Monday, August 18, 2008

Around the tennis venue

The Tennis Events are officially over; Russia swept the women's singles events, Nadal, Gonzales, and Djokovic earned their singles medals. In women's doubles, Venus and Serena captured gold. It's a strange feeling knowing that no more tennis will be played at these Olympics--volunteering at these Games has been a goal I've been working on achieving for three year, and now that goal is completed. It's exciting to have something new to look forward to, but the last few weeks have flown faster than I could have ever imagined.

Here's what the venue looks like from the inside!

This tennis structure greeted spectators after they passed security.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Venus Williams comes to Iowa!

My encounters with professional tennis athletes usually occur in the mixed zone; called so because it is the first area (“zone”, if you will) in which athletes “mix” with the press after a sporting event, you can correctly assume that it is filled with reporters trying to grab a few quotes from the player of choice. It’s the classic high-stress environment that non-journalists always imagine for sports journalists: It can be an impersonal, no drooling over Rafael Nadal’s left arm or asking for an autograph atmosphere. Notebook pages flip across the metal spirals as pens race over the light blue lines. Recorders seem to jump out of pockets, journalists who didn’t get a chance to fight their way to the front of the mixed zone hand their recorder to friends from other media agencies who did wiggle to the front to hold out. All the while, the print journalists are careful not to trip over the long wires that the broadcasters are lugging behind their equipment as they walk alongside the player on the opposite side of the white metal gate which divides media from athlete. With all the lights flooding from broadcast cameras and the occasional flashing camera, the scene is visually intimidating. However, it’s the aural aspect that is the most intense. The only sound throughout the hallway is the voice of the lucky reporter who got the athlete to stop to talk, followed by the anticipated answer. Getting the golden quote from the athlete before they wave their hand and say, “That’s it today, thanks!” is essential.

It’s a short-lived hype; within one minute, the athlete is gone and the journalists have returned to the media offices to insert the fresh quotes into the article they finished before the match was even over.

While some athletes legitimately enjoy talking to the media spew excellent quotes for a good five minutes or speak in multiple languages for multiple agencies, being in the shark frenzy that is the mixed zone has the potential to frustrate even the most dedication fan or zealous journalist.

Unless they’ve been doing it for 36 years.

My friend and supervisor at the Olympic Tennis Green Center, Sandra Harwitt, has a long-running rapoire with many professional tennis players, including Serena and Venus Williams. Immediately following their press conference after they won the gold medal in women's doubles Friday, my colleagues and I were hanging out in the office, talking about how cool it would be to be on a first name basis with the Williams sisters like Sandra has been for years. My roommate and I also joked about some of the more creative and unusual questions asked of the Williams’ during the press conference. For example, one of the questions flowed, "You have a lot of fans in Morocco. Will you ever go to Morocco to see them?" we turned into, "You have a lot of fans in Iowa. Will you ever come to Iowa?" followed by laughter.

As soon as we chuckled about Venus Williams coming to Iowa, into the office walks Sandra, wearing a large smile. Following her into our office was Venus Williams.

Sandra introduced us to her, and we tried not to let our jaws drop. It was such a different from the crowded mixed zone—there were only a handful of people around, no cameras, no notebooks, no recording devices. There wasn’t even a divider separating us. Venus wore her hair back in a tight pony tail and was still wearing the outfit she and Serena had won in; they hadn’t received their medals yet, so she was still wearing her athlete accreditation. It was such a change from the Venus I had seen in the mixed zone who was always in a hurry. The ever-poised, yet surprisingly shy, Venus gave us a wave, told us it was nice to meet us, and apologized for not always stopping to talk to us in the mixed zone, admitting that with all the media hype, she’s been “jaded”.

Before Venus left, we gave her a pin from the University of Iowa (pin trading is a big deal at the Olympics). Unfortunately, the Olympic Tennis Event is over, so Venus will no longer be wearing her accreditation with the pin-laden lanyard. But you can bet I will be looking for that round black pin with a golden dome on it on her 2012 Games lanyard.

Ambience of the Bird's Nest

The moon was absolutely gorgeous! It was brighter than it's ever been, too, as if it knew 90,000 spectators would be taking photos.
These are the Fuwa, the Olympic mascots. They have potential to easily drive a person crazy, but all in all they are fun-loving, mischievous creatures that dance around Olympic venues and are beloved, and sometimes mobbed, by Chinese children. I have photos of Fuwas dancing in the volleyball venue, with volunteers standing nearby acting as body guards because dozens of children simultaneously often run toward them for hugs!

It's hilarious when they fall over. I hope I get to try on a Fuwa suit before I have to leave... :)

This woman was one of thousands taking advantage of the many photo opportunities by the venue at night...

