T-minus four days and packing ….

Some serious pre-China anxiety setting in. I am — despite my aura of world-seasoned, globetrotting, time-zone scoffing meanderings — a hater of change and a serious agoraphobic who needs a Rainman-like routine to survive. Here is my home from August 5 through the 26th. The Beijing Grand Empark.

This place looks like the dollhouse for Hello Kitty and the rest of the Sanrio menagerie. With nighttime lighting like this they should play steam calliope music through tin bullhorns at all hours. The number one amenity of the Empark is this mysterious feature, the “Underground Non-Night City:”

“The underground non-night city features various shops, gourmet street, super market, indoor swimming pool, recreational centre, beauty salon, KTV, sauna, night club, DISCO, etc.”

Along with “KTV” I need to figure out this mystery activity as soon as I arrive:

Tennis Court / Pool Tables / Physical jerks / Badminton”

The Empark is way on the western side of the city (if the Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square are the center of Beijing, then the Empark is out at 9’o’clock), south of the Summer Palace in Shijingshan. I used Lenovo’s Olympic venue mashup of Google Maps to locate the place and orient myself in relation to the rest of the action. It’s not in Outer Mongolia, but the Empark doesn’t look like its in the heart of the action, which I predict will be more to the east around Chaoyang and the embassies. On the plus side, the hotel is near the baseball park, so if I can score some ballgame tickets, I’ll be close.

Travel around the city is not an easy thing when the Olympics aren’t in town, and even with even/odd driving restrictions in place, this is not a great city for a non-Chinese speaker to simply leap into a cab and issue directions. Indeed, I usually get a card with the hotel address in the appropriate characters and laminate the sucker to show to cab drivers when I get lost. Beijing is not a walker’s city — not in the Manhattan sense of the work — although one can definitely get some good strolls in around around the Forbidden City, a cross-town expedition is not recommended due to the sheer vastness of the megapolis.

My big concerns, as always pre-trip, are the adequacy of the gym, the conduciveness of the neighborhood to walking (I am an incessant walker when stressed out), and food. To give you a sense of how weird I am, I have eaten, with very few exceptions, the same breakfast for the last four months — steelcut oatmeal with apple sauce and almonds, two slices of Canadian bacon, a teaspoon of codliver oil, and two cup of Peet’s French Roast cofee, black. That’s it.  No eggs. No pancakes.  Beijing is the land of congee for breakfast — a favorite of mine — and the weirdest bacon (very tasty) I’ve seen outside of the US. As for the gym, I’ll bring my jump rope, new ultra-ugly Nike IDs, and the Crossfit list of hotel-room routines to try to stay on the fitness bandwagon.

I will say I’m psyched not to be at the usual Lenovo hotel — the Loong Palace (aka “The Lonely Palace”) which is way north of the city near the company’s offices in Haidan — a perfectly fine place to sleep, but per the nickname, pretty much in the middle of nowhere out on the Baidaling Expressway which leads to the Great Wall.

I need to get my affairs in order on this cloudy Cape Cod day and start packing for 21 days out of my normal routine. I don’t think the TSA is going to be cool with me packing a pint of Norweigan cod liver oil ….. Imagine how freaked out an athlete must get when traveling to a foreign venue? US athletes brought their own food to Rome in 1960 and half of the squad got dysentery from eating unwashed fruit. I can only imagine how freaked out some over-trained specimen must feel about getting settled into a new timezone, bed, diet, and air quality before trying to perform in the most important competition of their lives. I guess the lucky ones are those athletes who perform in what Uncle Fester calls the “Smoking Sports” — sports where one could,  if dumb enough, smoke a butt while participating. Sailing comes right to mind (what I would pay for a picture of some Olympic sailors on the downwind leg cracking open Budweisers and lighting Camels in the wind like Cotuit Skiff sailors in the Sunday afternoon Informal series) along with shooting (Billy Bob with a shotgun taking aim at clay pigeons with a Merit menthol hanging from his lip) and maybe bowling (except bowling isn’t an Olympic sport). The athletes with the freakish metabolisms and the V02 max ratings up in Lance Armstrong territory – they must have a hellish time dealing with travel and staying competitive. I get stressed thinking about it.

Okay, back to my second-to-last day off, some paperwork and bills, tomorrow I’ll start packing and worrying about my own details.

