It’s probably dangerous to post in this condition. We’ve been traveling since noon Shanghai time with a plane change and delay in Vancouver. The clock says we arrived six hours after we left, but we’re not even sure what day it is. And that’s not just jetlag. Posting from China poses its own Twilight Zone weirdness. I thought I’d keep everything coordinated by changing the time zone on my camera, my laptop and my iPhone to Beijing time. But then when I posted to Flickr or WordPress there was a warp in the space time continuum. Flickr and my blog kept thinking I was posting the next day or pre-posting. I guess, the servers for Flickr and my blog are on American time no matter what my laptop says. So the servers kept thinking I was posting for a day that hadn’t happened yet. I started trying to backdate or postdate things but that only made it more confusing. Believe me, Project365, I posted every day. It’s just going to take time to sort it all out.
Adding to our confusion, as we entered back into airspace where we started getting Western stories on the Olympics, we realized that we’ve been in a complete Olympic bubble. We really only had information about the events we were at, since there were few English sources of information. We had 8 sports channels available to us in the hotel, all of them on Central China Television and all in Chinese. If you think American coverage is too concentrated on the home team, you should see CCTV. For instance, in the coverage of the swimming, you might not even know Michael Phelps was in the pool as the camera and commentator kept a tight focus on the Chinese swimmers. I’m not saying the Chinse teams aren’t important for coverage, but let’s just say, they weren’t always the big story. In the race we saw, Michael Phelps was already out of the pool and had blow-dried his hair before the Chinese swimmers even touched the wall. And of course, we missed all the heated commentary that we are now just becoming aware of. Like Bela Karolyi threatening to bust a heart valve over the age of Chinese gymnasts. We were also surprised to see a Canadian paper discussing how Alicia Sacramone had “blown the Gold” for the Women’s Team Gymnastics. We were at that event and every one of the US team got a red flag or committed an error. Alicia was no more or less the problem than any of them. They were just all slightly off their game.
Most Undercovered Big Story. I don’t think anyone is covering the true magnificence of the Jamaicans — men and women. They were fast, they were stylish, they had the best bling and dreads and I swear they ran to a reggae beat. They never looked like they were even breaking a sweat. You can’t imagine what incredible athletes that tiny island fielded until you’d seen them lined up with other athletes for their events. When an athlete stands among a group of other Olympic quality athletes, and stands out like Shaq would among the middle aged players on the San Francisco Bay Club Hoops Club, you know you are seeing an extraordinary level of physical perfection. (Besides, what are the odds that the world’s fastest man would be named “Bolt”?)
Most hyped story that was worth all the hype. Michael Phelps. He really was that good. And from the reaction of his teammates and even his competitors, he seems to be the kind of nice guy who deserves all his success. At the heat we saw, his competitors were swarming around him to shake his hand and pat him on the back when he smoked them in the pool. And the first thing he did after winning was get out and wave to his Mom in the stands. Gotta love a guy like that.
One Area Where the Chinese Fell Down in an Otherwise Beautifully Run Games. Souvenirs, tat, Olympic crap. You should be able to buy everything from a water bottle to key chains to shirts, hats and doo-rags with Olympic logos. There should have been vendors everywhere. Particularly the bootleg vendors selling the tacky “Olympics Beer Drinking Team” T-shirts. Nothing. Nada. I don’t know if it was part of the Chinese Government’s promise to the Olympic Committee and luxury manufacturers to crack down on counterfeits, but you couldn’t find a single vendor with anything Olympic. Not even a post card. About the only thing you could buy on the street was a Chinese flag.
Most Amazing Military Effort. The armies of fresh-faced, uniformed University students who lined the routes to the venues, organized lines into the security checkpoints or just walked the streets of Beijing smiling and waving to foreigners. It was an impressive mobilization. Especially since some of them seemed to have no role other than to smile and call out “Welcome to Beijing.” Could you mobilize that many teenagers here? Could you get so many who were so unflaggingly enthusiastic about their jobs even when that job was just standing in the hot sun and being friendly?
Most Annoying Thing About the Chinese that Was Still Strangely Endearing. For some reason, the Chinese believe both wine and coffee must be served a thimblefull at a time — no matter how big the cup or glass. The hotel had fairly regular, if a bit small, coffee cups and wine glasses, but it was impossible to make anyone understand that it was possible to fill it up to a normal pour. So we resorted to just constantly signaling for refills, and the Chinese were completely Okay with that system. Did you know it takes 15 thimblefulls to get a normal glass of wine? Coffee was more problematic, especially when trying to make an early morning call while still jetlagged. Until we discovered the hidden cappucchino maker and the one barman who knew how to use it!
And a special word about our sponsors, UPS. They had this whole event organized like an upscale summer camp for adults. There were meals and food available around the clock in the hotel, dozens of volunteers from the local University guided us around, hydrated us on the buses and enthusiastically explained things to us, often to hilarious effect, like the little girl who told us all about the “Net Burst” where we would see Athletics.
If you ever get a chance to go on a corporate sponsored sporting event, that’s the way to go. If UPS is handling it, even better. After all, their business is moving things safely and quickly from one place to another and that’s certainly what they did with us. Special mention: they even kept me on-line and blogging on the frequent occasions when, as we were informed by the staff, the government had “Closed the Internet”. (As we were leaving, we were told that the Government had shut down Wi-Fi in all the airports. Guess they didn’t like my blog.)
Another Sad End of An Era. The Chinese government has also cracked down on “Chinglish”, sending language experts out to correct the mangled English that is always such a fun aspect of Asian signs. I think it was a mistake. No more “Racist Park”, which was the former sign on a park dedicated to showcasing the culture of ethnic minorities. No more signs on fresh sowed lawns that urged pedestrians to “Be kind to the slender blades of grass”. I guess we’ll have to look to Malaysia to uphold this grand tradition.
So Was It Real or Was it Faked? Granted we were shielded and most certainly we were coddled, but as I said in an earlier post, I don’t think that level of friendliness and warmth can be faked that consistently and for that long. No matter what was mandated, I have to think we were seeing the Chinese people. Would we go back to China again? In a New York minute. In fact Andy decided he wants to do even more business in China and ordered me to look for Mandarin classes he can take.
So thanks, Beijingers! Thanks UPS! We had a fabulous time.
P.S. Oscar and Lucy say that people who take off to the Olympics and leave their dogs behind probably don’t deserve to have dogs.
And Oscar’s hoppin’ mad about the Nastia Liukin score. He’s not blaming the Chinese, they were great. But that Australian judge is going to get his ankles bitten if he ever comes to San Francisco.