I woke up this morning to an all-call from Goody: “If you want Olympic tickets, go downstairs!” Tiffany had just gotten a call with more tickets to offer us, so we all assembled like good little children in the lobby to sign up for the offerings. It was reasonably well-organized chaos: first she read off all the events available, times, and prices; then we raised hands to sign up for them. If too many people were interestesd, we drew names from a hat, which worked out reasonably fairly. It was still a touch silly to have thirty-some students crowded about two tiny people taking names in the middle of the hotel lobby. Whatevs…
Taste of America
Today was a work day, since we had no class, no events, and no tourism until the opening ceremonies. So, to Starbucks it is! I sought free wireless, but the non-coffee drinks there are okay. Mostly, we were just looking for a place to work and drink coffee; unfortunately, at American prices. Dinner and our opening ceremonies party was at Steak and Eggs, the American diner, and there was a Starbucks around the corner, so we went to that.
Before Starbucks, lunch was in order. We would’ve hit up the 7-11 around the other corner for subs or burritos, like hoofing it college-style, but they were closed — probably for the ceremonies. Next door was a T. G. I. Fridays, so some of our party branched off and ate there. Britt and Chris and I walked another block or two to find McDonald’s. I was curious to see how Chinese McDonald’s stacked up compared to American.
The entrance to the McDonald’s was at street level, but you immediately walked downstairs one level into the dining area. We were greeted by a uniformed girl who smiled and handed us a map of Beijing with all the McDonald’s locations marked with a golden arches icon. After that, we were guided into a line at the counter for a server that spoke English — they wore little tags that said “English” to mark them. In addition to the standard menu above the counter, we were handed a laminated menu to order from; one side was in Chinese, the other the same thing in English. I asked for a #3 (?) combo, the spicy chicken filet sandwich with fries and a Fanta (焚达, fenda). It was pretty much the same thing I’d get in America
The seating was pretty typical, plastic and metal, benches or chairs set at small tables throughout the dining area. The walls were covered in a college of Americana: Elvis, Marilyn Munroe, other famous American figures strewn about the walls. It was a little intimidating, actually. They also had a big-screen TV tuned to the CCTV (China Cable TV) news, which was showing traffic coverage or something; barely anyone on the highway.
Of course, Micky D’s (aka McDonald’s, if you’re not hip with the hep) had the requisite token, Ronald McDonald himself! This was no plastic statue, mind you: it was Chinese Ronald himself, in the flesh (also, heavy makeup and a silly outfit). Chris was practically having a shitfit, he was so excited to see Ronald. The clown made the rounds and came over to say hi to us, take photos (on their camera, and I used mine), and hand us a little pack of Ronald trading cards with Olympic stuff on the back face. He spoke very good English to Chris and Brit, since they were obviously American, but he spoke Chinese to me, since I’m obviously from east Asia. (Maybe I initiated in Chinese; I didn’t notice. In retrospect, it was probably because I said “谢谢 xiexie” instead of “thank you” when he handed me the cards.)
The food tasted pretty much the same as American, though there was something interesting in chicken. It may just have been the spices, but it didn’t taste exactly like at home. Then again, I haven’t eaten at McDonald’s at home in about six years — just Wendy’s — so I’m not the best judge. Good fries, though. Oh, and the best part of eating American fast food? I got a little stomach-ache from all the grease.
That foray past, we went back to Starbucks and hung out there to enjoy the wireless and upload the past two weeks’ worth of photos, since I hadn’t had the opportunity beforehand at the hotel. It was a Good Time. We stayed there and drank coffee (and green tea lattes, which were interesting but OK, and mango coolattas (?) which were really just smoothies). The crowd was pretty international, with a few Chinese people, but the majority being Delaware students.
Dinner was scheduled to start around 5-5:30pm, so I called Master Sun at five to see if they were over at the restaurant yet. He was rather surprised to get a call from one of his students; I guess he forgot (A) he gave me his number last week when we went out to the bars and (B) that I bought a China Mobile SIM card the first day. Ah, well, he has a lot on his mind, making sure everything’s taken care of. The group was indeed there, so we packed up and ditched Starbucks to walk around the corner to dinner.
