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August 12th, 2008

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

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Today started early, but not quite early enough. Breakfast started at 6:30am so we could manage a 7am departure to the women’s field hockey games we had tickets to for 8:30am. People are typically done eating breakfast in twenty minutes anyway (the people who actually still come to breakfast), so that was no big deal. We were a little slow loading the bus, though, since we started getting on at 7am and didn’t leave till twenty after. Our bus took us to a bus stop a few kilometers from the venue, but couldn’t get any farther, so we had to hop on a Beijing shuttle bus.

In typical Chinese style, the bus was packed — not just by the fifty Americans, but by Chinese people who just kept getting on and off. A bunch of the Americans were pretty boggled by the Chinese concept of personal space — or lack thereof. As long as nobody pickpockets me on the bus, I’m happy; and we haven’t had any thefts yet on the trip, so yay Beijing! The shuttle bus ride was maybe another half hour and it dropped us off at a bus depot next to the stadium about ten to nine. Brittney power-walked her way into the stadium — she loves her field hockey — while the rest of us enjoyed the scenery

We walked in about halfway through the women’s Argentina-Great Britain game. The stadium was pretty full except for a huge block under the press box, a few hundred seats, oddly enough. When we walked in to our section, the Olympic volunteer I talked to just told us to sit anywhere, really, since that’s what people were doing anyway. (That became a small problem later when a British girl showed up for the second game and raised a stink about some Chinese people in her seat. The Olympic volunteer came over to officiate and asked the Chinese people to move, which they did pretty quietly.)

Women’s field hockey is definintely a different game from men’s. The ball moves a lot more slowly, not as many hard hits, they don’t always run after the ball to keep it in-bounds. I also feel that the women teams we saw were less skillful in their ball-handling than the China men’s team, who were pretty technical about their ballcraft. (No, mom, that’s not an official word.) On the other hand, the GBR girls are hella fierce! Their offense girls chased after the ball every time it got near (and plenty it didn’t). Go G-B! We sat behind two Briton girls who were way into the game. Also, over one section to our left were the British hooligans with the white bucket hats.

The second game was Spain vs Australia. We weren’t sure which side to cheer for, so we asked the G-Bers with us. They informed us that Australia is not on the best terms with Great Britain, so we cheered for Spain. (I’m also planning to study in Spain next spring, so I’m a little invested.) The Chinese people in the stands were split about half-and-half; I could hear them cheering “Go Spain” or “Go Australia” in Chinese and, of course, when they scored. Unfortunately, Australia whomped Spain by 6-1, on both penalty corner goals and regular goals. Not so much, girls, not so much.

Menage a Bus

After the game, turns out our bus driver managed to get our tour bus up to the bus depot by the stadium, so we loaded up in there. It also turns out he picked up three birds in a cage and two crickets (huge — 2″ long!) in their own cages. The crickets are part the Chinese character for good luck, so we had them (even though they were pretty noisy). The birds chirped now and then, too, it was cute — but the crickets were bigger than the birds ^_^

We lost a few kids for a little bit, too. Turns out they went back to the meet-up point, at the bus stop, instead of into the parking lot. Go figure!

Mr. Hao found us a nice restaurant to lunch at. In addition to the standard Chinese stuff, there was hot cabbage, cabbage and mushrooms, peanuts and chicken, mystery meat which somebody thought was bullfrog, beef (very tender) and potatoes, rice, noodle soup with seaweed, and a fish plate! The fish plate was something else, straight-up China style: the fishmeat was cut into funky sticky-outy things, breaded, and fried, then covered in sweet-and-sour sauce. That wasn’t the weird part. The weird part was the Chinese tradition of putting everything in, to show that the kitchen staff didn’t eat any of it: the head and the tail were artfully displayed on the corners of the plate. Funky! I hear it was delicious, though, but I’ve been avoiding cooked fish around here. Other seafood is OK, like the jellyfish and sea urchins and shrimp from massage night.

To the Country’s Home

The National Museum of China (the Chinese word for National being Country Home, 国家). It was a pretty impressive building, four or five floors plus a basement area, great architecture. Unfortunately, all the text in the museum except for the headers was in Chineses, so we just wandered around and tried to absorb the national cultural history. I thoroughly enjoyed my group at the museum today: Ma, Rachel Young, and Tiffany. They’re all of the slightly more … mature mindset, as opposed to the girls I was hanging out with the night before, who talk like they’re fifteen. (They’re also a bunch of Young Lifers, WASPy christian youth group kids. Oye.) The more I hang out with legal, mature adults, the more fun I realize they can be. Hehe.

