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Opening Ceremony in 15 Minutes

Watching the buildup to the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics on CCTV-5/Olympics, I remember my excitement watching the Olympics as a kid, and my cynicism disappears.

Switching to CCTV-1, some of my cynicism returns.

But then I switch back to CCTV-5.

Categories: Uncategorized.

Artistic Gymnastics

In Chinese, Artistic Gymnastics (the kind Mary-Lou Rhetton competed in) is called 竞技体操, which means something like “Competitive Skills Gymnastics”.

Rhythmic Gymnastics (the kind with the balls and the flags) is called 艺术体操, which means “Artistic Gymnastics”.

That’s confusing.

Categories: Uncategorized.

“Evaporation”

I find it amusing when people describe the smog in Beijing as “evaporation“, and not pollution.

Of course, in this case the guy doing the describing is the chairman of the IOC medical commission, and he probably knows more about the issue than I do, but I still find it amusing.

The most important quote from the article, though, is from a cyclist:

“They have pollution in Los Angeles, and if the Olympics were in Los Angeles, we would probably wear these masks, too.”

Beijing does have (severe) air quality problems, and some other Chinese cities are even worse, but my non-scientific opinion is things have actually gotten better in Beijing over the past ten years. I no longer have black snot. It’s natural for athletes to worry about the air quality affecting their health and performance, and it’s important to be concerned about the global environment, but it’s also important to remember that Beijing has made efforts to improve its environment, and that the US and other Western countries produce much, much more pollution per capita than China does.

I don’t understand most of it, but this blog provides more detailed info on Beijing’s air quality.

Maybe the sun’ll come out tomorrow.

Categories: China.

Two Weeks in Shanghai

Things I Like About Shanghai

  1. The general feeling of the city. (Vague, I know.)
  2. Lots of fruit stands.
  3. The good selection of English books at the airport.
  4. The Element Fruit restaurant on the arrival level of the domestic terminal at the airport.

Things I Don’t Like About Shanghai

  1. 1 RMB coins that don’t fit in my wallet.
  2. Air-conditioner water dripping on my head.

Categories: China.

50-cent Propagandists?

We’ve known it was going to happen for a long time, but it’s still a big deal that China now has more Internet users than the United States. English speakers should remember that most of the world doesn’t speak English, and that most of the Internet won’t be in English, either.

One effect the Internet has had is that individual Chinese voices are having the chance to be heard. Surprising to many, who expected that those voices would be dissident voices critical of the Chinese government, it turns out that the majority of the voices are very supportive of the government and intensely patriotic.

Of course, maybe some dissident voices are just afraid to speak up. Certainly, dissident opinions are not given the chance to develop in the mainstream press and are often censored online to keep them from spreading, but my experience offline anecdotally confirms that the vast majority of Chinese support the government and are intensely patriotic.

We heard these Chinese voices in the condemnation of the Western media’s coverage of the protests/riots in Tibet, and we heard them in the protests and response to the foreign protests of the Olympic Torch Relay.

One of the most talked about and interesting forums to come out of the response to coverage of events in Tibet was the anti-CNN.com site, which has active forums in Chinese and English. I was first introduced to this site by Michael Dundas, who I think actually met the guy who set up the site. Mike had planned to do an interview with him but I’m not sure if he ever did. (By the way, Mike has some interesting interviews with Chinese living abroad posted on his website, and a great blog in Chinese.)

The anti-CNN forums and links are certainly worth a look. Unfortunately, often the voices simply come across as angry and unreasonable.

Actually, such voices have been around for quite a while, and they often show up in the comments of articles that mention China, particularly articles that can be construed to be critical of China. For instance, here is a comment I got in an entry on my Chinese blog:

我发现自己对西方越了解越讨厌你们西方人!看看这几年你们西方媒体和民众对中国的妖魔化报道和你们对中国的无知!好象只允许你们发达就不允许我们中国发达了!是不是以后非洲发达了,还会把非洲妖魔化!有个评论员说得好,你们西方人只要有钱连笨蛋都能当国家总统!鄙视你们!你们西方有哪个国家不是靠侵越别的国家发展起来的,你们看看中国什么时候欺负别的国家了!就拿你们美国来说,侵略伊拉克觉得挺好玩的是吧??你们西方人那么好战,是不是非得有人来修理你们才服气!有本事来和中国打仗啊!近代战争哪次不是以你们失败结束!觉得中国人善良就那么好欺负?????? [angry smiley]

Translation:

