Monday, July 21, 2008

Wow, it's Embarassing: The Official Chinese Olympic Cheer

As a Chinese person observing the buildup to the Olympics, one of the most embarrassing (and almost annoying) aspects of the prep is watching the official Olympic cheer being constantly promoted by the respective authorities and the people adopting it.

Turn on just about any of the CCTV channels, news or pre-Olympic programing and you will find constant reminder of this chant. "Go Olympics, Go China!" Too bad it looks horrible.

As Danwei first described it...

The cheer is a joint product of the Party Office of Spiritual Civilization Development and Guidance (GODPP), the Ministry of Education, BOCOG, and CCTV. Here's an illustrated guide, which will appear on television and promotional posters in the near future:

Step 1: Clap two times (while chanting 奥运, "Olympics")
Step 2: Hands in fists with thumbs up, arms extended upward (while chanting, 加油, "Let's go!")
Step 3: Clap two time (while chanting 中国, "China")
Step 4: Hands in fists, arms extended outward and upward (while chanting 加油, "Let's go!")

One of the more annoying Chinese-things is that we dont know how to cheer as a people. Without "加油, 'Let's go'" we have nothing else to say! Why is this? Can't we get our 1 billion people plus to say somehting else. We could possibly even learn a thing or 2 from our lil cousins, the Japanese and the Koreans.

Incredible. I promise I will not be doing this cheer when I'm in the Olympic stadium watching a Track & Field event on August 19th. So Embarassing.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hu Jintao in Qingdao w/ Destoryers escort

Hu Jintao was in Qingdao today. Trust me, I saw the 2 naval destroyers patrolling on the coast when he was visiting the Olympic sailing venue. No joke.

Qingdao's Olympic Preperations: Alge Cleanup & Torch

After more than a week in Harbin, I am now in Qingdao. As the 2nd biggest city in Shangdong province, and one of China's major ports, Qingdao is a semi-host of the Olympics this year. It has the honor of hosting the sailing competition.

After the moment I stepped off the plane from Harbin, I found that the Olympic spirit was everywhere. Here's what I've seen:

1. Billboards for the Olympics are everywhere. Just everywhere.
2. Qingdao airport is incedibly clean and ready to receive tourists. A visit to the train station today showed that it will be looking good as well after its ongoing expansion is over.
3. Numberous volunteers were camped out at the baggage claim helping old people find and carry their luggage.
4. 5 star hotels like the Shangri-la and the Crowne Plaza (among others) are being very strict with security. All vehicles driving up to the door are being examined by mulitple officers. Metal detectors and x-rays are mandatory for all patrons.
5. Hotel prices are definitely increasing. I dont know if they're going to increase 4x like they are going to be in Beijing though.

One of the major issues that Qingdao has had to deal with is the inconvienet increase in sea alge. It has been in the news constantly and has been considered a threat to the sailing event. However, the government officials have mobilized voluteers, military members and other resources to clean things up. I was privilidged to see local officials walk through lines of volunteers at the Lao Shi Ren beach 2 days ago. It was the "sea cleanup day."And trust me, the beach definitely needed some help. Some kids were even helping out.

Not only was the local government mobilized in its cleanup, but it is about to host the Olympic torch relay. The torch is scheduled to arrive on Monday, the 21st. However, i've already spotted a Olympic Relay Coke truck parked close to my Hotel (Sophia) all the way on the eastern end of town. Workers are everywhere constructing barricades while right beside them are young merchants selling fake Olympic T-shirts. I love China and the Olympics.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Harbin Olympic Torch Relay Live Journal

To commiserate Harbin welcoming the Olympic torch, I decided to keep a running journal of the TV coverage of the relay in Harbin. Later in the afternoon after the relay was over, I actually took a few pictures on the route and the beginning of the relay. Needless to say millions of other people were doing the same thing.

I also later saw a video on CNN showing off the best parts of the relay. That's cool.

