Beijing 2022

In case you are one of the millions of people world-wide who are scratching their heads at how Beijing, a city with virtually no snow and no history of winter sports was chosen to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, this article in the Christian Science Monitor may help (somewhat):

On Friday, the IOC chose Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, making Beijing the first city to host the Winter and Summer Games.

But those in attendance in Kuala Lumpur seemed to know what is now widely apparent: the Olympic movement had already lost.

The IOC cannot sprinkle gold dust onto Friday’s decision: It was a failure of the Olympic bidding process.

In other words, the selection of Beijing was the product of a broken system, one in which fewer and fewer cites seem to be willing to bear the cost of hosting the Games.

Even Bob Costas will not be able to gloss over the fact that Beijing is an excessively odd choice to host a Winter Olympics, as it lacks snow, mountains, or any discernible winter sports tradition. It won because the IOC had no other viable choice.

Yes, Almaty, Kazakhstan – the only city competing with Beijing – has mountains and snow in abundance, but not hotel rooms, or easy air connections to the rest of the world, or a name anyone who is not a subscriber to Foreign Policy magazine has ever heard of.

To choose Almaty would have been to accept an intolerable and potentially impractical contraction of the Olympics’ scope and grandeur.

To choose Beijing would simply be an intolerable inconvenience of time and space, and that is nothing the Chinese government can’t handle.

Like the whole “no snow” thing.

Translation (and apologies to my friends and readers in Almaty): the IOC seemingly had no choice.

When Oslo, Norway, and Krakow, Poland, and Stockholm all pull out of the bidding for reasons similar to Boston’s; when voters in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and Munich reject proposed Olympic bids for reasons similar to Boston’s; and when no one in North America bothers to apply, you end up with – Beijing.

And lest you think this whole “no snow” thing is overblown, here’s a photo of the proposed alpine skiing area, taken in late January:

screen shot 2015-06-02 at 10.28.21 am

I’m sorry folks (and I say this as a lover of Beijing), but that’s insane!!

Related Posts:

A Beijing Winter Olympics? 

Ski the Bird’s Nest


A Beijing Winter Olympics?

You may not know this, but Beijing is bidding to host the Winter Olympics in 2022. I must admit the first time I heard this, I had to stifle a laugh. Shouldn’t a Winter Olympics host city have, well, snow?  Yes, it does (on occasion) snow in Beijing, but if any of it stays on the ground for 24 hours or longer, it turns black from the coal dust in the air. And yes, there are mountains that surround Beijing, but they don’t get much snow either. Beijing ski “resorts” consist of one or two snow-covered runs (man-made snow) on an otherwise completely brown and barren hillside.

Oslo dropped out of the bidding last month, leaving the IOC with the task of deciding between Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan. Yes, you read that right. Here’s how Dan Balz, writing for Yahoo Sports puts it:

The effect is the bidding for the 2022 Winter Games, which is now down to just two cities. The final vote comes next summer.

There’s Beijing, China, which doesn’t actually sit within 120 miles of a usable ski mountain, and there’s Almaty, Kazakhstan, which in its bid touted itself as “the world’s largest landlocked nation.”

It’s down to these two cities not because the IOC narrowed the field, but because every other city in the entire world said no.

Seriously, every other city said no.

Here, my friends, is the promotional video the Beijing Committee released last week (go here if you can’t see it in an email):

There are no words!

In case you’re wondering what it was like in Beijing during the 2008 Olympic Games, you can check out my archived blog posts:

Stranded in Beijing

The Flame-Mobile

Surprisingly Normal

Autumn in Beijing

Tennis, Anyone?

No People? No Food?

The Return of the Marxist Mamas

Weather Report

Watching CCTV

A Day at the Beach

No Joy in Mudville

A Traumatic Memory

Little Wheel Bike Race

Plotting Supper

Please, No More Songs

Early Morning Lightning

Break-dancing Fuwa

Out with a Bang


Where the Grass is Greener


The Telegraph has a funny story today about city landscape officials in Chengdu spray painting the grass green.

In China’s sprawling smog-blanketed cities, life can sometimes seem a little grey. But Chengdu’s officials hit upon an easy solution to cheer up their city’s appearance: specifically, a chemical solution called Top Green Turf Greening Agent.

Chinese reporters filmed workers from Chengdu’s municipal landscaping department as they busily painted the grassy verges of the city’s roads with a fluorescent green spray.

“Two workers were spraying the grass, turning the yellow grass into green. Were they painting the grass?” said He Tao, a Chengdu resident, to the China Daily newspaper. “Wouldn’t that pollute the environment?”

Not according to Mr Yang, a salesman for Top Green, the makers of the dye.

“It is absolutely not toxic. It is just a green dye. We have been selling it to the Chengdu government for at least five or six years, and we have lots of other government clients, like the city of Tianjin, and many north western provinces. And we also sell it to golf courses,” he said.

I laughed out loud because it brought back memories of  February 2001 when Beijing was pulling out all the stops to win its bid to host the 2008 Olympics. The IOC was coming to town for it’s final inspection tour of the city and everything was getting spruced up. Buildings along the Ring Roads were being painted (the sides that were visible to the road, anyway) and factories had been shut down to clean out the air. Making a good impression on the committee had become the government’s top prioirity.

In the week before the IOC came to town, I was with some friends at the Tiananmen Square, and we thought it odd that, in the middle of a cold Beijing winter, the grass in the Square was green. So we walked over to check it out, and sure enough, it had been painted. As we made our way out of the square, towards the west, we also noticed that the grassy areas along the road had been painted as well.

