Saturday, August 9, 2008

So much...

So much has happened in the last 24 hours. We awakened this morning to hear some bad news. Let me first give my condolences to Elisabeth "Wiz" Bachman who was a member of the 2004 Women's Olympic Volleyball Team. Her father was murdered in a knife attack and her mother injured in an attack by a Chinese man yesterday at noon. The tour guide and Elisabeth were with them when it happened but were uninjured. The killer then jumped off the Drum Tower and killed himself. I recruited Wiz when I was coaching at Iowa. I spent some time in their home on a recruiting visit and spoke to Wiz many times. It has been many years, but I remember the family well. I know this is no reflection on the Chinese or anyone in particular. It appears random and can happen on anyday, anywhere but it still stinks. It will serve, however, to ignite the passions of many of the athletes to perform better, and push themselves to be stronger, jump higher, and run faster. Tragedy has a way of pulling people together and forcing themselves to dig deeper than they ever knew they could dig. Viva the USA!!!

Yesterday was a big day. We were up and at'em by 6:00 am to beat the rush at the Great Wall. There are two access places to the Wall near Beijing. We went to the one a bit farther away with less people traffic (still tons of people by the time we left) at Mutianyu. It was very misty and even rained a bit so we couldn't see but a mile of the 4000 miles at any one time. It got a little better as the sun burned off some off the mist and we could see farther. On good visiblity days, the long vistas of wall are very impressive. and you can see for miles. It is unbelievable that these stones and bricks were cut and laid by hand. No wonder it took millenia to build. As we serpentined through the vast markets of sellers leaving the tourist site, I was struck with how much English the vendors new and how they worked together to make a sale. Some of us must have a big stamp of 'S' (sucker) on our forehead because few of us escaped without a souvenir or ten. I bought T-shirts for the kids and myself and some friends. You could get 2 shirts for 30 yuan. or about 3 bucks each. I felt like I had wheeled a great deal. All of us were trying to haggle like the tourist books advised. They start at a 100% and you are supposed to counter at about 10%. Then you meet somewhere in the middle. Frankly, I think it would be easier to just price things in the middle and be done with it. But where is the fun in that. Mo and her cousin Wang were really helpful too. If you got stuck, they jumped in, and after the yelling and haggling in Chinese, they would calmly turn and tell you how much yuan to pull out of your carefully hidden wallet. Good stuff. Can't wait to try my hand in the big market in Beijing today.

After that, we were dropped off in the heart of the city where the Bird's Nest, Water Cube, and other venues were. We were offered some gymnastics tickets by a couple of Russians. One hundred dollars US. We had reservations at a very famous Peking Duck restaurant and then Cincinnati Pops tickets at the new and amazing Concert Hall in Beijing. The restaurant was authentic and very interesting. Once again the motif had lts of red and yellow and the meal was designed around it's focal point. Duck. They blow an entire duck up with water and then roast until the water is gone. So the meat is very tender and retains it's flavors. Every bit of the duck is used so the side dishes included duck feet, duck livers, duck intestines...I think you get the picture. Some of us tried duck tongue and duck tendon. Not my favorite. I did think the wine called Great Wall wine was decent and was a good foil for the duck. Funny, I don't remember grape vines on the Wall. Our hosts took us and were delightful. Mo's mother and father and brother and cousins who have all made our stay wonderful and easy, had dinner with us. We were quite a group and I will post the picture as soon as I get it off Dr. EZ's camera.

We were then driven to the new Chinese Nationl Performing Arts Center. In words: stunning and gorgeous. It looks like a titanium egg surrounded by a square pond of water. You walk in the building UNDER the water. There is no entrance at ground level. Then you see this huge, and I mean HUGE expanse of dark wood, metal, and different marbles that give you a warm, but contemporary feel. Erich Kunzel was at his best. Funny and engaging with the primarily Chinese audience who appreciated his attempt to speak Mandarin. Mo said it was a great honor to be invited to perform there, not to mention how meaningful it was to be invited during Opening Ceremony weekend. The symphony played a nice selection of music from previous Olympiads as well as a tribute to composer John Williams, and the theme from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It was funny though because the jet lag hit right about the start of the concert. There were many open mouths and closed eyes at various points of the performance. I sat between Karen and Ali and can vouch they got some power naps in.

After leaving the Concert Hall, we sleepwalked through the streets trying to get to Tian'anmen Square but the access points were blocked off. There is a bike road race today so that may be the reason why. We walked by the where Mao is entombed and where some Olympic exhibits were. It was beautiful at night all lit up.

Then we took the bus...OMG. Seventy-five people in a space designed for 40. We were on that bus for 45 minutes standing and packed like sardines. And if you haven't heard, the drivers are well... to put a fine point on it...CRAZY!!! Had we not been packed in so tight, we would have flown threw the windows on many occasions. After we finally got off that bus, I had to look around to be sure I didn't have someone I didn't know still attached to me.

Today, is an "up in the air" day. Foot massages, shopping, and scalping tickets are possibles as well as seeing how close we can get to Tian'anmen Square. You'll know when I know.

One World One Dream is the motto of this we watch the Olympic coverage and Michael Phelps setting a WR, and China leading the gold medal sure is.

No comments: