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Sounds of the Olympics

Originally published at Andy Does Beijing. You can comment here or there.

We’ve heard a fun variety of music at the Olympic venues so far, just random background stuff and filler music, some cheerleading music, whatevers. It’s a lot of American music, the occasional Asian pop song, some really random remixes, and the Beijing Olympic theme, “Beijing huanying ni 北京欢迎你。“ Here’s some of the better selections:

  • Hey Delilah (hockey)
  • Linkin Park - Numb (baseball)
  • Earth, Wind, and Fire - September (basketball)
  • Song in Chinese to the tune of “Do your ears hang low” (hockey)
  • It’s Raining Men (basketball cheerleaders)
  • Eiffel 65 - Around the World, chinese cover (basketball)
  • Chumbawumba - Tubthumping (handball)
  • Avril Lavigne - Sk8er boi
  • Hey Mickey (cheerleaders)
  • Cotton-Eyed Joe
  • Foo Fighters - ? (Bird’s Nest - track and field)
  • Amelie soundtrack (Bird’s Nest - track and field)
  • Stone Temple Pilots - Feeling (?) (Bird’s Nest - track and field)
  • Limony Snicket soundtrack (Bird’s Nest - track and field)
  • Final Fantasy X2 soundtrack (baseball)
  • World of Warcraft soundtrack (baseball)
  • Foo Fighters - “You’re not the only one, not like the others” (water polo
  • You Are my Sunshine (boxing)
  • In-a-gadda-da-vida (water polo)
  • Lenny Kravitz - American Woman (water polo, theme for USA team)
  • Billie Jean (water polo)
  • Shania Twain - The Way You Love Me (Techno remix) (softball)
  • Sheryl Crow (?) -Sweet Child of Mine (softball)

Of course, we can’t forget the official theme of the Beijing Olympics: “Beijing Welcomes You (Beijing Huanying Ni 北京欢迎你).”

In loving memory: Eric

Originally published at Andy Does Beijing. You can comment here or there.

Our faithful tour guide, Eric, had a very charming way of speaking English: namely, he was a college student from Beijing. (That said, his English is a lot better than my Chinese.) Here, I present you a tongue-in-cheek testimonial to one reason why we loved Eric.

  • Let’s abandon this opportunity
  • Did you like your journey today?
  • Thank you for your cooperation.
  • I love you!
  • This afternoon, we will be all heroes. We will be on top of the world!
  • It will be an unforgettable opportunity.
  • If, in ancient China, we step on this [a decorated stone tablet], our heads, it say goodbye to our body.
  • The Great Wall, hopefully an unforgettable memory.
  • The walk not for the timid or the week, but for the heroes, and we are all heroes, right?
  • It is very difficult walk, so you can stay by car if you want not to be hero. OK? Today we are all heroes!
  • I will keep this memory forever. Today, you are on top of the world. You are all heroes!
  • Chinar! (China儿)
  • He is very bad man. I hate him!
  • This CD was made by Eric. Do you love this song? I love this song. I love you as long as you love me.
  • Do you love this day?
  • If you like shopping, you can shopping. Or, have a rest.
  • I cherish our memories together.
  • In the coming days, I will try to remember all your names and right now, I remember about ten of you.
  • Tell everyone to judge Chinar more fairly.
  • Really, I am so proud of Chinar, always.
  • He was the king!
  • I’m so happy of these precious memories with you.
  • Thanks to friendship of great Chinar and great USA to bring us together.

Thursday, August 21, 2008 - A 36-Hour Day

Originally published at Andy Does Beijing. You can comment here or there.

I’m hooooooome!

Man, it’s weird to see so many white people. Americans are SO LOUD.

Our plane ride went pretty well, all 2 1/2 12 hours of it. We took off around quarter after twelve (Beijing) and got in to the US about quarter to 3 (Eastern). We were better-prepared this time for a twelve-hour flight, with books, movies (Horton Hears a Who!), and camraderie.

Customs went well, but I think I prefer the Beijing airports.

Incidentally, we made front-page news on the News Journal:
http://www.delawareonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080820/NEWS03/808200370/1006/NEWS

Bus ride home was a little rough; that whole food-and-sleep thing; also, not being in Beijing.

Now I’m back and you get to see EEEEVERYTHING. Have fun reading. Depending on when you check in, there’ll be photos and metadata.

Originally published at Andy Does Beijing. You can comment here or there.

Today was our last event, softball at the Fengtai Softball Stadium. It was only about twenty minutes away by cab, as it was in the same district as our hotel. (I went with Barlow, so he covered the van; also, we took a Chinese girl who was staying in our hotel for her first Olympic event ever!) The venue was pretty small, compared to the Olympic Center and the Olympic Green; it was also just a softball stadium with a warmup field. Next door was some other indoor stadium I didn’t notice, since it was rather early (9am game). The venue did have the standard complement of post office, boutique, food and beverage kiosks, etc.

The first game was USA vs. Japan. The stadium had an awful lot of Japanese people there, like, almost every Asian there was holding a Japanese flag. There were American contingents here and there, but Delaware was split up into a couple sections — the professors, the softball girls, and everybody else. We were out in the outfield seats, right on the third base line, but halfway through the game Rich and I said to heck with it and hoofed it over to some open seats almost behind the plate on the first plate line. That was a glorious idea, since we had a great view of how, during overtime after the seventh inning, America knocked a home run into the back left stands and brought in a full set of bases. That, I’m very sad to say, was the only time somebody made a MASSIVE OVERWHELMING KICK-JAPAN’S-BUTT time since, y’know, World War II. Please don’t kill me. The second game was Canada vs Australia. The crowd was cool, but I was good for my softball fix by then.

