BEIJING, China, 10:14 p.m. — Things you may or may not be pleased to know about our President:
1) He drinks non-alcoholic beer
Pro – He doesn’t get drunk while visiting foreign countries and attending official events
Con – O’Douls? Seriously?
2) He’s really psyched to meet anyone from the Heartland. Unfortunately, this meant that my moment meeting him was somewhat abbreviated by his enthusiasm for meeting my companions (from Tulsa, OK and Bryan, TX, respectively)
BEIJING, China, 9:54 a.m. — Late summer usually brings heavy rains to Beijing, yet the first three weeks of my stay saw zero precipitation and gallons of perspiration. That changed today, big time.
Archery is postponed! Rain hammers against the apartment windows and now I’m consigned to watch sharp shooting, archery’s indoor equivalent, which is dull beyond my capacity to describe with the English language. Ok, fine, I’ll try. Eight women stand ten meters from a paper target and use air pistols (yes, air) to shoot tiny pellets with extreme accuracy. The guns make no noise, and the stoicism from the athletes is off-putting – during the entire event not one competitor smiled, frowned, or changed body language. Luckily my leftover dim sum dumplings made a satisfying mid afternoon snack.
BEIJING, China, 12:01 a.m. — John Williams’ “Olympic Centennial: Summon The Heroes” makes me cry. Every time. This Olympics was no exception — unfortunately I wasn’t blessed with Bob Costas and his consistently brilliant NBC Olympics coverage, but the fireworks filled in.
And what a show: those drummers! The scroll, the dancing, the characters, the fans, the opera and oh what a torch! Sam says that 300 years ago the Chinese could fly — it seems, after a torch-lighting ceremony for the ages, that at least one man can fly again.
BEIJING, China, 6:33 p.m. — Arriving today in the fancy new Terminal 3 of the Beijing Airport, a few observations managed to squeeze through my post-13-hour-flight delirium:
Thing 1 – The airport was almost startlingly quiet, like an elementary school classroom just as the teacher has finished yelling. There were several gaurds, all of whom stood up overly straight but seemed to be more or less spaced out. When they walked, they walked in a rehearsed-looking tandem, but swung their arms in what seemed like a hopeless attempt as “acting natural.” Of course, the only people to break this code of silence were a group of Americans who, by looks and accents, seemed to be from Southern California.
Thing 2 – Along with being quiet, everything is very very new looking. Almost sticky with shiny newness. Though perhaps that stickiness is as much the humidity as anything (to us, it is “smog”; to them, “mist”).
BEIJING, China, 7:42 p.m. — My to-do list, leading up to my departure, consisted of such things as:
“toiletries in tiny bottles”
“sleeping pills?” (the question mark, because I work 50+ hours a week, and wasn’t sure I’d be able to skip out in time for a pharmacy visit)
“Bisquick*” (the asterisk, because I ended up forcing my intern to run to Morton Williams and get it for me, again because my work schedule wasn’t exactly conducive to grocery shopping — also, the Bisquick, because the family I’m staying with can’t accept other sorts of host/hostess gifts)
“t-shirt for [boss]”
“black pearl necklace and button earrings for Nana”
“print David’s suit measurements”
In this, I see more or less my entire understanding of China up until this point — it is far away, so the flight requires sleeping pills; you can’t buy Bisquick; you can buy cheap pearls and custom made suits.
HONG KONG, China, 5:28 p.m. — There’s been a lot of rain these two past months in Hong Kong, but those storm clouds and slicks don’t really matter. Those that do, I discovered yesterday, are produced by typhoon warning Signal No. 8 — the only legitimate excuse to stay home from work.
Unlike rare snow-days in North America, when you still have to shovel your way to the garage, No. 8 mandates a standstill, which means no public road transportation, no work. And Hong Kong suddenly becomes a ghost town.
BEIJING, China, 4:03 p.m. — Four hours and counting. This city is ready — you may have read that surface-to-air missiles guard the National Stadium. It’s true. Some of the rocket canisters are said to hold fireworks – here’s to hoping that the launch operator hasn’t partaken in any Opening Ceremony alcoholic festivities.
The excitement is palpable. And this just in: as of five minutes ago distinct rays of sunshine broke through the Beijing haze. The pollution will undoubtedly be a problem: no one here wears a dust mask (although everyone probably should). I’ve written before about the Beijing bubble, the shroud of pollution that obscures the sky and surrounding hills. But tonight none of that matters: its Beijing’s night. No way will dirty air obscure China’s greatest moment on the world stage. But those rays of sun have now vanished, covered over by the Chinese economic miracle once more.
TAMPA, Florida, 4:03 p.m. — University President Richard Levin departed Wednesday for the Olympic Games in his second trip to China in three months.
Levin and his wife, Jane, are part of a small delegation of university presidents from around the world traveling at the invitation of China’s Ministry of Education. They will return on Monday.
In an e-mail message, Levin shared his itinerary for the trip, which includes:
* Participating as a panelist in the School of Management’s executive education program
* Attending the dedication of the new U.S. embassy in Beijing
* Sitting for an interview on CCTV, China’s state television network
* Representing Yale at an awards ceremony at which the Yale University Press and the China International * Publishing Group will be honored for “promoting cross-cultural understanding,” as Levin put it, with their joint publication of the “Culture & Civilization of China” series.
But that won’t be all for Levin and his wife, the director of undergraduate studies for Directed Studies. “We will also attend the Opening Ceremonies and one or two Olympic events,” he wrote.
Levin has made the internationalization of Yale a pillar of his presidency in recent years, and he has been a regular visitor to China, where he has almost celebrity status. The president last visited the country in May, when he met with China’s vice president and sat for a lengthy interview on state television.
BEIJING, China, 3:16 p.m. — Culinary variety indicates globalization. It makes sense: restauranteurship is a good option for immigrants adjusting to a new culture yet striving to maintain their own. American cuisine is both bolstered and battered by our melting-pot society (although melting-pot is hardly an appropriate metaphor — it suggests homogeneity, which is misleading. We’re more of a casserole, stratified into distinct layers which, working together, create something better than any single layer can offer. If this seems like an idealized culinary simplification, it is: food always irons out the creases).
China: is it globalized? The Olympics say yes, as Beijing hosts one of humanity’s greatest showings of international cooperation, starting tomorrow. Business says yes, as gleaming office buildings grow like weeds from China’s fertile entrepreneurial ground. Language says yes, as school children learn English and the expatriate population grows every day. Yet food says no.
HONG KONG, China, 10:10 a.m. — In a country where a moustache or a howling dog is considered bad luck, it’s no surprise that the Chinese picked such an opportune date for the opening ceremonies — August 8, 2008 — at 8:08:08 pm. Eight, the luckiest number in China, sounds very close to the word “prosperity” in Chinese. In the same way, I was warned not to mispronounce four, which can sound like “death” with a twist in the tone.
Even in Hong Kong, where locals see themselves as more westernized than mainlanders, Chinese superstitions apply everywhere. Walking along sweaty, narrow sidewalks, you have to dodge mini shrines with incense, jutting out of local shops to fend off evil. In the business district of Central, Corporate moguls and CEOs practice feng shui — or Chinese geomancy according to wind and water forces. (more…)