Wednesday, August 27, 2008

NY Times is Beginning to Like China

During the entire Olympics period, the NY Times has many more "objective" articles regarding China. Recently however, they've taken it to another level - basically suggesting that the US should learn from China. Previously it was the interesting pros of having an authoritarian government and the benefits of being a communal society. Now its the inward focus and own-nation building.

In today's NY Times op-ed article A Biblical Seven Years by Thomas Friedman, China's emergence in its 7-year preparation for the Olympics is compared to the US and the 7 years since 9/11 and translated into an election contest between Obama and McCain.

Without even getting into the article itself, it is quite amazing the amount of "good press" China has gotten in the past few weeks because of the Olympics. It seems that the success of these Games have given China a better platform to showcase its achievements. Even though the human rights and Tibet issue is always raised in any general article, at least it is moved down further near the end of the article.

Here's the complete NY Times text:
After attending the spectacular closing ceremony at the Beijing Olympics and feeling the vibrations from hundreds of Chinese drummers pulsating in my own chest, I was tempted to conclude two things: “Holy mackerel, the energy coming out of this country is unrivaled.” And, two: “We are so cooked. Start teaching your kids Mandarin.”

However, I’ve learned over the years not to over-interpret any two-week event. Olympics don’t change history. They are mere snapshots — a country posing in its Sunday bests for all the world too see. But, as snapshots go, the one China presented through the Olympics was enormously powerful — and it’s one that Americans need to reflect upon this election season.

China did not build the magnificent $43 billion infrastructure for these games, or put on the unparalleled opening and closing ceremonies, simply by the dumb luck of discovering oil. No, it was the culmination of seven years of national investment, planning, concentrated state power, national mobilization and hard work.

Seven years ... Seven years ... Oh, that’s right. China was awarded these Olympic Games on July 13, 2001 — just two months before 9/11.

As I sat in my seat at the Bird’s Nest, watching thousands of Chinese dancers, drummers, singers and acrobats on stilts perform their magic at the closing ceremony, I couldn’t help but reflect on how China and America have spent the last seven years: China has been preparing for the Olympics; we’ve been preparing for Al Qaeda. They’ve been building better stadiums, subways, airports, roads and parks. And we’ve been building better metal detectors, armored Humvees and pilotless drones.

The difference is starting to show. Just compare arriving at La Guardia’s dumpy terminal in New York City and driving through the crumbling infrastructure into Manhattan with arriving at Shanghai’s sleek airport and taking the 220-mile-per-hour magnetic levitation train, which uses electromagnetic propulsion instead of steel wheels and tracks, to get to town in a blink.

Then ask yourself: Who is living in the third world country?

Yes, if you drive an hour out of Beijing, you meet the vast dirt-poor third world of China. But here’s what’s new: The rich parts of China, the modern parts of Beijing or Shanghai or Dalian, are now more state of the art than rich America. The buildings are architecturally more interesting, the wireless networks more sophisticated, the roads and trains more efficient and nicer. And, I repeat, they did not get all this by discovering oil. They got it by digging inside themselves.

I realize the differences: We were attacked on 9/11; they were not. We have real enemies; theirs are small and mostly domestic. We had to respond to 9/11 at least by eliminating the Al Qaeda base in Afghanistan and investing in tighter homeland security. They could avoid foreign entanglements. Trying to build democracy in Iraq, though, which I supported, was a war of choice and is unlikely to ever produce anything equal to its huge price tag.

But the first rule of holes is that when you’re in one, stop digging. When you see how much modern infrastructure has been built in China since 2001, under the banner of the Olympics, and you see how much infrastructure has been postponed in America since 2001, under the banner of the war on terrorism, it’s clear that the next seven years need to be devoted to nation-building in America.

We need to finish our business in Iraq and Afghanistan as quickly as possible, which is why it is a travesty that the Iraqi Parliament has gone on vacation while 130,000 U.S. troops are standing guard. We can no longer afford to postpone our nation-building while Iraqis squabble over whether to do theirs.

A lot of people are now advising Barack Obama to get dirty with John McCain. Sure, fight fire with fire. That’s necessary, but it is not sufficient.

Obama got this far because many voters projected onto him that he could be the leader of an American renewal. They know we need nation-building at home now — not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in Georgia, but in America. Obama cannot lose that theme.

He cannot let Republicans make this election about who is tough enough to stand up to Russia or bin Laden. It has to be about who is strong enough, focused enough, creative enough and unifying enough to get Americans to rebuild America. The next president can have all the foreign affairs experience in the world, but it will be useless, utterly useless, if we, as a country, are weak.

Obama is more right than he knows when he proclaims that this is “our” moment, this is “our” time. But it is our time to get back to work on the only home we have, our time for nation-building in America. I never want to tell my girls — and I’m sure Obama feels the same about his — that they have to go to China to see the future.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Harmony and the Dream: The Difference Between East and West

In the 2nd semester of my sophomore year of college, I was honored to take a class with professor Jeffrey Friedman entitled Liberalism, Communitarianism and the Good. POLS V3027 was a political science class focused on theory and the development of political beliefs based on various factors, cultures and influences.

Not only did the class have an interesting focus, but it was taught extremely well. I can say that my life has been visibly changed since taking his class. These were some of the comments that students made after taking his class on CULPA.
Professor Friedman is the best teacher I've had. He is brilliant (you may think you've had brilliant professors before but this experience will make you re-evaluate that), intellectually rigorous (what do you say about a teacher who is able to tie all the tangents together), challenging (you WON'T find anyone who thinks like him and he expects you to think for yourself as well) and compassionate (really listens to students and seems to care). I have also never taken a class with such devastating intellectual and political implications.

