Friday, August 29, 2008

VPs and (Chinese) Predictions




你们好!
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Following the endless drama of politics is exhilarating (like Prisonbreak), well, to be more specific, American politics are great because every law-abiding American has the choice to cast a ballot for the person they see most fit to run the country (Sorry, China! - I know, low blow! 1 point = Democracy!). After a year+ in China as Peace Corps Volunteer, I am very happy to say, "I vote!" And setting all pugnaciousness aside, its really a rush!
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As the world learns of both presidential candidates' pick for VP, I seem to be more interested in what my students will think of these two characters than how Bob and Jane Smith of America will feel. Remembering back to (Part 1 of 2) my U.S. Presidential Election lecture last semester, the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of Obama, with Clinton in a close second. McCain only received 4 votes (out of over 150+ students participating). The other foreign teachers who attended/participated and myself made the conclusion that (and this isn't too far off what most young Americans would feel either!) it was not McCain's views on the issues that made him lose so horribly, but his old "grandpa" look compared to the colorfulness of Obama and Clinton. Why not vote for something historic and thus, become a part of history!? I know some American who support Obama will vote with this in mind, and hell, I would be lying to you if a small piece of my priorities lie within being a part of this (hopeful) history as well. But then Obama and McCain picked their running mates, and hmmmmm...
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Some of my (early) predictions of what will happen in few months when I formally introduce these 4 people to the students of Southwest University:
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- Joe Biden, who I have always liked, will suffer from the same image disease as McCain (old, white, etc.), and the students will see him as a strange pick when him and Obama stand next to each other. Why would such a vibrant candidate like Obama pick someone that makes him look like he is doing volunteer work at a nursing home? Note: My students' think nursing homes are the cruelest thing you can do to old people....
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- Sarah Palin, who I learned was McCain pick yesterday morning while visiting Ryan and some other volunteers in downtown Chongqing (his school provides him with CNN), is young(er than Obama), smiley, has a BIG family (5), and frankly, is pretty HOT for a politician. "She is so beautiful!" my students will say. "She is a woman! Phil, don't you tell us that women are strong and just as powerful as men? We must support her if Hillary isn't running anymore!"
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And thus, the struggle will continue. I, of course, see through the smokescreen the Republicans are trying to capitalize behind, but the more I think about my (presumed) students' responses, the more I think the way they think is the way many/most Americans will think in November. This all goes back to how the "we are more similar than different" philosophy - which I bring up constantly in my classes to prove my argument - and makes me feel just a tad bit more connected to the political madness I know is brewing at home.
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Much more on this as the craziness evolves...
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And finally - This article is such a great analysis on how China functions. And it's all about...soccer. When you can't even criticize a sports team, you know your country has some free speech problems...
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞

Thomas Friedman, China, and Obama


你们好!
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It's always a treat to read NYTimes Op-Ed pieces by Thomas Friedman. The famed writer of the worldly popular The World is Flat - which I must add, is advertised heavily in Chinese book stores - attacks issues, more than often, objectively and concludes with a stab of verisimilitude that should hit every American smack in the heart. If he is a futurist, then gosh, I better avoid Julius Caesar's harmatia and LISTEN!
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This piece was inspired by Friedman's revelment in the Olympic Closing Ceremonies, which he attended. His observations - "Holy mackerel, the energy coming out of this country is unrivaled." - are similar to my own and, since the answers to why good and bad things happen derive from understanding both the near and distant past, he writes in the simplest terms why places like Beijing and China's other big powerhouse cities' - innovated, modern, futuristic-looking - belittle the worn-down look of New York and other "powerhouses" in America. Why? The last seven years were dedicated to the Olympics' arrival (all the injustice, corruption, lack of funding for education reform included) as America's last seven years were dedicated to Iraq, national security, and things Americans rarely see or feel. That's the debate, or rather, the trade-off: safety through investment in order to protect us from acts of terrorism or hardcore, nation-building, which in China's case, as we know, has several ambiguous goals.
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I believe most Americans would say they would want the safety over the state-of-the-art bullet trains and glowing stadiums. Frankly, and I hate to say this, but I don't need a billion dollars in fireworks and a 3-week sports event to confirm my belief that America is one of the best, freest countries in the world. The immigrants that came, and continue to come to America, don't need fireworks either. The red, white, and blue flag's providence of such intense tangible opportunity and freedom for all willing Americans will always (and I will use this word again) belittle any and all technological wonderment China has or plans to have in the near or far future...I am know I am not alone when I say, "China, you can't win me over with a few dozen gold medals and a 96,000 seat steel nest - you still have a lot of real work to do!"
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But Friedman concludes with a "stab of verisimilitude" that strikes home - especially after I read this article after listening to Barack Obama's Convention speech via NPR:
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Obama is more right than he knows when he proclaims that this is “our” moment, this is “our” time. But it is our time to get back to work on the only home we have, our time for nation-building in America. I never want to tell my girls — and I’m sure Obama feels the same about his — that they have to go to China to see the future.
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Friendman is right. Obama may be one of the answers to my daily troubles in China. I hope, as Friedman says, Obama knows he is right with his message, because it's time we get to work, America. Yes, we can!
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Are You In?....???