7:50 We start on the Harbin TV channel. The pregame coverage includes traffic reports on the torch path, introductions on Harbin tourism and a brief overview of the torch relay.

8am The programming starts precisely at 8am. The relay starts at the flood monument, a symbol of Harbin. Floods destroyed Harbin throughout its history until 1958 in which the flood gates were built. This monument commiserates that achievement.
The first speaker introduces the vice Mayor of Harbin. Before she can come on stage, she is introduced with the theme song of Star Trek, The Next Generation. Random.

8:06 The first torch bearers are the famous figure skating pair. They do a combined length. My mom: I love the first relay. They run on the red carpet. At the end of their leg, the guy picks up the girl in a pose. How cool is that?

8:08 The first transfer was less than successful. Wacky camera work and a lot of Harbin dudes in Black Ts surround the torch. People blocked the route and the guys in the Black Ts went to action. As they progress through the first street, you can see officers, Olympics officers and Black Ts getting into a confrontation with people in the crowd.

8:10 My grandparents and my mom have all commented about the quick transfer process. Mom: “You now they all gave money and bought the right to be apart of the relay. They’re all really rich.”
Grandma: “You know that there are gonna be some laundry ladies out there later on too.”

8:13 The 12th person is a random white dude. Every guy gets an introduction and some commentary. Before he could get into a job, he quicly passes it off to the next dude. The next dude, accepts the torch and does a kung fu move. Awesome. Just Awesome.
The transfer process is really interesting. After the “10 step trip” as my grandma says, each person quickly transfer it to the next person. After the lighting on the 2nd person’s torch, the 2 of them do a simulated performance/pose/celebration. Usually it’s an awkward hand slap where both miss each other. The best is when one person tries to do their prearranged move while the other person is awestruck by the moment and totally forgets what to do. Really funny.

8:17 A dude with a pony tail.

8:19 A guy who has fixed tens of thousands of shoes for free. Only in Harbin. A female support runner next to the torch barriers constantly waves at the camera when the transfers are made. When someone realized it, she gets pulled out. The torch is put onto a van and carried to the next torch area.

8:26 We transfer over to the CCTV 5 coverage of the torch relay. During their introduction of what Harbin is like, they just opened up a bag introducing a huge piece of bread. “Da weiba.” It’s a hard bread specialty of Harbin that originated from Russian influence. This bread is the reason my mom loves French bread. Combine that with the “soupa tang” or soup soup – a tomato based soup with tomatoes, cabbage and potatoes and we got a hearty meal.

8:31 The vehicle transfer is over… on with the relay. We’re at a much wider street now. Behind the runner, there are a total of 4 male support runners, 2 on each side.20 meters back on either side are 20 guys running along the crowd wearing all white. About 50 meters back, there are 5 motorcycles and behind them is a trail of minibuses, cars, vans, at least 30 vehicles.
We’re now running on the famous Harbin bridge that I almost fell off of – into the Songhua river – when I was 5 years old.

8:37 A old lady finishes her part of the relay and almost strangles the next girl. After the girl starts running, she keeps on running along behind the group, confused and not knowing what’s going on. No one notices what she’s doing and no one controls her until the next transfer. Way too funny.

8:41 The 40th guy starts dancing and does superman poses during his leg. He almost makes out with the next guy before transferring.

8:52 Harbin channel is split-screening the tour coverage with information on the ice lantern festival. I think I’m going to have to come back next winter to see it. Our family friend is in the Harbin tourism bureau and is charge of putting on the festival every year.

8:59 We’re now passing the Harbin Science Museum. Harbin is known throughout the country for its science knowledge and knowhow. It is in the forefront of robotics and is a big contributor to the Chinese space agency’s manned program.

9:02 Interesting Fact: Harbin is the only Chinese city without a city wall or hasn’t had a city wall in its history.

9:05 Harbin Fencing coach does 4 fencing moves during her leg. Everyone’s surprised.