I also learned the joy of “trading” pins in China today. I was sporting my USA House lanyard covered in the Delaware pins my mom gave me to trade, so when I went to go buy a snack, the staff there asked to trade. I traded five or six to them for two: a big one of the Great Wall and a small Yanjing Beer one. I should’ve hid that beer pin, since I let some ground staff guy trade me it for a small USA pin. I also traded some of the volunteer staff metal pins for plastic pins, which was a silly idea too. An American guy from Boston approached me to trade pins, too, but he wasn’t really interested in Delaware pins — don’t blame him =p I just gave one pin to some other volunteer guy, too, since he asked for it and I went with Chinese custom: if somebody admires a possession or asks for it, you offer it. Shoulda been an ugly American, but the kid only had an Australian Olympic pin. (To top it off, I had the opportunity to buy a bunch of pins on the street today, but I passed.) So, China: six; Andy: dumb.

Better Late than Never

Since today was the official shopping day, I held off on getting most of my gifts until today. After the game, I caught a cab with the Goodwins and Linda to the closest subway station. It took some trials and tribulations. First trial: hailing the cab. Second trial: the cabbie wanted to turn the corner before dropping us off instead of just stopping and blocking traffic — god forbid.

We took the 1 line across town and I ditched the crowd to hit Wanfujing St while they continued to the USA House to buy some “amazing awaits” swag. Anyway, Snowy called me once she got off to work to find out where to meet me to go shopping. I was on the subway, so I lost the signal after a minute, but I called her back once I got to Wangfujing and told her to come down. While I waited I meandered a bit, trying to track down the shirt I’ve been ogling all month: it’s white with the red-orange cloud motif on the right shoulder and a China flag patch on the left breast. I keep seeing it on people, but I can’t find it anywhere! I’m hoping to order it online when I get home. I picked up some lunch at Yoshimoyo, a Japanese fast-food place in the mall: just some teriyaki tofu on a bed of rice with vegetables and a side of kimchi. Also, they served Pepsi, the first time I’ve seen it in this country! Yummy, but way too much rice. Whilst meandering back, Snowy called me to tell me she was getting off the subway, so we met up at the McDonald’s (aka Micky D’s) on the corner.

Without revealing too many details (a.k.a. what gifts I actually bought for you people), I’ll tell you about shopping. Snowy was very helpful, since she likes to see her friends get good deals, she speaks the language, and she doesn’t mind stretching the truth a little to get a good deal. Oh, and she’s Chinese. (Thank you for helping me, Snowy!) First place was Snack Street off of Wangfujing; it’s famous for exotic ancient snacks, like lamb testicles and silk worms on a stick. There’s also a small market on one of the side streets, so we dickered with a vendor there over a small’n’shiny and only got ripped off a little. After that, we hitched the subway over to the Silk Market and the underground market. The Silk Market is another big five-story market building, not including the market underneath with about a billion counterfeit goods. It was something, alright. Never before have I seen so many counterfeits. The Silk Market itself was pretty boggling, too, almost as many counterfeits in the purse section. We made our way upstairs, to the goods that interested me, and managed to get okay prices on them. They weren’t fantastic prices, since the vendors want to make as much money off the foreigners during the Olympics (and acquire pins, too — one had an entire lapel covered in them). The Silk Market, incidentally, is one of those “tourists go here, so other tourists go here” places. Snowy told me that Chinese people don’t go there to buy things, that the vendors wouldn’t even talk to them because they can make a better profit off the clueless foreigners.

I managed to get everything I was looking for, plus a little extra for fun. I wanted to give the hotel a gift for hosting us, so I figured we could get a calligraphy scroll with something nice and all sign our names. I didn’t have any good idea beyond “谢谢,” so Snowy said no, we’ll ask the calligrapher if he has any good ideas. After we haggled the price, he said to come back in ten minutes and he’ll think of something. (We went across the aisle and bought some things there, which took about twenty minutes to choose and haggle over.) The calligrapher suggested something which literally translates to “guests lodge feel at-home,” or “Guests who lodge here feel right at home.” We thought it a great sentiment, so he did it up for us for 70元. Looks real nice, a 2′x9″ white paper with the calligraphy and a red silk mounting for the rest. I’m having everyone sign it in the midst of finishing up journals and packing; the folks who already went to sleep will sign in the morning.

After I ran out of money, I mean, bought all my gifts, it was already time for dinner! A security guard suggested we walk to a small sidestreet across the road and go to any of those restaurants, so we went in to one that served 老上海饭, traditional Shanghai food. Shrimp dumplings, beef noodles, and vegetable wontons were the order of the evening. Snowy tells me that there are two different words for dumplings: what we think of as dumplings, the larger doughballs filled with whatever, are actually baodan (?); and the smallish ear-shaped things, which remind me more of wontons, are proper dumplings, or jiao4zi. Either way, they’re all yummy to me! but we ordered a little too much food and I couldn’t eat all of my noodles. At least Snowy taught me how to eat noodles: instead of biting off chunks of noodles, you’re supposed to suck/tuck all the noodles up. Yay proper table manners!

Afterwards, we wandered up Chang’an St (?) towards Tian’anmen Square, just for somewhere to hang out and chat, and ended up sitting by the fountains in front of the Malls at the Oriental Plaza (where we first met, incidentally), and talking about things. What I learned today about China: their school system is organized basically the same as ours, age-wise; and the dorms here are more like West Chester’s (20-some stories) than UD’s (three or four, or 17 in the Towers). Most Chinese uni students use Windows computers, because they’re cheaper than Macs (although Snowy notes that Macs are better design). At Snowy’s school, the beauracy kills the bedroom lights at 11pm, but the students go into the lounge with lapdesks and stay up working until 12 or 1, then sleep until 7am for 8am classes. Also, the Washington Monument is world-famous; at least, Snowy knows it — but she’s also studying landscape architecture. Furthermore, most of the Beijing Olympics volunteers are college students, but not all.

