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Applying to protest

In the middle of an Olympic post… but found a tongue-in-cheek blog from a NY Times journalist who has attempted to apply for permission to protest.

Nicholas Kristoff applied for permission to protest against the demise of Chinese ancient architecture, and after much waiting, back-room consultation and earnest ID checking, he was finally instructed on what he’d have to do. The myriad of rules took an hour to explain. They were…

… detailed and complex, and, most daunting, I would have to submit a list of every single person attending my demonstration. The list had to include names and identity document numbers.

In addition, any Chinese on a name list would have to go first to the Public Security Bureau in person to be interviewed (arrested?).

“If I go through all this, then will my application at least be granted?” I asked.

“How can we tell?” a policeman responded. “That would prejudge the process.”

Kristoff reckons that the whole application process is a cost-saving measure from the Public Security Bureau. Beforehand, they had to go out into the field to arrest demonstrators. Now, the demonstrators deliver themselves to Window 12 at the Beijing PSB office all ready to be led away. Saves time and money.

The Olympics – part 1

It’s 10 minutes before the first big rowing final of Super Saturday… lets see what I can type up in that time…

We decided we wanted to watch the Opening Ceremony surrounded by as many Chinese as possible. The Place was being promoted as a public place to watch a large telly, so the three of us trooped down to discover it wasn’t public at all – it’s been turned into a huge Coca-cola Olympics-watching centre, and to see anything you had to buy a ticket. It was sold out. So we all trooped back home and watched it on our telly.

Zara made it to 10pm, by which time the teams were starting to come out. An age later, we were only up to team 96 of 205. With Reid fading, I got on the bike and rode in the direction of Tiananmen to see what the Chinese were up to.

No much, it seemed. They’d been told to stay off the roads during the ceremony, so after I passed the Jianguomen Bridge and entered the central city, it seemed I was the only person on the road. It was very quiet and eerie, made more so by the thousands of silent cops that lined the road arms-length from each other, staring at the only Laowai in miles.

Eventually a cop with a sub-machine gun revealed the way to Tiananmen was now closed, so I headed north up to Hohai Lakes where apparently some fireworks were going to be let off. A few Chinese were crowded around a barrier that blocked the way to the lake, but the cops were letting white guys through (which I felt a bit grim about) and so I watched the next two hours standing outside a bar. Much shrieking when the Chinese team entered the Stadium, much clapping for the speeches, lots of Jiayou and then, finally, some fireworks. At the Stadium. And when those were done, we got a few skyrockets where we were as well.

By this time it was 1.30am. I rode home.

CCTV Tower facade complete

Across the road (but unfortunately not visibile from our apartment), they’ve just finished sticking the last windows on the highly ambitious architectural marvel, the CCTV tower.

These aren’t my photos – and I think they must have had a trip down to the photo shop, as the sky certainly wasn’t that blue today.

It’s awful hard to appreciate what this building is from a two dimensional photo – it seems to be shooting up from the ground on all sorts of angles, and it’s quite a feat to have the two towers actually connect. The builders had to weld the two towers together in a small period of time one morning, when the humidity and temperature meant they were at the same level – later on in the day, the two towers would contract and swell out of alignment.

CCTV is the Chinese telly network. We get 9 channels of it, one of which is weirdly the military channel half of the time and the children’s cartoon network for the remainder. This building will be their headquarters, but is also supposed to contain a hotel and all sort of other fabulousness. Someone told someone who told someone (grains of salt alert) that this building couldn’t be attempted anywhere else, as it would be too dangerous to build – but in China, it’s okay to have a go.

Here’s a photo I took (through the haze) of the towers when we first arrived…

American cyclists arrive in Beijing wearing masks

I dunno if you saw in the press somewhere, but a bunch of Americans arrived here a couple of days ago in anti-pollution masks.

These guys are jerks. I could go on and on about it, but maybe you could just read what James Fallows has to say here – at the risk of sounding like a Fallows fanboy, I completely agree.

The Olympic Village

Goosebumps. Going to the Olympic Village to watch the New Zealand flag being raised was pretty amazing.