Best Quote…
Mom: Chinese people are really bad at giving a high five. They should be like Obama’s wife and just do the pound. You know that’s the new high five right? Did you see her go on the View and give everyone the pound?

9:06 Grandma: Is this a guy or girl?

9:12 This guy sells roast duck. He’s not walking, he’s not running. He’s niuyangge.

9:15 A random Chinese guy in an army uniform gets his friend to take a picture of him right behind the runner. He is enabled by the 20 photographers who run in front of the runner van, temporary stopping the procession.

9:21 A girl running as a support runner is lumbering through. She’s not only fat but panting. I don’t know how she got that job.

9:23 Another white guy.

9:27 After not understanding previously, of the 4 support runners, only 2 of them in the front are security members. They wear hats, wear black gloves and help in the different transfers. The 2 people behind them are people who was supposed to be a torch barer but wasn’t able to because of the reduced length of the relay. So, instead of being an officer barer, they run behind the security members for an extended amount of time.

9:30 30 minute break in the relay.

9:30-10:15 Constant information about Harbin, the tourist sights, the food and sites. Very ignorant understanding by the CCTV people. “It seems that southern people have very little understanding or knowledge of Harbin while Harbin people know a lot about the south.”

10:25 Coke has 2 consecutive torch bearers followed by 1 from McDonald’s. I guess the official sponsors of the Olympics should get some perks.

11:00 We finally have a couple of younger people along the route that do something interesting and different.

11:06 “Is that a guy or girl?”

11:12 “That’s a girl right?”

11:14 The final torch bearers are another figuring skating pair. Of course when they first receive the torch, the guy picks up the girl and keeps her up there for about 5 min. In the competition for the most "unique pose" after people receive the torch, it definitely ranks up there. They run across the red carpet to the Sun Island statue. 11:17 “I wonder how much money they spent to make this happen.” “What are they going to do with all that money anyways?”

11:19 People are throwing up sunflowers in the air during the closing ceremonies. They’re wearing yellow tshirts to match the sunflowers.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Harbin celebrates the Olympic torch's arrival

At 8am Beijing time, the Olympic Torch relay will officially commence in Harbin.

I personally have a lot of connection to the Olympics. I took my first steps during the 1984 Olympics in LA. During the 1988 one, my mom was preparing to study in the US and begin our journey to becoming Chinese Americans. 20 years later, I am living in China with several tickets to various events during the 2008 Olympics.

I first saw the torch when I was 13 in Columbus, Ohio during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. My family and family friends camped out on the route, hyped about the upcoming games. We waited on the route for about an hour - in the scarcely populated route without that many people watching. After a couple of false-alarms where I hastily ran after the support vans and vehicles that go prior to the actual runner, we were finally greeted by the moment we were all waiting for.

A thunderous applause and cheers from the people, albeit only a few were there, roared closer to us. Finally the moment of truth, a young women - about 26 years old carried the torch, jogging while waving to the light crowd. She was followed by 2 support members who followed close behind jogging while a van led the way. They ran for what it seemed as forever. Even though the experience was quick, it still left a lasting memory in my mind.

Fast forward to 2008 and the Beijing Olympics, I will witness the torch for the first time in this Olympic cycle. Compare this to the 2004 Olympics relay in which I saw the torch when it was in New York City, Beijing and Shanghai. I missed it when it arrived in Shenzhen a couple of months back because I was in the US at the time. My friends and colleagues saw it, cought in the hordes of people and heat near Diwang Building while losing a camera and a wallet at the same time. They said it was a lot of fun.

Due to the Sichuan earthquake, the Tibeten issue and the sensitivity of it all, this year's torch route has had a lot of changes from the past. The torch route has been changed at the last minute to bypass prostesters and "high-risk" areas in semi-unfriendly cities. The torch relay length has been reduced to a maximum of 14km. Dates for the relay has also been changed due to scheduling conflicts.

