Ghost of posts to come

Aw, isn't that pretty? I've got that and a few other Olympic events to cover yet.

But it will have to wait, since today I just booked a weekend trip to Yunnan in Southern China. We'll be mostly in Lijiang, with flight transfers and a bit of looking around in the Kunming area. I've been wanting to see some of China aside from Beijing and Shanghai, and this is about as far from that as you can get. We depart tomorrow afternoon. Should be fun. This is not considered the ideal time of year to visit there (rainy season), but sometimes you just have to take the opportunity when it comes and make the best of it. If it rains, it rains, but at least we'll be getting wet somewhere other than Beijing for a few days.


Rain, rain

My Olympic experience number three was Canoe/Kayak Slalom on 14 August. The day started out kind of damp and dreary. After a half day at the office, I met a coworker on her day off at a restaurant near Dongzhimen Station, where we had lunch before heading out to Shunyi. After eating, we hopped on the subway to get to a place where the Shunyi Olympic bus stops.

When we came out of the subway station, it was raining moderately hard, and we walked the couple blocks to the bus stop under an umbrella. Luckily we didn’t have to wait long until two buses arrived. We got on the least crowded one (we still had to stand the entire way). It takes more than an hour to get out to the Shunyi Rowing/Canoeing Centre, and it rained the entire time.

Security was pretty smooth, and they were handing out plastic raincoats just inside the gate. We grabbed a couple and made the long walk to the section where our seats were.
Almost everyone was sensibly crowded into the top half of the stands under the canopy.

The moderate rain continued through the first heat of the day, which was Men’s Two-Man Kayak.
They start in the upper right and go around clockwise. They have to pass through a series of gates, and the ones that are red have to be done backwards.
Luckily for the athletes, the rain had no impact on their performances.
After that heat finished, we had a half hour or so before the next scheduled one. The rain was coming down much harder now, and in a little while, we started seeing flashes in the sky.
After a few more announced delays as the weather continued to refuse improvement, they finally announced the cancellation of the next race. We hurried for the exit along with everyone else.
With the sudden exodus of the entire crowd, the bus system was overwhelmed. It seemed that they made no modification of the normal transportation plan to handle the changed circumstances. Each of the two bus routes had a waiting place, and people loaded onto the buses from the front of the line. The buses arrived at the whitewater area after coming from the rowing area, so they were already pretty full when they arrived. A handful of people would squeeze in, the bus would take off, and we’d wait for the next one, which was also near capacity. They brought up a couple of big empty buses, but they parked at the back and waited for all the full ones to go first. A few people got frustrated and started yelling and trying to cut in line, but police and Olympic volunteers mostly prevented that. After a long time standing in the rain, we finally got seats and headed for town. I’ll just say it was a very inefficient way to handle the situation, but it seems they had their procedure and they stuck to it.

From what I hear, we had it pretty easy compared to some of the Tennis fans, who got herded into a waiting area, unable to get in or out, and without any facilities or free raincoats while they waited to find out if the matches would happen or not.


Get on the fence

I’ve been interested in fencing for a long time. I even took it as an elective PE course in college for a couple of quarters. That, combined with the fact that Olympic Fencing tickets are not terribly expensive, prompted me to buy a couple of them and take a friend. I sent her a couple of Wikipedia links to get her started, since she knew nothing about the sport. With the recent success of the American women in the sport, maybe more people in the US will start paying attention to it.

Taking a lesson from my Beach Volleyball experience, we had a big early dinner at a restaurant near my office, then took the subway to the Olympic Green. Beitucheng is the closest stop of the regular subway system. You have to go outside and through a security checkpoint where they scan your ticket to get onto Line 8, the “Olympic Spur” line.

The Olympic Green station puts you right in the middle of the sponsor pavilions.
The Samsung stage had a series of performers of different kinds.
Incidentally, the CNPC (China National Petroleum Company) building is an example of Green Architecture.
Really Green Architecture.

The Spectator Guide said that due to the fencers’ heavy padding, the Fencing Hall is kept at a very cool temperature, so I decided that I’d like to swing by an Olympic gear store and buy a jacket. As it turned out, the nearest place to buy stuff was about a half mile away, past the China Mobile and Volkswagen buildings.
You can kind of see it in that picture. It’s the red spot past the second traffic light. Not the first red spot, the second one.