He made people feel self-conscious about the quality of their comments in class. But, I will be forever grateful that I took this class because I got over my fear of public speaking and it really opened my mind and challenged me to think constantly during the class. He comes off as opinionated, but I think that's just because he knows he's right :). He really took the discussion to places I have never before nor since traveled to in any other class here. Always challenging us NOT to assume things, not to be lazy in thinking liberal ideology is always right, to read critically - to have our "bullshit detector" always on.

He's simply mind-blowing, funny, and the smartest person I've ever met (and that's genius level, because I like to think I'm pretty smart myself!). His democracy class was the best class I've taken at BC-- the readings on public ignorance and human fallibility were so compelling that I can no longer read the NY Times in the same complacent way I used to. Really, he should write a book and change the world.

After his class, it has been has almost been impossible to find worthy reading material on the NY Times ... until now.

Going through all of the NY Times daily emails that I had forgotten about during the Olympics, I found an amazing article entitled Harmony and the Dream written by op-ed columnist, David Brooks. It describes the basic difference between individualistic and collective societies (exactly like my liberalism and communitarian class) under the auspice of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing where the idea of friends living in harmony was a central theme during the Games.

The world can be divided in many ways — rich and poor, democratic and authoritarian — but one of the most striking is the divide between the societies with an individualist mentality and the ones with a collectivist mentality.

This is a divide that goes deeper than economics into the way people perceive the world. If you show an American an image of a fish tank, the American will usually describe the biggest fish in the tank and what it is doing. If you ask a Chinese person to describe a fish tank, the Chinese will usually describe the context in which the fish swim.

These sorts of experiments have been done over and over again, and the results reveal the same underlying pattern. Americans usually see individuals; Chinese and other Asians see contexts.

This concept translates further than just the Olympics. It is embodied in politics, business, society and even personal friendships. It is the small, yet overarching difference between the East and West. And I believe it is the key for mutual understanding between the different worlds.

David Brooks should continue this train of thought and help Americans and the western world examine and reexamine its view of China. There is much more to be written and seen.

Here is the full text of the article:

The world can be divided in many ways — rich and poor, democratic and authoritarian — but one of the most striking is the divide between the societies with an individualist mentality and the ones with a collectivist mentality.

This is a divide that goes deeper than economics into the way people perceive the world. If you show an American an image of a fish tank, the American will usually describe the biggest fish in the tank and what it is doing. If you ask a Chinese person to describe a fish tank, the Chinese will usually describe the context in which the fish swim.

These sorts of experiments have been done over and over again, and the results reveal the same underlying pattern. Americans usually see individuals; Chinese and other Asians see contexts.

When the psychologist Richard Nisbett showed Americans individual pictures of a chicken, a cow and hay and asked the subjects to pick out the two that go together, the Americans would usually pick out the chicken and the cow. They’re both animals. Most Asian people, on the other hand, would pick out the cow and the hay, since cows depend on hay. Americans are more likely to see categories. Asians are more likely to see relationships.

You can create a global continuum with the most individualistic societies — like the United States or Britain — on one end, and the most collectivist societies — like China or Japan — on the other.

The individualistic countries tend to put rights and privacy first. People in these societies tend to overvalue their own skills and overestimate their own importance to any group effort. People in collective societies tend to value harmony and duty. They tend to underestimate their own skills and are more self-effacing when describing their contributions to group efforts.

Researchers argue about why certain cultures have become more individualistic than others. Some say that Western cultures draw their values from ancient Greece, with its emphasis on individual heroism, while other cultures draw on more on tribal philosophies. Recently, some scientists have theorized that it all goes back to microbes. Collectivist societies tend to pop up in parts of the world, especially around the equator, with plenty of disease-causing microbes. In such an environment, you’d want to shun outsiders, who might bring strange diseases, and enforce a certain conformity over eating rituals and social behavior.

Either way, individualistic societies have tended to do better economically. We in the West have a narrative that involves the development of individual reason and conscience during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and then the subsequent flourishing of capitalism. According to this narrative, societies get more individualistic as they develop.

But what happens if collectivist societies snap out of their economic stagnation? What happens if collectivist societies, especially those in Asia, rise economically and come to rival the West? A new sort of global conversation develops.

The opening ceremony in Beijing was a statement in that conversation. It was part of China’s assertion that development doesn’t come only through Western, liberal means, but also through Eastern and collective ones.

The ceremony drew from China’s long history, but surely the most striking features were the images of thousands of Chinese moving as one — drumming as one, dancing as one, sprinting on precise formations without ever stumbling or colliding. We’ve seen displays of mass conformity before, but this was collectivism of the present — a high-tech vision of the harmonious society performed in the context of China’s miraculous growth.

If Asia’s success reopens the debate between individualism and collectivism (which seemed closed after the cold war), then it’s unlikely that the forces of individualism will sweep the field or even gain an edge.

For one thing, there are relatively few individualistic societies on earth. For another, the essence of a lot of the latest scientific research is that the Western idea of individual choice is an illusion and the Chinese are right to put first emphasis on social contexts.

Scientists have delighted to show that so-called rational choice is shaped by a whole range of subconscious influences, like emotional contagions and priming effects (people who think of a professor before taking a test do better than people who think of a criminal). Meanwhile, human brains turn out to be extremely permeable (they naturally mimic the neural firings of people around them). Relationships are the key to happiness. People who live in the densest social networks tend to flourish, while people who live with few social bonds are much more prone to depression and suicide.

The rise of China isn’t only an economic event. It’s a cultural one. The ideal of a harmonious collective may turn out to be as attractive as the ideal of the American Dream.

It’s certainly a useful ideology for aspiring autocrats.