My evening ended when we had to say goodbye in the subway station so I could come home and pack. (Her uni is north of downtown; the hotel, to the south.) So, sad pandaface — but I’ll go pick up an MSN account or something when I get home so we can chat no the intarwbs.

I caught a cab back from the subway station. He had to put a new roll of receipt paper into his official cabbie moneycounter machine (which is mounted in the dash above the radio) before we pulled out, but he didn’t start the fare till we actually got driving. Last time driving back to Mingxin! Pretty anticlimatic, y’know? and nobody was out at the market again when I get back, around midnight.

That’s all, folks!

Come midnight, half of the group were partying — in their beds! I managed to track down the other half and have them sign the scroll for Mr. Zhang (张先生). Now that half is sitting out in the hallway finishing up our journals, which we have to turn in before the plane ride so our profs can read them on the way home. An auspicious ending to a fun little east Asian jaunt.

Originally published at Andy Does Beijing. You can comment here or there.

Our last Olympic event as a group dragged us out of bed at six in the morning so that we could get breakfast at a restaurant before going to the games. Breakfast out was pretty much the same as breakfast in, except for the scenery. Master Sun scouted out the place for us yesterday, though, and settled on this one after checking out six restaurants in the area. What was breakfast? Boiled eggs, fried dough rings, beef dumplings, etc., and hot drinks in metal mixing bowls again. I guess it’s a Chinese thing.

We finally got inside the Bird’s Nest! It’s a fearsome stadium to walk up to, all sorts of crazy cross-beams and red wall paint. Once you get inside, the effect wears off a bit, except for the lamps. The lamps are energy-saving halogen coils mounted inside a funky bee-hive looking dealie made out of recycled plastics Weird, cool, and probably good for the enviroment, too. As soon as you walk into the stadium proper, though, you get a sense for the sheer magnitude of seating for, y’know, 90,000 people. Yes, that’s ninety thousand. The field itself is 100 meters plus end zones and, around it, a standard track.

Today’s events were all preliminaries for javeline throwing, long jump, and sprints. They started out with javelin and generally warmed up the rest of the crowd. I noticed a few really groovy things about the events and the stadium. The javelin and long-jump points were measured by a laser mounted on a surveyor’s tripod, bounced off a pick one of the referees stuck in the ground by the point to measure. The javelins were returned from the field to the throwing area, not by runners, but remote control cars with javelin mounts. Whaaaaat. Two volunteers had the job of sitting at the edge of the field, driving these RC cars back and forth all morning. SO COOOOOOOL. For the long jump, the sand was smoothed over by a big zamboni-type thing mounted on rails just beyond the long jump sand. (It had pads mounted on top, in case the jumpers ran into it.) The athletics were cool, too, some badass javelin-throwing and sprints. I can’t say I have an appreciation for long jump, but we did have a good view for it.

Those of us with water polo tickets peaced out around 11:30am so that we could wander around the Olympic Green a bit and get to the 2pm game on time. I called up Snowy, since she was working on the Green today (like most days) but didn’t have many responsibilities (because there were few games in that area) and we met up to check out the Chinese cultural story tents. Each tent focussed on a different region in China, about thirty in total. Since I didn’t have much time to wander, we looked at Beijing 北京, Shanghai 上海, and Snowy’s hometown, 西安 (Xi’an)in 沙安息 (?)(sha’anxi). Then, walkabouts over to the water polo stadium!

We thought the water stadium was across town. Turns out it was across the street. I caught an Olympic special line bus over, since the entrance itself was a block or two away, and joined my party after picking up a visor with the Olympic mascot, Nini 尼尼, for band camp. Then, inside for water polo, a game I didn’t care for and then USA vs … somebody! Some Hungarians came in early for their team’s game, so I had a nice chat during the game with a Hungarian woman who’s a high school teacher. She has to teach the first day home from the Games, poor woman, but she lives in Eger, a tourist attraction in western Hungary. Becky may or may not have gone through there on her Eastern Europe tour a few months ago. We traded pins, of course, so I got a lovely Hungarian Olympics pin in exchange for my rinky-dink Delaware pin =D Apparently Hungarians are very intolerant of immigrants and of jobs being outsourced. That’s reasonable, given that their country’s population is less than that of Beijing. Beyond that, though, Renata (was her name — a popular Hungarian and German name) did enjoy the various Chinese restaurants she could find around her area.

USA won, incidentally, about 9 to 6?

Noodles coming, Dumplings going

For our last real day on the trip (since tomorrow is our packing slash shopping day), we had a real farewell banquet, too! The bulk of the group took the tour bus back to the hotel, then to the restaurant; the water polo kids caught cabs straight to. We had an hour or so to kill while we waited for the Americans to catch up with us, since the profs grossly underestimated travel time as usual, so we sat disreputably on the front step of the restaurant. After half an hour, they invited us in to sit on the couch and drink really, really hot tea instead of cleaning up the dust on their stoop with our butts.

The restaurant was pretty fabulous. It was decked out like old-school western China feel, with gnarly trees, river stream fountains, and elephant heads. The waitstaff was also western Chinese and wearing traditional garb. The food, however, was standard Chinese; also, delicious — especially the Yanjing. When we came to the hotel the first night, we were told that noodles were the traditional meal to eat, symbolizing longevity and something else, and dumplings were the food to eat before leaving. True to their word, the professors made sure to order … one container of dumplings per table. Those were tasty, too. Speaking of first-night things, Eric came to dinner too and brought his girlfriend, who’s a cutie! I talked to her for a little bit and she’s also a college student and a volunteer at the games; pretty good English as well.

Dinner included a show: the girls did some belly-dancing and other courtly dances; one guy played a reed between his thumbs (like, a straight-up leaf) like a harmonica; and he came out again later to play a traditional Chinese wind instrument, basically a Chinese bagpipes. He also played it while dancing around like a Russian, velly impressive!

