Matt goes to the Olympics

Matt | Olympics 08-08-08 | Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

I was very lucky to have gone to the Olympics twice. The first time it was a perk of being an English teacher. Actually, it was the perk of dating a teacher who’s students like her. Recently my girlfriend got two tickets to see a football match: Italy vs. Belgium. It was a wild atmosphere here at the Olympics. Seeing the game, cheering and watching the underdogs, Belgium, upset Italy. So it pays off to be friendly with your students or to be fortunate enough to date someone who is.

Weekly Roundup: Olympics Update

Matt | Olympics 08-08-08 | Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

Recently, I wrote a negative piece on my students view of sports and the Olympics. I’ve heard some of my friends comment on this and I may have been too critical of my students. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to have gone to an Olympic Game: watching Belgium upset Italy in the quarterfinal 3-2. At that game I saw lots of Chinese fans cheering for non-Chinese teams. The atmosphere was electric. At one point the wave the fans produced was so intoxicating that I was looking more for it than and the game. Hearing the cheers, “Jia You”, “Jia You I-Da-Li”, “ta-ta-ta- Bel-Gium”, my favourite was a combination of an Italian guy yelling, “I-tal-i-a” and the fans yelling, in unison, “Jia You” to make a beautiful combination of “Jia You,” “I-tal-i-a”, “Jia You,” “I-tal-i-a”. It was a great experience.

Lately, I’ve found some interesting reads on the Olympics, buying scalped tickets, the Olympics in QIngdao and the history of Olympics and politics. All quite interesting reading.

China Briefing’s Olympics an Outstanding Success.This is nice to read. It’s good to hear the games have been so successful so far. The games have been quite emotional too, especially after seeing Liu Xiang the other day. Overall, it’s nice to hear the games are going off successfully. From my point of view, the venues, security and volunteers have been fantastic. They’re volunteers almost everywhere you look in blue and white shirts ready to help with a nice smile and a great attitude.

China Briefing’s Scalping Officially Discouraged. This one I’m not too happy about as I unfortunately do not have tickets. From reading the short piece, it sounds like selling tickets is highly discouraged, while buying them may not be. A friend of mine bought some yesterday to see boxing for RMB100 per ticket instead of the RMB30 ticket price and they were fine.. As a person living in Beijing, watching the TV and seeing the stands half empty, it really upsets me that I cannot buy tickets. I guess like with everything: buyers beware.

China Law Blog: Qingdao Olympic Update talks about the sailing competitions at Qingdao and the overall feeling there towards foreigners. I understand the author’s point, when he mentions the Chinese are very afraid of foreigners making “trouble” for China. This piece does a good job capturing what it feels like to be living in China during the Olympics. Even though I’m living in Beijing, a bigger and more “open” city than Qingdao, it still often feels as closed and protected as Qingdao.

Olympics as a political arena, from The Asia Times, talks about how the Olympics and politics have been linked since the beginning of the games. Quite interesting.

Beijing Olympic Games 2008. For anything to do with the games, or medal counts, this is the best site I’ve found so far. Enjoy the games.

Olympics Class

Matt | Olympics 08-08-08,Teach English in China | Thursday, August 14th, 2008

Now that the Olympics are on in Beijing, and that China is doing well, there is (added) excitement in my class. Having a TV in our school also creates a buzz, and background noise, but unfortunately the coverage is all in Chinese. Still it has provided some interesting discussions about events, for example, “What’s this event called where two people dive into the water at the same time…oh, it’s synchronized diving.” But, in watching my students addicted to the TV and to China’s performance it has created some challenges for me as I need to watch what I say.

There are many topics I’d like to talk about in class, yet I’m not sure how well received they’ll be, such as:

  • Is China cheating with their girls’ gymnastics team? (most of the girls look like they’ll still be under 16 for the London 2012 games). Is cheating ok if you don’t get caught?
  • Is coming in 2nd losing? It seems like all the focus is on the athletes and events that win gold medals only, but what about the athletes that come in 2nd, or 3rd. Is it failure or success to be the second best athlete in the world at their sport? It appears the results/performance is all the matters. Win or go home.
  • What is sportsmanship?