The next day I jokingly mentioned to a Chinese friend what I had seen — spray painted grass — and her response was “how clever.” We looked at each other in mutual incomprehension.

We all know that 5 months later the IOC chose Beijing to be the host city for the 2008 Olympic Games.

It must have been the painted grass.

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?

A Day at the Beach

Thursday was beach volleyball day, and in case you were wondering, in the end I did not try to sneak my peanut butter and jelly sandwich into the venue.  I just wasn’t confident enough of success. My friend and I stopped at the Kempinski deli for a bite to eat on our way, so we at least had some sustenance to get us through the day.  The venue is a gorgeous temporary structure put in Chaoyang Park. Like every other venue these games, it was NOT even close to full (despite being a sell-out).

I think more than any other sport or venue that I’ve been to this one made me shake my head and wonder if I was really still in China, and ponder how much China has changed since I came in 1984.  Here we were, sitting in a stadium, watching bikini-clad women play volleyball on a ‘beach.’ Everyone was having a grand old time, doing the wave, and grooving to “I Wish We All Could be California Girls.”

The games were great fun, but I was just as entertained watching all the ‘plain clothes’ security forces scattered throughout the stadium, dressed like volunteers.  I even got to see them spring into action when a group of Americans came in and sat in a relatively empty section, and promptly pulled out a large American flag and a California state flag.  Suddenly the ‘volunteers’ (in real life they wear dark green uniforms) sprang into action.  Several of them moved into position close to the fans, and eyed the California flag suspiciously.  I’m sure they couldn’t read English, and I’m sure they were thinking “well that flag isn’t on our list of national flags,” so it must be something subversive and designed to harm our country’s national interest or hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.  One of the guys had a walkie-talkie and called one of the “smiling volunteers” who came up asked the Americans to put away the CA flag.  Crisis averted!  Meanwhile, the others in the stands were thinking, “wow, I sign up to serve the Motherland and end up watching beach volleyball.  Not bad!”

Below is my favorite photo of the afternoon:  one of the security ‘volunteers’ somehow found himself in the middle of a very rowdy group of Brazilians.

Poor guy looks very nervous!

And since I’ve previously mentioned that the food selection at the venues is woefully inadequate, I’ve got a photo of the menu to prove it!

What they mean there by ‘pie’ is the Korean equivalent of a Twinkie!

At about 2:00pm, the heavens opened up and it started pouring.  We fled.  It didn’t stop raining until until the evening, but the rain washed the air and the last two days have been absolutely gorgeous!

Next stop:  women’s volleyball on Sunday afternoon.  I think we’ll be seeing the US women play.


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!!!


Wish You Happy Baseball Competition

Some friends and I had the chance to be a part of baseball history yesterday, as we were on hand to witness the first ever Major League Baseball (MLB) game played in the People’s Republic of China.  The Dodgers played the Padres and the score ended in a 3-3 tie (no extra innings played). It was a gorgeous spring day with lots of sunshine and blue skies, thanks to the slightly chilly wind blowing down from Mongolia.  It was a good thing we got there early because there was a very very long line to get through the security check.  Of course, they were trying to prevent the obvious objects from being smuggled into the venue (weapons, bombs, etc.), but there were many other prohibitions as well, and they were looking in every bag. No water bottles allowed; no tea thermoses; no food (they overlooked my peanut butter sandwich, however, but that’s because I don’t think they knew what it was); and no signs or banners that were not first approved by the police.  Truth be told, especially this week, I think that they security forces were much more nervous about unapproved banners and signs than they were about any weapons.

As we entered the bleachers, the ticket taker smiled at us and said zhu nimen bangsai yukuai (lit. wish you baseball competition happy).  Now there’s a phrase I’d never heard before.  When we got to our seats (right field line) we discovered that we were right smack dab in the middle of several hundred 10 year old boys, who were obviously participants in some sort of baseball camp.  They had MLB gear on, and were being herded around by coaches.  Actually, they were sitting in our seats.  I told the coach with them that they were in our seats, and he smiled and herded them all a few rows down.  Hmm.  That was strange.  This little ritual happened 3 or 4 times during the game.  He’d get them all seated, then some others would come along and claim the seats.  I finally asked the coach what was going on, and he said that there tickets were scattered all over, and he was trying to keep the kids together.  Anyway, we were surrounded by hundreds of little boys with blow-up sticks and they smacked them together as loud as they could.  Clearly they were having a good time (and we were going deaf).

The game got started after the playing of both national anthems and the US ambassador threw out the first pitch.  Yes, the baseball game was fun and interesting, but we were actually more entertained by the little boys.  As soon as the game started, their coaches started bringing out the food and the feeding frenzy began:  potato chips, hot dogs, more potato chips, soda, more chips, and finally Snickers.  Most of the news reports about the game talked about the concessions running out of food—we know why—it was all being bought up to feed these little boys!   By the 6th inning, when they were done eating, they all filed out and headed off to the booths set up outside the stadium where they could practice throwing and batting.

There were lots of laowai (foreigners) in attendance–pretty much all the Americans in town–but the locals still had us outnumbered.  They seemed to enjoy the experience, although at times I think they found the American fans more entertaining than the game.  And probably the most entertaining thing for them was when all the laowai suddenly stood up and started singing in ” Take me out to the ballgame.”  We got some very puzzled looks!

By the time the game was over, we were pretty cold and parched from facing the north wind, and decided that we needed a pepperoni pizza to warm up!  For a journalist’s account of the game, go here.  Below are some photos.