August 23, 2008

Beijing, Special Guest Post by Dad

Some observations from Beijing from MOH:

Perhaps Stacy will allow me to post some of my own observations, and embellishments to her blog.

China is clearly morphing from one culture to another, for better or for worse. Its obsession with Western ways is desperate. We have seen 100,000+ young Chinese with shirts with English writing, while I doubt we have seen a single shirt with Chinese writing – not the name of a company, sports team, nothing. As for the English writing, anything goes. At least 20% of the writing on shirts makes no sense at all – just English words strung together.

All children learn English and most can, and will, in perfect English, say: “Welcome to Beijing” and a little more. One 10 year old told me he wants to go to university in Washington because “it is the best”.

Another observation of the culture is one’s personal space. While the locals have been extremely polite and helpful and pushing is no more prevalent than in the States, in fact much better than NYC during rush hour, walking “through one” and bumping them seems to be totally normal.

Spitting is apparently way down, by Central Government decree, and we have only seen a couple of spits. In fact we saw an altercation at a subway station when an older man reprimanded a younger man for spitting. We could not understand the dialogue but clearly there was a cultural dispute going on, perhaps exacerbated by the presence of Westerners.

The subway and road system is fantastic. The typical pre-Olympic media panic about traffic was based on ignorance. What they did not appreciate is that all the new roads and the new subway lines only came into service in the last few months. They were judging Olympic traffic being on pre-Olympic infrastructure. They have a ring road system with 5 rings that any U.S. city would covet. Each ring can have as many as 12 lanes – some express, and “local” roads often have 10 lanes. U-turns are not permitted anywhere. The subway and in fact the entire City is perfectly clean and wherever one looks, there are people picking up and sweeping, albeit sometimes with archaic implements. Often they use straw booms and we once saw someone picking up trash with super-sized chopsticks. Not sure how long this will last after the Games are over. [S: There are also bins everywhere that are half trash, half recycling.]

We have used the subway extensively. It is extremely easy and efficient. I doubt that we have waited more than 7 minutes for a train, but more typically less than 5 minutes. Leaving the Stadium after Athletics, compared with Atlanta and Sydney, is remarkably easy and fast. Granted we run along the sides of long lines to expedite this process but even without this, our wait would be no more than 15 minutes, compared with over an hour in Sydney (if we hadn’t figured out how to beat that system).

Taxis are easy to spot but the rules for their pulling over are very stringent. No taxi will pull over into a turn lane to pick one up, so one has to know where to stand to get a taxi. This took a little while to figure out. No taxis speak English, or at least the ones we found. One has to give them Chinese instructions that we get various people to write for us. Even then they seem to struggle – either a function of lack of training or the sheer size of the City, or both. They have real difficulty with our hotel – large new Westin at the corner of two 10-lane roads. It seems remarkable to m that they do not know this intersection, especially after I have them speak to the Westin Hotel staff on my cell. The scale of the City is staggering. As far as I can tell, at least on the more-developed north side of the city (due to Feng Shui, I am told), there is urban development with mid- and high-rise buildings for at least 20 miles from east to west. Perhaps something like everything within Atlanta’s perimeter and perhaps beyond, all developed like Midtown.

As for Games, we have focused primarily on Athletics, with some other events thrown in. Usain Bolt has clearly been the star of this show with an unprecedented 3 golds in record times in the sprints. However, here have been many other memorable moments. We saw the Women’s 3,000m steeplechase (Galkina-Samiltova) and Pole Vault (Isinbaeva) world records shattered, Olympic records in Men’s Pole Vault (Hooker) and several other records broken. World Junior champion for Kenya demolishing the field in the Women’s 800m also sticks out as a glimpse into the future when a few face burst onto the scene. Dibaba’s historic and controlled distance double for Ethiopia, perhaps to be equaled by Bekele this evening stamped Africa’s continued dominance in the distance events, while Jamaica’s victories and the USA’s dismal performances perhaps marked a turning point in the sprints.

The looks on the athletes’ faces after victory, sometime defeat and even just in accomplishing their lesser feats of reaching finals, are memories to treasure. Often it is the camaraderie between athletes, sometime teammates, sometime even competitors, that I enjoy the most. The Eastern Europeans after sweeping hammer throw sticks in my mind – an obvious bond between neighbors who compete (sometime war) furiously against each other. Another act of Olympic sportsmanship was Wallace Spearmon earning bronze and hoisting his friend Bolt above his head after the 200m, only to be disqualified for stepping on a line.

The memories will last a lifetime and now onto London in 2012 and hopefully Chicago in 2016.

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