Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Splendid Olympic Games; Fascinating New Beijing

I made it China! They somehow quickly forgave me for arriving in Mongolia with a car and leaving without one - "Your car really broke down?" and a "Yes, it really did" later I was free of that snag - and we stepped off the train in a foreign land, I somehow raised in status immediately by speaking some of the local tongue and led our group of Beijing seeking foreigners around from train station to bus station. Our ride was decently comfortable - bunk beds!; a little surreal - we drove by a dinosaur sculptures in the middle of nowhere?; and slow - five to eight police checkpoints that each checked our passports and two of which had to go through our bags.

I stumbled around Beijing Saturday morning at 4:30 am, eventually calling my new friend John Jennison to help me find his apartment, which I was unlikely to be but in fact located around the corner from when I called. He rolled off to some Olympic tennis and some wrestling match, meanwhile I found some markets (wool sweater and new shades!), a replacement pocket dictionary, and a modern movie theater under a bar district I'd never seen - Beijing has changed. The city surprised me numerous times, differring immenseley from what I came to know just three years ago (a lifetime for this city) but proving very awe-inspiring with its new architecture and attitude. The streets are lined with volunteers (something like 100,000), including "Beijing Old Women Volunteers", every beggar and street pedlar has either been arrested or crammed into some tiny neighborhood I have yet to find, and foreigners pop up like corn kernels at the nearest cinema.

After using my passport to get internet access (freedom of information?), I contacted a few friends and somehow ended up getting into a beach volleyball match (China rocks US), diving (China takes #1 and #2), soccer (Argentina beats Brazil?), and just this morning water polo (Canada smokes China - finally) all in different venues.
The volleyball court was very pretty, though half the crowd left after China won, not sticking around to see Brazil versus Finland. The bikini toting cheerleaders did some funny dances, especially to the 90's mix of pop rock songs (Reel Big Fish?), inviting us to bring back the monkey and a few other simpler dances - China didn't allow cheerleaders til 8 years ago, and making up half of every cheerleading squad, they slow the pace down a bit. Diving was in the water cube, up in the roped off Olympic Green, where I got to see the Bird's Nest by moonlight and their garden, tower, pond, and a million things that I could not have imagined when I visited the site three years ago. My good friend Rob Struck helped me into both events, connected through Coca-Cola who even let him go on the clock to diving.
The soccer game was in the Worker's Stadium, a fun venue that seemed overly infatuated with the wave, and hosted some of the world's best soccer players between the two South American teams we watched with jaws dropped. Had a good night celebrating the game afterwards up around the stadium, meeting someone from an Olympic event and at least five different countries in every bar. Today's water polo was amazing - never seen that before - and after China was done losing, Italy and Australia took the stage only to give us an amazing show that made it past overtime to a shoot out, speakers blasting the Jaws theme between breaks.
Once you've got that ticket, doors open left and right, and you even get free subway passes all day just by flashing your that Olympic VIP pass at the stations. I've heard many stories about getting into stuff with enough sweet talking, but this guy got turned away at Club Bud, which was rumored to be housing Phelps after he broke the gold record - he wasn't there. I'm planning some more adventures still to come, sticking around til Monday to catch some night life and closing ceremonies with the crowds.

1 comment:

kenners said...

Jono, you're my hero.

Everytime I have to recall your startling presence, I think of Bear Grylls, from Man vs Wild.

Stay alive, and I'll see you stateside.