At the end of dinner, the standard banquet formalities went on: thanking our hosts, our tour guides, our bus driver, and our professors with gifts and honorariums; and the floor was opened for everyone to say a nice bit, which a handful of people did. Nate: “You guys are great. That’s all I’ve got.” Linda: “Appreciate being young and getting educated, because that’s what’ll take you places.” Hallelujah! Eric; “I love you guys!”

Originally published at Andy Does Beijing. You can comment here or there.

8:00am: BREAKFAST IN BED

This past week, we’ve gotten in the habit of posting the agenda for the next day or two on a handwritten piece of notebook paper, taped to the inside door of our hallway entrance at the hotel. The last few days, it’s listed stuff like when breakfast is served, when the busses are leaving, which events or tourist spots we’ll travel to, etc.

Today’s agenda: 8:00am BREAKFAST IN BED. I don’t know whose idea it was or who executed it, but today somebody dropped by each room, rapped hard on the door, and handed us two plastic tins of breakfast (two muffins, a sweet sausage with corn bits, a pouch of milk, and a small pouch of instant coffee.) I slept right through it and was only vaguely aware that breakfast had been dropped off. The muffins were OK, though nutty. The sausage was a little icky. I haven’t had straight milk since sixth grade and never instant cofee. But, the muffins tided me till lunch. It was a lovely morning, sleeping in till 10am — especially since we didn’t get back from eating dumplings last night until 12:30-1ish and already missing sleep from the previous day.

Down the Street, not Across the Lane

Lunch found us again down the street at the restaurant. We didn’t have the tour bus today, because who really needs a tour bus to drive us two blocks down the street just to eat lunch? (That fact did indeed dissuade some students from coming out to lunch.) Incidentally, I ended up hitching a ride in the back of the manager’s van, since I didn’t know the turn.

It was lunch. Nothing too interesting save that they serve the soup last, since it’s a south Chinese restaurant.

Afterwards, Rachel Young wanted to hit the bank and get some cash out for Olympic tickets (US dollars) and living expenses (RMB 元). I walked down with her, since I wanted to see if the Olympic store has the shirt I’ve been lusting after and get some cash for myself. She asked for $120 US and it took the bank a good forty-five minutes to authorize it, so we sat around and talked about inappropriate things in the lobby. (We weren’t too worried about getting kicked out or anything, since it was our money and they didn’t speak that much English.)

Finally, post-money, we hit the Olympic store and Rachel picked up gifts for some of her people. I didn’t see anything that I needed, so we meandered about a little and then hit the Vanguard on the way home, which is basically a competitor to the Walmart but slightly smaller (two-story warehouse instead of three stories in a mall). We nearly bought some lime-flavored Lays (乐子), but decided against it in favor of a bagful of chocolate junk food.

That chocolate junk food, which included a baggie of mini Snickers (not bite-size, but mini — like, 2″ long), was delicious on the walk home. The good mood lasted until I realized we were supposed to leave for the second set of gymnastics finals ten minutes before I walked in to the hotel, so I ran around for ten minutes and put my life together for the evening. After that, This trip being what it is with tardiness (namely, if there’s more than three people leaving at once, they never leave when they say they wiill), we sat around in the hallway for another forty minutes waiting for everyone to get ready.

Mexican-style Cabbing; also, Mistaken Identities

We had nine in our party: Lauren (skater), Karen (lez), Kelly, Taylor, Kevin, Tiffany, MA, Victoria, and me. Cabs typically only fit four. The first cab fit Tiffany, Victoria, MA, and Lauren perfectly fine. The second cab? Well, Karen took advantage of her horrid communication skills and well-selected wardrobe stunning good looks to distract the cabbie while the four skinny-butts squeezed into the back seat of the cab. Kelly ducked down right behind the driver so nobody could see her between Taylor and me. We were all duly amused — especially the cabbie, who counted us getting out of the car at the subway station and did a double-take: “… five?” At the subway station, we meet up with the other half of our group and hopped on the 5 line to transfer to the 2, so we could get off at the 8 transfer line (the Olympic venue line) and walk up to the Olympic Green.

As we walked up the block towards the Olympic Green, Karen expressed her amazement and confusion that an entire hotel was built next to the Olympic Green specifically for the Games, with a tower resembling a torch. That confused us. “Karen, it’s the Olympics. It’s millions of people converging upon one city for three weeks. They built four new arenas. They built almost the entire subway system around it. Of course they built an Olympic-themed hotel. IT’S THE FREAKING OLYMPICS.” Oh, Karen, please to stop and think open-mindedly before you squeak. This is a very sheltered woman girl who drives her car to pick up coffee at Starbucks and and drive the DC Metro station for a commute to her desk job, where she analyzes data about the economic status in developing countries. Welcome to it.

Getting through security took a few minutes, so we unfortunately missed the better part of the opening event: men’s split ring. Nonetheless, the rest of the show was grrrrrrrreat! I hearts rhythmic gymnastics.

Sunday, Aug 17 - Zoo, USA House, Gymnastics

Originally published at Andy Does Beijing. You can comment here or there.

Lions, Tigers, and … Pandas?

We hopped along to breakfast at 7:30 so that head out at 8:00 8:15 on the tour bus for an optional trip to the (as Karen put it) the ZOOOOOooooo! (I was about ready to stab her because she wouldn’t stop saying “ZOOOOOooooo!”)

Panda panda panda The Beijing Zoo is currently housing a special exhibit for the Olympics, the Olympic Panda House. (They have an Asian Games Panda House, too, left over from back then.) Eight more pandas came to the Zoo to live in a newly built house, which includes a pretty large play / viewing area for the pandas (and the people), a store with lots of cute, fuzzy, stuffed pandas, and an upstairs with a photo gallery and a science fair-style set of informational panels on raising and keeping pandas. A couple of facilities are built to house pandas and allow people to tend to them, where interns get to “love train” the pandas: feed them, maintain eye contact, and cuddle with the pandas. Best job ever!