I find that I detest you Westerners more and more! Look at your Western media and people’s reports demonizing China over the past few years and your ignorance about China! It’s as if only you are allowed to be developed and our China isn’t allowed to be developed! Once Africa is developed will you demonize Africa too!* There was a commentator that said it right: as long as you Westerners have money even an idiot can be president of the country! I despise you! Which country of you Westerners didn’t depend infringing on other countries to develop, and when has China ever bullied another country! Just take your USA as an example, you think invading Iraq is fun, right?? You Americans love war so much, is it going to take somebody taking care of you to make you get the point!!** If you think you’re so hot come and fight China! In recent times which war hasn’t ended in defeat for you! Do you think Chinese people are so kind, so easily bullied?????? [angry smiley]

Notes: *I’ve left the original punctuation, and not added question marks for the rhetorical questions. **Not sure how translate this one. It basically means “is it going to take someone beating the crap out of you before you finally give up?”, but not quite.

What had I done to deserve such a rebuke, you might ask? I had linked to these pictures (from the absolutely fabulous Big Picture blog on Boston.com) documenting Beijing’s preparations for the Olympics.

Here is the (I thought fairly innocuous) text of my offending blog entry:

迎奥运

迎奥运不简单,其实很复杂。

有时候用语言难以形容,看照片更容易体会。

Translation:

Welcoming the Olympics

Welcoming the Olympics is no easy task. Actually, it’s quite complicated.

Sometimes it’s hard to describe with words, and easier to get a feel for through pictures.

Of course, not all of the comments I get are like this. The next two comments I got on that entry were from someone asking if it was okay to speak English with a slightly nasal voice, and from someone else asking whether the word “happy” should be pronounced “hai-pi” or “hai-pei”. Not sure how to answer that last one.

Thomas Crampton accepts Oiwan Lam‘s claim that these online commenters are “50-cent Propagandists“, paid fifty Chinese cents (about .05 Euros) per comment to rail against “anti-China” points of view. Recently, he started a “50-cent Watchlist” to collect names of suspected mercenary commenters (I love that his post shows up on websites aggregating news about the rapper).

My sense, however, is that the vast majority of the angry Chinese commenters are unpaid citizens sharing their opinions for free. There almost certainly are some people paid to make comments on sites in English and Chinese, but I seriously doubt that they make up anything close to a majority of people who make similar comments.

It’s also important to point out that not all of the Chinese voices out there are angry–the angry ones just often seem the loudest. And some of the frustrated voices are in fact quite thoughtful, like this comment left by a commenter named Cathy on a recent entry of my English blog:

I feel confused even upset when every time, we will find that there are a huge differences between the domestic reports and the western’s. As you mentioned in your blog. No offence, but I really don’t know why on earth the western media likeNYTimes are always try to report the awful side of China. And always feel free to exaggerate each issue. I admit that China do has some unfavorable facts like every nation does, but I don’t think it can be described in such a terrible way. Take the report on people who were waiting to buy the tickets as an example. Yeah, it didn’t go soomthly actually but it can be understand since China is such a vast country. Why not regarding it as a high time which showing the enthusiam of Chinese people and the supports from them? And what’s more,I really don’t think Chinese people were suffered a lot in buying the tickets this time. Yet, i know complain is complain, I can do nothing on this issue. All of these remarks are my personal view. I want to lieten your opinion on it, John. if possible.

I had linked to this NYTimes story about ticket sales.

Obviously, the tone of the comment is completely different from the previous one, but some of the sentiment is the same: frustration that the Western media often focuses on negative stories about China. I appreciate thoughtful comments like this, and wish that some of the angry voices could calm down and engage in a similar tone. I’m not a huge fan of Richard Nixon, but this is one of my favorite quotes:

We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another – until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.

Like Thomas, I also find the angry, threatening comments frustrating and disconcerting, but I’m confused about what to do about them. They are more than just normal “trolls” in an online forum, because they represent a fairly prevalent train of thought in one of the most important countries in the world (and, on a personal level, the country I live in).

Discounting them as paid government hacks is not the answer, because most of them almost aren’t paid government hacks, and labeling them as so is in some way making their point–that Westerners think the Chinese government is an evil dictatorship that keeps Chinese people from expressing their true point of view, and that the Chinese people are meek sheep that go along with the government even though they all secretly long for rights that they are denied.

For now, my plan is to engage the voices as much as I can (as Thomas tries to do here), and in particular work to engage thoughtful voices like Cathy’s.

I wonder if anyone will give me 50 cents a post…

Categories: China.

Tickets!

I got back from Shanghai late last night and took a cab home from the airport. When we got to our exit off of the fifth ring road, there was a policeman there blocking it. I told him that I lived in the area, and wanted to go home. He told me that next time I should be sure to take a car with a permit.