Olympic Record!

This is the NEW world record time for the men's 100 meter dash!
Set by this man, whose name is--are you ready for this?--BOLT. He's from Jamaica. He was dancing for the crowd around the track, stopping to shake hands with fans bearing Jamaican flags. His fans were so proud!
We waited for 3 hours to see the last, most anticipated event, the men's 100 meter dash. It was over within 11 seconds! Immediately after the race was over, this popped up on the screen.

I'm gonna make off with the Olympic Torch!

...just kidding, but it looks like I could take it, doesn't it? This was taken outside of the National Stadium (aka "The Bird's Nest", for its similarity to, well, a bird's nest) after my colleagues and I watched the Jamaican athlete, Bolt, break the previous Olympic and World Records in the men's 100 meter dash. His new time was 9.6 seconds. Pictures coming soon!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Last day of practice

Today, August 7, 2008, was the last day of practice at the Tennis Venue. The Opening Ceremony is tomorrow (of course) at 8:08:08 pm. Sunday, 10 August, will be the first day of tennis tournament play.

The athletes made use of their hastened time--Roger Federrer practiced twice on the courts on this last day (earlier days he only practiced once, so I saw), Nadal also twice, I believe. The Americans made their debut today--the Williams sisters played a few rounds, as did James Blake and Sam Querry, and Mike and Bob Bryan.

I interviewed Serbian athletes Janko Tipaservic (current ITF ranking 45) and Novak Djokovic (current ITF ranking 3). I won't write what they said, but I was surprised to learn how amiable and open these world renown athletes are; Nadal is known for being uncannily humble, but many of the other athletes also have been extremely friendly, much friendlier than I imagined a competitive spirit would allow. During the last few days, the question, "How do the Olympics compare with other tennis tournaments?" arose often; in many of the answers, athletes have cited the presence of their national friends as a huge boost and a crucial differentiation to the energy and spirit of the Olympics. Instead of rushing past us, as I was afraid could potentially happen, the athletes respond politely to a few questions asked in the mixed zone (well, at least, so far--there haven't been many negative emotions from athletes yet, as no matches have been lost yet...) and have even entertained audiences.

For example, today during practice, Djokovic practiced attacking a lob ball. After a few, however, instead of slamming the ball with a typical and impressive attack, Djokovic simply let the ball fall from high in the air and bounce quickly on the court. Immediately after the bounce (almost invisibly from a spectator's view), he caught the ball in his shorts, turned to the laughing audience, and took a deep bow.

The playful attitude of the Olympics has definitely arrived at the tennis venue. I'm so excited that practice has finally ended--the real matches begin!

Note: There is no picture here because taking pictures, as a volunteer journalist, in this setting, is considered unprofessional from BOCOG; however, many other volunteers who aren't held to journalist standards took pictures galore, so perhaps I can borrow one of their copies later.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

When in in an Olympic-promo commercial

During our first week here (sorry, this post is much delayed), Anna, Beth, Shanthi, Andrew and I were in a short film, produced by BOCOG (remember this stands for Beijing Organizing Commitee of Olympic Games) and intended to promote international friendship during the Games.

To describe this experience as a "hurry up and wait" game would be all too true. So I won't describe it all, other to say that I dreamt that night the following chant, which may or may not have been repeated for 4 hours whilst banging noise makers (or thundersticks, whatever you call 'em at your University):


Go China, go. :)

P.S. I still have not seen this commercial, although someone has recently told me they've seen parts of it on TV. Somewhere. Becoming skeptical, but the experience was definitely worth having.

Monday, July 21, 2008

798 Art District

I liked this larger-than-life structure. I have many more/creepier photos of this and scuffed faces like it, but I didn't want to make my blog completely morbid. :)
This painting was completed last year by a "femail artist of youth" whose style, "in regard to theme, flowers still dominate". I love the artist bios you can find in the galleries.
According to the guidebook, the 798 District takes its name from a military weapon measurement. That might explain the many military-themed structures around the place.
The steam sounded like a jet about to take off; quite a unique ambience!
I call this one, "two men and a spray painted wall".
Monroe + Mao = 2gether 4ever

This window is on the mid-level of a stairwell leading to an exhibit. I like it because, the character next to the word "zhong" (middle), looks like a smiley face.
Side of a food stand.

Today I went to the 798 Art District on the outskirts of Beijing--streets of art exhibits and galleries. My favorite was a photography studio of Tibetan peoples, but I also enjoyed a ceramics piece of a child doing a hand stand entitled, "Smile anyway".

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Ya Show Market

Today I got three pearl necklaces, two pairs of pearl earrings, a gold-dipped leaf necklace, and a neon pink and sparkly fish necklace. For twenty dollars. I also got a long lacy peach-colored shirt (picture awaiting) for fifteen.

