Thursday, August 7, 2008

Games People Play
The 2008 Beijing Olympics begin tomorrow with the gala opening ceremony scheduled for the auspicious time of 8.08pm on the eighth day of the eighth month. No, I don't have a ticket for - they're very hard and expensive to come by, though I have a $50 ticket for the bronze medal men's volleyball final on virtually the last day of the Games. I came by it through sheer chance and paid face value and am expecting what? Perhaps a nail-biter between Ecuador and East Timor ...

Otherwise, Beijing seems slightly hyper, almost edgy as the big day approaches though not as the New York Times recently reported it in inflamatory tones as being like a "fortress" and drawing absurd comparisons to the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution when describing the elderly retirees in their red and yellow "Security Volunteer" armbands sitting on curbside stools presumably looking for potential troublemaker, dissidents and "splittists". The ones in my neighborhood barely glance up from their playing cards and newspapers as the foreigners walk by.

Incidents getting major play on CNN and BBC such as the two Brits and two Americans who have been booted out of the country after climbing up two light poles near the Bird's Nest stadium and attaching two enormous "Free Tibet" banners yesterday afternoon have received minimal attention here aside from a stern short account about their expulsion in the rag for which I toil. That's more than I expected when two pals from work and I were out last night talking about it (we agreed that the protesters were morons, albeit athletic ones; "freeing" Tibet is a non-issue with 99.9% of Chinese) as the paper generally ignores anything remotely controversial and is instead fond of quoting officials saying with presumably straight faces that the smog enveloping the capital most days is "not pollution" but "natural conditions caused by excessive heat."

Two nights ago another group of coworkers and I went with a rumor that an opening ceremony dress rehearsal at the Bird's Nest stadium would include fireworks. Fueled by foolishness and perhaps a little beer, we took two taxis that found us stuck for nearly 25 minutes in a traffic jam seemingly miles from the Bird's Nest with only the faint blue glow of the other iconic structure, The Water Cube visible through the darkness and (non)pollution. We bailed from the taxis and joined crowds of mostly Chinese also milling about seeing how close they could get. Not far, as it turned out. Police guards and young, polite Olympic Volunteers barred any progress despite me flashing my press ID card. I might as well have shown them my Boulder Public Library Card or Sam's Club card.

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