He told us that starting on July 27th (tomorrow), only permitted cars will be allowed into the Olympic area that includes our apartment. Some taxis have permits, but not many. I asked him how I was supposed to get home, and he told me to take the bus. Unfortunately, there is only one bus outside of our apartment complex, and the direction it heads in is the opposite direction from places I’m usually headed. My other option is to walk for 20-30 minutes until I get out of the Olympic area.

Last night he let me through, but the taxi had to stop about a ten minute walk from our apartment. As I rolled my bag towards our complex, I noticed a large crowd by the side of the road. Once I got closer, I could tell that it was people lined up to buy tickets. There were 100 or so people in line. It was 11:40pm. The policemen there told me that tickets had been sold since early morning, and that the line originally stretched for several hundred meters. This particular location was selling tickets only for Field Hockey and Tennis!

When I got home, I saw this NYTimes article. Sounds like things didn’t go all that smoothly at the Bird’s Nest.

Actually, the whole ticket selling process has been a huge ordeal, with lots of hiccups/disasters. The initial round, in which you chose 10 events and 10 backup events, went pretty smoothly, but recent rounds of sales have involved long lines and computer crashes. Of course, when you have a country with over a billion people, all of whom have probably at one point or another thought that it would be interesting to go to the Olympics, selling and distributing a limited number of tickets can be challenging.

Categories: China.

Olympic Meltdown?

Kenneth Tan posts on Shanghaiist about how hotels are lowering their rates in Beijing during the Olympics because the expected influx of tourists doesn’t appear to be materializing.

We were actually one of the apartment owners hoping to cash in on the Olympics. I don’t think we were being greedy–it was only worth it to us to move out during the Olympics if we received an extremely high price, and no one would have rented from us unless they couldn’t find a better deal elsewhere. In any case, a lot of people like us who were thinking of renting out apartments have had to change plans because the anticipated housing shortage never occurred.

Actually, I think that China’s limiting of tourists coming into Beijing (through vague visa restrictions) may be a calculated, smart decision. They could have just opened the gates and mailed out visas to everyone in the world, but–security considerations aside–they would have run the risk of huge congestion and traffic troubles in Beijing during the Olympics.

A lower-than-expected number of tourists before and during the Olympics will certainly cut into the direct revenues that China will get from the Olympics, but I think for China the real prize is the image boost it has the potential to get from the Olympics. If the Olympics go smoothly from a security perspective, and everybody has a great time without having to complain about traffic, there is a huge upside for Beijing and China in the next five to ten years. On the other hand, if people complain about how Beijing came to a standstill with the influx of tourists, or if there are security problems, it has the chance to be very embarrassing for Beijing and China, and could limit the upside gained from the Olympics over the next few years.

Of course, the lower-than-expected number of tourists is due to more than just the visa confusion, and the visa issue itself may be the result of bureaucratic confusion, but I still think it will be a net positive for Beijing and China in the long run.

Categories: Uncategorized.

Olympics Obervations

The Olympics have been in the air for the last six years in Beijing, but over the last week or so it’s finally hit everyone that we’re less than a month away. It seems like just yesterday that the ubiquitous countdown clocks were showing several hundred days, and now they’re down to less than 20!

—-
Sunday was the big day for traffic changes in Beijing, which will last from July 20th through September 20th, after the Paralympics end. The big change is that cars with license plates ending in even and odd numbers will alternate days on which they are allowed to drive. Today is an even day, so all the odd cars have to stay home. Taxis, buses, Olympic vehicles, and some government vehicles are exempt.

Another change is the addition of the Olympic lane to many main roads. There is a big Olympic logo printed in these lanes every several hundred yards, and only Olympic vehicles are allowed to drive in them. Finally, the Olympic areas have been sealed off to private vehicles without a permit. Our apartment is within the area that has been sealed off, so getting in and out of home will be a hassle for the next two months.

—-
To me the starkest recent change here has been the greening of Beijing. Trees, bushes and grass are all over the place, and the rains of the last month or so have made the greenery stand out even more. I hope things will stay this way after the Olympics, but I worry about how much water it will take.

—-
Speaking of rain and water, the rain over the past month in Beijing has been bizarre. I think it actually rained every night for over two weeks, which is very, very rare for Beijing. I wondered if they were shooting missiles into the clouds again, but I don’t think even missiles could create so much rain over an extended period.

Rockets are shot into the clouds, by the way. It’s called “cloud seeding“. I had always thought it was just an urban legend until a few summers ago in late August when a friend pointed out that it had rained every Sunday that summer.

