appear on television and promotional posters in the near future:

Step 1: Clap two times (while chanting 奥运, “Olympics”)

Step 2: Hands in fists with thumbs up, arms extended upward (while chanting, 加油, “Let’s go!”)

Step 3: Clap two time (while chanting 中国, “China”)

Step 4: Hands in fists, arms extended outward and upward (while chanting 加油, “Let’s go!”)

OK, let me get this straight—-it took a government committee to come up with this cheer???  A joint committee made up of representatives from 4 different entitities?  And I just love that one of them is called “The Party Office of Spiritual Civilization Development and Guidance.”

Li Ning, president of the Beijing Etiquette Institute, described how the cheer can be adapted to different contexts (from The Beijing News):

At yesterday’s ceremony, Li Ning explained that the uniformity of
the cheer contained a multitude of variations. It could be “Go
Olympics! Go China!” as well as “Go China! Go Yao Ming!” or “Go Brazil!
Go Ronaldino!” It will work to give encouragement to every country and
athlete in competition.

She said that the civilized cheer “Go Olympics! Go China!” expresses
the “Citius, Altius, Fortius” Olympic spirit and is in line with
general international principles for cheering, while at the same time
possessing characteristics of Chinese culture. Overall, the cheer
unites both gestures and words into a smooth, flowing whole.

There’s a Beijing Etiquette Institute???  How can I become a member of that?  I’m glad that Li Ning saw fit to point out all the variations that could be used with the cheer.  That’s quite nice of them to make their cheer available to other countries and athletes as well.  Here’s another question–what exactly are the ‘general international principles for cheering?’ And other than the fact that that the cheer is chanted in Chinese, what unique characteristics does it possess? Oh dear, these are the questions that might keep me awake at night.

What they need are some of the good cheers we used in college.  My personal favorite was “What do you want? What do you want? Dog meat! Dog meat!  How do you like it? How do you like it? RAW RAW RAW.” I think that athletes from China’s northeast would be particularly encouraged by that one.  Another one we liked was “Rah Rah ree, kick ’em in the knee!  Rah rah rass, kick ’em in the other knee.”

Something tells me that GODPP (Party Office of Spiritual Civilization Development and Guidance) would not approve. Definitely not harmonious!!!