Letter from Beijing: Anthony Lane is a funny man

Anthony Lane, usually the film critic at the New Yorker with David Denby, made me literally laugh out loud with his dispatch from the first week in Beijing.

“It was the same at Beijing Airport: the first thing I saw on arrival was a sniffer dog, but instead of some lunging German shepherd, with streaks of Baskerville-style foam along its jaws, there was a beagle. Now, beagles have been sniffing around U.S. airports for years, but this one was chasing a rubber ball. Running behind, at the end of its tether, was the dog’s keeper, laughing gaily, and behind him, somewhere in the seven years since Beijing won the Olympic bid, was a committee dedicated solely to canine propaganda. As long as one mutt-fancier from the tenderhearted West caught sight of the romping beagle and exclaimed to her husband, “Oh, look at little Snu Pi! See, they don’t eat them, they play with them!,” the committee’s job was done.”

Letter from Beijing: The Only Games in Town: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker.

The Twilight of the Games

Yesterday, Saturday, I snuck away for a doubleheader at Wukesong Park for the two medal round baseball games, the last two ball games to be played in the Olympics since the IOC has deigned to drop the sport (along with softball) thanks to a deadlock vote of 52-52. Baseball was on my pre-Games set of resolutions, and I am glad I got out to the western edge of the city to see the last games before they are gone. It is pointless to get into a comparison pissing match with “sports” that entail music, costumes, and judging. But I get pretty depressed when I look up at the television and see synchronized swimming instead of an epic pitching duel between Cuba and the USA.

International baseball is a strange beast. Of the truly global sports – football (soccer), Formula 1 racing, basketball – baseball has always had fervent support in a few farflung countries where the USA made itself known, but it is probably never going to expand much further than it has already. The Japanese are ardent fans thanks to their post-WWII introduction to besi-boru by the occupying forces under General MacArthur. Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean picked it up prior to Castro (who was a player himself). Taiwan consistently shows up at the Little League World Series and kicks ass. These Games marked China’s debut, but as my Chinese colleagues warned me last winter, baseball doesn’t have a chance in a country focused on events it can get a gold medal in, and football, their pervasive passion.

On the flight to Beijing from Dulles I sat in the second deck lounge of the United 747 with the coaches of the American team and overheard their general manager call the ultimate gold medalist, Korea. Last night I saw his prediction come true as the Koreans took on Cuba and won the gold 4-3 before a nutty mob of Korean fans at Wukesong. Earlier in the day I saw a better game between the USA and Japan for the bronze – though truth be told the Japanese deserve the gold for fan spirit – they had cheerleaders with whistles leading them in “Go Go Nippon !” chants for nearly every minute of the nine-innings, unflagging even after the USA extended their lead to four runs in the seventh inning.

Olympic baseball is a weird, indeed like most other western experiences transplanted to the East, hallucinatory experience. The sports organ guy, the snippets of rock and roll get-psyched music, the 7th inning rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” …. At least there was beer served and lots of it. I think the fans were pretty sophisticated and knew what was going on (reports said some Chinese fans were confused by the rules and didn’t know how to follow the game, cheering foul balls ((heck I cheer foul balls from time to time)). I would have had programs, I would have displayed some meaningful stats on the boards (pitcher’s percentages, pitch count, more batting averages, and for heaven’s sake the lineup), and skipped the obligatory appearance of the oh-so-cute Fuwa mascots.

The real action, as always, was in the stands. I continue to applaud the spirit of the Asian country’s spectators. These are truly their hometeam games and they are making the most of it. I wore my Dice-K Matsusaka Red Sox t-shirt with pride, and on my way of the USA-Japan game at least six Japanese spectators came up to me and shook my hand, beaming and repeating: “Dick-K Yes! Hideki Yes!” Boston was the only team represented on hats and shirts in the immediate vicinity of my seats. Interesting how a couple world championships will extend a brand. One Korean fan in a Green Celtics wifebeater screamed at me: “Go Go Gadget ARMS!!!!” in reference to the long-limbed Kevin Garnett.

So, now it’s all done and the temporary stands at Wukesong are going to be dismantled. Maybe we’ll see baseball rise gain in 2016. Let’s see which city gets the nod. If it is Tokyo or Chicago I’ll bet we witness the second coming of Olympic Baseball.

Nike denies web rumours it forced Liu to abandon race

A big rule in community relations — don’t ask the Chinese government to go fish for the identity of someone posting bullshit about your brand.

“NIKE on Tuesday issued a strong denial of Internet rumours that it forced Chinese athletics hero Liu Xiang to pull out of the Olympics, adding it had asked authorities to investigate the posting.

‘The posting is a malicious rumour, and has not only misled netizens, but also seriously damages the company’s reputation,’ Nike, one of Liu’s major sponsors, said in a statement emailed to AFP.

‘We have immediately asked relevant government departments to investigate those that started the rumour.‘[emp. mine]

Nike denies web rumours it forced Liu to abandon race.

CC BBaunauch

Blogger Blogs of Note

Thanks to our partner Google (host of our Olympic Podium http://2008.lenovo.com and our preferred blog provider for our blogging athletes) for featuring a ton of bloggers in the Voices of the Summer Olympics program on their Blogs of Note page.

Almost all of the blogs on this list are in the Lenovo program!

some of the athletes I’ve spoken to are very honored to be on this. Thanks Google!

Training the social athlete

I spent yesterday (Wednesday, Beijing) in our International i.Lounge in the Athlete’s Village playing the social media expert to any and all who would listen. I really get charged up hanging around elite jocks — they’re young for the most part, completely dedicated, excited, and grateful for the experience. I find any proximity to that is kicking a lot of cynicism out of me to the wayside.

Tatyana Lebedeva from Russia came by and asked me to help her set up a blog to accompany the website she has already launched.  We signed her up for a Google account, enabled a blog on blogger (tatyanalebedeva.blogspot.com), Skyped her significant other with the details, watched him via video check it out, wrote down the passwords, and were done. Fastest blog launch in my personal history. In the course of the sign up I learned she won a silver medal in the triple-jump.

Then I got to meet one of the bloggers in the Lenovo Voices of the Summer Olympics program, Canadian high jumper Nicole Forrester who blogs at Soaring to Excellence. She needed a new IdeaPad so I swapped her Y510 for a sleek U110 and our interactive media expert and iLounge manager, Sheji Ho, offered to perform a data transfer. Nicole and I talked about stuff for a half hour, me nervous to keep her staying too long as she was getting psyched for her big competition. She’s tall. Like really tall. Taller than me tall. She told me the story of the opening ceremony, of singing O Canada! in the tunnel leading out to the field, and reminded me that none of the athletes got to watch Zhang Yimou’s opening theatrics because they were waiting outside for their parade of champions.

Then I met a journalist from Uganda and we talked about getting his country’s delegation online and blogging.

Finally I got to meet Sanani Mangisa, who plays on the South African field hockey team. She loves to blog and was very complimentary about the entire blogging program, Lenovo’s iLounge, tech support, and overall goodwill.

I left feeling great about things and wished we could have done this for more athletes. It’s obvious athlete blogging is here to stay.

Dare I dream ….

…. of leaving early? Like tomorrow? There’s a shot I can get out of here before the planned depart on Tuesday. I am torn. Things are settling down, no more press stuff, the final wave of guests are checking in today. I just need to write a few more posts, get the big one done about how we powered the Games and maybe, just maybe I can sit on Dead Neck this weekend and read a book and work on my sunburn.

update: i’m going to hang in through Tuesday and stick to the plan. Off to the gold medal game in women’s soccer tonight with the gang from the war room.

Olympic Baseball’s Two-Week Wake – WSJ.com

I suppose I still have time to knock off another of my Olympic resolutions — take in a baseball game before the sport is retired from the Olympic line up — but time is running short and it sounds pretty funereal out there at Wukesong. I do have my Dice-K Matsuzaka Red Sox t-shirt ready to go and would definitely have no problem sitting in the bleachers with a Tsingtao and a Fenway Wukesong Frank. My buddy Da Qian hit a game yesterday, had tix, but I was doing a blogger meeting at the iLounge. Report to follow.

As the end nears, there isn’t much joy at Wukesong Baseball Field. In the early rounds the atmosphere was sepulchral. One game, between South Korea and China, pulled in fewer than 1,000 fans. On Tuesday, about 6,000 showed up to watch the team from the place usually known as Taiwan (Chinese Taipei here) play the U.S. Paying customers were stuck in the outfield. Infield seats were reserved for the press and the “Olympic Family,” both in near-complete non-attendance.