2008 Beijing Olympics: It's OVER! Onto London 2012

The 2008 Beijing Olympics have officially come to an end. The stadiums are silent. The medals have been given out. The athletes have left. I cant believe the Olympics are already over. After spending soo long perparing for it, the 16 days quickly passed and we're now at Post-Olympics Day 2.

Walking around the streets of Beijing, I feel like there is something missing. For the previous 2 weeks, my first instinct when I woke up in the morning was to turn on the TV and watch Olympic coverage. While there are still some coverage on the local stations, and some rebroadcasts of certain events, it definitely feels like i'm going through some type of withdraw.

At this current moment, i'm watching a rebroadcast of the closing ceremonies. It was a great way to end a specactacular games. There was glamor, spector, symbolism and feeling put into every bit of it. My favorate part of it was the 3 athletes who unfolded the scrool and thought about the memories of the 16 days of competition, ending with the Olympic song and the putting out of the Olympic flame. Just awesome.

Immediately after the Closing Ceremonies, focus has been put squarely on the London 2012 Games. The concensus is that the spectacular performances have put a ton of pressure on London in what they can come up with. Even the IOC has stated that London souldnt look at it as a compentition to top Beijing's extravaganza.

I just received a email with the response of local British citizens after the closing ceremonies. They are already embarassed and worried about 2012.

"The Chinese did it again the closing was amazing. First class and out of this world. The one negative was the London Show what in the heck was that. In Athens when the Chinese did there welccome to show it was amazing and you knew you where going to get something special in Beijing. I hope that London does better than what they showed to-day."

"It has been a long time that I felt embarrassed for 8 long minutes. I really hope the organizers get there act together for the 2012 Olympics in London, because whether we like it or not the Chinese did a wonderful job from beginning to end. Whether true or false, let us hope the Red Arrows will do a fly past at the opening ceremony in London because that will be something worth watching, unless of course Boris has something up his sleeve to surprise us all."  
-Rose, Bicester

"The Chinese showed their rich heritage and history in a dignified and beautiful performance. Us? We showed just what a farce 2012 will be. Our country's heritage (prior to the last government!) is one to be proud of. We have customs and a richer history than many others. So why are we showing a logo from the 70's (I'm a designer, it's shocking!) and a display of ageing rock, one-hit wonders, chavs and only modern London? I'm proud to be English, but in 2012? I may be moving..."
-Angela, Chesterfield

Good Luck London. My mom and I will be there in 4 years to cheer the Olympics on! 奥运加油!

Monday, August 25, 2008

2008 Beijing Olympics: Rampant Ticket Scalping

My first Olympic event that I went to was the Men's basketball preliminary game between the USA and Angola.

After receiving a free ticket to ride the metro - all people with a ticket to any of the day's event had free access to any of the public transportation, my mom and I arrived at the Wukesong stop.

Before walking over to the beautiful and state of the art basketball arena, we had to walk about 500 yards. In that single stretch, we were constantly approached by ticket scalpers either looking to buy "tickets you were refunding" or to sell the tickets they had just acquired. I personally saw or came across 50-100 ticket scalpers in that general area.

Without thinking too much of it, my mom and I proceeded into the arena to see the game. It turned out to be a wildly entertaining and overall solid performance by the All-Star NBA cast on the "Dream Team 8" or aka "Redeem Team."

A couple of days later, my friend Dave somehow got his hands on some USA v. Greece men's basketball tickets. He said it cost him about 2000RMB (285USD) each. I won the same ticket in the ticket lottery for 100RMB a ticket. That's a difference of 1900RMB or a 20x increase over the face price. That's ridiculous.

I was later told that tickets to the men's basketball prelims were the toughest tickets to get. They were sometimes going for 4000RMB for some games and even 10k RMB to 20k RMB for the China v. USA game. Tickets for the swimming & diving events in the Water Cube, the track and field events, the gymnastics events and all other events that China was supposed to do well were going for crazy prices as well. The primary locations of this included the area just outside the basketball area (where I was) and the subway entrance to the Olympic Green - where the bird nest, water cube and many other venues are.

There was so much extraordinary demand for tickets from Chinese people that these prices were maintained throughout the Olympics. It was a quick way to make money for everyone who did it. Even foreigners got involved. Only after more than 11 days of competition did the police start to crackdown. My Chinese friend explained, "It is soo hard for us to find tickets to buy that we'll buy at just about every price. Can you help me find some tickets?" On August 18th, Beijing police arrested more than 200 ticket scalpers. They placed anti-scalping signs in visible places just to deter further scalping.

It didn't work. On August 19th, when I went to the Bird Nest to watch track and field, I was still approached by scalpers who wanted my ticket. Some were offering 500RMB. Others were offering 1000RMB. The face price was 200RMB. All of them were doing it in front of anti-scalping signs. While I saw a few people being arrested, there were still more than 20 people out there. I thought about selling my extra ticket, but my friend who came along would've been really pissed.

I thought about joining in the scalping fun. The ticketing website, was constantly selling tickets that had not been bought up by foreigners during the initial ticket selling phases. They were offering these tickets to only westerners in Beijing through their online system. No Chinese could buy from them. At the end of multiple tries to obtain tickets - I almost got my hands on 6 tickets for the final swimming event (cost 500RMB that could be scalped for 2000RMB) - I gave up on the pursuit. Those tickets could've paid for my entire trip! I guess that's why so many others were doing it.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Cultural Captialism: Modern Dance Festival in Beijing

Last week, my friend and fellow Columbia Alum, Gigi, invited me to a modern dance performance in Beijing. I personally jumped at the opportunity since it was almost 2 years since I had been to a dance performance. As we all already know, Shenzhen is lacking in culture.

