Monday, August 25, 2008
In this blog's recent poll asking which country would win the most medals at the 2008 Olympic Games, voters were split, 50-50, between China and the USA. As it turned out, it was a split decision . . . sort of. The USA won the overall tally with 110 medals (its highest number ever, not counting the boycotted 1984 Los Angeles Games) to China's 100, but the host country handily beat the USA in gold medals, 51 to 38. In terms of the tally board, the Beijing Games set the stage for the next edition four years hence in London, which looks to be a showdown between the USA and China. My view is that the USA clearly has the tougher task, because it will be a lot easier for China to pick up another dozen or so medals across the 26 sports scheduled for London than it will be for the USA to mine a similar number of gold medals. Let the preparations begin!
Monday, August 18, 2008
What can I say? To repeat some of the adjectives overheard from the students to describe this trip, it was at once "awesome," "unbelieveable," "wicked fun," "unforgettable," "amazing," "freaking incredible," and the like. Many of them asked if they could stay a few days longer, and at least some said they definitely will visit China again sometime. I am proud of the 13 students from Western New England College who signed up to join me and Dr. Dan Covell on this "expedition" to China and the Olympic Games. I was impressed by their open mindedness and willingness to venture out of their comfort zone and try new things, whether navigating the subway system and getting around via taxi without speaking a lick of Mandarin (except for AJ), or trying different foods, such as scorpian, sea horse, and assorted other exotic delights. Despite the long days, occasional foul weather, and extensive walking/running/climbing/standing that tested our physical stamina -- and various ailments that afflicted nearly every one of us -- the students were exemplary troupers without exception! This being the "test case" of the Seminar Abroad program of the Center for International Sport Business, I think we passed with flying colors!
We arrived at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., this evening after our 13+ hour non-stop flight from Beijing and happily, everyone was present and accounted for! While everyone was thoroughly exhausted after our eight-day, non-stop, sleep-deprived adventure -- Seminar Abroad '08: Beijing Olympics -- I think the students' facial expressions sum up their feelings of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Even Golden Bear is smiling!
Dr. Dan Covell and I pose with Grace Liang, our very friendly and exceptionally capable tour guide, without whom we would not have had the extraordinary experience that we enjoyed in China. Without question, Grace contributed mightily to the students' overwhelmingly positive experience.
Grace Liang, our tour guide extraordinaire, poses with Golden Bear and the rest of our crew prior to our departure at Beijing Capital Airport. In front: Marti, Jenn, and Whitney; and at back: AJ, Shaq, Bre, Mike, Jake, Ashley, Rob, Lauren, Amanda, and Jess.
On our last day in Beijing, Sunday, August 17, several students decided to do some last-minute shopping at the Pearl Market right after our final morning seminar (I gave them a break today and started a half hour later at 7:30 a.m.!). Apparently, Jess, Jake, Jenn, Amanda, Bre, Lauren, Ashley, Shaq, and Mike still had Chinese money to "get rid of" before departing for the airport at 2 p.m.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
This morning at 5 a.m., Jake Roy and I jogged over to Tiananmen Square -- about 10 minutes from our hotel -- to watch the daily flag-raising ceremony at sunrise, which today occurred around 5:23 a.m.. We observed the one-minute spectacle that attracts literally thousands of people (mostly Chinese) everyday to the square. In the background is the Great Hall of the People.
To give you an idea of the bustling activity beginning around 4 a.m. near Tiananmen Square, here's a photo of a section near the famous plaza of people immediately after the flag-raising ceremony concluded . . . at around 5:25 a.m.!
This afternoon, we visited the Temple of Heaven, another popular tourist attraction in Beijing. Larger in area than the Forbidden City but smaller than the Summer Palace, the temple was built in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty to offer sacrifice to Heaven. Here we are -- attracting attention to our banner -- in front of the iconic structure.
Today was another glorious clear-blue sky day in Beijing (two in a row!), and this morning, we visited the Summer Palace, an historic park about 9 miles from the city center. The Palace proper occupies 764 acres (an area four times the size of the Forbidden City), three fourths of which is a lake. Begun in the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234), it was continuously improved, and now consists of ancient structures, tree-lined walkways, dragon boats, and beautiful vistas from almost any location. Here, Lauren, Jess, Whitney, Jenn, and Ashley take in the view of the lake.
Today, after sightseeing tours of the Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven, we took a two-hour break to do some shopping at Beijing's famous Silk Market. Here, Jess and Lauren check out the merchandise. The hallmark of this six-story, department store-sized bazaar is that you haggle over price . . . and from all appearances, our students did quite well!
Friday, August 15, 2008
In addition to serving as an ID card to remind us who we are (in case we lapse into amnesia), our "badges" attract the attention of curious onlookers, who attempt to see what organization we are with. The lanyard is also a good place to display our lapel pins, which invites people to trade theirs for one of ours, or vice versa. Perhaps most importantly, the back side of the ID card has a map of the area around our hotel, the hotel's address in Chinese (to show to a taxi driver in case we get lost), and emergency mobile phone numbers. Here, Ashley obliges me with a photo showing the reverse side of her ID card.
To reassure any nervous parents, here's a photo of everyone in front of the equestrian venue at the Olympic Green. Notice that after nearly a week of a hectic and exhausting dawn-to-dusk schedule, everyone still looks fresh . . . and even happy!
Tonight, our crew split up into two groups, with some going to watch softball and others to baseball. At the baseball game between Canada and Korea, I was intrigued by the Korean spectators' precision with which they cheered for their team. Here, you can see a guy with a whistle and white gloves, who is sort of the "cheer conductor," and uniformed cheerleaders behind him, who lead their partisans in a chorus of cheers, which amazingly, everyone seems to know!
This afternoon, Marti Blum, Jenn Ashley, and Whitney DePrizio joined me in a meeting with two representatives of the US Embassy in China (unfortunately, other students who wished to attend were misdirected in the taxi ride over to the meeting location), who briefed us on the purpose of embassies and consulates, and the role of career foreign service officers. The gentlemen were friendly and engaging, and freely shared some of their experiences in the US foreign service, including the advice that more Americans should really learn to speak Mandarin (hint, hint). Because the meeting was frank and off the record, no specific details can be provided here -- and no photographs were allowed -- but suffice to say that the students obtained a rare look-see at what our diplomats do abroad.
Taking a break from standard Chinese fare (which, by the way, has been absolutely delicious!), Rob, Jake, Marti, Dr. Covell, Mike, Jenn, Whitney, Shaq, and I took in a Brazilian BBQ lunch at the Crowne Plaza Hotel (where Whitney spied Al Roker, Matt Lauer, and Meredith Vieira from NBC's Today Show) across the way from the Bird's Nest. As you can tell from the photo, no one was unhappy with the experience!
Today was the first day since we arrived in Beijing that we had a true-blue, clear-sky day . . . and it was all the more magnificent for the opening day of the track and field events at the National Olympic Stadium, which we attended.
After our transportation ordeal by bus to the track and field venue today, our frustration was compounded when we were met by queues of thousands -- if not tens of thousands -- of people waiting to go through the security clearance to enter the Olympic Green. Unexpectedly, however, we were pleasantly surprised when we were taken by hand by a volunteer to an "express" queue, where we were able to enter the Olympic Green in relatively short order. We could only surmise that this "courtesy" was due to our rather obvious appearance as foreigners. Of course, this kind gesture only further elevated our already high opinion of the Chinese Olympic volunteers.
Today was an adventure of a different sort to get to the National Olympic Stadium, where we saw the opening-day events of track and field. Departing our hotel at 7:30 a.m., it took us nearly two-and-a-half hours to get there, mainly because of a decision to take a shuttle bus instead of walking to the "Bird's Nest" after we arrived by subway at the Olympic Green perimeter. In addition, the subway was the most crowded that we've seen. The horrific traffic jam resulted in us taking an hour-and-a-half to travel the distance that we could have walked in about 20 minutes! Oh well . . . part of the learning experience!
Thursday, August 14, 2008
I realized I had been remiss providing basic information about our trip to Beijing, such as my observations about our hotel, the weather, traffic, and smog . . . so let's see if I can give you a quick update. Our hotel is not fancy, but it is certainly adequate, and the staff are friendly and helpful. The rooms are very basic, but they contain the usual things one would expect and need: air conditioning, two beds, TV, bathroom, desk, closet, and clean linens. A welcome surprise was that the hotel not only has non-smoking rooms, but they actually do not smell of even a hint of smoke! The hotel is conveniently located in the Wangfujing Shopping District, a major commercial plaza that is bustling with people, day and night. The hotel is tucked behind another building and down an alley, so it is somewhat secluded . . . and very quiet. Traffic, even with the city's vehicle abatement program, is heavy and s-l-o-w. Fortunately, the subway and bus systems are quite efficient, and at about a quarter for a subway ticket and a nickel for the bus, the fares are cheap-cheap! The weather has been mostly pleasant, with periodic sprinkles-to-rain showers . . . but for the most part it has been agreeable for our activities. I think the smog has been contained, though not eliminated. Still, it has not made a discernible impact on anyone in our group, and perhaps in affirmation of the improved air quality, I have seen only a few people wearing any kind of face mask in the city.