Intern: “Here, Jingwu, time for your bamboo stick!”
Jingwu: [Lumbers over clumsily]
Intern: “Cuddle time!”
Jingwu: *om nom nom nom*
Intern: “Awwwww.”

The pandas are pretty cute, but they don’t really do much; they kinda just sit around, munch on bamboo, and clamber around on the play structure. I’m not really sure why the panda mania, so after I took my pictures and wandered around the panda house once, I started to scope out the exits. It took me two times around the houses to figure out that I had to go back through the entrance, and then I got to check out the rest of the zoo. They had a canine section (wolves, coyotes, etc.) who didn’t really look impressed with their cages. They paced an awful lot. In the human cage, I also saw two USA boxers — they were wearing USA Boxers and their ID tags. (Anybody who’s associated with the Games wears an ID tag in a plastic sleeve on a lanyard; the ID tag has name, photo, country, position, and a barcode. Since everyone has to wear them at the Games and on public transportation, so they just end up wearing them all the time.)

The zoo also housed some groovy other animals: Chinese porcupine; lions, tigers, and jaguars; rhinos and elephants; giraffes; basically, the usual complement of zoo animals. I was struck by the variety of living areas provided to the animals. The elephants, rhinos, and hippopotami had pretty homey areas that seemed to suit them fine; but the house for the lions and tigers was a smelly, high-ceiling vault with bars keeping the humans in the middle and the animals in their very simple 8-by-12 rooms. I suppose it suits them, but I’m more accustomed to seeing naturalistic habitats for them.

Other cool features in the zoo: thirty foot tall tiger statue outside the lion & tiger house. Seriously — huge frickin hunk of metal tiger. RAWR! Furthermore, penguin house that costed an extra 10元 ($1.50) and more time, so we skipped it. There was also a very nice lake built into the campus with weeping willows all about it, along with benches in their shade. The paths were lots of curves and a few straight roads.

Team USA! amazing awaits

No, seriously, amazing awaits is the motto of the USA House slash USA team. “amazing awaits” was printed in lowercase on the entrance to the fortress restaurant / house. “amazing awaits” was printed in lowercase on the press materials. “amazing awaits” was printed in lowercase on the backdrop for the TV area. “amazing awaits” is a pretty cool tagline, I’d think.

Each major country hosts a House — the Holland House, the China House, the USA House, etc. It’s a chill-out slash meet-up place for the athletes, family, and countrymen. The Holland House is public, you can just drop by and hang out — the Nederlanders are cool like that. The China House is pretty locked up, well-protected. The USA House, you can either get in comped as an athlete, athlete family, some US media, and athlete guest; or you can come as a day guest and pay $50 or $70 for lunch or dinner. Once you’ve been an Olympian athlete, you’re always an Olympian athlete; so Tiffany, our TA, has an official USA Olympian pass for Beijing 2008 and access to the house. That means she can bring guests; i.e., us! She extended the invitation to about half of us over the month, people she knew would be pretty stoked to hobnob with the athletes and be cool about it.

The USA House is over by the Worker’s Stadium. It’s a restaurant/club which was built a coupla years ago and was pretty cool, but then got run down; the USA House hospitality team came a few months back and had to redo a lot of the house to its current, glorious state. Now you walk in to be greeted at a reception desk / cashier; to your left is a limited (but open) bar; and before you are an assortment of square tables and wide open spaces, behind which you find the buffet areas. Beyond that is a patio with a grill area, staffed by an Aramark cook. To your right is a small patio/courtyard holding several more tables and two massage chairs; also, the masseur and masseuse. Around the other side from the massage area is a coffee bar with wireless access and laptops to borrow (in exchange for a token, like your driver’s license). Downstairs is a media area, for making speeches; the USA House store (selling all the gear found at USAOlympian.org); and another bar. All around the house were large flat-screen TVs showing the DX channels, the direct high-def cable feed from the Games. I didn’t go upstairs, but I hear it was all quite brilliant. Also, this girl Kate Sirolly, who knows a guy in my Chinese class, is working catering for the house, so she gets to meet see everyone.

The place is generally genial, lots of Americans wandering around and some Chinese staff (although with a lot of the Asians in there, you can’t tell if they’re American or Chinese until they open their mouths). Anybody who’s there is probably significant in some way, so they’re all self-assured and just make nice small talk about the game. We ran into Michelle Kwan, the skater, who happened to be Tiff’s roommate back at the Salt Lake 2002 Olympics, and chatted with her a bit. There were some other important names we were near, but I don’t really remember. Some black guy who won the hurdles or the long jump or something back in the ’60s, he was giving a speech when we walked in. Oh, and the cookies were delicious. De-lish-ous.

We hung out there for a bit, watched the USA women’s volleyball team win (we cheered), until Tiffany picked up a bundle of tickets she was buying from another American for all of us. In the package was an offer for gymnastics tickets for that evening, which were finals — for $25! We snapped them up and ditched the house at quarter to six for the event.

On the Floor

I’m sure everyone saw the gymnastics finals on the tee-vee, of course, because artistic gymnastics is obviously the win in the entire Olympics. At least, we think so =p Tonight was finals, which meant medals ceremonies, and they sure chugged right through them: ceremonies immediately followed the event (as soon as they set up the risers for the athletes to stand on). We saw men and women’s floor exercises, women’s vault, and men’s pommel horse. They all performed marvellously, except that the women in vault were a touch sloppy on their landings. (Nonetheless, they performed crazy difficult vaults, so we’ll forgive them a little bobble at the end.)

