Not going out without a bang, I made it more Olympic event before the disappointing song and dance of the closing ceremonies. Men's mountain biking on Saturday morning was actually more like afternoon so I didn't have to get up that early. I headed out there after some noodles with John Jennison, my kind host, and his friend who was sad to leave his tickets to me so he could catch some track and field in the Bird's Nest that evening. During my 50 minute train ride out to the Western outskirts of town, I rocked out to a remixed War of the Worlds (summer mix series) and rolled up half an hour late but ready to watch some dirt get trampled by high speed bikers. I trekked through the park, pretty full of people and a few cheerleaders doing strange dances near the drink stalls, and finally found the steep section I had been encouraged to view from. I approached two guys wearing USA hats and slowly realized that they were mechanics for the US Olympic team. I lot of gear talk was swapped, and I listened in and picked out half the words, cheering for whoever rode by as they barrelled down a steep section halfway through the course on their fourth of seven laps. After following this more knowledgeable crew to a get a few more perspectives on the race, we discussed the performance of Adam, USA's no. 1 who didn't have a great race. Meanwhile I slowly realized that Mary, my other new friend, had actually placed 7th that morning in the women's race, and Mike, with the USA hat, was on the Olympic Team as an alternate - the couple was headed to Sydney in three days for another race and to check the area before the World Championship was held in Australia in 2009. They let me follow them around after the race ended, discussion which line was the best and actually sounding impressed with China's ability to throw together a startling challenging course in the middle of a park, with the help of some concrete for the looser areas and some logs to spice up the easier turns. I eventually turned down championship baseball tickets (Cuba v. N Korea) to go have a backstage beer with my new friends, eventually realizing that even though baseball bores me I should try to go - alas, the ticket was gone by then, and I strolled on to the unenterable Tiananmen Square, having exhausted my social skills and met some cool people as a consequence - I walked away from the backroom of the bike shop where the US team and friends were hanging out with my second Corona quenching my thirst.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
That night, I went out to the bar district, hoping to take advantage of the outgoing mood as the Olympics came to a close to meet a few different nationalities. I met some nice people from Greece, a few disappointingly lame Americans, one Lithuanian pentathlete, a guy on the Italian water polo team I had watched a few days earlier, and... I was waiting on some new German friends when I sat down to take a break at a french fry joint. The guys sitting there looked European so I struck up a conversation and lo and behold, I had found three Basques in the middle of Beijing. We immediately started yelling in Basque (they were even from Gipuzkoa, the same province where I had lived and started this journey) and the came with us to another bar. I was so psyched to have managed to find someone speaking every language I knew in the city that I ended up staying out til sunrise, standing on a rooftop bar as the sun started to light the cloudy sky.
Sunday, John invited me out to his friend's place to watch the closing ceremonies, have some food and meet a few kind foreigners - Robbie, from Dallas, ended up knowing some people in India I'm looking forward to contacting when I get there, and hosted a fine collection of interesting people to share the closing ceremonies with - plenty of insight into who was who and what meant what from ex-pats living in China. Monday, I said goodbye to the splendid new Beijing and to my wonderful host, who treated me to some Starbucks by his office on my last morning.
I loaded up my new Chinese memory card with a few fine tunes from John's friend Trip, a Texan, meaning I would later rock out to some Pat Green, ran a few errands, and finally invested in second pair of pants. I made it to the train station just in time to purchase two Snickers bars, three Bananas, and 3 L of water for my 44 hour trip. I walked along counting train cars as directed, to the soft seater car - I didn't see a single foreigner, but was very ready to fall asleep to the sounds of Johnny Cash, who I had recently loaded onto my phone. "I'm gonna break my rusty cage and run..."