As Gigi reminded me in a text message: "Modern dance is supposed to play with the idea of free association of body movements and break the rules of traditional aesthetic styles"....blah blah.

The JK booking Dance Festival Beijing 2008 was held at the Nine Theaters in Chaoyang District. had a total of 8 total numbers with 5 different groups from both the US and China. The US participants were Odyssey Dance Theatre from Salt Lake City and Kim Robards Dance from Denver. Their Chinese counterparts included the Beijing Modern Dance Company and choreographers from the National Ballet of China and TAO Studio,

The dance performance was very impressive. The Chinese performances were displayed in interesting cultural costumes and backgrounds. The American performances were mostly in a traditional western context. The Odyssey Dance Theatre even performed "The Factory", a hip hop piece (I was at one point brought onto the stage and proceeded to dance with the performers for a few minutes). 2 of their dancers were even finalists on the American show, So You Think You Can Dance.

At the end of the performance, Gigi and I stayed for the discussion with the various directors. Most people in the audience asked about specific pieces that they enjoyed. What was the inspiration for it?

As a relative novice in art and dance, my question for the directors reflected on a overall view of the development of modern dance in China as well as how it felt have this kind of cross cultural collaboration.

All of the directors responded positively. They discussed the honor of being able to perform together with Chinese groups and the amazing expansion of modern dance and art in China in the past few years. They also talked about collaboration and learning from each other.

The most interesting comment came from Director Derryl Yeager from the Odyssey Dance Theatre. He discussed his excitement for his dance company and the future possibilities for more traveling tours and performances in China. He enthusiastically wanted to do more of these performance festivals in China.

By spending so much time in Shenzhen and Guangdong province, my primary experience has been associated with trading goods and services. This usually revolves around using cost advantages in one place to arbitrage in another. With my education company, it involves giving students the opportunity to experience another place through travel - almost a trading company dealing in people, instead of physical things.

At no point did I ever consider the idea of trading in culture or "cultural capitalism." All of the American directors had the expressed goal of promoting their own group in China. Just as the NBA and the MLB are heavily investing in China to further expand their market, or multinational corporations expanding their operations in China to expand their own market, these dance companies are in effect doing the same. They are using their time and energy to promote their own art.

These dance companies are also proceeding in a similar way as their business counterparts did. To begin tapping into the Chinese market, western corporations began by established joint ventures with Chinese counterparts. This was not only the only way they could get in at the time, but it was the best way to understand how to navigate China. This is almost what this festival was.

Also just as corporations passed on certain technical aspects or management ideas to their Chinese partners, so did the American dance groups show off their techniques and creative intensions.

What is most interesting is that it seems that there are truly a huge number of people who are interested in China's potential other than for business. Collaboration in academics, art, law, sport, society, culture and other areas are just as important as for pure business.

2008 Beijing Olympics: Medal Count Politics

Before the Olympics started, my friend Amy, made a wager with one of her Chinese coworkers which country would win the most gold medals in the Olympics. For 100RMB (15USD), Amy took the US while her colleague took China.

At that time, I personally believed that if Michael Phelps was taken out of the equation China could win. Otherwise, there would be only a small chance that China could stand on top of the gold standings.

At the beginning of the final day of competition, no matter what the US win today, China has won the total gold medal tally. The only question is whether or not China will eclipse the 50-gold mark.

I haven't talked to Amy yet, but I bet she is upset that she lost the bet. She probably feels the same way as most people in the US.

The most recent discussion online has been with regard to who won the medal race for the Olympics. In the US, the medal count has always been ranked by total medals won, gold + silver + bronze. I remember that from the 1992 games in Barcelona and in '96 in Atlanta. If that's the rubric then the US wins.

In just about everywhere else in the world, as well as the International Olympic Committee, the rankings are based on the numbers gold medals won. In this rubric, China wins.

Which one is correct?

The Koreans have a different idea. They think it should be ranked based on gold medals per capital (the number of gold medals with respect to the population). If that is the rubric, surprise surprise - South Korea is best.

Some in the US think it should be the amount of people with gold medals on their necks (since a gold in Basketball means 12 people have medals vs. weightlifting where only 1 person receives a gold).

I personally adhere to what the IOC's formula - since it's been used since 1894. I would also like to politely ask my fellow Americans to just accept the fact that China won the most golds and congradualte them for it. For a country and culture where being #1 is first and foremost, it should also embrase that winning gold is most important.

2008 Beijing Olympics: Blue Skies and Marathon Olympic Record

After running for 2 hours 6 minutes and 32 seconds, Samuel Wansiru, from Kenya won the Men's marathon in Olympic record time. He ran the marathon along bright blue skies in Beijing. This was one of the final events in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Just a few weeks ago, the constant question and speculation over the air quality in Beijing was circulating in the western media. How would the bad air effect the athletes? Will China's efforts to have blue skies for the games work? Will athletes come to China and not compete because of the air?

No matter what happened, everyone always said that distance runners wouldn't break any records since they would have the most exposure to polluted air when competing.

Just as the Olympics is coming to a close, this issue of Beijing air quality has been almost entirely forgotten about. Very few articles about the air quality were written after the Olympics actually started.

Not only was the marathon ran under blue skies, but for the majority of the games have been competed in favorable weather. Beginning with the rain-less opening ceremonies to the splendor of the final day, the Olympics have been an overwhelming success.

Note: Wansiru's record in the marathon wasn't just a new Olympic record, but was one of the top 10 times this year for the marathon.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

2008 Beijing Olympics: Lebron James Marketing Push

One of my favorite things during the Olympics happens after all of the competitions are over. Everyday at about 9pm Beijing time, there is a daily variety show called "Champion's Circle" hosted on CCTV5 aka the CCTV Olympics channel.

