Aug. 19, 2008
My schedule has changed from all day in the arena to reporting at 2pm for our 6pm competition sessions. The four individual events each night have taken about 3.5 hours to complete. Last night I had some aggravation to burn off. For some reason I couldn't get a name right during competition on the final apparatus, and it was the name of one of the best women in the world on trampoline. Argh! To make matters worse, she slipped up on her final touch of the landing pad, sailing out onto the edge, and was instantly out of contention for a medal. Her coach stormed off the platform. Times like this try my soul, wondering had I said her name properly at introduction...
While still lamenting over this egregious error, I made another - bigger than the first, introducing the new Olympic bronze medalist as from the Ukraine (UKR). It was Uzbekistan (UZB). Now it was me who was sailing off the field of play - and into the cheap seats... where I'm sure the Uzbekistanis felt I belonged. I had one last chance to correct my navigation as her name had yet to be announced. As the only announcer to introduce the foreign medalists, I slipped in a "from Uzbekistan" before giving this bronze medal-winning athlete's name. Whew!
Our university students have told me that this capital city of Beijing is probably very much like our Washington, D.C. It tends to be a conservative town of business. Shanghi sounds more like a happening town, and the culture, art, fashions and social atmosphere are more open, vibrant and alive there.
But with the Olympics, everyone agrees that Beijing has been transformed, and the Asian people are amazed with the number of Western people they see everywhere around the city.
As for me, last night my French announcing friend Michel and I shook each other off and went our separate ways after competition. I got to socialize with Mike, our Aussie director. His company is one of the largest events producers on the globe. He and his colleagues that I met last night at "Heineken House" run the sports presentation for Olympic Archery, Gymnastics, Rowing, Swimming and Water Polo, to name a few. Many of them have been here for months and share an apartment suite. By now, they really know their way around, especially when it comes to cutting loose at night.
Ahhh... Heineken House. What a place! It must have once been either a big old embassy or a Chinese mansion. Spotlights all around filling the skies with beacons. A discouraging maze of security fence to negotiate through, then a long wide open hard-scaped area in front, then a security checkpoint -- one for citizens of Holland -- the other for foreigners. Some of the friendliest foreign people I have met here. Half of Holland must be here dressed in their unique Netherlands national orange color. Into one building, and there is a restaurant and a brasserie at either end under what must be 50 foot ceilings with ornate glassworks.
We follow the throng back outside through a hallway marked only with the sign "toilet" to a maturely landscaped courtyard scented with the jasmine trees that line the walkways and reach out to touch you. The muffled pounding of drum beats and electronically produced music is now noticeable and getting louder, our only clue that we are on the right track. Accents of Dutch languages and other tongues are now heard, no doubt also wondering how much further the trek, and what will it be like once we all find the hootenanny.
Finally, the biergarten! Well lit outside under an umbrella of small spotlights, a Heineken stand, hot food tents with excellent hamburgers, really bad hotdogs, frites (fries... with mayo!) and Dutch delights that I haven't the time or urge to try. Just can't pass up the opportunity for a grilled burger and fries!
There's a group of four young, tall slender Dutchmen. Somewhere they've found traditional Asian silk robes and ornate oriental hats -- in unique orange! They don these clothes with their sports shades and flip flops, and draw much attention from a distance from the many beautiful people around them.
Elsewhere in this large courtyard, there are three young Dutchwomen that have found the traditional and conservative Chinese bodice with many buttons-and-loops up the front -- also in unique orange!
Culture is blending everywhere... but the resulting cocktail is more of a suspension than a solution.
The sound of ping pong balls being bandied about at four tables under another tent adds to the festive atmosphere, as does the thumping sound of a bass drum resonating from the nearest building. A large video screen on the courtyard shows us what is going on inside. There is a stage at the far end of the ballroom where a distinguished black gentleman in a sharp white suit is honoring the Dutch athletes in attendance. And the crowd goes wild ! We can hear their responses through the walls!
I was in gastro heaven with my hamburger and fries! And the company was fun and comical, a mix of young Aussies and Brits that work these crazy jobs for months at a time getting little sleep and running on empty, hitting roadblocks in language and culture with the foreign-speaking people they must work with... but they do get to see the world, and not just as tourists. Quite a trade off. I think you'd have to be young to recover from this lifestyle! Mike introduces me to Rocco (archery), Lou (water polo) and Deb, who warns me that she may fall asleep standing up at any time, as competition at her tennis venue just finished up that day - and so did she!
I saw two gymnasts from CAN that I recognized there. No telling how many other Olympic athletes in street clothes were mixed in the crowd. Looking and feeling like an older, broken-down former non-Olympic athlete, I wisely started the long trek back to the outside world, leaving the Dutch haven to return to my Chinese reality.
» Quick Hit - Hope you're still enjoying the Games on NBC and aren't "Olympic'd OUT" already! You'll have four years to recover before London 2012 !!! I may need every day of it. Hoping you'll all get behind our final chance for a medal in gymnastics. Jon Horton of Oklahoma gets crazy on horizontal bar tonight against some high-flying daredevils, including Igor Cassina of ITA, one of the two oldest competitors among the men. The other 35-year-old, Iordan Iovchev of BUL faltered on rings (his only event) last night, and did not medal.
The countdown clock for London starts on Sunday!
Zaijian for now,