你们好!
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I just returned "home" to Beibei, CQ, after a quick trip to Chengdu (Peace Corps Headquarters) after presenting a session for the soon-to-be Peace Corps China "14" group on "Teaching Literature in the Chinese University Classroom...Creatively" focusing on my success in teaching Shakespeare in China. It went well and the new 14's are an interesting and diverse bunch; the average age of the 13's was approx. 26 - the 14's is 36, with quite a few trainees serving after retirement. This has new phenomenon has presented a few hiccups here and there, especially for the Peace Corps staff (I also have some specific opinions on this issue, concerning what skills are ideal for teaching in China), but overall, I am optimistic.
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Besides meeting and presenting to the 14's, I spent most of my time debating and discussing China issues - most notably, how will China change post-Olympics, if at all? - with some great volunteers (Dave from CA, Johnny from RI, Paul from AZ, and more) and PC Staff (the new and incredibly understanding Country Director, Bonnie from...everywhere). My critical views on China have evolved in the past week - though I am still very, very critical, I can begin to see the slightest scintilla of light at the end of the tunnel (Oh, and how important is it to be able to see light at the end of the tunnel!). As Shakespeare said, "What's past is prologue" - as much as I want to influence the course of events in post-Olympics China, there is a few thousand years I need to contend with, or rather, incorporate. This blog will most certainly hold some great stories in the next year....
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The real highlight of this short trip was the watching of the Closing Ceremonies at quite possibly the greatest, new "dinning experience" in Chengdu - Hooters! 哈哈 haha! This was too good to be true, but believe it or not, Hooters does exist in China and to be honest, its not much different than it is in America. The funniest experience was us trying to explain to some of our Chinese friends what exactly Hooters was - "Well, ugh, it's a restaurant where, ugh, the waitresses wear special outfits that, ugh, show more skin than traditional Chinese waitresses" - but they instantly "got it" when we walked in and a congo line was chugging along with creepy old British men holding the hips of tiny Chinese girls in tight white tank tops and silky orange shorts/underwear. By the way, Hooters is a "family restaurant". They have a Kid's Menu! That's proof, right? I wonder what Mao would think of Hooters...?
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As for the Closing Ceremonies, I was actually a fan of the short London presentation - double decker bus, Jimmy Page riffin' on the guitar, probably scaring the sh*t out of every old, traditional Chinese in the crowd and watching television. That's the exact effect I wanted - I now have lived in both places for significant periods of time (Study Abroad London '04) and frankly, am happy the contrast in cultures was presented. You can only get so much choreographed men on strings running up and down a steel tower forming pictures (that's the Chinese "collaborative" at its finest!) before you scream for some real rock n' roll...
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After the screen went black, we PCVs all cheered our glasses "to it finally being over"...but will it ever be over? I doubt it. The Olympic highlights - most notably, all of China's gold medal performances - continue to plague mutliple television channels right now as I type. Like potato chips, you can't eat just 1....
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More soon....
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞

Friday, August 22, 2008

Somethings starting to smell like a RAT over here...


你们好!
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Is this girl 16 y/o? (pictured, He Kexin, Chinese multi-gymnastic medalist) No...she still has her cuspids (typically these particular teeth erupt between 12-14 yrs)! Try to blame that on the the "Asian anatomy"! She is 13, maybe 14 y/o. After consulting some gymnastic afficionados, I learned He KeXin has never made an appearance in any gymnastic publications due to her competing in little to no international competitions - something unheard of for possible Olympic gold medalists. The Americans were right to question her age, and the IOC is beginning to become my new worst enemy, because I have determined they lack the BALLS (sorry, lacking the appropriate phrase) to stand up to the country they awarded this Olympics to - China - in fear of making themselves look bad. The funniest part of this scandal is that the Chinese gov't claim she has all the necessary paperwork to prove she is 16. Hey ya'll, just because you have a Chinese gov't-issued passport that says you are 16, doesn't mean you are 16. I could get a Chinese gov't-issued passport claiming I am a 16 y/o Chinese girl, too! It's all about knowing the right people (I am not lying, by the way - I have also met people who claim they can get me a college diploma, issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education, for 40,000 RMB). In China, its all about the money; ethics come second, maybe third or forth even...This situation only makes me laugh. The real loser: The IOC. I believe in justice, but knowing this will only fuel my students' love of their country and hatred of the West(in my classroom), I wish it would just blow far, far away....
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The torch (finally) burns out Sunday night and the Olympics is over. (deep inhale, exhale) It's time to see if the Olympics did anything to make China a better, freer place. Questions need to be answered.
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The calm before the storm


你们好!
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Life is slow right now in Beibei. I have met with my new teaching counterpart (my previous one won a grant to study in America for a year) and will meet with my Shakespeare advisor tomorrow for lunch to discuss his plans for me during this upcoming year. I met my new site mate, Kristen, and she is great - a writer/philosopher/special ed. teacher from Hawaii. More on our adventures together as they develop...
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A I type, the USA women's volleyball team is playing Cuba live on CCTV7. It reminded me of the game I watched in Beijing between China and the US in my hostel's bar. There I sat next to the Chinese barista, a young Chinese woman of 20 or 21 who spoke very little English. She was animatedly cheering for China - saying "Zhongguo Jiayou" (C'mon China!) after every serve - but uniquely, booooed the USA coach every time she appeared on screen. I was curious about this, questioning her about her booo's and she simply responded with how she "didn't like America", which of course ignited my fire, and I told her if she noticed how I wasn't boooing her country's coach. She didn't seem to care and continued her irreverent behavior to the screen. The room started to take notice to our conversation since I was the only foreigner speaking Chinese to this girl and they clearly understood why I was questioning her on her actions. I always kept a smile and reassured her that "Ni shi wode pengyou" (You are my friend) only to be taken back by her "bu shi" (No we aren't!). This is where Phil turns into the Incredible Hulk - I know its not right, especially as a Peace Corps Volunteer, but if no one stands up to this girl and tells her that her actions are widely considered rude, no one will! So, of course, and I know I shouldn't fight fire with fire, but I started telling her that I think China has a lot of problems and that I like China but I don't "ai 爱" China, love it. This made her mad (which was good!) and I started a "MeiGuo JiaYou" (C'mon America!) chant, followed by a "Zhongguo LouYou" stab of irreverence (I was later told to never say this in public, mostly because Chinese are soooo in love with their country (ugh!), because it translates to something like "Down with China!"). The crowd in the bar took notice, and my mission was complete. The objective: Confrontation. Of course I could have went without the "Down with China!" remark - but she learned what happens when one ridicules without motive. If you are going to war, be prepared to get your hands dirty...
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And even more surprising, I did a little research on the USA woman's coach (I noticed she looked Chinese when the girl boooed her) and it turns out she is just that:
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There aren't many safe predictions going into an Olympic Games, but here's one: The U.S. women's volleyball team should be the most popular Americans in Beijing.