On this show, the host invites numerous Chinese gold medal winners or famous athletes & coaches onto the show. Just about every gold-winning Chinese athlete has been on. They have an intimate interview with jokes, personal questions and serious questions. These include feelings about winning the gold, their personal story for how they got to this point. Other discussion topics include different cute or unique habits and other friendly and humors content for the studio audience. Before each guest leaves, they leave their handprint in a mold with their signature and date onto the "wall of fame".

In the background is a huge circular LCD screen showing graphics and videos while background "variety" music accompany the interviews. Between segments there are dancers who entertain the crowd.

On the night of August 22nd, after an joint appearance of 4 members of the Chinese Men's national basketball team - that included Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian, a surprise guest showed up on the show.

It was Lebron James.

Earlier in the day, Lebron and Yao Ming had made a joint appearnce at a event bringing together athletes from different countries to promote cross cultural understanding. The was Lebron's second stop.

Joking around with the host through a translator, Lebron James was interviewed for about 10 minutes with a huge mural of him dunking in the background LCD.

Questions posed included.... what did you think of the opening ceremony? Why didn’t you take up ping pong instead? Which color medal do you like better, silver or bronze? Lebron kept his cool and even made a few jokes himself.

At the end, Lebron James signed a basketball and gave it to the youngest kid in the audience so that the kid can forever love the game of basketball.

As Lebron James left, he was given a framed photo of himself as a gift. He then also made a hand print and hung it on the wall of champions.

I personally love Lebron James. He’s one of the best basketball players in the world, has a great personality and is a huge fan of Ohio State (probably the college he would’ve attended if he didn’t go to the NBA directly) which is my favorite too.

As a person who is establishing himself as a international icon and brand, Lebron James had the 2nd highest gross income for an athlete in 2007 (Tiger Woods was first). His marketing presence in China, a country where basketball is the most popular sport – and everyone loves the NBA is a great idea. Even though this show is produced in what Americans would consider a “variety show” format with cheesy music and sometimes even cheesier jokes, it is watched by millions and millions of Chinese viewers.

Lebron James is not only taking advantage of his opportunity to participate in the Beijing Olympics to the fullest (by appearing in events like this), his Cleveland Cavs also came last year for the first preseason NBA games ever in China – held in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Macau.

While his Nike posters in China are not as big as the one in Cleveland, or his fame in China isn’t as big as Yao Ming or Kobe Bryant (who has a huge following), Lebron James will have a great future in the China market.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

2008 Beijing Olympics: Liu Xiang Withdraws, Mayhem Ensues

After waking up this morning after a long Sanlitun night, I was able to catch the prelims of the Men's 110m hurdles race featuring Chinese superman, Liu Xiang. Without even knowing what's going Liu Xiang suddenly took his competition numbers off and walked out of the stadium. Everyone was in shock. How did this happen?

Although I was stunned by what happened, I wasn't necessarily surprised. Everyone already had Liu Xiang in the finals winning the gold medal. I even have tickets to the semifinals competition. However, all of those expectations can be quickly destroyed when a false start or an injury prevents the athlete from competing.

Immediately after the withdraw, a press conference was called with the Chinese Track & Field coach and Liu Xiang's personal coach. They explained that this was an Achilles tendon problem that only manifested itself recently. It had nothing to do with the previous hamstring injury or something that was hidden. He also explained that the pain had to be intolerable for Liu Xiang to withdraw – that it was his dream to compete in the Olympics ever since he saw that China was awarded the game 7 years ago in 2001. Liu Xiang was 18 (the same age as me).

What is most heartbreaking is that during his last training session the day before the opening ceremonies, it was reported online that he was running at around 12.9 seconds. After the press conference, an emotional CCTV5 reported that the actual time was around 12.8 – faster than world record time.

Liu Xiang has been the idol for so many Chinese for so long that he won't be discarded so easily. Even though he didn't compete in this Olympics and didn't win gold for his country, he will always be loved by his countrymen.
This response in already there. Within a few minutes after the press conference people already have understanding and would like to encourage him to fight back. Beijing TV's commentary show on the Olympics is taking text messages and emails from viewers. All comments have been positive and understanding. This Beijing TV show went on for the entire afternoon with the 4 hosts (2 male and 2 female) taking about this withdraw back and forth.

I was texting back and forth with a friend and she said she cried when she heard the news. In her text: "Liu Xiang let his country down, but he's the only person in the world with 1.3 billion exectations on him."
At 10pm, Liu Xiang gave an interview with CCTV apologizing to the Chinese people. He said that there was no way he could compete and that it was too much pain to bare.

At the same time, China just won its 39th gold.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

2008 Beijing Olympics: Best Story of the Games

One of the best stories for this Olympics is the story of Du Li, the Chinese women's shooter. She has been a consistent force in women's shooting for the past few years, repeatedly winning various world level shooting events. She was the reining Olympic champion of the Athens games for the 10m air rifle.

On the first day of competition she was supposed to be part of a 2-women Chinese team that was dubbed "双保险" "a double insurance" for the gold medal in the 10m air rifle competition - the 1st gold medal awarded for the Beijing games and the 1st gold for China.

The first event came and went without any news. The final result was shocking. Of the 3 medalists, there were no Chinese. The perennial favorite, Du Li, finished 5th.

A female Chinese CCTV reporter caught up with Du Li as she was leaving the competition. During the brief interview Du Li was visibly crying under her visor. Her emotions - from losing the 1st gold medal, from the pressure she put on herself, from the pressure of expectations from her fans, from the Chinese people - these all out. This feeling even made the interviewing reporter cry while encouraging Du Li that she could come back.

