September 13 – Olympics

I slept in this morning, and woke up at about 8am. Got on the computer for a little bit, took a shower, and then decided to get some breakfast while it was still open. Going down there, I found that most of the girls were having breakfast, since they were in the bus that left at 9 am. My roommate was still asleep, he got in fairly late last night. When the main part of the group took off to see the early part of the olypics, Sarah and I decided to walk over to the college and explore the northern part of the campus that we hadn’t seen before.

The campus is at least twice as large as I had previously thought, but the other half is very sparsely populated. The area we walked through was fairly overgrown with vegetation, with lots of ponds and streams winding throughout. There were also several old buildings that looked like dorms from the 20s or 30s. At the far north end of campus was worker housing, we didn’t really want to disturb them, but through the fence there were a bunch of small houses with small vegetable gardens and clothes hung out to dry. We walked back on the western edge, past many more old statues that I couldn’t identify. It was threatening to rain for most of the time, but only spat on us a couple times.

A bunch of the stuff on the campus was really cool, and its hard to pick out specific experiences that were especially exciting. Up near the north end, one lake from the workers area was a new building that had been recently maintained, and really stood out from the the infringing nature around it. It was on a point that stuck out into the lake, which was completely full of lily pads. there was a gate, so we couldn’t get up to the building to see what it was, or read the characters over the door. On the right you could see the lake curve around, and on the bank were several much more dilapidated buildings and an old boat tethered to a tree on the shore. Someone had put stuck to big poles into the bank at an angle and put a tarp of them to keep rain from getting on the boat, but it still looked incredibly weather beaten.

We got back to the dorms at 11, and decided to round up people at 11:30 to get food before we left at 1. Joe still wasn’t up when we left again, and we knocked on the other doors on our floor and determined that the other group wasn’t back yet, so we went back to the campus to grab some lunch.

We went to the next block from the long line of cafeterias we’d been pointed to before, and found a rather unassuming entrance that had food-like markings on it. It turned out to be an even larger cafeteria than the ones we’d seen before. I got a bowl of rice, and a plate of food for 3.60, and a sprite for $3 (bottles were much more expensive than fountain drinks, but the water in the fountain drinks is pretty suspect.)

The food was actually some of the best I’ve had yet, it was sichuan style, and looking around a bunch of the food served was from sichuan. The dining hall was laid out like many of the ones on campus; one wall was full of small ‘stalls’ that were selling food. Each stall had several workers, there was a counter you would come up to and it had several large trays on the counter with the types of food you could get from that stall. You’d point or tell them which ones you want, they’d scoop it onto a plate and hand it to you. overall, a pretty reasonable arrangement. My lunch was a deep-fried bird (tasted like chicken, but more bones than I’m used to) with hot peppers of various types (green, red, etc.) The peppers were the numbing hot type, and were really good.

After lunch we went back to the dorm again, and met max and joe just outside. There was about 15 minutes left before 1, and they had just gotten organized to get lunch. we told them that they really didn’t want to be late, because they’d have to find their way over to the green without directions otherwise, and they decided that they would wait until we got to the olympics to eat.

Yu miao came with the bus right at 1, and the other three members of our group magically appeared. we got in a van, I believe driven by the same guy that picked us up at the airport. the Olympics turned out to be right off the same road that we were, as there really weren’t any turns, and eventually we could see that the road ended up ahead, and he pulled off to the side and let us off.

We walked up to the fence, and then followed it to the spectators entrance. Security was very reasonable, and quite quick. The procedure was quite standardized, everything passed through a metal detector, you got wanded down, and then they asked you to open your bags for inspection, and had you take the items out of pockets.

On the olympic green was about the same as the rest of beijing, but maybe a bit cleaner. There was a food stall a bit up the road we were on, and since joe and max hadn’t eaten we decided to stop there.

The olympics it turns out have a set list of food that’s allowed on the green. This consists of drinking water, coke, or bottled green tea. Two types of icecream (with or without chocolate covering) and snickers bars for snacks. To eat there was “boxed meal” and “noodle bowl”. I got an icecream, which is about the same as the icecream in a bag you’ll find throughout the country. The boxed meals that the others got were pretty impressive. A small tray full of rice and a packet with chicken and vegitables was suspended over a larger plastic container. The rest of the container had a plastic packet of water underneath a fabric packet of something. A small tab on the water container was connected to a string that came out of the box. You put a lid on and yanked the string to tear a hole in the water packet, and it would activate the stuff in the fabric packet. That resulted in a very quick release of heat, and steamed the rice and chicken. It meant that the meal fully cooked in about 5 minutes, sadly though it apparently tasted really bad.