While the weather has been cooperating for the most part since our arrival last weekend, we got caught in a downpour while at the Olympic Green (main cluster of venues) this afternoon! Here's Marti Blum and some of our crew, wearing the latest in rain-gear fashion!
This afternoon, the students received an executive briefing and tour of the US Olympic Committee's High-Performance Training Center located at Beijing Normal University (where US Olympic athletes can train, eat, and stay in a protected environment outside the Olympic Village). Managing Director Doug Ingram (center) welcomes the group and provides an overview of the facility's operational framework, after which they toured the various sport venues and watched several athletes going through their workouts, including the women's volleyball team, coached by the Chinese volleyball legend, Lang Ping.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
The funny thing about this photo is that there are two things going on at once . . . while I am taking a photo of the Chinese policeman with Amanda, Rob, Shaq, Bre, and Ashley, a Chinese family tells its son to "jump in there with the Americans" (rough translation) so that they can get a simultaneous photo-op. Notice the subjects' distinct focal points. It's all good!
Just to prove that you never know who you will run into at the Great Wall of China, our students -- who previously met US beach volleyball sensation Misty May-Treanor earlier in the week at the Olympic competition at Chaoyang Beach Park (as if that wasn't a thrill of a lifetime in itself) -- ran into her again today of all places at . . . you guessed it! Here, the defending Olympic beach volleyball champion (with partner Kerri Walsh) graciously spent time chatting with our crew and having many, many pictures taken with our adoring and appreciative students.
The highlight of the day -- and for some, the entire trip -- was our visit to the Great Wall of China! Here we are, at a section of the wall called Mutianyu, about 50 miles from Beijing city center (note that Golden Bear made the hike up the 996 steps as well!).
Golden Bear is enjoying its visit to Beijing, and since the volunteer's high chair at the badminton venue was vacant, GB hopped right up to help direct spectators to where they need to go. Bre Roche is standing by to assist as needed.
This morning at the badminton venue at the Beijing University of Technology Gymnasium, two of our students -- Jake Roy and Whitney DePrizio -- were interviewed by a camera crew for their views on badminton. Jake, who readily professed his lack of expertise in the game, quickly added that "he was anxious to see the top badminton athletes in the world," and that "he loves Beijing!" Now, if that is not the makings of a future diplomat!
At Monday evening's tennis matches at the Olympic Green Tennis Center, not only did some of our crew meet Venus and Serena Williams' family in the stands, but Whitney, Bre, Jenn, and Marti were shown waving the American flag on NBC's telecast of Venus Williams' match against Timea Bacsinszky, after her 6-3, 6-2 victory over the Swiss athlete! This was confirmed stateside by Marti's mom. Now, how cool was that?!
Our "seminar room," which is really just an open floor space outside the hotel manager's office, was upgraded yesterday with the addition of 15 chairs and a coffee table! Previously, we all sat on the floor, campfire style, but now we're able to rest our arms (see various demonstrations by AJ, Jenn, Whitney, and Dr. Covell in photo), while listening to the students' presentations. Did I mention that seminar hour is at 7 a.m.?!
Turning the pages of the national English language newspaper today, the China Daily, I saw a huge color photo of a familiar face laying a big smoocher on an attractive -- and smiling -- young Chinese woman! The young man in the photo was our very own AJ Pappas, who celebrated the August 8 Opening Ceremonies at Wangfujing (where our hotel is located), which the paper labeled a "cross-cultural kiss." None of the students -- including AJ -- were aware of the published photo and accompanying story about opening night at the Olympics, so I sprung it on them at this morning's seminar, which not unexpectedly made quite an impression! Check out AJ's photo and story -->
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
AJ, Jake, and Marti enjoy a beautiful sunny day (see the hint of bluish sky in the distance?) at the softball venue, Fengtai Stadium. And a very pleasant surprise is that concession prices here are at pre-1970s levels that perhaps their parents paid at US ball parks and stadiums . . . back in the day!
While the rest of the crew decided to remain at the softball venue to cheer for Team USA and help pitcher Jennie Finch achieve her no-hitter, 11-0 win over Venezuela, Dr. Dan Covell, Jenn Ashley, AJ Pappas, Whitney DePrizio, and Jake Roy joined me on a tour of Japan House, where we received a briefing on Tokyo's 2016 Olympic bid, in addition to meeting with officials of the Japanese Olympic Committee and one of its sponsors, Descente, a Japanese sports apparel company.
The Fuwa -- this one being Jing Jing -- proved irresistable to our crew: left to right, back row: Jake Roy, Rob Horton, AJ Pappas, Bre Roche, Amanda Goldsmith, and Lauren Brouillette; and front row: Dr. Dan Covell, Shaq Walker, Mike Kuchno, Jess DiPietro, and Ashley Richard.