Olympic Baseball’s Two-Week Wake – WSJ.com.

A little More randomness from the Celestial Kingdom

Belly shirts: when it is hot a certain species of middle-aged Chinese guys roll their shirts up from the bottom under their arms, exposing their mid-sections to the cooling breezes. This is a good look, especially when flip-flops are involved and the guy has a paunch.

Diapers: Nah, slit the back of the shorts and Junior lets fly whenever and wherever the inspiration strikes.

Gatoraid: has nothing on Pocari Sweat. This is a key sport drink from Japan. The big beverage in a can is tea – a sweet tea in a red can with yellow characters that tastes an awful lot like the sweet tea at the Bojangles on Airport Boulevard in Morrisville near the Hooters.

Napkins: are in short supply and when found usually come wrapped in paper envelopes, or are furnished in the form of Kleenex in a table-top dispenser. This paucity of face wipes leads to sticking the food bowl right under the chin and shovel-slurping as required.

Lo-Flo Toilets: There isn’t a Beijing toilet that I cannot clog. These things are more temperamental than a marine head on an old sailboat. I look at one funny and it overflows.

Clothing lust: I must depart with a Chinese Olympic Baseball team jersey. Red, big yellow dragon, and China in flowing script. Just the thing for the Fenway bleachers.

Speaking of which …. How awesome is MLB.com and archives of last week’s insane ball game between the Red Sox and the Texas Rangers with ten runs in the first inning alone? Watching Red Sox in China is a serious Masshole’s guilty pleasure. I saw a guy in a Celtics jersey outside of a roast duck joint and heard someone say “Jeezum crow, it’s hot” which was last heard by Cousin Pete at a Maine wedding a few years ago in a old, unairconditioned church. I heard it on the Olympic Green from a fat lady and almost introduced myself.

Engrish: most sad to see the Temple of Mangled English, the Dongda Hospital of Diseases of the Anus and Intestine get renamed to the Donga Proctological and Intestinal Disease Hospital because it got made fun of in the New York Times. Speaking of Engrish, the Chinese get every much as loud a laugh out of translating Chinese character tattoos on trendy Los Angeles celebrities.

Food engrish: Shooting fish in the proverbial barrel. “Meat salad” (I passed), “Mud Crab” (so delicious sounding), “Fungus” (mushrooms).. All I care is the guy in the VIP lounge can turn out a nice egg white omelet but the ladies will not let me get my own coffee. We have Italian Meat Sauce flavored Lay’s Potato Chips in the War Room (Le Chambre de la Guerre).

Hello Dudes: there are six people in the hallway who say hello to me every time I walk to and fro. This happens ten times a day, they know who I am. And they know it bugs me. I give them a new greeting every time I pass. Gruezi, Sup, Sappenen, Hola, Howdy, howareya ….

Neck ribbons: everybody has a pass around their neck. Now the taxi loaders at the hotel have them too. I think they felt left out.

Dutchmen: The Dutch Orangemen of Holland, Netherlands get team spirit award. I think a sizable percentage went to the Silk Market and had orange suits made for $100. There was an orange Dumb and Dumber tuxedo at the rowing finals. Brazilians, Russians are also very vocal. Americans – not so much – not a good time to be a loud American but I have no problem when the occasion calls for it. In fact, I know for a fact I am the loudest American because a lady asked me to please be quiet when I retold a secondhand story of someone seeing a gymnast’s name on the display “Fukin, A.” and she thought I was crudely agreeing with someone using the South Boston declarative form of the affirmative.

The Olympic Lane: All the spy novels set in Cold War Moscow talk about the special lane reserved for the limousines of the Party Elite (in order to underscore the contradiction of privilege in a classless society I suppose). Well, that’s back in Beijing. Olympic Rings have been painted in the fast lane for vehicles with special passes. Half the fun is convincing the average cabby that one’s yellow IOC card is indeed a license to drive like a lunatic in the Ring Lane. Or for that matter, one’s step-sister. Cabbies love it when I throw my pass up onto their dash and they use it to bullshit the traffic cops that, yes, Henry Kissinger is in the cab and needs to meet the Premier.

Seriously: I could live and work here. This city gets me psyched.

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