This one, Chinese understanding of sportsmanship, upsets me the most. Being someone who’s played sports for most of my life I’ve always grown up with the thought of being a good sport: it’s not whether you win or lose, but if you gave it your best effort; then you can’t lose, you can only get outscored (I borrowed this quote from the legendary Coach John Wooden). So when I saw my students cheering happily, screaming with joy every time an American female gymnast fell, made my blood boil. The sight of pure joy on my students’ faces and the painful sadness on the American athletes’ faces was such a contrast that it made me want to scream. But instead of screaming, I sent the crowd of watchers my most disgusting glare and tried to evaluate why it upset me so much and what I could do about it.

Really, most of things i thought were about me, that it was my problem, not theirs, and that I had to handle things better. I didn’t think a lecture on sportsmanship would work. I could try to hold some debates in class, but like other sensitive topics in China that would be dangerous. So instead I tried to understand things from their probable point of view: most of my students aged 20-40 have never played organized sports, as this really isn’t in the culture, yet; it’s fair that they are proud of their country being the host country and having done so well, so far. Also, can you judge someone for something they might not have any concept about: if they’ve never been taught about sportsmanship, can you really blame them for not being good sports?

So I decided to take this as a learning opportunity for me. I used this as a chance to learn how to handle my stress better: I took 10 deep breathes; I went out for a walk; I stopped watching TV with those students. I figured control what you can, right?

Still, when I ask my students which Olympic sport they like best and their answer is, “Whatever we win in,”; when I see the female shooter who was supposed to win the first gold medal, crying like a baby because she didn’t and that she felt like she failed her country; when I hear of Chinese fans only watching events their athletes are participating in, then leaving right after; when I hear and see all these things I feel like … turning off the TV, putting in my DVD and waiting for these games to end.

But, when I hear one student’s answer to my question, “Who was best Chinese athlete in the Games?” trying to get – Liu Xiang, Yao Ming, or Guo Jing Jing – and instead someone said Michael Phelps, who truly is the best athlete in these games (though not Chinese), when I heard this I thought, maybe there are more eyes that are open, more minds that are open and more hearts that are open than I originally thought.

One can hope. One can dream.

Weekly Roundup: Olympic Prep

Matt | Olympics 08-08-08 | Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

Recently, I’ve noticed lots of changes surrounding the Olympics and most of them were good. From new subways, to less cars on the road, from more English speaking volunteers to less beggars. Reading different blogs and websites, I’ve come across this great post from Asia Times that summarizes the changes and paints the picture of the people’s attitudes in Beijing.

Asia Times: Beijingers feel the Olympic pinch. I’ve seen most of these changes and especially the Beijingers’ attitudes to go with the flow of things and to stay shockingly optimistic about things. Cindy Sui captures the essence of what it’s like to be in Beijing 3 days before the Olympics. Enjoy.

For a funnier read, here is a note on how Foreign correspondents “should” report the link with Foreign Law Blog’s: How to Cover The Olympics. And yes, the air is still bad. It’s a “white-out” today, Aug 4th, and there is no snow. I often wonder why the air hasn’t improved sooner, and if the smog really is simply fog, and what can be done to improve the air quality not just for a month of playing games, but for the rest of time.

My air pollution source,, recently posted an article Anti-pollution measures, 5 days after, that explains the smog and what risk it poses to athletes and us (?!). From there site, yesterday, Aug3, in Beijing was 77/500 and considered

  • Good” in Beijing
  • “Moderate” in the United States
  • Bad” in France

Maybe it’s time to be stricter on air quality and to do things about improving it for the long term. That’s my long term hope. My short term hope is that it rains the next few days so we can have a clear, clean and sunny opening ceremonies and Olympic games. My fingers are crossed.

Ready or not…here it comes

Matt | Olympics 08-08-08 | Thursday, July 31st, 2008

We are Ready.

This is the theme song of the Beijing 2008 Olympics, or at least this is what they’ve been playing for the past 3 years. It’s got to the point where I almost want to projectile vomit when I hear this song.

But, is it true?