This has little to do with the team's prospects. It has everything to do with its coach, Beijing native "Jenny" Lang Ping, an icon in Chinese culture for leading China to an unexpected gold medal at the 1984 games in Los Angeles. (source)
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So, let me think here. Was the girl booing her because she wasn't the Chinese volleyball coach, because she is so beloved in China. Is Jenny Lang a "sell-out" in China? I don't think the Chinese Olympic Committee would have let her carry the torch in the infamous torch relay if she was worthy of a "boooo". According to that article, her face was on a Chinese postage stamp and her wedding was televised LIVE!
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Of course, there could be much more to this issue, but the easiest explanation is that the girl was simply too much head over heals for her country, and anyone who prevents her country from winning is the enemy. It stems back to the very popular "scapegoat spin" the Chinese gov't (and sometimes American alike!) uses to rally its people to hate someone (I have too many examples to list!).
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Speaking of head over heals for the Olympics, check out this NPR report! WOW! Now that's scary!
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And finally, a great report from ESPN by famed sports writer Rick Rielly on the real (or rather, unreal) Beijing Olympics....
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Fight injustice wherever you see it!
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It doesn't get any better than this...


你们好!
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Chinese Propaganda of the Day:
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With 43 gold medals under its belt, China's Olympic team seems to have a lock on the top position of the medal table, and the country's newspapers are declaring victory even before the Games have closed.
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Today's Life News ran with "43:26, it is settled" as the top headline, implying that China has already defeated the US in the medal race. Dongguan Times printed a big number 43 on today's front page along with the caption "China is not confused." source
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Are you kidding' me?...
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I love and REALLY miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞

Sunday, August 17, 2008

My 2008 Beijing Olympic Experience Evaluation


你们好!
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Before I begin my personal Olympic experience wrap-up, I thought I should comment on the latest Olympic news: The pulling-out of reigning gold medalist Liu Xiang from his first heat of the 110m hurdles with a tender hamstring. I returned home last night around midnight and woke up this morning to the men's 400m heats, soon followed by the much anticipated 110m hurdles heats where Liu, probably the most beloved Chinese athlete under Yao Ming, was set to run his first qualifying race. In Beijing, the ticket for this morning's events were being sold well over 3000 RMB on the street/over the Internet simply due to Liu's presence. I watched from my living room - nearly every channel on Chinese Television has something to do with the Olympics - as Liu approached the starting blocks and set himself in that iconic pose captured and hung on sporting good store's walls all over China. There was a false start and Liu, hearing the second gunshot go off, slowed his steps before reaching the first hurdle. As he moved back to the start line, I notice he was not comfortable, and without even attempting to reset himself, he walked off the track and into the locker rooms. Images of crying Chinese volunteers and fans are circulating on the Internet as I type... The real question is: Since Liu Xiang has no chance to win a gold (or any) medal this summer, will his face still be plastered all over bus stops, milk cartons, insurance commercials, etc? Or will China simply find a new golden idol to worship?
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As mentioned, I returned home to Chongqing last night from a 10-day stay in Beijing after witnessing the Chinese $40 billion, 7-year in the making, nationalism-induced Olympics that consumed every minute of my first year teaching in China. I went for a variety of reasons, the obvious being my love of sports (notably, baseball), but also because I felt I had a slight advantage on the other foreigners visiting Beijing that transcends my (still needs improvement) Chinese language ability. I had spent a year here in China, soaking up all the anticipation for August the 8th. The last year was exciting at first ("Wow! The Olympics in my Peace Corps country of service!"), then confusing ("Wait, you mean they did that in preparation for the Games?"), then frustrating (Ugh!; a half dozen speech contests that focused on trivial Olympic issues), and finally downright tedious, especially when it came to moving away from Olympic-themed things and events and begin focusing on real, worthy goals and knowledge in my classroom. I, as many of my readers know, am critical of China and the decisions its gov't (and indirectly, its people) make. I don't have to be critical - a very small percentage of Chinese are - but I choose to be because a) it's my job as an educator to teach the importance of critical-thinking skills, especially in a country that neglects them for memorization and repetition exercises, b) if I don't do it, who will? and c) as an American, I believe in the importance of Truth being expressed and known, and any country that suppresses it, or replaces it with false-Truths, should be criticized for being eligible to host (and use with political motives) an event that is supposed to represent one of the few things Planet Earth has that gives hope to the Utopian dream of "world peace". I am aware of America's faults, and as many of you know, I acknowledge them, but fighting injustice with injustice only ends with bigger, more elaborate injustice, and when I see a billion people being force-fed (or rather, gladly consuming) information that isn't fact-checked, I get hesitant in joining the "ZhongGuoJiaYou" (Go China!) cheers! Wouldn't you? It's like eating a donut you find in an open box on the sidewalk. Where did it come from? What's inside? But China, especially its youth, is hungry, so many help themselves without thinking hard enough about what they are actually consuming....
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And this concept rang through my mind as it was personified every day throughout Beijing. This Olympics is for domestic consumption, and I am sad to say did not do an adequate job in providing for foreigners the way it was promoted. The Chinese media has made such a huge deal of emphasizing the thousands of university students who signed up to be volunteers. These were the speakers of English that Beijing provided for the hundreds of thousands of foreigners from around the world. I commend them for their service, especially those who had to stand next to subway ticket machines and help foreigners buy tickets (everyday for 24 days), but this is were volunteers were placed by the Chinese Olympic Committee - not where they were really needed. I had many conversations with foreigners at my hostel, and all of them agreed that they had never been in a place where people spoke less English where it mattered. Helping foreigners though the luggage gate at the airport is not as necessary as much as exiting TianJin Stadium after a big football match and needing help to get to the train station (a situation I experienced and know I never would have been able to accomplish if I didn't speak survival Chinese). Taxi drivers tried to charge us hundreds of RMB for a simple 10 minute ride. A volunteer here would have helped greatly. This situation, and a handful more, were moments where I found myself doing seemingly normal Olympic things and no volunteer was available. But as this article from a Chinese publication states, the real purpose of volunteers at the Olympics were not to assist foreigners, but keep their eyes open for anyone who might belittle the red flag:
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One volunteer said that in addition to biological and chemical weapons attacks and bombings, volunteers were told to guard against journalists, so they say that their job is to "prevent drugs, prevent bombs, and prevent journalists."
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But this is pocket change to the real problem I experienced in Beijing: empty stadiums combined with the arduous task of getting tickets. When I arrived in Beijing, I had 2 tickets, both won in the Olympic lottery system and paid face value for (50 RMB each). After day 3, the Olympic website said that every ticket to every game had been sold out. Great! Right? No.
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This NPR report sums up the problem pretty well:
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The International Olympic Committee has even asked the Beijing organizing committee to allow more people in. Some blame the empty stands on sponsors and government departments who have been allocated blocks of seats but apparently haven't shown up. For some events, the audience is now being supplemented by trained cheering squads.
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Speaking on Monday, Wang Wei from the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee gave the official line: "I think due to the weather conditions as well, the hot humid weather and also the rain — as in the previous Olympic Games, the first couple of days there were not many spectators to show up," Wang said.
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An impromptu black market for tickets has sprung up outside a subway station. Even some of the most coveted seats, like the track and field finals, are on sale for many times above face value. But those desperate to buy tickets just can't believe it when they hear about the empty seats.
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"This is an opportunity that only comes around once every hundred years," says 19-year-old Yu Tingting. "Everybody wants to go to be there. I don't think there can be empty seats."
But the truth is there are — and in all matches. Supply certainly isn't meeting demand.
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I found myself in this "black market" almost everyday, outside the WuKeSong subway station with Ryan, bargaining for baseball tickets. Needless to say, we paid at least 2x the ticket's face value every time we were successful in finding a ticket and when we entered the stadium we sat in several different seats due to it never reaching maximum occupancy. This black ticket market was also the scene for many conversations that I am sure many important people would not want their "sellers" to speak of. On one notable conversation, Ryan and I met a Brit who was selling tickets for his Chinese IOC member friend who had an apartment in Beijing and "needed to pay the rent." He was selling men's basketball tickets that he was supposed to give away for 20x the face value. This IOC member had cut a deal with this foreigner so he would not have to stand on the street himself and sell them. It made Ryan and I thoroughly nauseous, as we stood outside for hours with a sign that read "I NEED TICKETS!" and bargaining fanny pack-wearing Chinese (and a few foreigners, who were much more likely give a good price to a fellow foreigner) for a ticket to anything. Tan Xin - word of the month - means "greedy" in Chinese. I called probably about 40 people this in the 10 days of bargaining, yelling and pointing. So, I deem the real mascot of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games to be: The empty stadium seat (pictured). It represents more than I have time to explain...
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In conclusion, I really wanted to come home to Chongqing after this Olympic experience and say I was wrong - that China had pulled it off and that Beijing did a great job welcoming hundreds of thousands of foreigners into their previously "closed" country. I wanted to say that this Olympics lived up to the promises China made in order to host it 7 years ago. But unfortunately, I have to give Beijing a solid "C" - the average of big highs and vicious lows. Of course, that is my opinion as a foreigner. I have received about 100 text messages from students who not only wished me happy birthday but simply commented that this Olympics has been "amazing, fabulous, and flawless!" I reply with a message, not to entirely antagonize but simply to make sure they know that nothing is truly harmonious, saying that my experience has been laced with many lows and that many people have been very greedy in Beijing, Chinese and foreigners alike. The real reason, however for my "C" rating is how I still agree with the Olympic critics that this Olympics will not provide the Chinese journalists with any more press freedom. This CNN report , which will instantly be discredited by any of my Chinese readers, states:
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"In the run up to the Olympics, it seems that Chinese authorities are so obsessed with projecting an image of 'stability' and 'harmony' ... that they have really come down quite hard on human right's activists and lawyers," said Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific director for Amnesty International.
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And it's true. I have read about more and more human rights activists being thrown in jail over the past year. If a society has a flawed law system and justice cannot prevail, then that society is everything but harmonious. Will the Olympics help this system? I hope so, but only when the Olympics is given the freedom to help, like it did in South Korea and with assisting in the ending of South African apartheid. Say what you want, but the Olympics is a progressive political tool disguised as an athletic competition, and its goal is to promote peace, but increased jail sentences, violent crackdowns, and dangerously superfluous and misguided nationalism makes the Olympics nothing but a runaway freight train with 1.3 billion in its way...
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Picture TAG: BeijingOlympics (more to be added within the next few days!)
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Baseball, The Bird Nest, and little sunburn