Katerina Emmons, the gold medalist of the event said in her press conference that she really felt bad for Du Li. "The media put so much pressure on her. I know that she can shoot so much better than she did today. If possible, I want to give my flowers [that she received for winning the gold medal] to her."

Fast forward a few days. China has had a very successful Olympics. Men's gymnastics won gold. Women's gymnastics won gold. More than 15 gold and 20 plus medals later, Du Li was back center stage competing in the final of the women's 50m rifle competition.

Leading by 1 after the qualification round, Du Li's first shot was a 8.7, the lowest of all the competitors. The air was sucked out of the venue and the fans could feel a sense of unease.

However, this time the happy ending was meant to be. Du Li pulled away at the end, winning by almost 2 points.

When asked by the reporter how it felt to have 4 years of hard work come to fruition, Du Li responded that it was actually the past 4 days that have been so incredibly difficult. Crying tears of joy, she thanked all of the fans who went out to support her, sending her gifts and cards, encouraging her to keep on fighting on. It was that motivation that pushed her through.

Monday, August 11, 2008

2008 Beijing Olympics: Attack on Americans

A few hours after after the Beijing 2008 Olympics opening ceremonies, a Chinese man stabbed 2 Americans at the Drum Tower in a random act of violence. This has been distributed in the western media as well as the local expat population in Beijing. It seemed like people were somewhat on edge this past weekend.

Some have also suggested that this could lessen the Olympics and China's organization of it. ESPN recently had an awesome article that said it clearly.

What the Chinese know now is that even the most prodigious planning cannot prevent every bad occurrence. We don't know whether this was indiscriminate, individual violence or something larger, or whether the victims were singled out because of race or nationality. However, a U.S. State Department release Saturday said, "Based on the information available, this incident does not appear to have been a targeted attack, but, rather, a random isolated incident."

And those can happen anywhere, as most Americans know all too well. So does the rest of the world. A man recently stabbed and beheaded a fellow passenger on a Greyhound bus in a remote section of Canada, seemingly out of the blue.

Bad people can do bad things almost anywhere -- even at the Olympics. The people of Atlanta learned that horrible lesson 12 years ago in the Centennial Olympic Park bombing.

That act did not define America or Americans, and this act shouldn't define China or Chinese. But for a people who have invested so much effort into these Olympics -- so much of their self-worth -- this was a devastating occurrence. Especially in a country with a low rate of violence.

Here's to ESPN journalistic foresight.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

2008 Beijing Olympics: Craziness @ Ditan Park - Opening Ceremony

The Washington Post was present at Ditan Park for the opening ceremonies. As reported in For Chinese, A Long-Awaited Occasion of Hope and Pride...

"Everyone is crying out, 'Go, China!' I feel the park is going to explode," said Liu Jian, 29, a composer who watched the ceremony in Ditan Park.

Audiences cheered loudly for Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei, as Taiwan is referred to at the Olympics. They applauded loudly for allies such as Pakistan and Cuba, for soccer nations Brazil and Spain, and for Iraq. In Ditan Park, there were no discernible boos for the United States or Japan, both targets in the past of virulent expressions of Chinese nationalism.

When a towering Yao Ming entered the stadium at the head of the Chinese delegation bearing a giant Chinese flag, thousands of people sitting on every available inch of pavement rose to their feet screaming and cheering until their faces were red.

I was one of the people yelling and jumping on my feet. Here was the scene when China entered:

2008 Beijing Olympics: Media @ Opening Ceremony

Here are some videos of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony celebration at Ditan Park on 8.8.08.

European or Aussie journalists interviewing an old lady who was sitting right next to me. There were tons of media everywhere!

A lot of American journalists were on site to capture the moment.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

2008 Beijing Olympics: Opening Ceremony

Within a few hours of the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, some foreign papers already have it wrong. In's article, Beijing Olympics: Chinese told to watch opening ceremony at home, the author, Peter Foster charges that ordinary citizens were not able to watch the event publicly.

I dont know what your talking about, Peter because I just came back from Ditan Park (地坛公园) after 4 hours of watching the opening ceremonies on 2 big broadcast screens. The park was filled with (what I estimated as) between 3000-5000 people watching the broadcast. Not only were there foreigners from all over the world - who cheered for their own countries, but most of the viewers were local Chinese, young and old. Everyone cheered for China. An old lady sitting next to me was interviewed by an Aussie news station and adamantly mentioned how proud she was.

Not only is this article incredibly ignorant, but it shows a lack of journalistic ability. There were tons and tons of media from all over the world at Ditan park taking pictures, filming, conducting interviews, ect. Why were you not there?

I know the LA Times was there.
They might not have tickets to the Games. They might never set foot in a stadium. But wherever there was a TV screen, big or small, the people of Beijing on Friday gathered and cheered, soaking up this brief moment in the long history of this ancient capital when the Olympic flame illuminated the Chinese sky.

Despite suffocating heat and the threat of a summer shower, locals poured into designated parks and viewing areas, grandparents and babies in tow, some waiting hours for a foothold among the standing-room-only crowds of thousands that roared past midnight.

"I am so proud to be Chinese tonight," said Ju Ke, a 19-year-old animation student who got a front-row seat on the grass of Ditan Park before two giant monitors.

"This is such a huge deal for Chinese people," said Li Shengli, 78, a white-haired grandfather and retired electrician who had passed out eight times in the heat since showing up at the park after lunch to get a spot where he could sit. "I don't know if I can live long enough to see the next Olympics. So I had to be here, to participate, to show I care."

"Look at the spirit of these people. Isn't it exciting!" said Liu Jianhua, 57, a neighbor of Li, as young people around him with red flags painted on their cheeks chanted in unison, "Go, China, go!"