When I walk my normal 20 minute walk to work along the East Third Ring road in Beijing things have definitely changed:

  • Instead of old people sitting every 100 metres talking, now there are old people with Olympic volunteer shirts sitting every 30 metres and talking.
  • Before we had kids walking around slowly, playing their PSPs or staring at their mobile phones in a zombie-like trance, but now these same kids have on nice blue Olympic volunteer shirts, have put away their phones and have put on big smiles.
  • There is now a subway line (line 10) that can take me the one stop needed to work if I’m too lazy to walk it, I’ve now got cheap options.
  • Speaking of the subway, now every time you want to ride the subway you have to scan your bags – picture going through security at the airport, except no metal detector for you, and no line-ups…yet.
  • All the beggars have disappeared: I haven’t seen one for months.
  • There are more traffic rules now – people with cars can only drive every other day depending on their license plate (e.g. even number plates = even days). While I still see lots of traffic, most taxi drivers tell me the roads have improved dramatically.
  • The air still looks horrible. I’m looking out my window (9:30am) and the sky is covered in a white-sm(f)og haze. I don’t know the air quality today, but I do know it looks bad.

Is Beijing ready? Does it matter? The games will come anyways.

I believe there have been a lot of improvements to Beijing. The biggest improvement in my opinion are the new subway lines. This will be a lasting legacy to help improve the cities clogged motorways.

As for the air quality, these past three years I’ve heard people talking about it, complaining about it, discussing how it will improve for the games and yet, it still looks the same. Honestly, I haven’t seen much action on this front until they shut down nearby factories last month and started the driving policy this month. I think this one, improving the environment, isn’t something that can be changed at the last minute, unfortunately.

Concerning, the Olympic venues, they look great on TV. I’m sure the spectators will enjoy them. I’m not sure, how well people will be able to enjoy the venues after the games come and go.

The most impressive thing for me, are the attitudes of the Chinese people towards the Games. The Chinese appear extremely proud of being hosts for the Games. I may have been a bit sarcastic above about the volunteers, both old and young, but honestly it’s been quite a nice sight. To see so many volunteers smiling and ready to help. I’ve even tested them on occasion to check their English levels,

“Where’s the nearest Starbucks?” and “How do I change to subway line 10?”

In both cases, they were able to communicate the necessary information to me so I understood and could get want I wanted. Their English was functional, so in my mind, that was perfect. I got my morning coffee.

All in all, I think the volunteers are ready, the venues are ready, the subway lines are ready, now all we need is for mother nature to come around and cooperate and we’ll be fine.

8 days to go.

Weekly roundup: Olympics, Are We Ready?

Matt | Olympics 08-08-08,Visas | Thursday, June 26th, 2008

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about other great China blogs. Here are some interesting ones that mainly surround the Olympics. Recently I was asked if I thought Beijing were ready for the games. I said yes, mainly because for the big things – stadiums, transportation, people’s attitudes – I do believe they’ll be ready. But, I’ve been thinking about it and there still are a lot of construction sites up, and some places that should be beautiful are still covered in metal scaffolding, surrounded by dirt. Hopefully, things will come together in the last few weeks. My fingers are crossed.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about, and worrying about, what some athletes might do during the Olympics if they decide they want to voice their opinions on certain issues. It reminded me of the 1968 Olympics. Here is an interesting article from a the Beijing Olympic Games 2008 site.

Following this site, here’s another excellent article about 6 Scams to avoid at the Beijing Olympics. I can proudly or embarrassingly say that I’ve fallen for 3 of the 6 of these scams in my 3 years in China: got fake money, went to the art “exhibition”, and got in an unlicensed taxi. These are good tips to watch out for before you come. As for the fake money, i recommend not taking any old money especially for higher denominations like 20 RMB or higher. Get new bills. I still have a pretty, old 50 that is a great souvenir now.

Here is another great post, with amazing photos, 10 Amazing new buildings in China. These photos are wild. The architecture industry in China is taking off to new heights. I only hope the quality control & safety industry is keeping pace with these beautiful buildings.

Beijing is starting some of it’s anti-pollution measures for the Olympics and one that I’m eagerly waiting for is removing half the cars for our congested highways (ring roads). Here is an article explaining the change from – Beijing takes half of gov’t cars of roads. Is this regard China will be ready. The roads have lightened up, yet the honking still remains. My only hope is that the government will keep this measure in place after the games have ended.

Here is a very interesting piece talking about how China’s tightened visa policy is keeping tourists away from Beijing. China’s Visa Policy Threatens Olympics Tourism. This I’ve seen. As the Olympics are 43 days away it doesn’t feel so. The streets are empty. Besides all the clocks keeping track of the games I would have forgotten that the games were happening in Beijing. The recent disasters in southern China have taken resources, attention and focus away from the Games and onto lives.

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