We spent the next three hours or so walking around the olympic area. The water cube was pretty impressive, the bubbles on it’s surface are actual bubbles, up close you can see that it’s sheets of plastic that have been inflated. It’s also surrounded by a moat and fence to keep people from getting too close.

The whole area is full of various architecture demonstrating chinese culture. Of particular interest was the area around the subway station, which had lots of water interactivity, lots of steam vents that would activate in patterns, little fountains and waterfalls. Next to this was a large pond that also had a large fountain display.

At some point I broke away from the rest of the group, I moved quite a bit faster than the pack, and wanted to take some pictures I wanted without waiting for everyone else to take theirs as well. We rejoined just before entering the birds nest. It turned out that for the paralympics the seating was all general admission. If we wanted good seats, we probably should have been in line two hours before the first event when the stadium opened, but instead we got there an hour or so before starting. We walked up to the third tier of seats, and probably could have easily stayed on the second tier. There was enough traffic however that we decided that it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to move once we were there.

The sheer scale of the place was really amazing, I feel like there must have been over a million people on the olympic green, which is a very large number. The stadium as well makes you feel quite insignificant.

The athletics were pretty cool. The spectators around us were much more engaged when chinese athletes were competing, in the races where there wasn’t a chinese contender you could here mutters of ‘没有中国’ or ‘no china’. The races were more engaging than the javalin throw or shot put events. the only really let-down was that all of the events were seperated by a type of disability. This seemed to be represented in the title ‘like womens shotput final T42’. But, there was never explanation of what T42 was. Sometimes it was obvious, like when all the competitors had prosthetic legs, but other times it wasn’t really obvious.

We left a bit before the last event, which was a good idea, because it wasn’t quite as crowded outside. after dark the place is really, really, awesome looking. The whole main square has strips of lights that can change colors, and both the stadium and water cube have cool illuminating pictures. We wandered around the square a bit and took pictures and such forth. A chinese guy came up to us and was very happy to take pictures with us, and wanted us to pose with him. He gave us a sheet of paper that he had written ‘one world one dream’ on; he had a large bunch of these papers with him.

We walked over to the subway, they were handing out free one-way tickets. The olympic subway was brand new and uncrowded. We got on, and switched over to the #10 line. This line was also brand new and uncrowded, and we took it a few stops until it crossed the #13. This one was above ground, not new, and quite crowded. We took it one stop, to the stop I believed was near campus. It turns out I’ve been reading the maps wrong, the stop we ended up at was near the supermarket I’ve been going to.

We got out, asked a nearby policeman which way the college was to get our bearings, and then started heading back. Since we hadn’t had any dinner, we stopped in a fast-food restaurant on the way back. I got a dish of rice and chicken, with a slightly spice sauce. It wasn’t bad at all, sarah got something pretty similar but it had a bunch of cut up vegetables over the rice. Joe and Max saw a guy eating a large bowl of beef and noodles and decided they wanted that. They had trouble communicating to the waitress though, and ended up getting a bowl of soup, a bowl of noodles with tiny frozen shrimps, and a plate with breakfast sausages except made out of chicken and mushrooms. They weren’t terribly pleased by the result.

On the way home they talked about going out to a club. I was fairly cynical about that although I didn’t express myself, first because we need to be up by 9 tomorrow for a scavenger hunt, and secondly because it was already 10 pm which was fairly late.

I came back, saw that I’d gotten a nice set of class notes from Julian, read through them up to where I am in the book, had a cup of tea, and unwound. As of midnight, the group is still next door and hasn’t left yet, I doubt they will. At some point I’ll comment on my thoughts on the group. They’re still developing of course, and I’m trying to not spend too much time with other students since the whole point is adapting to chinese culture and not being too insular. The group however is very different from that at mudd, and seems to operate at a level that I find to be almost stereotypical of american college students.

Tomorrow we get to visit the summer palace, and go to tiananmen square.