I love the Ya Show Market.

It's a mixed zone, of sorts (if you'll pardon the shameless allusion to my volunteer position) because it's cheaply manufactured--but convincingly executed--brand name knocks offs from China meets foreign happy spenders.

When I first heard about the Ya Show Market, I assumed it would be outside and rather hush hush; quite the contrary, it has its own mall! It's the craziest, most spectacular thing:

Basement: Shoes, wallets and bags! Prada, Tous, Jimmy Choo, Nike, Adidas, Puma, Abercrombie, Polo, D&G, Gucci, Chloe, you name it.

First floor: Shirts, skirts, dresses, some belts

Second floor: Electronics,knick knacks

Third floor: Sunglasses, pearls, rocks, "jade", glass, jewelry of all sorts, mazhong sets

And you walk around this mall and (mostly) women yell out to you to come try on their jackets or jeans, and then once you find a pair you enjoy, the haggling begins. You and the store owner (more like a cubicle manager, actually) will take turns entering prices via a calculator.

It'll flow something like this:

Owner: Oh, you like this one? Normally I charge this price. *Enters 2300*.
You: Laugh. That's ridiculous. I'd give you something like this. *Enters 50 onto calculator*
Owner: WHAT? You mean 50 American money?
You: No no no no, that's FAKE. I'd give you 50 kuai.
Owner: That's your joking price, Lady, give me a REAL price.
You: That IS a real price because that is NOT a real bag. Fifty kuai.
Owner: Please, need more, I lose money.
You: Ok, give me a better price then.
Owner: Ok, ok, because you are a clever lady and a special friend, I can give you this price, and this price only. *Enters 1700*
You: What? I thought we were friends. I can't pay that much. I'll give you THIS much, because you're a friend. *Enter 60 onto calculator*
Owner: You're JOKING me, Friend! No, can't do. Impossible
You: Okay, I'll look around at other places then. *turn to walk away* walk away, slowly, glance at the other cubicles with the EXACT same merchandise.

Owner: Ok, ok, come back, Lady. I'll give you my last price--500, just for you.
You: I'm not paying more than 75.
Owner: Please, that price is IMPOSSIBLE!

...this will go on for 45 minutes. Until you're both cranky, both tired, and both cannot believe you're actually calling the other one friend.

My most proud moment: Got a "jade" happy buddha down from 2300 to 75. I didn't buy it, though, because I wasn't going to pay any more than 50 for it.

I love bargaining, but it can sure wear you out!!

I also have a Prada bag. For $8.00.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Basic s of Beijing (this is for you, Mom and Aunt Betty :)

It has occurred to me that, while my field trips excite me, it might be nice for people back home to know what daily life is like. So this post is dedicated to the ladies in my life who like that sort of thing: my mother and aunts. :)

First thing first: This is the first thing you will see once exiting a plane, if you're anything like me. This is called, in English, a "squatter". There are of these here than toilets, and I'm at the point where I prefer them to toilets for the following reasons:

1. I feel it's cleaner; not to overshare, but there's less touching involved in the process. You figure it out. :)

2. It's a heck of a lot faster

3. It's nice to bend my knees that deeply---it's actually building my leg muscles in a simple way!

Some other weird things about the bathrooms here, which I'll post more about later:

1. Bring own soap, as none is usually provided

2. Own toilet paper, which is NOT to be thrown into the toilet or squatter, but discarded in the trash bin NEXT to the bowl. Interesting.

Chinese ruins

There was a giant concrete maze that people walked through to get the structure seen below. It was funny to see the confusion on peoples' faces as they realized that they STILL had to keep walking around and around and around...
Photo opp in the ruins of the old Imperial gardens--these were trampled by the French and British armies in the 1840s--1860s, during the Opium Wars. God, I love history class.
Me playing in the ruins.
Arthur, our tour guide from BOCOG, took us to the lotus exhibition of the old imperial gardens. Behind a large lily pad pond are old fragments of what used to be a magnificent collection of gardens and structures.

Ming tombs--oh wait, maybe just some other stuff

This is a replica of the empress's tomb. People throw money at this empty, red box. I wonder who keeps it...
I love the guardian lions that decorate most of the doors. So did this little kid.
Only during thunderstorms.
Please--no megaphones in the tombs. Thank you.
This is Justin, myself, Lini and Jane, our adviser, just outside of the Ming Tombs. We were lucky it was such a clear day--if you get a chance to look at some of my photos of the Forbidden City, you'll notice that often there is a very dusty, gray haze over Beijing. It seems to be clearing up. :)
A view of another Ming tomb.
Lantern at a restaurant.
This vase was something I saw on a "how vases are made" tour provided by BOCOG. This particular vase was made in The Friendship Store, one of the first foreigner-friendly stores in Beijing. Ridiculously highly priced things...beautiful, but unaffordable.
This girl was ADORABLE. She was a little nervous to have her picture taken, but after I asked if I could take her photo, her parents became so proud and were having her pose with her hands on her hips and stuff.