Yesterday during dinner with family friends, I was told that it was going to be incredibly difficult for normal Harbin citizens to see the flame in person. Supposedly specific danweis, working units, schools and companies are invited to participate in its viewing. It would be incredibly difficult for everyone else to get close enough to sneak a peak.

However, the most interesting part of the relay is that in the 14km route, more than 200 people will be part of the relay. If we do some basic math, that would mean about a total run of about 70 meters per person. That is a definite change from what I first saw during 1996. This event is more of a face-thing, China partiotism-thing, personal enjoyment-thing than something just about sport. That is very Chinese. Something small, or relatively small becomes something really big, really different and done with face involved.

It's going to be an awesome relay. If i'm happy, ill give a live blog of the relay from watching on TV.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The 2nd tier city: Harbin

For the past week, I’ve been staying at my grand parent’s house in Harbin. I was born in this border city many years ago and lived here until I was 6 – after which I moved to the US. I come back intermittently every so often to visit friends & family – especially my relatives on my mom’s side.

Since moving to Shenzhen almost 2 years ago, I have went to Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Guangzhou and other cities in China many times. I have even been to Bangkok twice. I have yet come back to Harbin, until now.

Harbin is the typical “2nd tier” or “3rd tier” city that all business people talk about. It is the 10th biggest city in China, famous for its winter Ice Festival and ready to grow like its counterparts.

Personally, going from the most modern city in China (Shenzhen), to a less-developed city (Harbin) in which its population is synonymous for eating with their shirts off, drinking a lot of beer during lunch, being “rednecks”, loving to fight and being generally uncivilized and barbaric when compared to the rest of the China. This is the place I call my “hometown”.

In the past couple of years, however, there has been a growth in construction immediately outside where my grandparents live. A medium sized mall has been built with a KFC, McDs and Carrefour about .5km away. The “Paris apartments” now tower the skyline with five 30+ floor buildings within view of our 2nd floor balcony. Even a highway, overpasses and parks have been connected nearby as well. Walking around the city in the past few days, I’ve been unable to recognize many neighborhoods in which my family used to live. The amount of construction in the past 3-4 years has been tremendous – a constant cycle of demolition and construction.

What I’ve seen as the best part, or the most interesting part of Harbin is that it still has some of the same charm, innocent & traditionally Chinese life it has had in the past. I see this very keenly from my grandparent’s house.

My grandparents’ house is nestled in a small community of about 30 6-8 story buildings within the grounds of a university. I can honestly say that very little has changed in this area. The same old people are walking around in the morning and outside playing cards or mahjong in the afternoon. Every morning at 4:30am, scores of old people go out to parks, tracks and local gathering places to practice qigong, exercise and do the same routine they’ve done for such a long time. The same fruit & veggie markets are still selling the same cheap produce right outside the gates. Even the day-care kindergarten that I went to when I was 4 years old – more than 20 years ago – is still in the same place still taking care of small kids. Starbucks still has not opened its first coffee shop in Harbin.

Wages have also been lacking. The average monthly wage of my cousin’s wife, a social worker in Harbin, is 1000 RMB. She’s 40. My cousin is now working as a driver for the 271 bus route. His previous job was a taxi driver. They can live and get by due to the low living standard.

The people here in Harbin seem to be much more content with living life. They might not have the income of the people in Shenzhen, Beijing and Shanghai. They might not have the starbucks-drinking, bar-hopping, constant traveling life of the people in the 1st tier cities. They don’t have these luxuries. They do, however, have the constant relaxation of enjoying life, not taking things too seriously and having a slower pace to life. They don’t need the stress and constant desire filled consumerism existence that comes with it. Coming from a place like Shenzhen, this is something new and really special.

Not to mention, I really like the densely blue skies and the long-sleeves summer climate as well.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

No Mao on new 10 RMB bill.

6 Million New 10-RMB bank notes will be issued that will feature pictures of the "Bird Nest" National Stadium, the Temple of Heaven and a Discus Thrower. It will be the first time in nearly 10 years that Chairman Mao's picture will not be on the bill.