你们好!
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I just woke up from a long xiuxi (nap) after my first visit to the jewel of the Beijing Olympic Village: The Bird Nest (Niao Chao)! It was a very hard ticket to find - Julie, one of the new foreigner teachers at Southwest University who arrived a few days ago to experience a little Olympic chaos, paid 600 RMB for her ticket, 3x its face value - but I was luckier as I was able trade my beach volleyball ticket to a fellow American for this magical access to the Village. We, Ryan, Julie, Scott, and I, watched the RaceWalk final (a crazy style of walking; it was a 20K race in which walkers are must keep one foot on the ground, moving as fast as they can - the gold medal was won by a Russian who actually beat my best 20K (running!) time (running!) so don't expect to see Phil Razem competing in any running events during future Olympics), lots of long jump and pole vault, discus and shotput, and about 10 heats of the Woman's 100m and 400m qualifiers. It was exciting to see the athletes live, but the real reason the ticket was invaluable was it let me gain entrence to the (infamous) Line 8 subway, from which I have been rejected many times in the last 9 days, leading to the icon stadiums of this Chinese-style Olympics...
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But the real good news, which is always mixed with bad news, was how Ryan and I quenched our thirst for USA baseball tickets, which we were able to buy off a greedy foreigner of unknown origin, for 3x the face value (150 RMB). They played Cuba, whom is favored to win the gold, so we knew we were in for a good game. Starting off in bleecher seats and eventually being pursuaded by a few cheap beers, we succussfully moved right onto the 3rd base line and yelled our baseball lingo, confusing the 95% Chinese crowd with phrases like "Knock 'em in" and "Green light, Mike!" The game was great, sunny blue skies after being rained out the previous day (a game I was at as well!), and ran into extra innings after USA tied up the score with a solid homer into center field. The sun beat down on us - of course, the beer and lack of a hat didn't help my situation (see red face above) - and the stands started to thin as the scoreboard reveled to the crowd that sometimes baseball goes on forever. Ryan and I, lovers of the game, moved closer to the field in hopes of just that, but then encountered a (rather stupid) brickwall. According to Olympic rules, if a game moves into extra innings, two baserunners are put on 1st and 2nd to "accerlerate" the game's finale. Ryan and I were livid, and according tot his NYT article, we were not alone:
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The new extra-inning system was implemented by the International Baseball Federation last month as a way to accelerate the pace of games and make it more attractive to television networks. [USA Manager Davey] Johnson said last week that he despised it, and Friday's events did little to change his mind.
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So Cuba won, but nonetheless, baseball in China, another dream fulfilled.
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I head back to Chongqing tomorrow evening via plane and honestly, I am excited to leave Beijing for my little section of Southwest China, where things seem a little more real and less submerged in Chinese Olympic hysteria. I will be posting my final evaluation of my experience at the Games, including some of the good things I saw/experienced and, of course, the many, many things that needed improvement as to keep up with my criticial look at China hosting these 2008 Olympic Games. Check back soon!
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Olympic Baseball