These were taken at/around the Ming tombs. The Ming Tombs are a very fascinating place because it is the burial grounds of the last 13 Ming Emperors; only one of the tombs, that of the 4th Ming Emperor, is open to the public because it has been excavated. Unfortunately, within 6 hours after modern oxygen crept into the tomb, everything that had been mummified dissipated. So, the ancient bodies are no longer there, but you could walk through the empty tomb. I didn't take many photos; it just looked like a large concrete structure under ground. Sorry, Folks.

The vase is from a factory-tour we went through, the lantern was a decoration outside of a restaurant.

Calligraphy lesson!

is the address of a story that "Leslie", the journalist pictured doing calligraphy below, wrote about my friend David and my experiences during calligraphy class. Some of the things we say are pretty funny (and we don't remember really saying them...) and we may or may not sound like 5-year olds. Either way, I think it's pretty awesome.

Since I'm not getting the link to work properly, I've copied/pasted it here for your convenience.

Olympic Volunteers from U.S. Learn Calligraphy

BEIJING, June 24 (Xinhua) -- "It's just like drawing a picture," Emily Doolittle said as she was trying to write Chinese characters at a calligraphy class here on Tuesday.

Doolittle is one of the 24 students from the University of Iowa in the United States, who started their week-long orientation course on Chinese culture, environment, economy, media and ethnic minorities at Tsinghua University as of Monday.

"I once took a Chinese calligraphy class in my university two years ago. It was really hard to figure out how to write Chinese characters," Doolittle told Xinhua.

Gao Yuan, teacher of the calligraphy class, started with the origin of the Chinese characters, and then went on with the discovery of oracles.

Gao pointed out that the idea of the Olympic emblem comes from the Xiaozhuan style and the seal, which the Chinese people always use for signature.

"I ever learned the oracles of mouth and water. It's so cool! The shapes of the characters look like what they are in reality," Doolittle said.

Following Gao, she put down time and time again the Chinese characters of Beijing, the Olympic Games as well as the University of Iowa of the United States.

Having known her Chinese name Du Kaili means victory plus beauty, Doolittle couldn't be more exciting. She wrote down her Chinese name, of which she also took photos.

David McNace, who has learned Chinese for two semesters, got very proud of his Chinese name Mai Dawei that was given by his Chinese teacher in his university.

"We used to read names backwards, so my name sounds like Weida (great in Chinese)," McNace said to Doolittle, showing his pride. "You see, my name is full of greatness."

"I will hang it (his name) on my door when I'm back," McNace added after he finished his Chinese name on the paper.

After taking the Chinese culture course, they will join the other 268 overseas Olympic media volunteers in the training by the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) and serve media operation during the Games.

They will work at the Main Press Center or the International Broadcast Center or with particular sports such as tennis and wrestling.

According to the BOCOG, some 22,000 overseas Olympic volunteers will come to China for the upcoming Games this year.

Vending Machine beverages: Original gravity 11 degrees percent?

Here's a good picture to sum up our first experiences in Beijing:

1. There is beer for 25 cents in the vending machines. No joke.

2. The ingredients list really says, Original gravity: 11 degrees %.

Your guess is as good as mine. :)

The Summer Palace

Much to my surprise, The Summer Palace is only a couple hundred years old; the last Empress, Cixi (who is often blamed/credited, depending on viewpoint, for the fall of Imperial China), who was Puyi's grandmother. She lived during the 1800s. And that's all I remember from my China History 101 class. The Summer Palace was where Puyi and Cixi hung out when weather in Beijing was excrutiating. The architecture is gorgeous and the man-made lake is beautiful and fun for paddle boating. Today it is used as a public park, and you can see HUNDREDS of people throughout the park; paddle boating, battery boating, sitting, napping, eating snacks from a nearby vendor, playing cards, families having picnics, looking at nature (there are nature trails), power walking, tourists looking at the palace itself, whatever you want. It's a great park!

Even the Chinese will vote for Obama.

This is the first/only time I've seen something Obama-like in China, but it would make sense that he's popular here. In the last few weeks, I've seen Beijing definitely transform--not just since last October, but even in the 4 weeks we've been here! Construction sites which were barely begun when we arrived now are open malls. Obama represents change, hope for the future, and I can't imagine a city which is embodying those traits more than Beijing today.