What you probably don’t see on TV is all the set-up/behind-the-scene business. It’s all out there for us to see, the multitude of volunteers on the floor making sure things go smoothly. They delegate tasks out like mad to the volunteers and then (it looks like) train them heavily. The volunteers do their jobs efficiently, professionally, almost militarily. To set up the medalists’ stands, a group of eight boys (in their cute blue volunteer uniform polo and khakis) carry in a set of four yellow blocks in time, set them down together, and rig it all up. When it’s set up, they execute a right face and march back off-stage, arms swinging in time. It’s half groovy, half silly to watch. I feel like a bit of the communist ethos shows through in these displays of youth militarism: strong young men, all equal and similar, working in unison to create a great work for the social good. The other volunteers I see, who interact directly with the public (the “spectators,” as they say in the Olympic parlance), are a slightly different flavor: the attractive, youthful faces of Beijing, pure and socially-minded. They’re all very helpful, cheerful, well-dressed, but still individualistic; and in sum, they put a bright, happy facade on the Games, as it ought to have. Yay Beijing PR team!

Incidentally, there’s about a billion and a half volunteer staffers, only a coupla hundred of whom end up on the telly (i.e. the kids who work the games themselves). Every entrance has at least two or three volunteers — that means the main entrances to the large parks with the metal detectors; the entrances to the actual venues where they check your ticket; the doors into the venues; and finally the entrances to the arenas themselves (where they tell you where to sit). At umbrellas and various other points along the walkways, volunteers are available to answer questions and take pictures. Those volunteers even have other volunteers as support staff, running around water and encouragement. Elsewhere are volunteers selling food at the food & bev kiosks and tents in each venue and around the parks, volunteers selling Olympic merchandise at the boutiques, and volunteers selling tickets at the ticket kiosks. Behind the scenes are other volunteers working inside, out of view to the public. It’s an amazing operation — also, an awful lot of blue Olympic polos, baseball caps, bucket hats, khakis, and yellow fanny packs. They have to supply their own shoes, which is just as well =)

Volunteers aside, gymnastics was pretty hot. Our seats were up in the second tier balcony, so we had a good view of all the events (especially the vault, which was closest to us), the scoreboards, and the flags. The best bit was the women’s floor exercises (my favorite event, anyway), when two of the Americans led the scoreboard until the closer, a Romanian, took the gold. Christina was a little irritated — we were hoping to hear the American National Anthem before we left, but no such luck. Nonetheless, I scored a sweet shot of two American flags side-by-side on my camera phone (since all three of our cameras had run out of power). New phone wallpaper!

Chao-ZI!

Coming home from the competition, we three decided we wanted to eat dumplings. Dumpling dumpling dumplings! We asked a volunteer where we could eat, but they weren’t familiar with the area outside the venue. They did teach Tiffany the word for dumplings, so Tiff just kept saying “chao-ZI!” the whole way home. We walked for a few blocks from the venue, but didn’t find anywhere to eat. We found the highway instead, so we just hailed a cab and headed home to eat at the market near our hotel.

Nobody was there. Sunday night is supposed to be the hopping night on the town, but there were maybe a dozen people out there (including half a dozen guys selling food). None of them had any dumplings, but they pointed us across the street to a little restaurant which had similar snack food — and dumplings! Asking them for the food was difficult, though, because the girl who was talking to us (who looked about 17yo) kept talking too quickly for me to understand, even after I told her my Chinese wasn’t any good. We were rescued by some college-aged guys who were also coming in for a bite and some brewskies, who translated food words for us. We ended up with two plates of cheap dumplings: one chicken, one vegetable. A little oily, probably not too good for us, but they were yummy and went down well with a 40 of Yanjing 啤酒.

A great day, hanging out with Tiffany and Christina and trading gossip, fun stories, good times, and good food! Life in Beijing and at the Olympics? Sweet deal.

Originally published at Andy Does Beijing. You can comment here or there.

Breakfast, I seemed to have missed. Whoops. Lunch was down the street at our favorite new place to eat outside the hotel, the … non-descript southern Chinese restauraunt.

Da Hall (I mean, 大厅)

Following lunch, the group hitched a little ride to a Great Hall downtown by Tian’anmen Square. The Great Hall is a huge government building built for huge events, like ginorgamous cocktail parties in the cavernous banquet rooms that will seat 10,000 people. Oh, and Karen, our resident nutjob chair of all matters serious in topic noted that the 2″-thick plush rug wasn’t laid down so that the floor pattern matched up at the seams. Oops. The place was HUUUUUUGE. SO HUGE. HUGER THAN HUGE. CHINA PUBLIC WORKS HUGE.

As I said, the Great Hall was Great. Incidentally, they don’t ever typically allow in foreigners to the place (just Chinese tourists), so we enjoyed being the fancy interlopers. The place was very big. Verrrrry big. Like, a whole block long, and they built it in only 10 months. I was impressed. Every room was big, especially the ballrooms and theatre (both of which fit 70,000). A slightly smaller room held only thirty seats and plenty of empty space, for council meetings and whatnot. Very luxurious, very impressive … except I was a little unimpressed, as I usually am with matters of state. Great paintings on the walls, though. And the huge ballroom was very cool. Incidentally, they use Bose speakers.

On a Quest

Mark and Lauren (the Asian ones), Anthony, Dan and Casey, and I went straight from the Great Hall a few blocks over to Wangfujing St on a mission: Nike and Adidas apparel. I’m on the search for the white Adidas shirt with the red-orange cloud motif on the shoulder and the China patch on the breast. I see it everywhere except on the shirt rack. Today was no exception, even though we went to several Nike and Adidas stores. What’s the deal, China?

