Saturday, August 9, 2008

One World, One Dream, Many Beers

Lacking a ticket to the Olympics opening ceremony didn't mean one couldn't get into the spirit and Beijing had plenty of choices last night - from home TVs to packed parks with giant screens.

I chose something in between at the invitation of a Chinese-American conceptual video artist named Elaine W. Ho, who is, oddly enough, originally from the bleached blonde Wonder Bread Dallas suburb of Plano ("I couldn't wait to get out of there," she told me when I expressed shock and awe at her roots.) The outdoor hutong (traditional Beijing alley community) where she held the viewing party was tens of thousands of miles and several cultural light years away from Dallas, of course, though it had a certain universal community spirit where even language barriers melted away as the warm beer, Coke, herbal tea, watermelon and China's Olympic pride flowed.

"Hang out with Granpa Wang and the neighbors in the fresh air, enjoy drinks, snacks and a sporty sized LED projection from a store window front," her invite read. Granpa Wang turned out to be a jovial real guy - not, as I'd originally imagined, an Elaine W. Ho artistic concept; he is perhaps in his early 50s, pot bellied in a sleeveless T-shirt, shorts and the unofficial hutong godfather/community leader/fixer and as it turned out something of a gambler. Granpa Wang was delighted to welcome the four white guy foreigners who joined the 18 or so locals to watch the 3-hour broadcast seated on tiny stools or on magazines and newspapers on the alley way.

The only drawback was the inability to see the fireworks exploding all over the city, our view obscured as it was by the roof tops and rather removed location, though we could hear them and cheer as we watched the broadcast pyrotechnics. screen. Grandpa Wang was particulary impressed at our Canadian pride. At least two of the foreigners were Canadian and several of the Chinese were either Canadian citizens or had gone to school there. When the Canadian team finally strode waving into the Bird's Nest procession, one of our number whipped out a giant Canadian Maple Leaf flag and began waving it to our cheers. "Go Canada! Go Tim Horton's! (a popular Canadian coffee house chain)," I screamed, wondering also what kind of person happens to have a large national flag on him. "Got the American one?" I asked. He laughed. "No, just Chile and Estonia," he replied.

George W Bush was seen on the screen and I began booing. Grandpa Wang asked through a bilingual Chinese woman why I was being disrespectful to my president. "Oh, just because I can," I replied and then asked what he thought of Obama. He wasn't exactly sure about him - or even who he is - though he did say he admired Hillary Clinton and wondered if she might be our next president. Not wanting to explain the whole American primary system in the middle of a Chinese alley Olympics party after three large Tsingtao beers, I simply said she'd withdrawn and left it at that.

We left after the torch was lit by what appeared to be a Chinese quasi-Spider-Man athlete and Granpa Wang pressed my hand and invited me back anytime. I'd lost a bet with him on who would light the torch. I'd put 30 yuan (roughly $3.50) on the idea that one of the Sichuan earthquake orphans would do it and Granpa Wang had said it would be the Spider guy. I forked over the money as unseen fireworks exploded above and he thanked me, grinning and shaking my hand. "He says come back he will make soup and duck and have many beers with you," my temporary translator told me. "He also wants to bet that China will win more gold medals than the USA."

"Tell him 'thank you, xie xie '" I said. "I am happy to lose to Granpa Wang once already. Two times would be too much happiness."

Note: Top left photo by Elaine W Ho from her website at


John said...

Thanks for the coverage. All we seem to get here is American swimmers.


Peter said...

Btw Justin: Did you see that were voted to be among "Model Workers" on Danwei?

Well-deserved too...

Justin said...

Hey Peter,
No, I didn't see that til you pointed it out! Wow. That's very nice. Jeremy at Danwei has been very, very good to me.

Thanks for tipping me, guy.