We had to wait in line to enter the Olympic Super Store, which is really big.
And it turned out they only had one style of jacket and were completely out of it, so the long walk was for nothing. At least we got to see a little of the lay of the land. Every once in a while we saw a little electric shuttle go by, but there were no signs about them and we couldn’t tell if they were for public use or just staff and VIPs. We hiked all the way back to the Fencing Hall, where we had already missed a couple of matches.

The seats we had were very nearly the worst possible seats in the place, close to the side wall where you can’t even see the video screen, and with a really steep angle to view the strip.
But as it was a typical Beijing “sold out” event, we simply sat in some better seats in our section.

The first one we saw was Women’s Épée Semifinal, with Li Na of China against Britta Heidemann of Germany.
Heidemann (far side) won 15-13. During the break we moved to somewhat better seats.

Next up was the other Women’s Épée Semifinal, Hungary’s Ildiko Mincza-Nebald taking on Roumanian Ana Maria Branza.
Like I said, better seats. Branza (near side) got the win 15-14.

Then it was time for the Men’s Foil Bronze Medal match, with Zhu Jun of China and Salvatore Sanzo from Italy, which we saw from seats that were slightly better still. I could swear I took some pictures of this bout, but they don’t seem to be on the memory card. Zhu had a tough time of it, trailing for much of the bout, catching up for a while, and then losing 14-15. Italy takes the Bronze.

The Men’s Foil Gold Medal match was next. The German Benjamin Philip Kleibrink vs. Ota Yuki of Japan.
Ota (near side) never had a chance, and while I found Kleibrink’s style abrasive, I must admit he was the better swordsman. He loves to get in tight spots and then whip the foil behind his back so it bends and gets the touch on some unexpected part of the opponent.
The final matches were the Women’s Épée medal bouts. For the Bronze, Li Na got off to a good start against Ildiko Mincza-Nebold, holding the lead at the ends of the first two rounds, but didn’t get a single touch in the third round to the Hungarian’s six.

A heart-breaking loss for the home team.

The women’s championship bout, of course, pitted Britta Heidemann (far side) and Ana Maria Branza against each other.
This one was a one-sided rout leading to another German Gold.

Having never seen one in person, we hung round for the medal ceremonies, which happened after some entertainment featuring Chinese sword dancers.

The ceremony was kinda cool.
Then we got some acrobatic fuwa while they prepared for the women’s ceremony.
I think Jingjing was trying a break dancing move and couldn’t get up.
By that time it was 10:30, and out on the Olympic Green, the fancy new buildings were all lit up.
Pretty nifty, huh?

And, like my previous Olympic experience, this one ends with a rant. Just as at Chaoyang Park for Beach Volleyball, the Olympic Green is much easier to get into than out of. By the time we finished taking pictures and gawking at things, it was after 11, and the subway was closed. There was no sign to tell you that, but the escalator going down was turned off and the lights were out. We walked to the bus stop, but all the signs said the lines stopped running at 11. So we, along with a hundred other people, set out to find taxis in a part of town where there are very few to be found. We had to walk quite a way and wait a long time before we found one. I’ve checked the schedule, and there are a lot of events that don’t finish until after 11, so why the subway stops running then is beyond me. And if they’re going to do asinine things like that, they should at least put up signs informing you of it, and offering alternatives. But propaganda, not information, is what these Olympics are about.

I suppose the food situation is a little better at Olympic Green than it was at Chaoyang Park, as there are a couple of giant McDonalds locations on site, so as long as you like that or microwave popcorn, you could practically live there.

Of course, the merchandise situation is difficult, with tiny booths inside the venue and one mega store a long distance from anything else. It’s like they really don’t want you to spend your money.

Incidentally, we had heard about the Olympic Green Day Pass, which will allow people without event tickets to at least come and see the cool buildings. However, the volunteer we asked about it could only suggest that they were available at a booth inside the grounds, which doesn’t seem very practical. How very typical that they would offer something like that but provide no information about where or how to get it.

Okay, that’s my rant for Olympic Day 2. Wait till you hear the next one. Yes, I’m sorry to say, there is a next one coming.


Life’s a...well, you know

Last night I got to attend my first Olympic competition session. RR had two Beach Volleyball tickets, and invited me along. Beach Volleyball – why not?

We rode our bikes to Chaoyang Park, which took maybe a half hour. When we saw the huge mess of taxis outside the park entrance we were glad we chose to pedal there.