I couldn’t stay too long, though, because I had a ticket to a volleyball game. The other kids wanted to go hit up the Silk Market for clothes, though, so we stared at a map for five or ten minutes until a Chinese guy came up and pointed it out on the map for us, then told us how to get there on the subway. It took some serious pointing, but we overcame the language barrier (enough). On the subway, we split up, since I was heading north and they, east.

I asked the Olympic volunteers in the subway for directions to the venue; we found it on a map and they had notes on routes, so they told me to take the 1 subway, get off at X, and take the K25 bus. So, I got off the subway where they said to, but couldn’t find the bus stop. I asked some volunteers and bus drivers near that stop. (One of the girls had several bug bites on her arms, too, and the bus driver was anointing them with some oil in a little green bottle. Yay China meds!) Anyway, they suggested taking a cab — well, the bus driver said it in regular Chinese, which I didn’t understand at all, and then the volunteers said it in slightly less accented Chinese (since they’re young and mostly college students) and I got it. Cabs are a little pricey, so I just went back to the subway (free to Olympic ticket-holders) and figured out the closest subway stop, then picked up a cab from there for only 15元 instead of the 45 I probably would have paid from that first stop. At least the volunteers (and Chinese people are helpful and reasonabl knowledgeable — the cabbie knew where to go once I showed him my ticket. I rolled up just in time for the game, too.

Men’s volleyball? Awe-some! It was indoor team volleyball, so pretty cool to watch, lotsa power shots but also a fair bit of volleying. I enjoyed the game. I had to go fetch my leatherman from storage again, which was pretty painless since I had a little keytag to redeem it. Then, since it was a largr goup event, we had the tour bus (huzzah).

Originally published at Andy Does Beijing. You can comment here or there.

The Abbot dropped in to talk philosophy, Buddhist history, and show us a little more taichi. I’ll copy that in later.

Lunch was down the street at our prof’s new favorite restaurant. Ehhhh.

Haaaaandball

Handball is one of those lesser-known sports, but it’s apparently been around since at least the ’80s. I neglected to pick up the beginner’s guide to handball, but I’ll give you what I know: it’s the off-season alternative for soccer players and they get to hold the ball, which is a little smaller than a volleyball; also, it’s very hands-on. I don’t just mean that they hold the ball; I mean they get to manhandle each other. Around the goal is a semicircle that the offensive team can’t enter; just outside that is the scoring area, so there’s about six feet of space to stand in whence you can score a goal from maybe ten feet away. Pretty much basketball meets soccer meets Red Rover. Also, the whistle was blown at least once every five minutes so that a bruised player could stand up and recover. Really fast, hard, epic game. Fun! Go check it out on YouTube.

We stayed for the two games and then the other kids headed back to the hotel, while I met up with Snowy.

Meet me at the North Gate

Since Snowy’s volunteer job limits her access to the Olympic Green, where she’s stationed, and I had to get my leatherman back from the south gate, Snowy called me and said to meet up at the north gate, nearer the bus stops. I ended up walking the entire way around the venue from the south gate to the west gate, totally missed the north gate in a sea of people. I seriously felt like I was swimming upstream, since the sidewalk along the north edge had a good view of the Bird’s Nest (and the Torch), so everyone was taking pictures of it. Lotsa people selling stickers and pins and flags and all that, too. Crowds aside, we eventually found each other, thanks to cell phones and me being tall and white. (Snowy was in her volunteer outfit, so I couldn’t really spot her in the crowd as easily.)

Did I mention Snowy yet? She’s the girl that approached me and some other Delawareans in the mall a week or two ago and asked us to come back to her indoor decoration store, inside a hotel. I got her number and email address, so we’ve been chatting on email about stuff and figuring out when we could meet up and be, y’know, China-America friends. Since my schedule finally kinda solidified, we figured after handball was a good time to go out and do something.

We caught a bus (which took a while) and rode it (which also took a while) over to Huguosi St (护国寺), so we could pick up a 护国寺小吃,a Huguosi snack. (小池,xiao chi, translates to “little eat”, i.e. snack.) It’s a traditional Beijing thing, so it’s kinda touristy now; the people who actually live near Huguosi (including one of Snowy’s classmates) don’t actually eat at those restaurants. We did the tourist thing and got some food, except we’re still locals — so you share tables with whomever, such as the older couple who was there when we came in and a graduate-school couple who sat down after they left.

The place we went to, which was supposed to be pretty traditional indeed, was on a hutong, a regular old wide alley/road place in the middle of Beijing. For the snacks, there’s a variety of foods served: fried dough rings, fried dough balls with sugar (like a funnel cake, but a puffed doughball instead), some thick fermented rice thing with oil on top (not so sweet), red bean dumplings, candied tofu, … um, a few other things. Good stuff, chewy stuff, I should probably ask Snowy to send me her photo of the menu with English on it. We ordered a little too much, but Snowy said “you don’t have to be polite and eat everything, I’m just a girl.” But that’s why I was being polite! =p Our evening was pretty much talking about life, school, and a lot of English / Chinese language skills.

Around nine, we were about full — so much for dinner — so I had to head out uptown a little to meet up with my prof.

Originally published at Andy Does Beijing. You can comment here or there.

Today’s main event: a real live baseball game at the ballpark! A few minor catches: the ballpark was the Beijing Olympic National Stadium and the hot dogs were cold — but the sausage on a stick was still hot! (Incidentally, the sausage tasted like a kosher hot dog, but kinda sweet.) Another catch: CHN vs KOR. The great American sport, and we’re watching two Asian teams. Oh, Chinar. To tell you the truth, they played a pretty good game: good hits, good catches, good runs, but no runs.