你们好!
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A quick summary: 2 days ago, Ryan and I (pictured) successfully acquired baseball tickets after sitting outside the stadium for a few hours: twice the face value price - China vs. Canada - and enjoyed every minute of it (China got destroyed 10-0!), exercising our rusty baseball lingo - Batta batta batta...SWING!
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No lie - Field Hockey is an awesome sport. Completely underrated! Team USA tied Japan in my first trip into the Olympic Village, which looks more like a maximum security prison with its high fences and constantly patrolling security gaurds...
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Also, last night, in a story that needs to be expanded at a later time - this one revels the true shortcomings of this Olympics - Ryan, Scott (from Buffalo; staying in the room next to mine) and I went to neighboring city of TianJing for a football match, but had to leave early to return to Biejing in time for today's events. There we watched one of the most boring matches between Italy and Cameroon - both had already qualified for the next round - and we booooooed as they played keep-away for 90 minutes.....
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More soon....I have a lead on a USA baseball ticket that I need to follow. Here in Beijing, the black ticket market thrives....
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Olympic Happenings


Nimenhao!

I am typing to you from my hostel just outside Tiananmen Square. I woke up early today and took a stroll though the Square, snappng pictures of all the festivities and such, trying not to catch the eye of the constantly patrolling military soldiers, dressed in olive green, white gloves, scanning the crowd for suspicious persons. This sight is much different from my previous visit to the Square in January; there are eleborate flower decorations and the fountains are all turned on, spraying up int othe air around the large framed (famous) picture of Mao hung above the entrance to the Forbidden City. The majority of the crowd is Chinese - which makes perfect sense as I understand this Olympics is geared for domestic consumption - but a few American accents can be detected, which is nice to hear in a place 8000 miles away from the red, white, and blue.

The highlights of the last few days have been both hot and cold. I managed to trade away my beach volleyball ticket to a fellow American at my hostel (strangely, he was born on the same day as me - 8/8/82 - and is from Buffalo, NY) for a ticket to enter the Bird's Nest National Stadium, probably the most impressive piece of architecture in Beijing, for a few track and field events. This trade had other motives as well, due to Chinese security denying vistors admittance to the Olympic Village unless he/she has a ticket for a sport that takes place within its boundries. This has infuriated many Europeans staying at my hostel, who came thousands of miles to see the Bird's Nest (and burning above, the Olympic flame) and now can only see it from the highway. One New Zealander who had visited 2 previous Olympic Games said that this was the strangest restriction he has ever experienced at a city hosting the Games - "why deny people into the place where the Olympics is actually happening?! I could have done this from home in front of the television."

But that isn't the worst story yet. The biggest problem for foreigners in Beijing at the moment is acquiring tickets to the games they want to attend. If you notice from your television, there are hundreds of seats open during the Games, espcially during matches where China is not playing. The reason for this is many Chinese (and a few foreigners) have bought up all the tickets in hopes they can sell them at higher prices. Unfortunately, for thousands of foreigners that came to Beijing in hopes of purchsing a ticket to a sport, for exmaple as simple as Rowing, they get a "SOLD OUT" message on the official Olympic ticket site. All the tickets are being sold for higher prices, but the people can't find them. So, the real losers are the ticket sellers, who are running out of time by posting their inflated tickets on sites like CraigsList, which many foreigners have never heard of. It's a shame for everyone...especially for me, who is still unsuccessful in finding a baseball ticket.

But Ryan and I were able to acquire some football tickets, which we found on CraigsList by a Canadian who didn't want to make a profit when he realized he was running out of time to sell them. We met in a Beijing subway station, and as if we were passing off drugs or something, we made the exchange. It was really strange, but successful, and so in a few days, we will be watching Italy vs. Cameroon and Australia vs. CIV. 150 RMB in Section A (front row, center - about 25 bucks/ticket).

But otherwise, Beijing has been great. I wasn't in central Beijing when this incident occurred (Thank God!) because I was in a northern section of the city drinking Japanese saki with Chinese "gangstas". And that's where that story ends...

Last night, Ryan and I watched the USA destroy China in basketball, which felt good, espcially since a majority of our points were dunks. I lost a bet to him, however, because I (foolishly) took a 13-point spread - I thought Yao Ming was as good as China led me to believe - and the game ended with a 31 point annihilation. President Bush was there, who is pretty much hated by every Beijing person I meet (for misguided reasons, of course). At least we always have something to take about....

I haven't seen any blue skies in Beijing yet, and according to BBC, T-storms are expected for the next 4 days.

All for now. As a supplement, this NYT article is the best piece of writing I have read on China in the last year. It's exactly how I feel, but couldn't put my finger on until now.

Woman's field hockey tomorrow evening! Are you as pumped as much as I am!? ;-)

I love and miss you all,

Phil

:Lan Mai Fei

Friday, August 8, 2008

Beijing!