We’d scheduled wtih Paul, the owner of Steak and Eggs, to eat dinner at his place if we could watch the opening ceremonies to the Games on his big-screen TV in English. He has a satellite feed, so we watched a Filipino broadcast. This had one drawback: commercials. The Chinese TV stations were forbidden from interrupting the broadcast with anything under fear of heavy fines, but the Filipino station that picked up was apparently under no such obligation. So, during the theatrical portion of the ceremonies, we were blessed with English-speaking announcers describing the scenes and cursed by commercial overlays and the occasional commercial break. Thankfully, they waited until the athletes’ procession to show most of the commercial breaks. (That’s when I always get bored, so I logged on to the restaurant’s wireless and did some work, chatted with Nicki.)
I’m sure you all saw the ceremonies, wherever or whenever you were. (I understand that the American stations time-shifted them so you could watch at 8pm local time.) I actually wasted 15元 to call home and see if my parents were watching it live on the telly, but to no avail — nobody picked up and the restaurant was too noisy for them to understand my voicemail. Ah well. We did have in the restaurant with us some other Americans, volunteers from Missouri and Ohio. They were cool kids; some of them got to see the rehearsal with the green men the other day at another venue.
The spectacle and variety of the show impressed me plenty, especially when I realized that they were flying massive set pieces (i.e. the scroll painting and the Rings) in an open stadium. (Really, that’s not that hard — it just meant the rigging was a little more interesting — but it was still pretty sweet.) Great design, amazingly well-rehearsed, SO MANY PEOPLE. I was a big fan of dancer-painters, the huge corps of drummers, and the men in boxes forming characters and designs. (Having also seen replays of the ceremonies on the subway and on TV, I realize that there were some other awesome bits we missed because of the damn commercial breaks. I’m hoping I can watch videos on YouTube once I’m back in the U.S. or maybe a copy of the Chinese broadcast in a torrent.) I’m also a big fan of the whole swirly cloud design motif characterizing Beijing 2008, so the Torch made me happy. Also, China has a bit more cultural history recorded to offer than most other modern civilizations, so the whole history review was groovy.
The order of the countries in the athletes’ procession confused us for about ten minutes, though. Since we’re accustomed to seeing the countries appear in order by the English alphabet, we didn’t understand why England came after Germany. So, obviously not alphabetical by English name. Maybe alphabetical by Chinese name? Nope, Meiguo came before Deguo. Finally, those of us who take Chinese language remembered that the Chinese dictionary is ordered by radical, which are ordered by number of strokes. Much more sensical! (Quickie review of Chinese writing system: ideograms, the Chinese written characters, are formed out of radicals, which are smaller, simpler characters. There are about 200 basic radicals upon which are built most of the 2-3000 characters needed for standard literacy. Each character, as it is drawn rather than spelled out by letter, can then be broken down by brush strokes, since there is an established system of brush strokes and the order in which to draw them. Thus, if you’re familiar with how to write a character — the strokes and their order — you can find a radical in the dictionary index and then find the full character by looking through that radical’s section. Thus is the Chinese dictionary organized, using this drawn alphabetical ordering rather than a letter-based one.)
After the broadcast was over, we went out to the street hoping to see some of the fireworks at Tian’anmen Square. (We were on a straight shot down the road from it, about 5 kilometers.) No luck, though. Also, the Americans were irritating me because they’re loud and abrasive and, to put it frankly, rather bitchy at times about the differences between China and America, so I walked around the corner to check out the locale. This block of town was a rather international area, featuring not just American food, Istanbul and Italian, but also Chino-Russian. I imagine that’s a holdover from the USSR days, but I wouldn’t really know. I was still surprised, even after seeing signs in Russian for stores, to hear several racially Chinese people speaking Russian on the street.
That was the end of our day, though. We ditched the very end of the ceremonies, because they were boring and just a big chorus singing. I think some people went out to the bars, but I just went to bed. Good Times, Good Times.