Here are some of my pictures from the event.

This was a great event - once in a lifetime. Peter, please cover this event fair, or just Go Home already.

2008 Beijing Olympics: Parade of Nations

One of the coolest things from the opening ceremonies has always been the parade of nations. This is where all of the athletes and coaches of different nations are announced to the crowd. They then march along the track while waving to the fans and the world.

This year, the traditional parade of nations had a twist. The procession is usually done by alphabetical order (A to Z) with Greece (the origin of the Olympics) first and the host country (China this year) last. This time it was not done with Alphabetical order but with the number of Chinese strokes in the first character of the country's Chinese name.

For example, the USA (美国, meiguo), where the character 美 has 9 total strokes. That makes it the 140th country compared with Japan (日本, riben), where the character 日has 4 strokes - making it the 23rd country in line.

Not only is the Olympics being held in China, but this is a sign that the Chinese are doing much of it in its own terms. It is a vastly different approach to a traditional event.

Go China.

Friday, August 08, 2008

2008 Beijing Olympics: Men's Soccer @ Wangfujing

Yesterday I was walking on Wangfujing at night. It seemed to be like a good area. There were a lot of people walking around, hanging out and enjoying themselves.

3 building-sized screens have been put up on the buildings of Wangfujing. They were broadcasting Chinese channels and various Olympic coverage. Local citizens even brought out their stools to hang out and just watch TV with everyone else.

As a friend and I walked up Wangfujing, we saw a huge crowd gathered watching the Men's soccer prelim match between China and New Zealand. After a brief discussion, my friend and I got a beer and joined in the festivities.

I estimate that there were atleast 500-1000 people in my area watching the soccer game. There were people yelling and screaming. There were "中国加油" chants and even imporptu Chinese National Anthem singing. It was definitely a sight. A lot of media were present. Some took pictures and others even joined in the fun.

At around the 65th minute, New Zealand scored their goal. There was a sense that the collective air got knocked out of everyone's guts. The chants went silent and everyone was nervous.

At the 87th mark, and after more than 20 minutes of unsuccessful scoring opportunities by the Chinese team, it seemed that it was almost over. The crowd had almost lost hope that China would score. Finally someone got everyone to stand up for the final few minutes.

So just as everyone stood up, it happened. China scored a GOAL!!

It was pandemonium. Everyone was going CRAZY. I high-5ed a lot of people and miss high-5ed some too. But the feeling was great. For the final few minutes of the match, everyone was yelling and screaming, greatly enjoying the match, especially the CHinese team's performance. Remember, this was the first goal in Olympics or World Cup history for Chinese Men's Soccer.

What a way to start the Olympics!

2008 Beijing Olympics: Scenes from Tiananmen Square

Yesterday, on 8/7/2008 - 1 day before the opening ceremonies, I took a stroll along Wangfujing (王府井), Tiananmen Square (天安门广场). Here are some of the things I saw:

Tons of media from all over the world, interviewing, shooting, performing. This group is interviewing artists in 798.

This group is interviewing Olympic Volunteers.

Young, Middle-Aged and Old people - All supporting the Olympics

Security going in and out of Tiananmen Square

T-Minus 1 day 2 hours 41 minutes and 8 seconds till the opening ceremonies

The scene at Tiananmen Square

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

2008 Beijing Olympics: Hotel Price Rollercoaster

One of the more interesting aspects of the Beijing 2008 Olympics has been the evolution of the price of hotels and different types of accommodations.

In July 2007, I was working with a few different Chinese universities in Beijing on a summer camp for American teenagers. When asking about the possible cost of the basic university dorms during the Olympics, the managers and deans all stated that none of the hotels could give us an accurate price. These hotels (about 2 star level) usually cost around 30 USD per night for a double room. It seemed like all of the different universities were preparing for a huge increase in price due to anticipating huge crowds for the Olympics.

During the same time, all of the major 4 and 5 star hotels in Beijing were preparing for the same surge – of price and of tourists interested in the Olympics.

Fast forward a year and the Olympics are upon us. The prices have quadrupled across the board. No matter if it is the cheapest hostels, the 5 star hotels or everything in between. My friend was planning of traveling in Beijing during this time for 2 days. The price for Leo Hostel in Beijing is 550RMB or almost 80USD for a single room. Dorm rooms with 8 people cost 40 USD. Typical hotels costing 50 USD are now asking for 200. This is amazing.

At the same time, a combination of factors has changed the scope of the Olympics with respect to visitors.

1. The increased regulations of visa applications have made it much more difficult for foreign visitors to participate in the festivities.

2. Due to the same visa issues, many westerners already in China have left. One friend told me that 80% of all foreigners have left China in the past 6 months. I don’t really believe the ratio is truly that high, but its definitely true. Many friends and friends of friends in Shenzhen and Guangzhou have left.

3. Recent terrorist attacks in Xinjiang province have forced the government to increase security measures. Not only has this possibly affected foreign tourists, but many Chinese tourists have stayed away from Beijing.
“They’ve even mobilized surface to air missile defense systems around Beijing. You know if something happens, it’s going to be in Beijing.” – My Aunt
Combine these reasons with protests from some European heads of states, the Tibetan issue and the Sichuan earthquake, the amount of foreign tourists at the Beijing Olympics are drastically less than the 500,000 previously expected. As The Times of India reports:
People connected to the travel industry were expecting a flood of visitors coming to Beijing two weeks before the Games.

Instead, there is a small trickle of visitors just three days before the start of the Games apart from the athletes and sports officials from different participating countries.The arrival lounges at the Beijing airport, including the recently opened Terminal 3, are not at all as crowded as one would expect at the airport of a city hosting the world's biggest sports event.