It was a fun little game until, halfway through the fourth inning, xiale da yue:it poured. Man, it started to drip a little, and then the skies just opened up and the thunder rumbled and the crowds deserted the stands to hide under them. I put my cell phone and my camera in my bag and handed it to Linda, who had an umbrella, and just stood there in the rain. The Americans started acting up and singing random songs from the USA in the rain. I don’t entirely understand these athlete sorts; but then, these are the same kids who would rather eat at an expensive pseudo-western restaurant than go out and eat delicious Chinese food at a nice, inexpensive, local place. Whatevs, there’s still the folks who enjoy Chinar culture. The Olympic volunteer crew, who was prepared for such happenings, had a few boxes of ponchos handy to pass out to everyone at the event; so, pretty soon, the stadium was awash in a field of translucent yellow plastic. The game wouldn’t be called for an hour and a half, though, so our fearless leaders decided, in their infinite wisdom, to hoof it back to the bus. The bus driver wouldn’t have none of our wet patooties on his nice dry bus, so as we walked up to the bus, he took the ponchos from us to store underneath in the cargo space.

What do you do with a sodden student?

Really, what would you do with forty-some wet, tired kids who just missed half a baseball game? You take them to the National Art Museum, of course! Unfortunately, the Art Museum wasn’t ready for the Olympics; most of their exhibition areas were under construction, so we could only walk through two galleries. It was an awful lot of watercolors and line drawings, of mountains and fishies and the occasional goose. There was also two line-drawing portraits! We were duly unimpressed; it was an art museum like many, many others. Also, the translations came out in Engrish. I think this was one area that the Beijing Olympic Committee missed when they anglicized the city.

Our first priority in the museum was finding the bathroom. Apparently, the second was finding something to eat. (I, at least, hit the galleries first.) Turns out the museum coffee shop was on the far edge of the ground floor. You could reach it by either walking around the building or walking through the construction. The museum attendents said it was okay to just head on through between the painters and the carpenters, so we took the trek towards the tea with trepidation. The coffee shop was nice, though; a very tall Chinese woman (like, I could like her in the eye) was hostessing, so she took all of our orders and, as they were made (slowly, since we were many), walked them over. She later asked me for a good English translation for “肤浅“ — Would you like to pay now? A lovely coffee shop, I must say.

After looking disreputable in the coffeeshop for two hours, our professors decided it was time to join us. We left soon thereafter to go get dinner.

Delish!

I assume. I forget where dinner was. Seriously, nobody remembers, except that Brenna thought it was a good place. (That must be why we don’t remember. I’m writing this a week after the fact, too.)

A Night at the Opera

The Peking Opera closed out our evening — but just two acts, not a full performance. (Peking is, incidentally, the old name for Beijing. I’m not sure why, I might be Cantonse instead of Mandarin.) The theatre we went to is housed in a Peking Opera Theme Hotel. Outside of the theatre, they had two glass display cases showing the history and development of the Peking Opera. In the entrance to the theatre, they had two men doing their makeup before the show — quite fantastic. In the theatre itself, they had many dinner tables in the front half, seats and a balcony in the back half, and large opera masks and paintings of actors on the walls. Also, a nice lady was selling fancy programs for 30元, a nice boy was practicing tea gong fu (pouring tea from a tea-pot with a rapier spout), and another lady was selling regular cans of beers for 18元. The program was a good deal — but the beer? A royal theatre-style rip-off =p

We expected to, y’know, dress up for a night at the opera, so we thought we’d have a chance to go change into nice shirts and pants and, for the girls, all their pretty silk dresses. No such luck, of course, since we went straight from the game to the museum to dinner to the opera. Our professors told us that our street clothes were alright, but we didn’t believe them till we walked in to the theatre and saw how casually it was set up, as dinner theatre.

The show itself was pretty fantastic, but not so much as the pre-show annoucement. It was delivered by a man employing a very sing-song voice, like he was already singing in the opera style. Unfortunately, his scansion didn’t work out so well in English, as my classmates noted. Our local guides didn’t give a hoot, though — one doesn’t even speak English, but both napped through it. (They’ve seen the Opera a few times.)

The show was cute, nice light entertainment with an Asian flavor. After the overture, performed by a traditional Chinese band with string, wind, and drum instruments, we saw two scenes; the first, Autumn River, was a little farce about a woman (a “nun,” but not by choice) trying to follow her lover down the river. She had to engage a boat, but the boatsman saw that she was a naive young woman and teased her a bit about getting down the river, getting in the boat, getting stuck in the boat, getting some lunch and leaving her in the boat, … it was cute. The closed caption marquees mounted beside the stage definitely enhanced the experience — indeed, made it possible to watch. (An experienced guide had characterized the Opera as four hours of high-pitched, whinging singing and silly staging.) So, since we could follow, it was rather entertaining and quite silly, with some standard theatre artifice standing in for actual props and scenery: taking a long walk around the stage signified a … long walk; bobbing up and down signified bobbing in the water; two people bobbing in opposition signified two people on opposite ends of a board. I found it both well-acted and sufficient to convey the scene.

The second scene was much more slapstick. The opening scene was a panorama of Buddha (?) and his disciples, a la ancient Chinese painting. Buddha decided that, to tell a little story, he would decide — emm — the Monkey King was acting up in his part of Heaven, so 17 of Buddha’s erhu’s should go put him back in his place. The Monkey King was a wily-looking man with funny makeup, a kooky demeanor, and a staff, with which he was apeing about. Each of the seventeen erhu’s challenged the monkey in turn, with staff, sword, spear, Asian-style morningstar, and one with a jug of wine. He had many jugs of wine — each time the Monkey King stole away a jug, yet another appeared from within the sot’s robes! This scene presented some fancy martial arts stickery, lots of trick moves with bouncing weaponry about the stage, tumbling, launching weapons, and so on. The Monkey King was well-versed with his staff; I should have taken video for Steve Keiser and Rah. (At least I’ve got kung fu tea master on video for them.)

After the theatre, back to the hotel to finally dry off a titch!

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