Mega-row

Nice thing about vacation is I can take a couple hours in the morning and get a serious row in before the day gets rolling. Today’s Crossfit workout of the day was to run 15 kilometers — and given my running technique has been compared to a pumpkin with serious issues — I said to hell with that, spare the knees, and decided to row 15K — which amounted to two circumnavigations of Oyster Harbors, aka Grand Island, aka Cotacheset ancestral home of the Wampanoags.

The first circuit was brisk and focused on technique, the second rotation was spent obsessing about the various blisters and chafings developing where skin met skin or wet spandex. My hands look gnawed. I literally have a blister forming inside of a blister on my palm.

Ah, but work is not far away. Morning war room call at 7, weekly Lenovo Marketing Board, assorted email spurts. As I pack for another day at the beach the first thing in the waterproof  bag is the blackberry, followed by the zinc oxide, iPod, etc. etc. etc.

I need to find a Beijing rowing club. there is a nice looking river near my hotel, it seems to run out of the lake where the Summer Palace is. I’ve seen crews rowing in Beijing in the past so I need to find out where their boathouse is. I doubt I’m going to get any time in on the Olympic course at Shunyi. (end sarcasm).

What I’m Reading: The Leopard

It’s vacation week (sort of) and that means time to dust of the books that deserve some concentration and not a quick skimming. After having my curiosity piqued by the Sunday NYT travel section a few weekends ago, I ordered a copy of Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) from Amazon and waited for it to come off of back order. I have not seen the 1968 Visconti movie starring Burt Lancaster, but will save that for after Beijing.

I spent this afternoon on Dead Neck covered in 30 spf and zinc oxide, listening to an iPod filled with Dylan, drinking diet Moxies and really getting into The Leopard. I give it a strongest recommendation if you’re in the mood for some great historical fiction about an interesting transition in Italian/Sicilian history (the Risorgimento — the rise of Garibaldi and the decline of the House of Bourbon). Lampedusa wrote this in his late 50s and died before it was published. It is definitely a masterpiece and a case of a literary talent realized too late, but gratefully at all.

I need to start thinking about Beijing reading — two massive flights generally eat books — and I guess I blew it by not saving David Maraniss’ fine Rome: 1960 for the flight. Anyway, it was good and it gave me some interesting perspective on the history of Olympic media.

Cuil=Fail

New search engine

Blam

Update:

Cuil was working this morning. Very interesting approach to search. The initial screen is googly in the sense that the search box is the main attraction and nothing else. Big design difference is a black page versus the Google expanse of stark white. The biggest differentiator is the results (or SERP) page.

Couple very interesting things. One — multicolumn and more thumbnail graphic exposure. Second, a tab implementation, and third a  box of related sub-searches.  That’s where Cuil is going to have an impact … the SERP.

Ten days, but who’s counting?

For the first time since preparing for the Olympics took over my life in the spring of 2007, I spent some idle moments actually browsing the upcoming Beijing Games as a fan, and not a marketing geek. My sport of choice is rowing (of course) so I started poking around my favorite rowing site – Row2k.com where I was delighted to see Elle Logan featured on the homepage as one of the youngest members of the U.S. Olympic women’s rowing team, representing the US in the pair. I got to know Elle when she rowed at my prep school alma mater, Brooks, with my daughter. Their four won the New Englands and the nationals, an experience which was pretty intense for me as an overly concerned paternal spectator.

I head to Beijing in a week, arriving on the fifth, then settle in for three weeks of helping our China team manage our sponsorship, make friends of our 100 athlete bloggers, and do some intensive blogging myself. I am assigned to our command center, have been asked for my “uniform size” (I forsee a baby blue jumpsuit and a visor in my future), and will be staying at the Empark Grand Hotel out by the Summer Palace. Other than that, I have no solid agenda other than to get to meet as many of the 100 bloggers as possible, see Elle row (I also have no tickets to any events, but will deal with that when I get there), and try to stay on track for own athletic endeavors and the fall rowing season.

I’m kind of excited. Make that very excited. I’ve been a total Olympics sucker since I watched the 1968 Games and first heard that hokey Olympic fanfare and the voice of Jim McKay. I was outraged at the tragedy of Munich, envious I was so close yet so far from Montreal, and for a brief spell in the late 1970s wondered if I had what it took to make the 1980 team (as it turned out, definitely not and thankfully so given President Carter’s decision to boycott Moscow over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan). I have a very close friend who is a medalist and look up to him as someone who has truly distinguished himself through the kind of preparation and dedication clichés can only begin to describe. So, this is my first Olympics, and if I have my way, not my last.