—-
A couple of nights ago we were watching a movie when we heard explosions outside. It sounded like the firecrackers at a wedding, but people don’t usually get married at night. When we went to our window to see what it was, we were confronted with the most incredible fireworks display either of us had ever seen. We used our digital camera to take a video, and maybe I’ll upload that later, but the video doesn’t do it justice. There were Olympic rings and I think maybe even words written in the sky (it was hard to tell from our angle). The fireworks covered a spread of several kilometers, and were coming from the the general direction of the National Stadium (the Bird’s nest). After a while, the fireworks stopped, but we were still hearing explosions. At first I thought it was just the echo of the fireworks, but when the echo didn’t stop I got confused. Then we ran to the window on the other side of our apartment and saw that the fireworks were still going on in the Olympic Forest Park (another part of the Olympic area that is home to several other venues). What a huge spread!

The next morning I read in the paper that they had been rehearsing the Opening Ceremony. I’d been ambivalent about the Opening Ceremony, but now I’m excited about watching the fireworks again from our window.

—-
A good friend had a ticket to the Opening Ceremony and was planning to sell it. All other tickets can be transferred freely, but Opening and Closing Ceremony tickets can only be transferred once and are associated with the name of the ticket holder. He found out two Fridays ago that last Monday was the last day to transfer tickets, and wasn’t able to get it sold by then. The restrictions are certainly due to security concerns, and I assume that the early deadline is so that they’ll have time to do background checks on all of the ticket holders. Should be a very safe evening.

—-
Of course, people have been very concerned about safety. I have my moments when I get a little jittery about Beijing being a target, but I think that the world’s generally a pretty safe place, and I don’t like to worry too much. I’m actually less worried about some sort of terrorist attack than I am about the sort of thing described here. Similar thoughts had occurred to me, but my nightmares had pictured just a place with a lot of people rather than a venue. It would be so, so tragic if the Beijing Olympics were remembered as the Olympics where the protestor got beaten up by the crowd.

Hmmm… Chinese nationalism is something I’d really like to think and write more about, but I’m not sure how to do it in a sensitive way.

—-
We’ve got tickets to several events. I’m not sure which ones we’ll go to, but I’d like to visit the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube, and I’d love to see a basketball game.

Categories: Uncategorized.

Sculpting and Time and The Bridge

The last time I wondered about an untold story (the story behind New Beijing, Great Olympics and New Beijing, New Olympics), I randomly ran across a told version in Peter Hessler’s Oracle Bones (a great book, maybe more on that later).

Right now I’m sitting in the Wudaokou Sculpting in Time cafe wondering about another untold story, and a cursory Google search didn’t give me an answer.

Sculpting in Time has been around for a long time. I used to go to the original one outside of the PKU east gate, but that one was bulldozed long ago and they’ve since expanded into several new locations. One of the earliest locations was right next to the Wudaokou subway station.

Well, a while back the Wudaokou branch moved next door, and a new cafe, called The Bridge, opened in their old location. This would not be all that odd, except for the fact that The Bridge is almost exactly the same as the old Sculpting in time–down to the posters on the wall.

So I wonder, what happened? Did SIT just move and someone snatched up their location? Did some rogue employee mess with their lease and kick them out of their old location? Are they secretly owned by the same proprietor? I feel like there must be some sort of intrigue involved.

I guess I could just ask the waiter. Or maybe I’ll read about it in a book somewhere.

Categories: Uncategorized.

Bookmarks

I’ve spent the last five days on the road doing promotional lectures for New Channel. We usually speak to university students, hoping that they will come to Beijing and take IELTS or TOEFL classes during the summer break, but last night in Changsha we spoke to 800 elementary school students.

They were fourth, fifth and sixth grade students at the LuShan International school, with whom we are holding an English summer camp starting in July. I didn’t know that we were going to be speaking to elementary school students until I arrived in Changsha from Shenyang.

The lecture hall was quite a scene. When we first walked in only one of the classes had arrived, but their running, screaming and laughing was enough to make the place seem full. One of the kids challenged me to arm wrestle. I let him win, and he was followed by twenty new challengers who each defeated me over the next minute.

After all of the students had arrived, a teacher had the difficult task of quieting them down–at least enough so that the lecture could start. The students had each been given bookmarks, and some were inspecting them and waving them around. The teacher pinpointed the bookmarks as a cause of the rowdiness: “The bookmarks are interesting, but the lecture will be even more interesting!”

I was the first to speak, and I rattled on for about twenty minutes telling stories and offering English-learning tips. The kids were a lot of fun, but I don’t think I ever had more than several hundred paying attention at one time. I’m pretty good at speaking to groups of university students, but I think I need to work on my elementary school lecture skills.

After the lecture I was mobbed by students asking me to sign their bookmarks.

Categories: Uncategorized.