Theater is more important than real life

It occurs to me that the title of my last post ("The most boring blog post in history") was a bit presumptuous. Who am I to think that out of the millions of blog posts that have been written since the beginning of blog history a few years ago, mine could possibly approach being the most boring? I’m sure there are thousands of posts out there in the blogosphere much more boring than that. I will try to curb my ego a bit more in the future and not make such extravagant claims.

I have very little to report today. In fact, I spent all of the day here in my apartment, most of it imitating a vegetable in front of the TV. My internet was inaccessible most of the day, apparently because the landlord forgot to pay the bill. Internet and land line phone are included in my rent, and she paid the first month when I moved in, but when that was up, suddenly I got “invalid user name” and booted out. Finally got it back this evening. In other landlord-related news, it looks like I just have to deal with this desk – no improvement is forthcoming. But she did bring by a DVD player this afternoon. I thanked her and told her I’d set it up myself. It’s a DVD player – how hard can it be? I’ve set up DVD players before.
Of course, none of the ones I set up had owner’s manuals, remote control units, and plugs in a foreign language. It took me a while, but I did eventually get it working. So now I’ve watched a few episodes from the Babylon 5 season 1 box set I bought for a price I’d sooner not reveal. There was a big sign in the store saying all the merchandise was legit, and the package certainly looks legit, but it was significantly cheaper than it would be in the US. It did occur to me that if they priced it comparable to the US price, no one could afford it here, so if they want to sell any, it has to be cheaper. Yeah, that must be it.

One of the things I watched before the DVD player showed up was the opening ceremonies for the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar. I don’t know how much airtime (if any) this event has been getting in the rest of the world, but it seems to be a pretty big deal here in China. This country is expected to dominate the medal tally. I was flipping through channel after channel of typical Chinese TV, which consists in large part of historical dramas, variety shows, and advertisements, and came across the Doha thing. Bear with me as I describe it for a bit, since it makes me think about the 2008 Olympics that I’m so much involved in. I’ll start off by saying that whoever is in charge of planning the Beijing opening ceremonies must be shaking in their boots right about now, after seeing the massive spectacle presented in Qatar.

In terms of sheer showmanship, the ceremony was simply amazing, with computer graphics projected on the inside of the stadium roof, lasers, moving stages, huge numbers of performers, flying metal birds, fireworks, and so on. I may be a cynical American, but I found the whole thing unexpectedly moving, perhaps because of my present situation. I know that idealistic proclamations of international cooperation like the ones in events like this have very little impact on the real world. Lebanese athletes were marching in a parade of nations as their countrymen and women back home were filling the streets to support the overthrow of their government, and North and South Korean athletes marched together in spite of tensions be (though they are apparently competing separately). Still, it’s nice to know that someone cares enough to try to say we can all get along, even if back home the reality is something else entirely. Maybe the kids who watch and take part will have it in the back of their heads that the world really can be a better place.
Far from being the rigid Muslim hardliners we hear so much about, the organizers made a special effort to include many elements from cultures all over Asia, so the main showpiece involved the journey of a Sinbad-like character who sails east from the Arab world and encounters Hindus, Buddhists, and so on in his travels, and they all come together in a vast panoply of human diversity. In case you can’t make it out, that’s thousands of people with torches standing to spell out PEACE BE UPON YOU.
One of the recurring symbols was the astrolabe, a device used by sailors to navigate the seas in the days before GPS satellites.
And here’s the “seeker” in his boat, which moved smoothly across the floor of the stadium.
He is attacked by some sort of sea god, projected on the roof of the stadium.
He encounters various cultures in Asia as he travels.
Eventually the athletes paraded in. Here are some of India’s female competitors. Incidentally, I noticed that all the nations (at least the ones appearing in the edited broadcast I saw) except Afghanistan had women participating. Only men marched for Afghanistan.
There were some speeches and musical performances from Hong Kong superstar Jackie Cheung and Bollywood star Sunidhi Chauhan, then the torch was brought in. Several athletes carried it in turns, and then a platform rose from the floor of the stadium carrying a horse and rider.
Sheikh Al-Thani took the torch up a long ramp to light the giant astrolabe. Due to the rainy weather, the ramp was slippery, and I saw the horse struggle, but they made it to the top, above all the spectators in the stadium.
Then the fireworks went off.

How’s that for a neat way of filling a post for a day where I did nothing but sit on my butt and watch TV? And I didn’t even have to take my own pictures!

Anyway, that was quite a spectacle, and Beijing will be hard pressed to top it. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but I kind of hope I’ll get to attend the opening ceremonies here in 2008, just to see what happens.

In case any readers were in suspense how the saga of the gas stove would end, a maintenance man came up yesterday morning, tried the stove (it puffed out for him like it had for me), and then took a panel off the front of the gas meter. He pointed at the four AA batteries inside, and the meaning was clear. I walked across the street to 7-11 and bought some batteries, popped them in, and now the stove works.

And yesterday’s chapter in the exploration of Chinese restaurants actually hits kind of a sour note. JW, TG, and I went out from the office for lunch, and it was cold and windy, so we went into a close restaurant we hadn’t been to before. We ordered by the pictures on the menu as usual, but this time ended up with several things we didn’t care for much. The small steamed shrimp were small, all right, and had been cooked whole, shells, heads, legs, tails and all. They were too small to peel, so we had to just eat them shells and all. Crunchy, and not bad tasting, but a little like eating crickets or something. We finished about half the plate. There was a dish with pork and vegetables that was fine, and some little pastries with pureed radish in them that were quite good, but the rice dish we ordered turned out to be a dessert with a strange flavor. When we said we wanted tea, the waitress showed TG a big menu of teas, and he picked one, not understanding that the price given (around $6 US) was per person, not per pot. It was very good tea, but like the meal on a whole, way too expensive – the bill came to almost $40 for three of us, which is significantly higher than we normally pay.

One more thing before I sign off for tonight. Our temperatures have been getting below freezing overnight for a while now, but I have not once seen any frost on the ground. It just goes to show how low the humidity is here. I’m thinking it must be a side effect of that, but a lot of the leaves of trees, even ones I’m familiar with like maples, haven’t turned fall colors. They’re still green when they drop off. Very different from the situation in the northwest corner of North America, which has been making the news even here for it’s nasty weather.

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