你们好!
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I am here in Beijing and the emotions are running high! Last night I went to one of Beijing's public squares to watch the Opening Ceremonies with one of my hostel roommates, Bo, from Hungary. When we arrived, about 25 minutes in advance, we were greeted (greeted is a polite word) by about 5000 Chinese, decked out in red, yellow, and white, waving flags and screaming "Zhong Guo Jia You!" (Go China!)! There was a massive screen (see picture) and since this performance was due to last well beyond 4 hours, nearly all of these Chinese (I would assume the crowd was 97% Chinese, which is a surprising high percentage of foreigners) wanted to sit down instead of stand. They layed newspapers down and just...parked. This was the problem...
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Long story short, I almost was crushed through a storefront glass window when large swarms of Chinese in the middle of the crowd started to feel a little claustrophobic and wanted out....NOW! There was a battle, people were being pushed, screams for the police were echoing throughout the crowd, who eventuially arrived and, no lie, probably saved someone from getting seriously hurt. I think this picture I took of myself (above; in front of the window I was almost pushed through) sums it up perfectly....
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But the experience was priceless. I was very impressed with the start of the ceremony and as the countries started to march in, the Chinese reactions were very interesting, espcially from an American perspective. Japan and America were greated with many boo's - I expected this for Japan - complicated history! - The boo's eventually subsided - the people must have remembered how this Olympics was NOT supposed to be political (It's hard to avoid, China, I know) and evolved into "Go China!" chants! I laughed. When America walked in, there was a mixed reaction - Kobe Bryant is HUGE here; the cameras focused on him at first - then went up into the crowd and there he and she stood, claping: President Bush and wife, Laura. The crowd immediately flipped and went silent with a few grumbling murmurs. Then, with a burst of antagonism, I let out a huge "BOOOOOOOOO! GO BACK TO TEXAS!" - heads turned with a few small smiles - public political dissent is not connom in China. I had done what they were all thinking, especially the British crowd I had found myself among. I whispered to a few Chinese around me that it was my American duty to do this...I don't know if they liked it because of my opinion, or rather, I was very public with my disspproval (I hope it was the latter). Then I started an "O - bam - A" chant but that just confused them....haha!
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As for the torch lighting, I thought it was very anti-climatic. I was expecting something better or, I guess, something with more feeling, but according to my student's text message this morning, it couldn't have been better because of "technical limitations". Your country spent $40 billion to prepare for this thing! Technical Limitations?! I don't buy it. Sometimes the simplist act is the most inspiring. I read that Yao Ming (7'6'') might hold a Sichuan Earthquake orphan up above his head to light the torch (this would have brought tears to my eyes!). I was also told that the people in Chengdu had been training a panda for the last 8 months to light a torch. This would have been perfect! Why? Because I could have brushed it off and said, "Soooo China..." A panda lighting a torch - it doesn't get any more China than that! And the people would have went crazy! And maybe we could have had some grilled panda meat the next morning...sacrilegious, I know and I apologize....
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More in the next few days....oh, and I am 26 y/o. Thanks ya'll for the amazing birthday wishes!
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Olympic Countdown: 1 day


GOOD LUCK! To everyone...
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I will try my best to update you on my status in Beijing during the next few days.
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞

Olympic Countdown: 2 days


Oooppps!
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Check out ESPN's Olympic blog about this little incident!
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Some of the policemen walked toward me and grabbed me by the arm. They were angry and aggressive while holding on to me, yelling in my face. But I still kept yelling, "TV! Media! Press! TV! Media! Press!" The policemen were speaking into their walkie-talkies, but I didn't understand what they were saying. then went back to the bottom of the hill and took more pictures. By that point, a fire truck pulled up and moved a cherry picker up the pole to try to bring down the protester. The same civilian came down the hill and started screaming at me again. Some of the onlookers joined in, and I was circled by people who started pushing and shoving me, screaming and pointing to the stadium. I never got hit or punched, but I was definitely physically accosted. I was trying to be smart about it and I wasn't hitting anyone, but I kept yelling, "Media! Press!"
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Lesson: If you get in trouble in Beijing for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, don't say your a member of the press...Magic words: TING BU DONG! (translation: Whaaaaaaat?!)
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and it begins....
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Olympic Countdown: 3 days


你们好!
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So a country strolls into the Olympic Superstore and asks the manager how much it would cost to host a particular Olympics Games. "Dou Shao Qian?" the country asks. The man replies, "Well, that depends on you. But first you need to be awarded the Games - remember, The IOC (International Olympic Committee) stands for "dignity and human rights" (quote: IOC charter)! If you are awarded the Games, you can spend whatever amount you wish. "Interesting," the country says, pulling out its wallet. The country's children pulls on the country's pant leg and says, "Daddy, daddy! Don't forget about us!" The country replies, "__________________"
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The numbers have just been released and this Olympics, 7 years in the making, has cost China, drum roll please.... da da da da da da da da:
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$40 Billion (wow!)
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This is compared the 16 billion spent for the Athens Games in 2004. Even less, Sydney spent 1.5 billion for the 2000 Olympics. This is 4x the amount the Chinese government spend on health care every year, and belittles the 15.7 billion invested in education. A gamble, yes, indeed...
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If the 2008 Olympics go smoothly - the skies are blue and the air is clean, security works hard to keep Chinese and visitors like me safe, protests are minimized, the athletes put on a good show, etc. - then maybe China can justify this (can I call it, frivolous? - see picture) spending. It is China's "coming out party" and I recognize it as such. The sad truth, however, is I don't live in Beijing and neither do hundreds of millions of other Chinese who remain incredibly poor, selling vegetables and digging ditches to simply get by. This 40 billion - hell, 1 billion! - could have really lifted the spirits of some people I know in Chongqing more so than any Olympic celebration of Chinese culture. If the government's goal is uniting China behind the Communist Party by investing $40 billion in the Olympics, why not do it by improving the living standard of the 800 million Chinese peasants!? "Pretend Smiles"
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As the Beijing Olympics approaches its grandiose Opening Ceremony (the most expensive one in history - it better be worth it!) this NPR report discovers "Many Still Question Choice Of China As Host". These questions should be asked and will continue regardless of the the Olympics' final evaluation. As The Notorious B.I.G. said, Mo' Money Mo' Problems...
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And your dosage of wacky: My wacky sister's lovely gift for my 26th birthday via Youtube.com (gifts don't get much better than this when you are 8000 miles away): click! Love you, Corinne!
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I fly to 北京 manana....Wish me luck! 美国加油!
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞

Monday, August 4, 2008

Olympic Countdown: 4 days


你们好!
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The main players of America and China...
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1) USA: 103
2)Russia: 92
3) China 63
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But the real contest this year is between American and China for the most GOLD medals. In Athens, America won the most with 35 but China was right behind with a close 32. There has been a little (who am I kiddin' - A LOT of) pressure on the Chinese athletes to perform this August and most of this pressure derives from the media, who are absolutely drop-dead in love with everything about this Olympics, understandably so. Many of the Chinese athletes actually dropped below the radar during the last few months as to avoid the bone-crunching pressure 1.3 billion can place on them with the highest expectations. Home field advantage doesn't always prevail.
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But lets meet a few athletes...
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Swimmer Michael Phelps won 6 gold medals in Athens and is competing in 8 events in Beijing. He is a heavy favorite and from the picture above, he is sportin' a pretty cool mustache (I hope it doesn't slow him down). This ESPN article was funny, detailing Phelps secret entrance into Beijing as to avoid the media storm. The tragedy of this smooth arrival was the broken heart of one of his Chinese fans:
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One young Chinese girl said she had waited five hours hoping to get an autograph. She also carried an envelope in her hand, addressed in imperfect English: "To Michael Phelps you have to look at." Asked why she wanted to see Phelps, a friend standing nearby answered for her.
"Because she thinks he's handsome."
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This past year, when I asked my students to describe their perfect husband or wife, one of my female students actually brought in a picture of Phelps. He drives the Chinese ladies crazy - must be those goggles and shaved legs.
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Tyson Gay is America's hope in the 100 meter sprint. He is the current world champion but two sprinters from Jamaica have actually surpassed his personal records in the last few months. He did run an amazing 9.68 (this is the fastest a human being as ever run 100 meters) but he was aided by the wind.
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Yao Ming - well, duh! Who doesn't know Yao Ming? He is 7'5 and probably the most aggressive Chinese person in the world - but I have a feeling his Team China won't match up to Team America with Kobe and LeBron. President Bush will be there too, so there is one advantage for Team China...
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Liu Xiang is he real showstopper for Team China. He and Yao are pretty much advertise everything at the supermarket, and thus, two of the richest athletes in China. Liu won the gold in Athens - the first gold medal won by a Chinese in track and field (110m hurdles). I am secretly betting against Liu this summer, putting my money behind Cuban Dayron Robles. Why? You can only see a face belonging to someone you haven't met so many times before it starts to make you nauseous.
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Dosage of wacky: The [Chinese] architect who designed the "bird's nest" National Stadium didn't receive an invitation to the opening ceremonies when his vision will be unveiled ont he 8th. Why? He thinks a lot like me. this NYT interview He calls it - "pretend smiles."
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美国加油!
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Olympic Countdown: 5 days


你们好!
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So, sports...
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I love sports; I cringe when someone tells me he/she doesn't like sports - watching them, playing them, whatever. To love sports is to love life, to appreciate the human existence. To quote one of my favorite sports-themed (chick) flicks, Fever Pitch, a baseball movie adapted from a Nick Hornby novel about soccer:
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"You know what's really great about [sports]? You can't fake it. You know, anything else in life you don't have to be great in - business, music, art - I mean you can get lucky. You can fool everyone for awhile, you know? It's not like [sports]. You can either hit a curveball or you can't. That's the way it works... You can have a lucky day, sure, but you can't have a lucky career. It's a little like math. It's orderly. Win or lose, it's fair. It all adds up. It's, like, not as confusing or as ambiguous as, uh...Life. It's - it's safe."
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But I wouldn't be honest if I told you I am solely looking forward to heading to Beijing because of the specific events I have tickets to watch (women's field hockey and beach volleyball). All I wanted was a single ticket to watch baseball, to make sure the ball mentioned above still curved in this baseball-less place (I have yet to see a baseball glove in a Chinese sports store). Sold out, I am told. But this is China, and where I can buy a movie on DVD that hasn't even be released in the States, I am pretty sure I can get a ticket if I ask the right people. Ryan, Julie (a new foreigner teacher at 西南大学), and I will hunt like wolves - dark alleys, grimy bars, outside the temporary stadiums in plain sight, and all...
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I am going to talk more about sports tomorrow, especially the race for the most medals between American and China, highlighting some of the notable teams and athletes, but I thought, since the rest of this blog revolves around a somewhat critical thinking/freedom-seeking (or lack there of) theme, it would be interesting to comment on this article I found on ESPN entitled "Up Front: Remember when athletes had the guts to stand up for their beliefs?" by Stephan A. Smith, which remembers when Tommie Smith and John Carlos, 200m American sprinters, raised their fists at the 1968 Mexico City Games for "black power":
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In recent history we've seen Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods break records and break down stereotypes. But let's be real: When it comes to political activism, American sports has lacked a spokesman for years. Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown are long gone from the spotlight, and [Arthur] Ashe left the stage far too soon.... Decades later, despite (or perhaps because of) riches and fame and a significant decline in overt racist practices, today's athletes show very little interest in standing up for or against something bigger than themselves—whether it's war, tyranny, economic deprivation or global warming. Who among them will have the conscience to embrace the challenges that lie ahead, no matter what the sponsors or, yes, the TV networks, think?...
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LeBron James, superstar of the "Dream 'Redeem'" USA Basketball Team, has told American reporters that he would raise awareness in Beijing about the atrocities/genocide happening in the Sudan (China is the Sudanese gov't's largest supplier of arms and foreign investment). Kobe Bryant, arguably the best all-around basketball player in the world, recorded this PSA about Darfur. However, just when we might find the next Tommie Smith(s), LeBron and Kobe both just told reporters in China that basketball and politics should not be linked. A huge let-down. Why? These players, who are enormously popular in China (China has over 300,000,000 NBA fans, more than the population of America), could really open some young people's eyes. The only reason, after both of them have proclaimed their true feelings in the past, sadly, is money and the sponsorships these powerhouses might lose by brands like Nike and Adidas.
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The sad question is, as quoted from Smith's article, "Do we even care anymore?"
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Here is your dosage of wacky for the day; this isn't so much wacky as it is amazing and inspiring, especially if you are a runner: The men's 800 meters at the US Olympic Trials in Oregon about a month ago. If you don't have the patience to watch the entire race (it's only 2 laps!) then fast-forward and watch from 6:30-7:30. Christian Smith's (3rd place finisher/"going to Beijing!") dive at the finish line is everything I love about sports.
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Now if only we can get him to speak up about something important in Beijing... ;-)
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Olympic Countdown: 6 days


