August 21, 2008 (b)

Beijing, Day 5

Interesting facts:
-Some people here wear red armbands with yellow writing. Some of them say “China Security”. I’ve seen people in the same uniform with and without them. I have no idea what they are.
-We learned that on signs “dong” means east and “lu” means street. We figured this out while reconciling our maps. We currently have to carry around four different maps, each with different relevant information.

At the last minute, we got tickets to the gymnastics gala and had to reschedule the Great Wall. Instead of waking up early, we got up late and had massages. However, when Dad booked two massages, apparently the hotel was still under the impression that we are a married couple and booked us a romantic couple’s massage. We assured them that we are not, but we still had just the one room. Also, they did some pretty weird things. First, they gave us disposable underwear (I decided to wear my own instead). Then they had little foot-baths. Then they made us breathe into a woven box – I expected there to be some sort of aromatic thing in the box, but no. Empty. Then they took the boxes outside and “emptied” them. Before Dad’s massage began,  his masseur banged little chimes. I didn’t get any chimes, but I did get a fishbowl below my face. It was rather entertaining to watch the fish during the massage.

From there we went straight to Olympic Green for the gala. It was really cool – we would never have seen rhythmic gymnastics at all, and it was beautiful and very coordinated if not completely useless. (There was one duet accompanied by a fiberglass cello and a third dancer inside a clam shell waving her arms. I’m pretty sure they had her locked in there for a good 30 minutes.) All the gold-medal gymnasts performed for about 20 seconds on their respective apparati, and we even got to see trampolining and synchronized trampolining (they bounce about 20 feet in the air). Also, we sat next to Shawn Johnson’s parents and agent.

We had to leave early because the gala overlapped with synchronized swimming. The Water Cube is HUGE. It took us maybe eight minutes to walk the length of it. Inside it’s very smooth and white, and inside the pool area you can see the inside wall with the distinctive cell shape. Our seats were all the way in the back. Not just far back, but actually in the very last row before the wall met the ceiling. (I came in after Dad and everyone was standing because Wenwen and Tingting were performing. The attendant asked me to take my seat and I looked at her and asked, “How exactly do you expect me to get there?” She let me stay on the step until they were done.) Synchronized swimming really is amazing – there’s so much underwater coordination, but they only show a few seconds of it on the underwatercam. And how they make patterns with their legs on the surface?? It was exciting when the Russians (Anastasia and Anastasia) scored all 10s, except we were sitting in the Chinese section and they were pretty unhappy.

Since we had a few hours between swimming and athletics, we decided to leave the green and find a restaurant. We had picked up an Athlete’s Family Guide at USA House that recommended an Uighur restaurant just outside the east entrance. We headed there, asked directions, found it perfectly – and it was closed. Not just for the day, but indefinitely. So we walked all the way to the ridiculously far crosswalk and back down the other side of the street aiming for a Sichuan place on the other side – also closed. We ended up at somewhere that was sort of pan-Chinese cusine. I had Taiwanese chicken that was sort of like little chicken wings and also fried potato crisps with hot peppers.

Most of the athletics Wednesday evening were heats. There was also the men’s pole vault qualification, where the starting height was 10 cm higher than the women’s world record height. And then there was the 200m. Won by Bolt with a giant margin of victory, followed by his laying on the track, kissing the track, taking off his golden shoes, wearing the flag like a scarf, saying into the camera “I’m the one!” and then the pre-recorded Chinese women singing happy birthday, since he turned 22 on Thursday. Oh yeah, he broke the world record by about two seconds.



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