16 of us met at the Embassy – the Ambassador and family, some embassy staff and partners. We  loaded ourselves into a three-car convey that are equipped with passes that lets us drive around in the Olympic lane. One fairly stringent security-check later, we were in the accreditation building of the village, swapping our ID cards for other ID tags and met by the Kiwi team’s security bloke – a cop from Invercargill.

We walked past an Olympic trinkets shop, a hairdressers (gotta look good on the podium, friends) and entered the Welcoming area, a row of terraced seats facing a small stage and 200+ flag poles, with each attending nation’s flags flying. We were accompanied by the fearsomely friendly Olympic volunteers, who are obviously very proud of what they’re a part of – and it’s very impressive.

As there are 205 teams in these Games, everyone doesn’t get their own ceremony – New Zealand was grouped with Belgium, Hungary and Uzbekistan. It’s attended by IOC president Jacques Rogge, the Mayor of the Olympic Village and a Chinese kids choir. Everyone is guided to and from their seats by a collection of extraordinary gorgeous Chinese women, all pretending to be some sort of robot. They had immaculate fixed smiles, only moved when required and had their hair done up with Olympic rings. I assume they are the latest triumph from the Chinese medical cloning farms.

So, we were sat down… then the three teams came out and took their seats with us (the kiwi team kept looking at us trying to work out who we were, while we stared back in star-struck fashion) and the Village Mayor delivered a short speech welcoming the teams. Each team manager then swapped gifts with the mayor and each country’s flag was raised while we all stood for the applicable National Anthem.

After our flag reached the top, the team did a haka which threw the compere a bit (it wasn’t on the script) but gave the rest of the New Zealanders little spine shivers.

(As an aside, the team has been greeting new team-members as they come onto the Village with a haka and it’s become quite popular – all the other countries come running to watch).

That done, Rogge and the Mayor had photos with each team and we were guided to a refreshment stop by the beautiful androids. The team all did a runner, and the rest of us went off to the food hall for dinner.

The food hall… well, it’s huge. And full of peoples from 205 countries trying to find something it eat. It’s a sort of a freak show. Tiny Russian gym stars with huge calves. Enormous African women weightlifters. 8-foot American basketball places. The Brazilian Volleyball team. Apparently Roger Federer has had to now hide himself away somewhere now, as he was being mobbed so much.

The food? Well, a couple of the visitors ate at the McDonalds, as it’s got to be the safest McDonalds in China. As a food-poisoning scandal at this place would be disastrous, China has been raising pigs, chickens and sheep at special farms especially for these games, and it’s all guaranteed organic and safe (I assume the livestock were all raised wearing gas-masks and feed imported grass). But they’re taking no chances. The chicken I had was very well done.

Unfortunately we then had to leave… I can’t really describe the feeling of the Village, it’s sort of electric and… it’s hard to avoid cliches…. thrilling to have seen the place.

As we left, another flag-raising ceremony was just starting up. Another three countries being inducted into the village.

Here’s some photos.

(edit – added Belgium to the ceremony, who I’d forgotton (sorry Belgium), and when said ‘Major’ I meant ‘Mayor’. Obviously.)

4 days to go…

Ohh, getting exciting now. The athletes have started arriving (bus convoys cart them around in the Olympic lanes), the skies are now patrolled by helicopters and Central Park is patrolled by dogs, the new journalists are finding out the internet is censored (omigawd!) and the Chinese have not followed through on a promise they made years ago (astounding!), plus we’ve had a huge string of fantastic, low-pollution days.

Last night we saw the fireworks from the penultimate opening ceremony rehearsal from our apartment – and this morning, found a friend of ours had gone to it. She reports it is as stunning as expected, but may look better in real-life than on telly. Watching 1000 people performing synchronized thai chi is better live.

Friday night’s total eclipse of the sun was a bit of bust – the ‘total’ bit happened at 7.10pm, at which time the sun hid not only behind the moon, but some cloud as well.

All we experienced was things getting darker a little sooner. Still, Zara, Yu Mei and I wandered through the park, had a bit of a dance to some bloke with the harmonica and fed the mosquiotos.

(Zara dances, while the Ladies Who Walk stop to inspect another baby nearby)

And this Monday? Well, if you being bedazzled by the reports of beautiful, smog-free days up here at the moment, things seem to have taken a turn for the worse…


(on the left, 6 days to go… on the right, today – 4 days to go)

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