As you can see, they’ve tarted up the entrance to Chaoyang Park.
Some of the guys hanging around there offered to either buy our extra tickets or sell us some. You go through a security check here, though they do not check your ticket at this point.
Inside they’ve got an amusement and concession area set up with a giant screen showing various Olympic events. Some soft drink company sponsors this, but I don’t remember which one. For ¥10 you can ride the shuttle to the competition area, which is a good idea, since it’s a long distance from the south gate. One American woman was complaining loudly about having to pay “ten bucks” to get a ride, apparently forgetting that it’s the equivalent of $1.50. She was welcome to walk – we took the shuttle.

Once you get off the shuttle you get to the real security check:
Once again you go through a metal detector, and when it screeches they give you a quick pass around with a wand – yes it was the belt buckle. They have you open your bag and confiscate any food, beverage or weapons.

It’s still a bit of a walk further to the actual venue. There are a lot of little concession stands.
They have Coke, Sprite, bottled water, orange drink and bottled sweet tea; for beer you can get Budweiser, Tsingtao, or Yanjing; food is limited to popcorn and various packaged products like pastries and sausages. “Sandwich/hot dog/pizza” was listed on the menus, but all the stands had them marked NOT AVAILABLE. We grabbed a couple large Tsingtaos and went in.

Inside, the first match was already underway.
USA vs. Germany women. Note that the event was completely sold out. That’s what the press release said, so it has to be true.

Here is Team USA serving:
There were a couple of sections filled with young people in identical shirts.
I’m guessing they might have been the recipients of the ¥5 student tickets.

One of the fun things about Beach Volleyball is the DJ. It’s a bit like the way they play little bits of music during the lulls in action at an American baseball game.

Another fun thing about Beach Volleyball is the dance squad, the Beach Girls. They come out and do routines during timeouts and such, like when the sand gets raked.
This is the Olympics, remember? Serious athletic competition and all. I think TV ratings worldwide would be higher if other sports besides Beach Volleyball had Beach Girls. Athletics (track and field) could especially benefit from the extra action, with all the gaps between events.

Here’s Germany serving to the USA.
Note how the player not serving is using hand signals to suggest a strategy to the server.

The USA won the match, which made this group happy.
As the Beach Girls came out for another routine, joined by a giant Nini...
...some fans started coming in for the next match.
Second on the bill was Australia vs. Georgia.
Georgia has just scored a point here. Australia had to work for it, but eventually pulled out the win.

In between that match and the next, the Beach Girls and Nini were joined by Huanhuan and Yingying while the Brazilian and Russian teams tried to warm up.
The two MC’s (one Chinese, one foreign) came out with the Girls to explain some of the crowd participation elements of Beach Volleyball.
Here... ...you can see that the Brazilian penchant for athletes going by single names is not limited to football.

While they looked a little shaky at first, Brazil managed to get the win.
All in all, it was a fun evening.
As the Girls went through another routine...
...RR and I headed for the exit. Which turned out to be much more difficult than it might seem.
There were lots of signs telling you how to get in, but nothing telling you how to get back to the park’s south gate. We picked a direction, and found ourselves going out the east gate, unable to get back in, so we had to walk around a large part of the park’s perimeter. It’s a really huge park, so it took us a long time to get back to where we parked the bikes.
I remember a few months ago, when it was announced that restaurants inside venue perimeters would be closed during the Games, that some bloggers commented that this was a scheme to funnel more money to the official concessionaires. I think I can safely state that other reasons were behind that (security, of course), because when it comes to food inside Olympic venues, it sucks big time. The only choices are small prepackaged snacks of the kind you can buy at 7-11, and none of them are filling or particularly appetizing. It’s kind of pathetic that one of the world’s great events can’t even bring itself up to the level of an ordinary rock music festival in this respect. McDonald’s, one of the major international Olympic sponsors, had no presence at all, and while Coke signs were everywhere, it was all just decoration. Moral of the story: Make sure you eat before you go to your event.

Okay, enough ranting.

Eventually I’ll get around to writing about the Opening Ceremonies. No, I didn’t see them in person, but it was an interesting experience nonetheless.


Beijing rock scrapbook, volume 2

2008.08.01 MAO LiveHouse

You Mei You (有没有)

Candy Monster

Girl Kill Girl (女杀女)