你们好!
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The complicated lead-up to 2008 Beijing Olympic Games in review. I shouldn't post this link because after reading it, you you probably won't return to this blog for any of my commentary! But nonetheless, I think this article from the New York times is a nice, objective collection of the facts, as well a possible future outlook. The IOC, which I think has made many foolish decisions/compromises in the last year, if not in the last week alone, has used its power in the past to help the world; they claim to have had a role in bringing democracy to South Korea, as well ending apartheid in South Africa. About China:
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"The I.O.C. members I know most closely were never so naïve to think that China would be Korea all over again," said John MacAloon, an Olympic historian at the University of Chicago. "What they are counting on is that 20,000 reporters wandering around, and China's experience having hosted the world, would perhaps lead the central authorities to realize they can afford greater tolerance and discourse without descending into chaos."
Given that hope, the I.O.C. would almost certainly choose Beijing again if it had the chance at a do-over. "It's a risk worth taking.
" Mr. Pound said. "The Games will be well delivered. You hope good will come from it. I don't think any closed country that has hosted the Olympic Games has been the same thereafter. It cant be."
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Cross your fingers. That is an interesting point/gamble made by John MacAloon. If the world gives the Chinese Communist government what it wants - an "harmonious" Olympics without protest in any shape or fashion - then the CCP will begin to have confidence in the West and thus, open up and give more freedom to their own people since everyone will be watching. Yet, if this strategy is executed (I hope this doesn't sound like I am playing war games), then the Chinese gov't may be tempted to use it has fuel to exult themselves and their power in negative, authoritarian ways. Roll the dice? After living in China for a year and experiencing this culture first hand, I don't have a lot of faith the IOC can do much good here. I hope I eat these words someday. Note: My students did not know "cross your fingers" [for good luck] when I did it for them in preparation for one of their many exams administrated by the school - Understandably, since it derives from the Christian tradition (fingers form a cross) similar to the phrase, "Knock on wood" (the wood of the cross carried by Jesus).
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Yesterday, I took a bus to the ShaPingBa district of Chongqing, a smooth 45 minute ride , to visit Ryan (Michigan), Chris (New Jersey), Scott (Colorado), and Megan (Iowa) for a delicious Peace Corps Mexican fiesta prepared by Scott and Megan. Ryan, my roommate in Fengjie who also plans on attending the Olympics, and I asked another PCV, John (Texas), to design us a T-shirt logo that compares with the popular Chinese design (see above). Long story short, John prevailed - he supposedly created this image with old 90's computer software (and a dream!); it reads 美国加油 Mei Guo Jia You, or "Go America!" (literally translated, "America Add Oil!") - so Ryan and I, for less than 100 RMB (maybe $15) got this picture put on a few T-shirts. Salt in Chinese wounds (America did win the most medals in Athens)? Maybe. But hey, we are going to be needles in the Chinese patriotic haystack. We have to do our part...
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More tomorrow - and I will actually comment about SPORTS, being that this Olympics thing is about sports, right?!
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞

Friday, August 1, 2008

Olympic Countdown: 7 days


你们好!
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With so much being written in the media about China's tight grasp on the Internet during the Olympics, and this being an Internet blog that, more than often, is slightly critical of China hosting the Games, I thought it would be interesting to incorporate a quote from Tim Russert, former host of Meet the Press, I recently read in Brian Lamb's "Booknotes" series (a wonderful collection) on the. Tim Russert, native of Buffalo who sadly passed away this year, took over the popular Meet the Press in 1991. Before he hit the airwaves, he asked Lawrence Spivak, the first host of MTP, what his mission should be as the host of the show. Spivak said,
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"That's simple. You learn everything you can about your guest and his or her positions, and you take the other side. If you do that each and every Sunday, you'll demonstrate the requisite objectivity and balance and deference of guests, and no one will ever complain, and you'll have a long and illustrious career...When you engage people in that kind of intellectual exercise, you create a little tension and you make a little bit of news."
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Western bloggers (in China) are out-numbered by Chinese bloggers, probably 1000:1 (China has recently surpassed U.S.A with Internet users). In a nutshell, I love this quote because when I "take the other side" I feel a little like Tim Russert, and Tim Russert's Meet the Press is exactly what China needs.
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The New York Times is the best news publication in the world. It exercises free speech, its international reporting is objective, and is incredibly thorough in its investigations. I have received e-mails from several Chinese readers in the last few days who disagree with many of the things I write on this blog, or rather, they don't like my wording of facts they acknowledge as true. Just as many Westerns claim the Chinese media is exclusively "rainbows and unicorns" (quote, Phil Razem, http://www.philiprazeminchina,blogspot.com/), there is a similar disgust for Western media by the Chinese, who think Westerns rarely give China any credit for their accomplishments in the last 30 years - i.e. "China brought 400 million people out of poverty that has NO EQUAL in human history...Why can't they just show a little bit of appreciation along with the criticism for the HUGE amount of effort we have put in?" writes one my readers. The truth is, we do give credit to China's progress, as this NYT article - "Despite Flaws, Rights in China Have Expanded" - reads, but Western media is slightly more aware of, and reports on, how much more needs to be done. Developing a country is not unlike running a marathon; when you hit 13.1 miles, it great to think, 'Wow! I just ran 13.1 miles! What an accomplishment!" but the truth is, and the highest priority should be, "Now I need to finish the next 13.1 miles without 'hitting the wall.'" I would argue the Chinese media (and moreover, its people) revel too much in the first 13.1 miles and not enough in the coming trek...
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Your comments are welcome: philiprazem@gmail.com
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And your dosage of wacky: One of my favorite news sources, The Onion, has a wonderful analysis of what this Beijing "Olympics" might actually be. cLiCk 哈哈 小心!
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