Chinese-style dioramas are cute, but they have one curious feature: furry monkeys. Instead of making little anatomically correct people for models, they wrap monkey fur into a bod and give them cockroach (?) legs for limbs. It takes a second to notice, but it’s pretty ingenious and they look quick to make.

Internet cafes pool

A few of you might have gotten email from me around 6 yesterday. (That’s 6pm China, 6am Eastern.) After the museum, we were bussed to our next tourist attraction (a theatre), dropped off, and told to get find some food and be back in an hour. Right next door to the theatre was a netcafe: a hole in the ground, leading to a counter with a woman selling ramen, drinks, Ritz crackers, and time on the computers. The computers were down another set of stairs in a long row filled with rows of tables, upon which were the computers. The place was full of Chinese teenagers, twenty-somethings, and some security guards coming home from (or en route to) work. A lot of them were playing video games like World of Warcraft, real-time strategy games (like Risk in a fantasy land, on the computer), or CounterStrike (a first-person shooter). I bought my hour of time, took a card with an login ID and password (which was 123456), and was walked down to an open computer in the back. The girl sitting next to me helped me log in, since I don’t know the Chinese word for “username.”

The computer had a lot of crap installed on it, including the netcafe application, which first made you log in to use anything and then was a portal to other things. I just booted up Internet Explorer and went to check my mail and hit Facebook. It was fine to use, since everything is the same except for the language, but I did have a little trouble (A) using the mouse, because it was worn out and (B) typing, because I accidentally hit the “switch typing method” button a few times by accident and started typing in Chinese. When I did want to type in Chinese, I couldn’t figure out how to use their input method, since I’m used to using my own computer. Ah well, I managed for an hour’s worth of email. (I also managed to come out smelling of smoke, since a few people had lit up cigarettes inside. Oh, Chinar.)

Meet me in the Red … Theatre

Our travels for the day took us to the Red Theatre, which housed “The Legend of Kung Fu,” a spectacular kung fu showcase. (I mean spectacular in that there was fog, bubbles, moving lights, all those trappings. I wandered around the balcony a little and photo’d their front-of-house positions. On the front corners of the balcony were two ladders of lights and next to them, two followspots; and in the air above the balcony, a variety of specials and moving lights. Also, they use an Avey (?)-brand light board from England. Just downstage, hidden in the walls, were more standard fixtures and above-stage were specials and a fair number of moving lights, plus ballet lights on booms in the wings and in a flat that stretched across the stage, mounted about 6′ up.)

The show apparently catered to the Western crowd. They had a red LED marquee mounted on the proscenium, on which they rolled the credits in Chinese and English and then showed translations of the dialogue; also, scene titles in English and Chinese. All of the dialogue was in English except for the songs; they showed the Chinese on the supertitle. All of the music and dialogue was pre-recorded, of course; the whole show was all tracked, the music synthesized (but well-composed and well-synthesized).

The show itself was a narrative, told by an abbot to a new boy who was nervous about leaving his old life and becoming a monk. The abbot told the story of Chun Yi, who came to the monastary under similar circumstances but became a great disciple of kungfu until his ego got the better of him and he fell. Nonetheless, he persevered and won over his ego, going on to become a great warrior monk; eventually, the abbot of the monastary, who had taken Chun Yi under his wing from the start, gave over his staff to Chun Yi and went to light his funeral pyre. Chun Yi, great warrior and enlightened monk, became the new abbot — and this was the narrator’s story.

The story was conveyed through this narrative form, with introductions to each section and interjections from the abbot and the new boy, and by kungfu, ballet, and modern dance. Pretty snazzy! Cool technical details: fog, bubbles, people flying just below the proscenium, and dancers hanging from suspended sashes. The show featured a dancer couple, male and female; the man was very tall, quite slender (so much so that you could see his ribs), long-limbed, and graceful; his partner was equally graceful, feminine, a lovely dancer obviously trained in ballet and modern. Occasionally, they swapped out the male dancer for bulkier guys, when they needed to lift the woman from the sash; and back to the slender guy, when she held him up.

The show was composed of several segregate scenes, each of which was a full story within itself. Although this was an interesting approach to the show, I felt that it lacked forward momentum in between scenes; at several points, I found myself expecting the end and then the show dragged on. (That sensation passed pretty quickly, but it shouldn’t have been there.) It definitely came off as a $40-ticket spectacle, just so.

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-- Andy

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