Cruising through our aggregation of the athletes’ blogs, it is pretty cool to see their first posts from the Olympic Village.


Rajyavardhan Rathore
our Indian target shooter writes:

“Hi Guys, reached the village yesterday night, late night. The first thing that we did here? Walk into the dinning hall ( i guess the size of 3 football fields put together), mind you we had been at the security check area of the village for 6 hours (unusually long) waiting for India’s Delegation Registration Meeting with the organisers of Beijing Olympic Games to be finallised so that we could get into the village as residents.
“Morning was at 7.30 am and we headed off to the shooting range. I had an italian shooter, Daneillo Francesco to give me company and we did a bit of training.
The targets seem fine, not so hard as last time that we were at Beijing for the test event. They were flying pretty smooth. The humidity is really something here, you are dripping of sweat in a few minutes, got to watch for our hydration. I guess i should not be complaining at all about humidity, being from Delhi, India. Cool, no probs, we’ll handle all this… and more. Adios Amigos”

Brady Ellison, the American archer, was also impressed by the size of the dining hall:

“well i arrived at the village yesterday and its absolutely amazing here. we got off the plane and got on a bus that took us to the village were the Chinese are more that helpful got us right through with no problems. The village is huge. Im at a loss of words of how cool it is here, the people are very friendly the food is great. The dinning hall is huge, 200 yards long and thats pushing the small side of it.

I shot today, for the first day off the plane I am very happy the way i shot. there is really no wind so far. they have made some changes since the test event they had last year. new shade canopies and that sort of thing.

I cant really think of anything else if anyone has a question or want to talk about something let me know and ill do my best. Im just so excited to be here we are about to go and shoot again for the afternoon then dinner. ”

This is getting me psyched to get on a plane and get over to Beijing ASAP. Well, a few more days of preparation and pre-blogging, and off I go.

Storm watching

Looks like a serious thunderstorm is sweeping up Long Island on its way to Cape Cod this Sunday afternoon. So, rather than risk life and limb in a sailboat, I’ve hunkered down with the laptop and am watching the radar show a big mass of red moving up the coast.

Run for your lives ....
Run for your lives ....

I use the National Weather Service. In days gone by I used to actually pay Accuweather for “premium” weather until I figured out they get most of their data from the NWS. I need to get a book as I have no idea what “base reflectivity” means, nor the weird quadrangles that get arbitrarily placed on the storm track. Figuring out amateur metereology has long been one of those wish lists along with figuring the names of the constellations.

Looks like I have another hour to go before I need to make sure the car windows are rolled up and the porch windows are closed.

Fried food, farm animals, and nausea inducing machinery

Took the clan to the Barnstable County Fair, an experience akin to paying ten dollars each to go to the worst restaurant on the planet, which then induces you to vomit on spinning rides, fill up again, then finish the meal with a stroll through fetid animal pens in 90 degree heat.

I have never gotten out of there for under $100.

It all begins with the fried food. Wife goes for a ginormous fried onion with horseradish infused mayonnaise and a tub of Del’s lemonade (allegedly considered a delicacy in Rhode Island). Eldest son and I go for the foot long hot Italian sub with greasy fried onions and peppers, and a large $7 order of “curly” fries soaked in vinegar. Youngest son always gets something strange involving mystery meat on sticks. Daughter goes dessert right from the beginning, generally fried and covered in powered confectioner’s sugar. We rendezvous in the glen behind the fried food stands and go communal, all while reassuring ourselves “It only happens once a year.”

Then to the rides. I like looking at the carnies. Belt buckles the size of garbage can lids, weird leather cowboy hats … one actually said, “Get ‘er done” after loading a passel of screaming tie-dyed campers onto the Regurgitron. I don’t go on the rides. I have a notoriously wimpy stomach, horror of heights, and would flunk out of the astronaut try-outs of the first round. So I make the boys do it and then take great glee in watching them get sick.

We play games. Generally involving guns.

And then my favorite part. Animals.

China’s 253 Million Internet Users Surpasses U.S.

Courtesy of Uncle Fester who found this CRN report:

“A report from a Chinese government agency said there are now 253 million Web users in China, up 56 percent from a year ago and surpassing the number of users in the U.S, according to reports.

“While the numbers are impressive, there is still much room for growth. The China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) found that the figures represent only 19% of the Chinese public using the Internet, according to the Wall Street Journal.

China’s 253 Million Internet Users Surpasses U.S. – The Channel Wire – IT Channel News And Views by CRN and VARBusiness.