Though exact numbers are not available, most observers feel there are lesser foreign tourists seen at Beijing's airport on a given day now than what was visible few months back.
Without the amount of foreigners expected, many of the hotels have changed pulled back on their previously ridiculous rates. Although rates are still higher than before, they are much more "reasonable".
"I am getting very low price quotations from three-star hotels. They are ready to sell rooms at nearly half the price they were asking for two weeks back. Lot of hotels are losing hopes of 100 per cent occupancy during the 16 days of the Games," Chang Qing, a travel agent, said.
Some news outlets have even reported that many 4 star hotels have less than a 50% occupancy rate for the entire Olympics. Who knows what the figures are for 3 star hotels and smaller establishments. I guess all that preparation starting a year ago was really a waste of time.

2008 Beijing Olympics

I’m officially on my way to the Olympics.
  • I have my bags packed.
  • I found a relatively cheap business hotel in Chaoyang District for about 400 RMB per night.
  • I have my tickets ready – 4 events including a basketball game between the USA and Angola.
  • I called friends and family who I’m going to hang out with
  • I’m going to attend a pre-Olympics Columbia alumni function in Beijing
  • I have the Olympic spirit
  • I even have an Olympic T-shirt
In the past few days, there has been a lot of talk about increased security for the Olympics. Due to the recent terror bombings in Xinjiang province, the security ramifications have affected the entire country.

I have seen guard dogs and increased security in Shenzhen’s subways.

I’ve been searched and re-searched in the airports, and even had to take off my shoes. That never happens in China.

I tried having a family friend help book me a hotel room that would be cheaper than I would be able to find. She could use her connections and book the room in someone else’s name to book a 4 star hotel for about 350 RMB. Typical 4 star rates are more than 1500 RMB. However, due to the terrorist bombings, all hotels are requiring that all guests be registered in his/her own name. So much for the 4 star hotel.

Even with all these possible issues, the Olympics experience is going to be great!

Barak Obama's Brother is in Shenzhen

In the past few days, it has been exposed that the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Barak Obama, has a half brother living in Shenzhen, China. That’s cool. A lot of foreign media sources have picked up the story.
Friends say he has a long-term Chinese girlfriend in her 20s from Henan, a poor landlocked province that sends millions of migrants to the coastal cities.

He lives in Nanshan, a brash new district of high-rises and streets teeming after dark with young migrants eating spicy street food and cramming into bars, karaoke joints and massage parlors.

“He is big, strong and full of energy, speaks good Chinese and is a really easygoing guy,” said a Chinese friend, “He always wears a hat over his shaven head. I believe he has several consultancy jobs.”

Chinese officials said there are unanswered questions about his internet-based company, Worldnexus Ltd. It has provided corporate communications and website design to Chinese firms seeking customers in English-speaking markets, of which the United States is the biggest.

It seems like Ndesandjo is experiencing the typical American – or Westerner – in Shenzhen life.
  • He lives in Nanshan, where most expats live – and where I’ve recently moved.
  • He has a younger Chinese girlfriend. No surprise there.
  • The girlfriend is from Henan – everyone it seems is from Henan.
  • He speaks Chinese and is really easy going.
  • He has his own company that does some international import/export – all westerners work in import/export and/or teaching English. EVERYONE!
  • The company isn’t officially registered in Shenzhen – yea, not many foreign businesses are registered in Shenzhen. Most are registered in Hong Kong.
I would be interested in meeting Mr. Ndesandjo to get his prospective on Shenzhen, living in China and that the best bars in Nanshan are.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Pastic Bags in China Renewed

Ever since June 1st of 2008, just about all Chinese cities have imposed a fee for using plastic bags at 7/11s, Wal-Marts, ect. Bring your own bag, or pay 1RMB (.15 USD) to use ours. That's how the government wants to reduce the amount the white waste and help the environment. (I wrote about it here)

Since this regulation has gone into place, there has been a lot of media coverage on the effects both in China and Internationally. Some have even suggested that China will save almost 37 million barrels of oil per year.

Radio and TV news has interviewed employees of many companies and the situation seems to be the same. Across the board, plastic bag use has decreased by almost 80%! That's incredible.

However, that's not the whole story.... Not in China, atleast.

I went to Carefore today to pick up some orange juice. It keeps my energy up and is rich in vitamin C. Honestly, it's an acquired taste. So i'm waiting in line with my medium box of OJ (12.5 RMB) waiting to checkout and I notice the lady in front of me putting her stuff on the checkout belt Little by little, she places her fruits, veggies, frozen food, meat, ect. on the belt.

When the clerk asks her if she would like to purchase a plastic bag, or if she had her own bags, she replied that she didnt need any. However, in my point of view, she didnt have any bags with her (I constantly carry one in my pocket just in case). Instead, she was holding a small roll of still-connected plastic bags in her hand - the ones used for holding fruits and veggies. She then calmly seperates the bags and without any thought, places all of her items in.

This is outrageous! Instead of doing the good thing of bringing her own bag, or thinking to help the enviorment, or even following the basic rules, this lady (kinda grumpy lady) finds away around it by just using the other bags. According to different media reports, while use of the regular plastic bags have drastically fallen, the use of fruit, veggie, rice holding bags have increased almost 10x! The retailers and the markets don't know what to do about it.

While watching this lady do her thing, I also looked around me to see how other people were reacting. Everyone was just minding their own business, talking on the cell and waiting patiently (or sometimes impatiently) in line. No one thought anything wrong was happening.

Maybe in a Chinese culture where "face" 面子 matters, some social pressure would easily solve this problem. Only if someone would actually care.